“The only way you can predict the future is to build it.”, is a quote by Alan Kay, best known for his pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface (GUI) design. To extend his thought, the only way to build the future is by investing in the present. That’s where we find ourselves today with offsite construction. Offsite modular construction is the modern method of construction that is the way homes will be built going forward. The only thing that the typical American consumer buys today that isn’t built in a factory is their home. You have to ask yourself, “In today’s world, how is that possible?”. Why would anyone accept a lower standard for their home than they would accept for their phone, their TV, or their car?
WHAT MAKES A HOME MODULAR?
The first principle to understand in modular residential construction is that modular is just that, a type of construction, not a type of home. While the term modular home is the well-worn industry description, and I’ll use it in this article, it is a misnomer (i.e. wrong or inaccurate name or designation). Simply put, modular construction is a method of making a home plan and redesigning it to be built in modules off-site in a factory. Those modules are then transported to the home site, where they are assembled in LEGO-like fashion on a permanent foundation. Once completed, a modular home is indistinguishable from a home that is built onsite.
HOW DOES FACTORY CONSTRUCTION MAKE A HOME BETTER?
Building a home indoors just makes sense when you really think about it. How else can you get a home whose interior was never rained on, or sat in the snow, or baked in the sun? Where factory conditions allow for the precision cutting of materials and promotes the elimination of waste in the building process. What this means to a homeowner is that their home is more comfortable. Because the home is “tighter” through precision construction, you don’t feel drafts through cracks and air leaks. Temperatures are even throughout the home.
Because drywall was finished at the factory, dust isn’t trapped in the ductwork to be spread throughout the home for months and years after you move in. Air quality is controlled and enhanced. Moisture was never introduced to the home during construction to be trapped, creating an environment for mold growth and mildew odors. Safe materials are chosen that minimize chemicals found in sheet goods, paints, and finishes. You should notice that your family is sick less frequently and feels better living in a home that was built using modular construction.
ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES AND BUILDING SCIENCE
A modular home is built in sections that are transported on carriers to a home site. The sections, or modules, are then lifted from that carrier onto a foundation, where they are assembled and attached. Within weeks the onsite portion is complete, and the home is ready to move into. Think about it, each module had to travel down a highway, make all the bends and turns, get lifted by a crane, and then be attached to your foundation and each other onsite. A modular home had to be designed and constructed to take all of these stresses and forces and yet come together perfectly at the final home site. How well do you think a modular home has to be structurally designed and built?
The insurance industries Insurance Institute of Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has developed a program for homes constructed in a certain way to be designated as a FORTIFIED Home. Homes that qualify for this designation are upgraded to withstand storms and weather conditions for an area better than their non-FORTIFIED counterparts. Imagine if a storm hits while you are away and your family is at home. A FORTIFIED home is built to better protect your home and the family in that home with minimal damage. Homes built using modular construction have a decided advantage in this program over a typical home built onsite. Because of the way modular homes are constructed, the ability to qualify for a designation is a minimal upgrade to keep your family and home safe in a storm.
MODULAR CONSTRUCTION IS A DESIGN DISCIPLINE
When you read the latest architectural design magazines, you will see pictures and plans of sleek, boxy, all-glass homes with flat roofs. These latest styles show contemporary lines and bright interiors, minimalist furnishings, and lots of built-ins. And for many American home buyers, that is a beautiful dream home. Modular construction provides a perfect method to construct and deliver these modern designs very cost-effectively with the best that building science has to offer.
But that is not all modular construction has to offer. Modular homes appeal to the masses of home buyers by offering design excellence through classic architecture. Just view the modular home plan collection at one of the top home plan websites. There you will see thousands of examples of top architects and designers whose plans and ideas can be “modularized” and built with the advantages of modular construction. While modern architecture offers wonderful design and beauty, most of America still chooses to live in a home that looks much like the one they grew up in. However, in addition, they want a healthier living environment, an open floor plan, built-in technology, and high energy efficiency. Everything that modular homes deliver at a great value.
Modular construction is a building system. A system is defined as: a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized method. Building indoors in a factory allows processes to be developed, consistently followed, and inspected. For onsite home construction, a building inspector’s job isn’t to inspect for quality, it is to come and inspect (a few times over the construction of a home) to see if he/she believes the home is compliant to the building code.
In a factory construction environment, the inspectors check for both quality and code compliance. The factory is financially incented to make sure homes are built correctly in the factory, where correcting any issue is much cheaper than correcting it onsite. Inspections are actually more frequent and are documented with personal accountability signoff.
The entire system of building in a factory is meant to make sure that the home construction process is efficient and constantly flows so that a consistently constructed home is created every time. Homes are built better and more cost-effectively with modern building systems.
While we still fight many preconceived notions of what modular construction is or isn’t, we are winning! The internet and Google have become the best friends of modular construction. Home buyers are now, more than ever before, able to research building methods, materials, technologies, and home performance/energy efficiency without leaving their living rooms. What smart home buyers are doing is discovering modular homes and then digging a little deeper. They are learning that a modular home IS NOT a mobile home. When they do their research, they find out that offsite modular is how home building will be done in the future. Major home-building companies across the country are scrambling to convert the way they build, and for a good reason. Modular construction is better, faster, and more energy-efficient and provides a healthier home for the homeowner. The future of home construction is modular construction!