HomeLink Magazine Winter 2009: System Built Modular Construction
I Can't See the Difference. Can You?
System Built Modular Construction
By Ron Davies, Crystal Peak Construction
Two houses stand side by side on the street. One house was less expensive and less wasteful to build. It was built in less time and has lower utility bills. Yet it looks just like its neighbor. Not even the appraiser can tell the difference. What is the difference? One house is a system built modular home and the other was built the old fashioned way by carpenters and tradesmen battling it out with the famous Colorado mountain weather.
System built modular construction is the process where parts-modules-of the home are built in a factory and then shipped to the site for assembly. The modules move through the factory which uses precision tools and equipment. The modules are inspected after every step for quality control. Finished modules, complete with paint on the walls, carpet on the floors, cabinets and fixtures installed, are covered for protection and shipped to the home site. The local builder will crane the sections onto a traditional foundation, make the necessary connections, and complete the home.
Sometimes, people confuse system built modular construction with manufactured houses. Manufactured houses, also built in a factory, are mobile homes and double-wides. Manufactured houses are not built to the standard building codes enforced by our regional building department. They are built to building specs set by U.S. dept. of Housing and Urban Development, a much lower standard. Manufactured houses are set on non-conforming foundations or no foundation at all. They are typically considered “personal property” and will usually depreciate in value over time. System built modular homes are built to the exact set of regional and national building codes as a site built house. They are engineered to the exact same snow and wind loads as a site built house. They are set on traditional concrete foundations. Like any site built house, system built modular homes can be built to any set of custom plans.
System built modular construction offers many advantages. Let's start with cost. In a factory setting, efficiencies are the protocol. The processes to assemble a home are streamlined to allow labor and materials to be used as efficiently as possible. A system built modular home produces very little waste during construction. The waste from a system built modular home is about fifty to seventy percent less than a site built house. Also, the buying power of a system built modular company can out-compete the local contractor when buying materials. Furthermore, system built modular companies have in-house designers and engineers to draw your construction plans, saving you significant plan costs. Cost savings can vary, from ten to twenty percent less than a comparable site built house.
Another great advantage of system built modular construction is climate control. Because the homes are built inside a factory, the builders are not trying to accomplish their work in the rain, snow, heat, cold, or wind. During the construction process construction materials are also free from damage caused by moisture, ice, or the elements which leads to greater longevity of the home and fewer material-related warranty issues.
One of the greatest advantages to building a system built modular home is construction time saved. While the home is being built in the factory, the permitting, excavation, utilities, and foundation are done at the site. About the time the home modules come out of the factory, the foundation is completed. The modules are shipped out to the site and are set with a crane on the foundation. From there, crews will finish the inside and outside where the modules come together. Porches, decks, and garages are then attached and completed. This process typically reduces the construction time to half when comparing the process with site building the same home. Furthermore, in a climate like Routt County, getting done before winter hits can save significant weather related costs. Building in a shorter time frame also saves cost with the construction loan. The shorter the construction time, the less time you are paying high interest on the construction loan and the sooner you can lock into permanent financing which has a much lower interest rate.
In system built modular construction, the home is built from the inside out. The builders sheetrock the walls first, then do the rough-ins in the stud cavity, and then put on the outside sheeting and siding. With the ability to build the home inside out, they can seal up the drywall with spray foam from the backside including any penetrations through the drywall. This creates a very tight home. Following through with high insulation values and efficient windows, the home will have lower utility costs. Some system built modular home companies can back their energy claims with an Energy Star certification. An Energy Star certified home is a home that uses twenty to thirty percent less energy than a standard built home. To get the certification, the local builder will need to follow through with on-site features to complete the Energy Star certification.
HomeSystem built modular construction is “green” by nature. Efficiencies in the building trades and limiting of waste make modular the original green built home. Some system built modular companies follow green building checklists. Some choose to follow state level green building programs while others follow national programs.
System built Modular homes can be finished according to the owner's taste and budget. Most system built modular companies offer many upgrades and options. The interior and exterior can be finished with any material just like a site built house, offering the architectural interest people look for in their homes. Furthermore, system built modular homes appraise the same as site built houses. Most appraisers will note that they cannot tell the difference between a system built modular home and a site built house. Most banks prefer to loan on system built modular construction because of the guaranteed price of the home itself. There is less risk of construction cost overruns.
If you're building a home, be sure to consider your system built options. You might be surprised how much time, money and stress you can save by working with an experienced manufacturer. But not all system built modular companies are the same. Do your research. We live in a demanding climate. Choose a system built modular home factory and builder that understand the rigors of our mountain climate. You'll be snug inside your new home while the neighbor is waiting for the roofer to show.