Modular Homes: A Rising Industry

The modular home industry continues growth as a green alternative to traditional construction.

Modular Homes

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Whether it’s called a modular home, a systems-built home, or a factory-built home, the modular home is a misunderstood product. Despite a steady growth in sales, the modular home industry still battles public misconception. The move towards green modular homes and a continued commitment to consumer education are helping to raise the public’s perception of this promising housing alternative.

Continuing Education
The modular home industry is still struggling to shake comparisons to mobile homes (or homes with axles and a chassis) and is equally confronted by misinformed consumers who perceive the modular product to be “cheap.” Although the modular home-building process does produce less construction waste, takes less time, and can be a little easier on the budget, the end product is anything but cheap — and industry proponents are eager to spread the word.

“The truth is modular homes appraise at the same, if not more, than a stick-built home,” insists David Cooper, president of Modular Homes, Inc. of Edison, NJ. “They are built with more materials, they are constructed in factories that have it down to a science and are built sturdy enough to sustain the hurricane-force winds of being driven down the highway.”

Through efforts led mainly by manufacturers and builders, misconceptions are methodically being transformed into greater awareness. “We have classes and seminars to teach the benefits of modular homes, as well as green homes,” says Cooper. These educational opportunities, which exist for builders, consumers, and real estate professionals, teach about the economical and environmental benefits to building modular as well as an all-important notion that “the modular house isn’t going to look any different than a traditional home,” Cooper adds.

Green Modular Homes
It’s fairly well-established that the modular home industry is inherently green. Factory building produces far less waste, keeps lumber dry (and thus free of mold), and guarantees precision cuts that result in a tighter-fitting, more energy-efficient home. This “green by nature” quality is helping modular builders promote their products to the growing ranks of green-savvy prospective home buyers. “Just out of the factory a modular home can be 15 percent of the way towards LEED certification,” says Cooper, referring to the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED-H) certification program for residential structures.

Modular Homes, Inc. (MHI), acts as general contractor to the homebuyer, from finalizing floor plans to on-site construction of the shipped modules. The company’s “Building Green. Living Green” motto speaks to an industry-wide trend of building upon the green qualities imbued by the factory-built process. To achieve the LEED certification, Cooper hires a LEED-certified consultant to advise on the project, and a LEED-certified inspector is brought into the factory to oversee and sign off on the various steps of the construction process, just as would be done on a site-built home.

Although not every homebuyer has the budget for a site-built home that is designated Platinum, the highest LEED-H certification, meeting some reasonable green goals for a home might be more readily accomplished by going modular.

For instance, manufacturers use 2x6s for framing modular homes, rather than the 2x4s used in most site-built homes, so that the modules are sturdy for transport to the site. What happens with the extra two inches? “It’s filled with additional insulation,” which contributes to higher energy efficiency, says Chad Harvey, Deputy Director for the Modular Building Systems Association (MSBA). According to Harvey, there are countless nuanced factory construction techniques that result in a greener product, from tightly sealed outlets  to extensive material recycling programs.

Like traditional site-built green homes, green modular builders rely on educated subcontractors who understand the green industry. This can be a particular challenge to modular builders, who are often shipping the home from one state to another, sometimes to an unfamiliar area.

The Best of Both Worlds
One inaccurate criticism of modular homes paints them as “cookie-cutter” or generic, but nothing could be farther from the truth. “People still have this image of a double-wide mobile home when you say modular,” says Harvey. In reality, the modular home industry allows for more customization than ever before.

Higher-end modular homes, like many of the ones MHI are responsible for, are being built through a happy marriage of systems-built and site-built techniques, enabling customization options that can only further drive homebuyers toward modular homes as an attractive—and green—solution.