The Unique Durability of Modular Homes

You’ve probably heard that special modular construction techniques are used to make homes strong enough to be transported down the highway, lifted by a crane, and set on a foundation. What you may not have heard is that the same techniques that are responsible for the unique durability of modular homes also give modular homes a lot more protection against any violent force – “manmade” or natural.

The Structural Durability of Modular Homes

Some of the best stories about the structural durability of modular homes are ones the industry is most ambivalent about telling. These are the tales about homes that fell to the ground during the delivery or set. Industry professionals fear that customers will think these accidents happen frequently or that customers might be expected to accept a damaged module, neither of which is true. Not to tell these stories does a disservice to the industry. I can’t think of anything that offers a more vivid testament than the image of a module sliding off of a carrier as it exits an interstate at 30 miles per hour and rolls down a hill, turning over six times, surviving with only a few drywall cracks and a broken window.

Fortunately, my company has had only one such experience in 26 years. The house was a two-story colonial with an attached in-law apartment. The two small modules for the apartment were shipped on the same carrier as two of the modules for the home. When my set crew lifted one of the two-story modules from the carrier, the carrier tipped over and the small module fell off the carrier and rolled over on its side. As shocked as I was by the accident, I was even more shocked by the condition of the module and my customer’s response. The module survived with only a few cosmetic cracks in the drywall, a broken pane of glass in a window, and an exterior door out of alignment. I apologized to my customer and said that I would build them a new module as soon as possible. They said that was not necessary, since the module was still in very good shape. I explained that I did not feel right having them take a damaged module, but they insisted. After the general-contracting work was completed on the home, none of us could tell that anything unusual had happened. Even after several years, we’ve never had a problem with the module.

Here are some of the construction techniques that produce the unique durability of modular homes
The unique durability of modular homes is due to the construction techniques used to build each module.

The Durability of Modular Homes Can Help them Survive Natural Disasters

The unique durability of modular homes accounts for the many stories of these homes surviving without serious structural damage after being subjected to hurricanes and tornadoes, something no stick-built house could withstand. It explains why a modular motel was found to be the only thing standing after Hurricane Hugo hit a North Carolina town, and why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave the following report on Hurricane Andrew in Florida: “Overall, relatively minimal structural damage was noted in modular housing developments. The module-to-module combination of units appears to have provided an inherently rigid system that performed much better than conventional residential framing. This was evident in both the transverse and longitudinal directions of the modular buildings” (Publication number FIA-22, February 1993, page 29).

Our Recent Experience with the Unique Durability of Modular Homes

This past year two of our homes – both built several years ago – were hit directly by a rare tornado in Western Massachusetts. The tornado was reported to have winds of 160 mph. Here are two videos about how our homes fared compared to conventionally built homes. Don’t forget to watch the second one, since it includes interviews with the homeowners.

For more information about the unique durability of modular homes, see Why Build Modular in my book The Modular Home.

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