Assessing Modular Home Quality
The best way to evaluate the modular home quality provided by dealers and manufacturers is to walk through one or more of their homes. No amount of words of reassurance from a dealer will be as helpful as seeing the modular home quality with your own eyes. You may be able to view a home in one or more of the following situations:
- A home at the end of the manufacturer’s assembly line
- A home immediately after it is set
- A finished home
Since you are likely to view a home in only one or two of these situations, it is important that you know what each situation tells you so you are not misled by what you see.
Modular Home Quality at the End of the Manufacturer’s Assembly Line
Viewing a modular home at the end of an assembly line is the best way to learn about the manufacturer’s level of craftsmanship and quality control apart from the contribution of a general contractor’s finish crew. Any one house on any given week may or not be representative of what the manufacturer’s typical home looks like, however, since all modular factories have some variability in the quality they produce depending on the design of the home, which of their crews work on the modules, and whether they are behind or ahead of schedule. In addition, most manufacturers spend from one to three days fine-tuning the appearance of the modules after they come off the production line and before they are delivered to the dealer. This means you need to see a home after it has undergone this cosmetic makeover to assess the modular home quality you will receive when it is ready for delivery.
Modular Home Quality Immediately after the Set
The delivery and set of a modular home will always impose minor stresses on the structure of each module. These will inevitably produce some visible symptoms such as small drywall cracks and slight misalignments of moldings and doors. Although these symptoms are easily fixed by a competent modular general contractor, it is worth knowing what affects their frequency. Longer modules with long open spans, where the walls between modules have been removed to make a larger room, are especially vulnerable to these symptoms. This will be less true for those manufacturers who sheath the outside of the marriage wall, which joins two modules, or use some other comparable technique to strengthen the structure. Those manufacturers who temporarily brace the open spans during delivery also tend to have fewer symptoms. You will likely see more of these symptoms when a manufacturer uses old carriers with weak suspensions to deliver the modules.
Difficult delivery routes and rough site conditions will have the same effect on modular home quality you see after the set. How the set is conducted, especially how the set crew picks up each module, will also affect the number of drywall cracks and misalignments. Using more straps for longer modules will provide greater support and thus reduce the stress on the modules. Consequently, when you view the modular home quality immediately after the home is set, you will not necessarily know whether any drywall cracks and misalignments were caused by the manufacturer’s construction, one of the other factors, or a combination of the two. On the other hand, should you see a home with few drywall cracks and misalignments, you can feel reassured about the work of all of the respective players.
Modular Home Quality after Construction Is Completed
The modular home quality you will see after a home is finished is a product of both the manufacturer’s and general contractor’s efforts. Not surprisingly, some manufacturers deliver better quality than others. The same is true for GCs. A modular home will exhibit the best quality when both the manufacturer and GC are top-notch. But you might be surprised what a very good GC can do with a home manufactured with below-average quality, or how poorly a well-built home can look when buttoned up by an ineffectual GC. When you view a finished home, whether a customer’s home or a model home built for a manufacturer or modular dealer, you need to consider who served as the general contractor, and whether you will be using the same one to complete your contracting work. If you are considering using the same GC and you like the quality, you will not need to be as concerned with whether the home was delivered with this quality or it was created by the GC. On the other hand, if you do not find the modular home quality acceptable, it probably will not matter to you who was responsible, since you are likely to look elsewhere for a dealer and GC.
It gets more complicated when you like the modular home quality but are not planning to use the same GC. Your eyes will not be able to tell you whether the manufacturer built the home with good quality or the GC did a superior job improving what the manufacturer delivered. You may be able to learn more if you can talk with the customer, but this will not be possible if you are looking at a model home. If the quality is less than you expect, you will have to look closely to determine who was responsible for the unacceptable workmanship. If the entire home appears to suffer from poor workmanship, chances are good that both parties share the responsibility. If you are not hiring the same GC that worked on the home or homes you inspected, it is a good idea to visit a couple of the manufacturer’s homes at the factory or immediately after they’re set.
For more information about assessing modular home quality, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and Selecting a General Contractor in in my book The Modular Home.