Modular Home Friendly Designs Can Save You A Lot of Money

It’s true that some house plans are not modular home friendly designs. Not every style and design of home can be built economically by a modular manufacturer.

Why Some Plans Are Not Modular Home Friendly Designs

The most significant limiting factor is the size of the modules that can be driven from the factory to the job site. Federal, state, and local laws limit how wide and long each module can be. Fourteen-foot-wide modules are the most popular and most conventional house designs that can be comfortably built with these modules. Now that many manufacturers are building sixteen-foot-wide modules, even more conventional designs can be built without sacrifice in layout or style. However, there are many contemporary designs that are too expensive and impractical to build as a modular home. If you prefer such a design, you will need to have it stick-built.

A Rule of Thumb for Selecting Modular Home Friendly Designs

This contemporary cape is not a modular home friendly design because of the multiple gables and roof design
This home, although handsome, cannot be built economically by a modular manufacturer because of the multiple gables and roof design

One rule of thumb that puts this constraint in perspective is that if a design cannot be built as a modular home, which means it cannot be built out of rectangular boxes, it will likely be more expensive to build regardless of the type of construction used. In short, designs with multiple bump-outs and roof angles are always more expensive to build. If you want to get the most home for your money, you will likely want a design that can be built as a modular home even if you ultimately decide to build it as a site-built home.

Site Conditions and Access for Modular Home Friendly Designs

Although most building sites can take delivery of a modular home, there are some locations that require enough extra site work or a redesign of the house plan into smaller modules that building a modular home is not practical. Narrow approaching roads with hairpin turns, lots on the side of steep hills, and very narrow properties can pose challenges. The only way to know if a building lot can comfortably receive a modular home is to have a modular dealer visit it.For more information about why some plans are not modular home friendly designs, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Building Code Enforcement

Building codes vary from state to state and even from town to town. Enforcement of building codes also varies considerably. It even varies between types of construction, such as between modular and stick construction. Simply put, modular home building code enforcement by modular manufacturers and local inspectors is tougher than that for stick build homes.

Why Modular Home Building Code Enforcement Is Tougher

It’s not that local inspectors intentionally treat the two forms of construction differently. It’s that the third-party factory approvals required for modular homes always force the factory to build to the current code. However, there are no independent inspections that compel local officials to implement code changes immediately for conventional construction. It sometimes happens that local officials take months before they implement new codes.

An Ironic Example of Modular Home Building Code Enforcement

An inspector using the checklists on his computer to carry out his responsibility for modular home building code enforcement
Modular home building code enforcement by manufacturers and local inspectors is tougher than that for stick built homes

One of my customers became upset when this happened with her modular home. Before selecting us, she did a lot of shopping with local stick builders. None of them mentioned the new wind bracing codes for homes built in her area along the shore. When we mentioned the likelihood that her home would have to comply with these codes, she cited the fact that none of the stick builders had mentioned this. We agreed that we would get the plans drawn and see what the code officials required.

Sure enough, the independent inspectors hired by the factory to comply with the state’s modular home requirements flagged the home as needing several structural enhancements to meet the coastal wind conditions. The customer was so upset that she went to the local inspector and asked if she needed to do this. He said that he had not yet been enforcing this code with local builders, although he planned to do so. But he also added that he could not override the third party inspection company because they were right about the new requirements and the state would not allow him to waive them.

It ended up costing our customer a few thousand dollars to beef up the structure of her home. On the other hand, she was quite glad to have this additional strength when her home was blasted by some strong winds from a hurricane that later hit her area. After all, there was a good reason the state building officials had adopted the new codes.

For more information about modular home building code enforcement, see Why Build Modular in my book The Modular Home

Select a General Contractor with Modular Home Experience

A general contractor with modular home experience looking at the modules
Hiring a general contractor with modular home experience will help keep your project on schedule and on budget.

If you want a good experience with completing the turnkey of your modular home, select a general contractor with modular home experience. On the other hand, if you want a sure way to make the construction of your new home a miserable time, hire a GC without modular experience who stubbornly believes that modular homes are an inferior product. You will likely find that he is always looking to say something bad about your home. This was quite common 20 years ago, before stick builders began to have a change of heart about modular homes.

A Story about Selecting a General Contractor with Modular Home Experience

My first experience with this involved a family building a two-story colonial in a typical middle-class neighborhood. Since I did not yet offer GC services, they had to find their own GC. They selected a skilled and reputable local GC who was a friend of their parents. The GC’s primary business was building additions and new stick-framed homes. The first time he spoke to me, he let me know that he was only doing the work as a favor to a friend, and that he thought modular homes were inferior. I tried to explain why they were the equal to stick-built homes, but he was having none of it.

Once my customers’ home was set on the foundation, the GC complained about everything, in spite of the fact that my customers loved it. He acted as if the home was going to fall apart in the next storm and the proper fix was going to cost a king’s ransom. He strongly disagreed with all proposed warranty solutions, asserted that the manufacturer built the modules incorrectly, and insisted that they be taken apart and rebuilt. He then assumed the role of savior, as if he was protecting my customers from some evil modular dealer. Even though I prevailed upon him, and the minimal warranty work required was completed correctly, he was distrustful toward everyone associated with the home. Consequently, this fueled a series of conflicts each time he discovered something new about the home, even things that made the home clearly superior, such as the way the drywall was attached to the framing.

My customers tried to make the best of it, but they were clearly worn out by the end. When I ran into them several years later, they regaled me with a few more stories about their experience. Fortunately, they had a sense of humor about it. They even told me that the GC had worked on another modular home in a neighboring community a year after finishing their home. For your sanity sake, select a general contractor with modular home experience and an appreciation of a modular home’s quality.

For more information about why you should select a general contractor with modular home experience, see Selecting a General Contractor in my book The Modular Home.

How Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline

Over the years we’ve built modular homes for several customers who had stick built their previous home. Since most of them were happy with their home, it’s interesting to consider why they decided to build a modular home next. Invariably, it was because their stick building experience was marred by substantial cost overruns or considerable time delays – usually both. It doesn’t take much to convince these customers that modular homes promote planning discipline in a way that makes them less likely to suffer from sizeable cost overruns and missed deadlines. In fact, they often start the conversation by telling us why modular homes offer better protection against these costly extremes.

One Customer’s View on Why Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline

“Building a modular is going to force me and my wife to make good decisions up front. Although we’ll lose the opportunity to make changes as our home is built, this will protect us against ourselves. We were our own worst enemies the last time. We signed a contract without knowing all the details. The builder gave us allowances for many of the important materials, such as cabinets and floors. Until we started making decisions, we had no idea that what we wanted cost thousands of dollars more. Not only did the costs go higher and higher, construction took longer and longer. We even got killed with several additional months of interest payments to the bank. I will gladly give up the opportunity to make changes on the fly to ensure greater control of my budget and schedule.”

Another Customer’s View on Why Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline

“I admit I didn’t spend enough time thinking through the design of my home. Almost immediately after my builder started framing the interior walls, I noticed some design flaws. First, I discovered the foyer closet was too small. Then I decided it was better to make the dining room smaller so the kitchen could be bigger. Next I realized the door to my study was swinging into a bookcase. And it didn’t stop there. Since I couldn’t live with my mistakes, I asked the builder to make the necessary changes, which included tearing down the walls he had already built. Needless to say, he passed all of the additional costs on to me with some very pricey change orders. And by the time these and several other changes were completed, we were several months behind schedule.”

The factory assembly line requires all of the materials to have been selected, which is why modular homes promote planning discipline
The factory assembly line requires the preselection of all materials, which is why modular homes promote planning discipline

Why Modular Homes Promote Planning Discipline

Compare these experiences with what you will have to do if you build a modular home. You and your dealer must complete almost all of the planning steps before beginning any construction. That’s because your manufacturer can’t begin construction without knowing what it’s going to build and how much it’s going to charge. This forces you and your dealer to make final decisions about your home’s design and its building specifications. If you’re pressed for time when stick building, it’s very easy to start construction and postpone the meetings and decisions to a later date. The temptation is to think you and your builder can make things up as you go along. Modular dealers would be just as prone to do this if they could get away with it. The fact that modular homes promote planning discipline is a major advantage to you. As most banks will tell you, poor planning almost always leads to cost overruns and construction delays.

For more information about why modular homes promote planning discipline, see Why Build Modular in my book The Modular Home.

Should You Build a Green Modular Home

You’ve probably read or watched a few stories about why green construction is the way to go. If you’re like most of our customers, you’re asking if the benefits of a green modular home are really worth the cost.

What a Universal Design Modular Home Has in Common with a Green Modular Home

This reminds me of my experience with Universal Design (UD) homes. In the early 1990’s, my company built a model home to UD principles. Following these makes a home more user-friendly for everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Over the years we’ve sold several UD homes. But few of our customers have selected the complete set of UD options. So it might surprise you when I say that offering these features helped many customers who weren’t interested in UD before visiting us.

Of course, these customers didn’t express interest initially because they didn’t know what UD features could do for them. Once we demonstrated how the features worked in our model home, many of our customers selected them. For example, when we showed those approaching retirement age a low-curb shower or a step-less front entry, we found that many of them felt these features were a necessity. So too with customers who had elderly parents.

Today we have more customers than ever interested in UD specifications. They’ve become more important because aging baby boomers value their performance. Even so, if we forget to demonstrate our model’s UD features, we have far fewer customers interested in them. We also have far fewer customers who select these features when we require them to select the entire package. Not surprisingly, most customers want to select some of the features – but not all.

Select Only the Features for Your Green Modular Home that You Want

Our experience with UD homes is repeating itself with green modular homes. Most customers don’t know if they want green features until we explain the benefits to them. These include (a) energy efficiency, (b) healthy indoor environment, and (c) environmentally friendly construction. Even after appreciating the benefits, customers typically assume they can’t afford a green home, since they think they need to buy the “complete green package”, which is costly. That’s why we allow them to select green features à la carte style.

Not surprisingly, most of our customers prize utility savings and quite a few value healthier home interiors. Although many of our customers care about the environment, only a few have a budget that allows them to do all they would wish to protect our planet. On the other hand, by selecting energy efficient and healthy home features, they actually are helping to protect the environment. And by using modular construction, they are building a home that is inherently green.

How all modular homes are inherently energy efficient, which helps make them inherently green modular homes
Energy efficiency is one of the most important features of a green modular home

Select a Modular Dealer Who Can Clearly Explain Your Green Modular Home Options

Here’s what you can take from our experience. When shopping for a modular dealer, find one who teaches you what a green modular home can do for you and which options provide the best benefits. Make sure the dealer lets you select only the features you want as opposed to their vision of a “complete” green modular home. If your dealer can’t explain green features, find a dealer who can or research them on your own. Then select what you can afford. It could be a couple of energy efficient enhancements and low VOC materials – maybe less, maybe more. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking green features are an unaffordable extravagance.

For a more detailed answer to the question, should you build a green modular home, see Why Build Modular in my book The Modular Home as well as this detailed handout on the benefits of green modular homes.

© The Home Store, Inc., 2021