New Home Construction Trends

When most of us think of building a new home, we imagine it is constructed onsite. We see crews of workers putting up pieces of lumber, hammering in nails, and building a house in the traditional method. Known in the industry as a stick-built home, it is the most common and popular way to create a new place. However, it is not the only way to build a house today. Many new homes are constructed off-site and then transported to their permanent location. Other construction methods include manufactured modular and panels.

Now you might be wondering if it makes sense to build a house in a factory and then ship it out to different areas incurring hefty transportation costs. The economies of scale using a prefabricated building process outstrip the shipping cost in most cases. With a shortage of affordable housing across the nation, it might be the solution we should embrace to improve the affordability issue.

Manufactured Housing

Also called mobile homes, manufactured houses are put together in a factory from prefabricated pieces. Built on a steel frame, these homes require no onsite construction because they leave the factory complete with plumbing, electrical, heat, and air-conditioning installed. When the house reaches its intended home site, the wheels come off, and the home is placed on a concrete slab or a crawl space, the utilities are connected, and it's ready for occupancy.

Like any home, manufactured housing must conform to codes and standards. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, sets the principles, and they supersede any state or local building rules. The definition of a manufactured home, as described by HUD, is as follows:

  • "A Manufactured Home is a structure that is transportable in one or more sections. The home is eight feet or more in width in traveling mode and forty feet or more in length. A Manufactured Home is designed and constructed to the Federal Manufactured Construction and Safety Standards and is so labeled. When erected on site, the home is:
  • at least 400 square feet 
  • built and remains on a permanent chassis 
  • designed to be used as a dwelling with a permanent foundation built to FHA criteria
  • The structure must be designed for occupancy as a principal residence by a single family."

Modular Housing

Although both modular and manufactured homes are built in a factory off-site, that is where the similarities end. Many characteristics make these two housing construction options quite different. Let's take a look at the differences.

  • Structure: The manufactured home is built on a permanent metal frame and is complete when it leaves the factory. Modular homes are built in sections, or cubes which are then assembled on site. 
  • Transportation: Wheels are attached to the manufactured home used to drive it to the homesite. Modular blocks are transported on trucks.
  • Foundation: Upon arrival at the homesite, a crew removes the wheels from the manufactured home and places them on a concrete slab or a row of stacked concrete blocks, then tied down. All modular homes sit on poured concrete foundations the same as onsite construction.
  • Building Codes: HUD sets the standards for manufactured homes, which supersede local codes. Modular construction must adhere to all the state, county, and local zoning and building codes as traditional construction.
  • Customization: Manufactured homes have minimal options for customization. Modular homes can be customized entirely to the owner's taste and requirements.

Panel Homes

A panelized home is one where the structural components, walls, floors, and roof are factory built, delivered to the homesite, and then completed like a stick-built home. Construction crews lay the foundation first, then put up each section of the walls and then layer on the roof. The are many options for panelized homes and opportunities for customizing.

Kit Homes

Factory-built housing is not new. Sears & Roebuck sold kit homes from 1898 to 1930 and Aladdin Ready Cut Homes from 1906 right up through 1987. The main advantage that accounts for their popularity was affordability, which remains true today.

While you can no longer buy a kit for a Craftsman bungalow from Sears, kit homes are still available today. One of the most prominent companies selling them is Lindal Cedar Homes, which has been in the business since 1945. Do not think of these as inexpensive or small. The kit beginning price point is around $100K, and the size of the homes ranges from 700 square feet to 25,000.

MADI Homes sell tiny flatpack dwellings that assemble in a few hours on a smaller scale. Kits start at around $33K for a 290 square foot home. These homes come complete, and the company will deliver and put them up for about 30 percent of the cost of the kit. You can also buy kit homes on Amazon and IKEA. How about that!

Advantages of Factory Built Housing vs. Stick Built Homes

  • Lower cost: Factory build housing utilizes economies of scale and is less expensive than traditionally built homes of the same size.
  • Prefabricated homes take less time to build.
  • Because they are constructed in the controlled environment of a factory, they are not subject to damage caused by weather or vandalism like site-built homes face.
  • Most factory-built homes today use high-quality materials that are energy-efficient and green.
  • The U.S. has a shortage of construction workers. Prefabricated homes use factory workers, not construction workers, and therefore not subject to the labor constraints faced by the traditional home builder. 

Is Factory Built Housing The Future?

The high cost of housing and construction is fueling the growing minimalist and slight home movement. Young people today are also aware that climate change is one of the most severe challenges. Leaving a smaller carbon footprint and green homes are on their minds. Prefabricated factory-built housing may be the solution to affordable housing and the building trend of the future. 

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