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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Prefabulous: New Book Showcases Custom Side Of Manufactured Homes

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 10 April 2007 00:00

It's hard to believe that a century ago, people used to order their homes from the Sears catalog. They'd go down to the train station, pick up their materials from the boxcars, and build from plans included in their mail-order kit. Today, with home prices putting many buyers on hold, it could be time for such economical homes to make a comeback.

Today's version of mail-order homes is called manufactured housing, and they're, well, fabulous, according to Sheri Koones, author of Prefabulous: The House Of Your Dreams, Delivered Fresh From The Factory, Taunton.

No longer stigmatized by the mobile-home look, pre-fab homes, or manufactured housing, can be found in any style and price range, from Cotswald cottages to sprawling steel and glass contemporary luxury homes. The basic difference is that the building pieces to the home are cut and constructed to order in a factory, instead of on the site, like "stick-built" homes.

"I was impressed by the accuracy of the construction, the speed with which it goes up, and the minimal waste, especially compared with ordinary construction," says Ms. Koones.

Like all good ideas, modular homes have evolved. Today, they're "systems-built," which means that attractive design with customizable features is replacing the plain boxes most people think of when you say "modular" house.

Strutting her point that prefab is the new fab, Ms. Koones grabs readers' attention with an introduction to system-built homes illustrated by a jaw-dropping Mediterranean-style mansion located in toney Southampton, New York. Replete with a tile roof, arched doorways and windows, brick and columned accents, and a gorgeous fountain flanked by recessed alcoves for statuary, the stuccoed home looks like it was moved from the hills of Tuscany to New York.

The advantage of systems-built homes, says Ms. Koones, is that they provide greater energy efficiency, lower construction waste, faster construction time, and better structural stability than "stick-built" or built-on-site homes. That means homeowners can save money on the materials and construction, but that doesn't mean systems-built homes are cheaper. Log homes, for example, are more expensive to construct, but the homeowner is repaid by better heating and cooling bills and lower insurance costs, due to their slow burn rate in fires.

Koones says that manufactured housing has improved exponentially, in the last few years. Even as early as 1992, Federal Emergency Management Agency recognized their potential, stating that modular homes "provided an inherently rigid system that performed much better than conventional residential framing." Since then, manufactured housing has improved exponentially. Computer programming designs, measures and cuts the materials to minimize waste and increase accuracy in assembly. Delivery, assembly, and finish out can take as little as a few weeks to a few months.

The result is an economy of scale that's hard to ignore -- lower labor costs, lower production costs, less waste, improved durability, faster building times, and eco-efficient technologies. What's better than saving time, money and the environment?

The problem, however, is finding builders to work with certain products. For example, steel framing is a specialty, and many local builders don't work with it. To combat the problem, manufacturers are recommending qualified builders to consumers who are interested in their products, but don't know a builder. Even better, manufacturers will customize stock plans and are willing to work with architects to expand prefab designs. And, they guarantee their products years beyond that of on-site builders.

Manufactured housing has improved light-years from what it was even 10 to 20 years ago, says Koones. For one thing, manufactured homes covers a wide range of products, each of which are recognized by residential building codes: modular, panelized, log, timber frame, concrete, and steel frame. Many homes are hybrids of these technologies and materials, such as log homes with timber framing and panelized system infills. As skilled on-site labor becomes harder to find, many builders are turning to manufactured housing as a specialty.

Homebuyers who want to build a home and save some money without giving up quality should look into the wonderful ideas found in Prefabulous and discuss options with their Realtor.

Realty Times readers will be delighted that Ms. Koones has provided a list of additional resources:

"There isn't one site I can send people to but I'm including a few web sites in each category of the book," she says. "They can get additional info on the web site: Building Systems Council of the NAHB at .

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Modular: Epoch Homes:

  • Haven Homes, Inc.:

  • SIPs: Insulspan:

  • Fisher SIPs:

  • Panelized: Sterling Homes:

  • Empyrean International, LLC:

  • Timber frame: Davis Frame:

  • Timbercraft Homes:

  • Log: Bitterroot Group:

  • Maple Island Log Homes:

  • Concrete: National Solarcrete Inc.:

  • Steel: Excalibur Steel Structures:

  • KLM Building Solutions:
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