Definition of a Modular Home

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Modular homes are part of a construction style of buildings that are prefabricated or manufactured at a central location and shipped. The most commonly recognized manufactured building is the mobile home, but builders of modular and other styles of prefabricated housing aggressively separate themselves from their mobile park cousins. The difference? Mostly, you know a trailer home when you see one, but in terms of looks, construction quality and permanence, it's hard to tell a modular home from one built entirely on-site.

Difference Between Mobile and Modular

  • While both are essentially built at a manufacturing plant and shipped to the homesite, the mobile home is shipped intact, and only needs to be hooked up to local power and water. Instead of a foundation, the mobile home is built on a chassis, with wheels, ready to move whenever the owner wants.

Modular Homes Are Permanent

  • In modular construction, walled segments are constructed at the manufacturing plant, complete with interior, and shipped to the homesite. A builder at the site prepares the foundation, connects several modular segments and completes finishing work, greatly shortening the time of construction at the site.

Panelized or Flat-Pack Construction

  • As with modular homes, flat-pack construction has walls, roofs, and flooring built at a factory. But instead of connecting the walls and floors there and shipping them as complete rooms, the manufacturer stacks these components flat on trucks and sends them to the site for builders to erect. Often prefabricated homes are a hybrid of flat-pack and modular construction.

Modular Doesn't Mean Cookie Cutter

  • Though built at one location, modular home companies offer a variety of designs, can mix and match components, and even build a complete custom design. Linda Keane, professor of architecture and environmental design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said in an interview that while assembly line production is conducive to standardizing certain elements of home construction rather than having "everything reinvented all the time," it doesn't mean a loss of uniqueness and personality to each home. "The details are where that kind of innovation comes in and uniqueness has to happen," she said. "People want diversity."

Building Green

  • Architects and home manufacturers see in the modular construction method an opportunity to build homes with high energy efficiency. Geoffrey Thun, co-founder the Toronto archiectural firm RVTR, said in an interview that "The quality that can be achieved through the processes, like energy-producing systems built into prefab houses, are well above that in a traditional mode of site building, where very specific technologies may not be available in every marketplace." His firm won Canada's 2009 Professional Prix de Rome in architecture for designs that through "highly insulated building envelopes" and use of solar energy can, over a year, produce more energy than it uses.
    All-American Homes, a builder of modular homes shipped to 36 U.S. states, offers extensive green options in its modular designs, including solar energy. One of its designs was the basis for a modular demonstration house the company built for the U.S. Department of Energy's 2009 Living Zero Home Tour about hyper energy efficient homes.

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