Prefab Modular Homes Versus Traditional Builds


Thinking about building a new home? If so, you’re probably wondering about prefab homes—what they are, if they’re worth your investment, and what the advantages or disadvantages of modular homes may be. The first thing to understand about homebuilding is the types of homes that you can build.

Traditional construction is the opposite of prefabricated. This construction method is often referred to as “stick-built,” and it characterizes homes that are built “stick for stick” onsite by home building contractors. In contrast, prefab homes are made using assemblies and components that are partially constructed in a factory, then transported to the building site to be fully assembled.

In the prefabricated industry, there are a lot of different terms tossed around like “prefab,” “modular,” and “kit homes.” You’re probably wondering, what is the difference between prefab and modular? To break it down further, modular, manufactured and kit homes are all types of prefab homes. Manufactured homes are those built completely offsite, then transported to the home site for installation. These are often referred to as “mobile homes.”

  • Modular homes are homes in which large assemblies, called modules, are built offsite, then transported to your plot of land for the final assembly. A module will have all the necessary components, like electrical, wiring and ductwork, in place prior to arriving at the build site.
  • Kit homes are just like furniture kits that you might buy online—only much larger, including all the pieces you’ll need to put a home together.

Prefab homes come in all shapes and sizes—and some of them even combine elements of the above types. For instance, one manufacturer may produce homes that include modular assemblies for certain portions of the home, and a kit for other parts that may not ship as well as a module. There are lots of reasons why people choose prefab homes over stick-built, which we’ll discuss below.

Is prefab cheaper than stick-built?

Prefab homes generally are cheaper than stick-built homes. This can vary widely based on a variety of factors, including size, amenities and the location, but on average, prefab homes cost between 10% and 20% less than stick-built homes.

How much does a prefab house cost?

Again, the total cost of a prefab home will vary widely based on size, location and the amenities selected. Some homes are quite small—and thus very inexpensive—but some prefab homes are huge, luxurious dwellings that can set you back quite a bit! No matter the size, however, you can expect to pay between $180 and $220 per square foot, which usually includes interior fixtures and amenities.

Why are modular homes cheaper than stick built?

This question’s answer comes down to one simple factor: Labor. In a stick-built home, contractors assemble the home from scratch on site, which is a labor-intensive process. Prefab homes save money because mass production of the home’s components on an assembly line cut those labor costs dramatically. In addition, home building contractors only need to assemble the finished components. You end up saving more by not having to hire subcontractors like plumbers and electricians to put the finishing touches on the home.

Are prefab homes worth it?

Absolutely! In the past, the “prefab” term was a negative one that carried connotations of poor quality homes and cheap construction methods. However, modern prefabricated construction has made many advancements. Some people actually prefer prefab homes because they’re generally a lot more environmentally friendly than stick-built homes. The building process produces a lot less waste than traditional building, factories are more efficient than on-site building, and companies specializing in prefabrication often rely on reused and recycled materials.

Today’s factory-built homes often feature an improved building envelope compared to stick-built homes, too. Tighter seams means homeowners save money on heating and air conditioning.

What’s more, as prefabrication becomes more popular as a construction method, the types and sizes of homes available are becoming much more diverse. It’s no longer the cookie-cutter double-wide mobile home. Instead, you can find prefabricated homes in styles ranging from cabins to traditional craftsman designs, and even gorgeous contemporary homes.

What is the least expensive modular home?

This is a tough question to answer because there are thousands of options available—and more popping up all the time. You’ll have to do some shopping around to find a prefabricated home in your budget, but it is easy to find affordable prefab homes.

However, there are prefab homes that can be yours for under $20,000. These are often container homes or “tiny homes,” which are very small, meant for first-time homeowners, homes for retirement, or homes for people who enjoy a minimalist lifestyle.

At the under $50,000 price range, homes are often a little larger, but still small. You’ll find cabin kits and other small home packages in this price range. Turnkey prefab homes under $100,000 are typically small to mid-sized homes, featuring a few more amenities than their smaller counterparts. In price ranges above $100,000, you’ll start finding large homes and homes with plentiful amenities just as you’d expect in a luxury property.

How can you tell if a home is modular or stick-built?

In some cases, it can be quite difficult to tell the difference between modular and stick-built homes. In the case of mobile homes, you can check the foundation to determine whether the home has been placed on a slab or risers, or whether it rests on a traditional foundation as a stick-built home would. In other cases, however, the only real difference between modular and stick built homes is the assembly: whether it was manufactured as modules in a factory, or whether builders constructed it onsite.

What are the cons of a prefab house?

If you read modular home reviews, you’ll find many cons. But is there any truth to them, or are these artifacts of yesteryear, when prefab construction was maligned as a shoddy building technique? There are some concerns when it comes to prefabrication, but in most cases, the cons that came with older modular home technology have since been remedied with modern technology. Below, we answer some of the most common questions surrounding these types of homes.

Do prefabricated homes lose value?

As with anything, this depends on the quality of the model that you choose. Low quality prefabricated homes featuring subpar materials and building techniques may lose value over time, but a quality prefabricated home will appreciate in value just the same as a quality stick-built home.

How long do modular homes last?

When designed according to local building codes, these homes will last just as long as stick-built homes.

What are the problems with prefabricated homes?

There are some concerns you’ll need to be aware of when choosing prefabricated homes:

  • Be mindful that the cost of the kit isn’t the final cost. You’ll still need to hire someone for assembly, purchase the land on which it will sit, build a foundation and hookups for electrical and plumbing, and pay for any regulatory fees.
  • It will take a lot of research to choose a manufacturer. Not all manufacturers produce to the same quality standards, so be sure to choose one who builds to your standard.
  • Financing for prefabricated homes can be a little tricky. Some manufacturers offer financing, which makes securing the home easier, but if the manufacturer does not offer financing, then you may need a construction loan, which will need to be converted to a long-term mortgage after one year.

What are the dangers of modular homes?

Mobile homes sometimes conjure up imagery of homes blowing off their foundations during tornadoes or high wind events. However, prefabricated homes present no real dangers that aren’t also present in traditionally built homes. Modern building systems are engineered to keep these homes as safe and secure as possible.

Prefabricated homes are an excellent option for anyone who is in the market for something affordable. Modern modular homes have come a long way from the mobile homes that got such a bad reputation decades ago. Today’s selection of prefab houses includes everything you can imagine, from beautiful tiny homes to spacious luxury houses.

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