Manufactured and Modular vs. ‘Stick-Built’ Homes: Here Are My Thoughts

There has been some confusion in the real estate world over the term “manufactured” homes. Most recently the term has been applied to mobile homes — also referred to as single-wide or double-wide homes, which are transported fully finished to mobile home parks.

But “manufactured,” as I understand it, can be applied to a home whose walls, trusses and other components are put together in a warehouse, then shipped on flatbed trailers to a construction site where they are assembled and installed on a standard concrete foundation.

A “modular” home goes a step further, in that entire rooms might be assembled in a warehouse, transported to a work site and then assembled with other modules to make a complete house.

The first home I bought in Colorado was a ranch with walk-out basement in Golden’s Mesa Meadows subdivision. Only after I had moved in did a neighbor share with me how my home was put together in a day or two. Its components were manufactured in Fort Morgan and delivered to Golden only after the concrete foundation was ready to receive them. Anyone looking at the home would think it was a  “stick-built” home like the other homes in the neighborhood. When I bought it and when I later sold it, it wasn’t listed on the MLS as “manufactured,” because that would have felt like a misrepresentation, given the type of home it was.

The neighbor who explained that my home was actually built in Fort Morgan and assembled on site, explained how that process made for a better home. The exterior walls were 2×6 construction (to withstand the rigors of shipment) and they were fully insulated on the factory floor rather than on-site, resulting in better quality control. It made sense to me. It also made me wonder why more homes aren’t built that way.

I remember learning that an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity in Minnesota or Wisconsin constructs homes that way during the cold winter months — having volunteers assemble entire wall units in heated warehouses during cold spells, then delivering them to the site later on.

Every conventionally built home uses roof trusses that are made to order on factory floors and shipped to work sites on flatbed trailers, so why not have wall units made to order as well?

From 1933 to 1940 Sears Roebuck sold mail-order “Kit Homes” that were “pre-cut and fitted.” A 2-story colonial-style home called the “Martha Washington” was sold by Sears for $3,727. Other kit homes had names like the Cape Cod, the Ridgeland, the Franklin, the Dayton, and the Collingwood. See below for that model’s description from the Sears catalog. Many homes in Denver were built from Sears kits, but you’d never know it. Original owners of those homes are long gone, and the current owners of them probably have no idea.

There are definite economies to building homes that are “pre-cut” and partially pre-assembled off-site. For one thing, the factory workers can work every day regardless of the weather and even in multiple shifts. They can be more productive in a heated warehouse. There will be more efficient use of materials and more recycling and reuse as well.

Right now, the growing “tiny home” market is doing such construction and delivering modules or even entire homes to work sites, enjoying great economies in doing so. There is no reason that more elements of larger homes couldn’t be built off-site and delivered to construction sites for final assembly.

One example of off-site modular construction utilized in the building of sustainable homes is Structural Insulated Panels or “SIPs,” shown here.  Two sheets of sheathing have 4 to 5 inches of foam insulation between them. SIPs can replace walls built with wood framing and provide superior insulation.

Impresa Modular is a West Virginia company with a great website (www.ImpresaModular.com) describing the many kinds of off-site home construction methodologies they employ and sell.

There is so much innovation happening in home construction, much of which can not only reduce construction costs but can result in better insulated homes.

Here’s a picture of the manufactured home belonging to Butch Roberts of Salida, who sent the comment below:

Author: Golden Real Estate, Inc.

Golden Real Estate is a prominent member of the Denver/Jefferson County real estate scene. Based in Golden, we service both Denver and Jeffco, representing both buyers and sellers. We're well known for Broker Jim Smith's weekly "Real Estate Today" column published in the Denver and Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section each Thursday. The column also appears in several weekly newspapers and is archived at www.JimSmithColumns.com. We have nine agents, all of whom are Realtors and EcoBrokers. Our office is Net Zero Energy since December 2017, and several of us drive electrics cars. Known for our sustainable practices, we accept polystyrene (aka "Styrofoam") for recycling, keeping 200 cubic yards per year out of area landfills.

One thought on “Manufactured and Modular vs. ‘Stick-Built’ Homes: Here Are My Thoughts”

  1. Here’s an email I received from a reader who owns a manufactured home:

    When looking for a new home on our move from Morrison to Salida in 2004, we found a perfect home, a New England traditional, in Trailside Estates. It was intended to be the model home by the developer. The layout was very similar to our 1977 Pulte home in Harriman Park, comfortable and familiar, so we jumped at it. It was about 100 sf smaller and had no basement, but it did have an open den-kitchen floor plan and an actual first floor laundry room.

    About a week after moving in I discovered the blueprints in a mailbox laying on the ground at the front corner of the lot. Nothing had ever been mentioned during negotiations with the listing agent or the developer about it not being stick built on the lot. It was built by Wausau Homes in Wausau, Wisconsin and delivered in sections, and put together here on the foundation at 1 Trailside Circle. I, with over 20 years experience as a Realtor having gone through and completed my GRI designation, had no clue it wasn’t built on my lot.

    It is better insulated, having been built to Wisconsin standards, and tight as a drum. We are big fans of manufactured homes. Wausau did show up that first week with all new windows though, as they had accidentally installed windows not appropriate for high altitudes, something else I had never been familiar with before.

    No one call tell this was a manufactured home.

    Butch Roberts

    Like

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