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:

Many Organizations Contribute to ‘Rapid Shelter’ Effort Addressing Homelessness

Homelessness is an increasing problem in Denver and around the world, thanks in part to the financial effects of Covid-19, including rising unemployment. Like me, you have probably seen news reports about homeless encampments in Denver, wondering what can be done to address what appears to be an intractable problem.

As a committed capitalist and entrepreneur, as well as a would-be philanthropist, I know there are solutions to this social challenge, so I was pleased to come across a Fast Company article with the headline, “45 innovative solutions for beautiful, easy-to-build housing to help cities with the homelessness crisis.”

That article was inspired by the Rapid Shelter Innovation Showcase, “a clearinghouse for smart ideas on how to lower construction times for cities in need of new housing for people living on the street or after a disaster.” You’ll find the showcase on the website of The Housing Innovation Collaborative, created in 2019 by several Los Angeles non-profits committed to addressing homelessness in L.A. and around the world.

According to their website, “almost one million people [in L.A.] live on the verge of homelessness, and 60,000 people are homeless on any given night. Just to sustain ourselves, we need to build over 500,000 affordable housing units and increase our current housing production by 4.5x.

The cost per bed of the 45 concepts, many of which are described as “in stock,” ranges from under $1,000 to over $100,000. Others are described as “con-ceptual ideas only” or “nearly ready.” with days required to set up each product ranging from 1 to 90 days. Eleven were described as ”built prototypes only.” Each has a link to its own web page with complete information.

Previously I have written about the “tiny home” movement, and I’ve visited several tiny homes, including one on the annual Boulder Green Home Tour. A few years ago, several tiny homes were displayed in the parking lot next to the Golden Public Library, and last year there was a display of them (which I missed) on open land off Pena Boulevard.

Tiny homes are intended to be permanent housing. They have complete kitchens and bathrooms, requiring hook-ups to water and sewer, although some are available as trailers requiring only the occasional RV hook-up. But most of the solutions displayed on the collaborative’s showcase are intended to get homeless people out of tents.

It’s hard to describe the variety of technologies and styles in the showcase, so I’ll show just a few of them here, but each picture below is a link to that entry’s web page.

NYC Emergency Housing Prototype can be built in less than 15 hours. Cost: $156,000, 6 beds.
 
IndieDwell, a Boise-based company, offers this 2-bed unit built from an 8’x40’ shipping container for $50,000. Setup time is 18 days.
 
You can buy this 2-bedroom 600-sq.-ft. in-stock kit home from Sunshine Network Homes, Inc. for $53,642. Setup time is estimated at 29 days.
 

Not mentioned in the showcase is a  British charity called ShelterBox, which I learned about as a Rotarian. Their containers, easily carried by two persons, are warehoused around the world, ready to be deployed quickly to disaster locations. They contain a tent and other aid items such as mosquito nets, water filters, water carriers, solar lights, cooking sets, blankets and mats. It is a charity worthy of your support. Learn more at www.ShelterBoxUSA.org.

Accessory Dwelling Units Are Gaining in Popularity

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been around for a long time. Fonzie lived in one (above the Cunningham’s garage), but they fell out of favor with local governments. Recently, local governments have warmed up to ADUs, promulgating zoning regulations encouraging them, especially detached units in a backyard or above a garage.

You may have heard ADUs referred to as backyard bungalows, micro homes, retirement cottages, guest houses, mancaves, she-sheds, or mi casita. They are created for many reasons: independent living for relatives (aging parents, 20- somethings), rental income/investment property, home office, studio, etc. These days it could be quarantine quarters.

Local governments like them as one way to address the pressing issue of affordable housing in a way that is sustainable, is a compliment to the neighborhood, and provides more affordable housing. People hardly realize they are there, and when they do, often want one.

ADUs have been approved by the state of California, where affordable housing is a crisis throughout the state.

The tiny house movement has popularized the idea of radical downsizing and the concept that living in a small space has many positives. ADU’s are not tiny houses, as the term is used today. ADUs are something more. Although small, they are a complete living unit with a full kitchen and bathroom, with a comfortable living area suitable for entertaining. They have a foundation and meet all code requirements. ADUs are more expensive than tiny homes, but they can be worth it.

How much do they cost? Pre-designed manufactured (built off-site) units can be less than $200,000, and even less depending on the characteristics of the site and choices made by the owner.

Would you like to know more? A good resource is at www.AccessoryDwellings.org, created by Kol Peterson. Peterson lives in Portland, Oregon (an early adopter of ADUs), has built many himself, and conducts workshops on all aspects of the process. 

ADU above a garage

Locally, a company called Verdant Living sells manufactured ADUs, not ones that are “stick-built” on-site, so if that works for you, you can email them at bungalow@verdantliving.us for more information.  They can refer you to other companies which build ADUs, whether free-standing, over your garage, or in a walk-out basement.

Personally, I have sold homes which have ADUs. Having a rentable unit can make a home more affordable to many buyers.