Features

Published: Wednesday June 18, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday June 18, 2014 MYT 10:41:40 AM

These are not trailers: Prefab houses

Dave Ball in front of a Skyline modular home, one of several types that his company sells.

Dave Ball in front of a Skyline modular home, one of several types that his company sells.

The pre-assembled home is looking good in America.

FACTORY-built homes have long suffered from an image problem. But it’s time for that image to change, representatives from the industry in the United States say.

Tim Williams, executive director of the Ohio Manufactured Homes Association, thinks people may be surprised by the homes if they see them.

“People think they’re just trailers,” he says. “... If they see it, I think they’ll realise the benefits” in terms of affordability and quality.

These aren’t the shoddily built tin cans of old. They’re well-constructed, energy-efficient homes, Williams and his colleagues insist.

Sheri Koones agrees. She’s the author of five books on prefabricated housing, including her latest, Prefabulous World.

The entrance to the kitchen area inside a Colony modular home made by Hartzler's Quality Housing.
The entrance to the kitchen area inside a Colony modular home made by Hartzler’s Quality Housing.

Koones says she became fascinated by factory-built housing when a friend had one built. One day, Koones was watching the house go up on the site, and the next day her friend was inviting her to walk through the finished structure.

“I was totally blown away. ... I thought, this is like a miracle,” she says.

Koones believes the merits of building homes in factories are many. The environment is controlled, she says, so there are no weather delays or problems such as mould or warping from wood getting wet. The process saves time, because homes can be built quicker with assembly-line methods than they can on site, and because the foundation and structure can be built simultaneously. It saves money, because materials can be purchased in bulk and protected from job-site theft. And it’s more precise, because computer-controlled machinery and construction methods can be used that yield precise cuts and walls that are perfectly square.

But Koones’ favourite aspect of prefabricated housing is its sustainability. Houses built in factories often incorporate energy-saving features such as generous insulation and careful sealing, and construction waste is greatly reduced because unused materials are used in the next house or recycled, she says.

Full size, luxuriously kitted out bathrooms are the norm in these pre-assembled homes.
Full size, luxuriously kitted out bathrooms are the norm in these pre-assembled homes.

Yet many people still think factory-built housing is inferior. “This is like the best-kept secret in America,” Koones says.

Although factory-built homes are sometimes confused with mobile homes, they’re not the same. Mobile homes – an outgrowth of travel trailers – haven’t been made since 1976, when a set of federal construction and safety standards called the HUD Code (Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards, in full) took effect.

Factory-built homes are often made from two or more sections that are transported to the home site and joined together there. But the number of sections is limited only by the manufacturer’s capacity to produce them. Even mansions are built from factory-made modules, Koones points out.

There are two types of factory-built housing: manufactured homes and modular homes. The difference between those two types lies in the base they rest atop and the construction standards they must meet.

Both are built on steel frames, enabling them to be transported from the factory to the home site – often in sections that are joined on the site. But a modular home is lifted off the frame and set on a permanent foundation, whereas with a manufactured home, the frame remains part of the structure.

Even though a manufactured home could conceivably be moved again, Williams says most manufactured homes on private property are placed on permanent foundations, frame and all.

Manufactured homes are built to the standards of the HUD code, whereas a modular home has to meet only state or local building code governing its permanent site.

That’s pretty much where the difference ends, says Ed Hartzler, owner of Hartzler’s Quality Housing, a factory-built home dealership in Dover Township, Ohio. “If you walk in the interior of them,” he says, “you couldn’t tell the difference.”

Forget about plain facades and ugly features like the old vinyl-covered gypsum wall panels that were once common in factory-built homes. In today’s homes, the interior walls usually are covered with drywall, and details such as tray ceilings and dormers may be added, association members say.

Factory-built homes are created with standard construction methods, but unlike site-built homes, they’re constructed from the inside out, notes Bob Van Schuyver, Ohio regional manager of UMH Properties Inc, which owns and operates manufactured home communities in seven states.

A tour of the Skyline Homes factory in Sugarcreek, Ohio, shows what Van Schuyver means.

The construction process starts with the floor of each house section, which is built as an insulated component with all the ductwork and plumbing lines in place. Once the floor goes onto the steel frame, the various sections of the house are joined together, and the house is built as one unit for the rest of the construction process. That way, even though the house is split into sections for shipping, all the parts will fit together perfectly when they’re rejoined at the house site, says Jim Gallagher, division sales manager for Skyline Homes.

In the factory, the house moves from station to station, where elements such as interior walls, plumbing fixtures and kitchen cabinets are installed. At the same time the exterior walls are going up and the roof is being installed, work such as installing drywall and running electrical lines is going on inside the house.

The exterior walls of some of Skyline’s homes are built with 2ft-by-6ft (roughly 0.5m by 1.8m) studs, which creates a deeper wall with more space for insulation than construction using 2ft-by-4ft (by 1.2m) studs, Gallagher says. Metal straps reinforce the frame to help it withstand storms.

Interior walls are built on tables using a jig, so everything is square, he adds.

Details like arched entrances can be found in these homes.
Designer details : Pre-assembled no longer means cheap and nasty. This Skyline modular home, for instance, has designer details like tray ceilings. — MCT photos

By the time the house leaves the factory, the walls have been painted, the flooring has been laid, and even the draperies and blinds have been installed. The only things left unfinished are the ends of the house, and that’s so the siding can be installed on the permanent site to cover the seam between house sections, Gallagher explains.

Once the house arrives on the home site, it usually takes about two weeks of finishing work before it’s ready to move in, according to Hartzler. Gallagher says it might take six weeks altogether from the time a house is ordered until it’s ready for occupancy.

A factory-built home costs about US$42 (RM134) a square foot, Williams says. Nationally, construction costs for site-built homes averaged US$95 (RM305) a square foot in 2013, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Koones says she believes it all adds up to value. “I think this is the future of home building.”. – Akron Beacon Journal/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Architecture, design, factory-built house

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