Think Inside the Box: What to Know About Prefab Homes

prefab homes

The Breezehouse, by Allen Construction, is a gorgeous example of modular prefab construction in Santa Barbara, Calif.

By Seve Kale

Think about the myriad of high-quality products you use on a daily basis that were built in factories: your car, your smart phone, your computer — so why not your new home?

At the intersection of home design and efficiency, the term “prefab” encompasses any home that has sections of the structure built in a factory off site and then is assembled on site.  Prefabricated homes generally fall into two categories: Panel Built and Modular.

Nonetheless, “‘Prefab’ is more than a home in a box; it is a much broader concept,” says Nima Mahak, Allen Construction Operations Manager, and Greg Aragon, Allen Construction Design Manager. With the goal of shedding some light on prefabricated homes, we talked to several prefab home professionals to get their insight on the industry and its future.

Shedding Light on Misconceptions

“People often think that only mobile homes or low-quality homes can be prefab — that’s absolutely not the case,” says Steve Glenn, CEO of the California-based Modern Modular Prefab Company LivingHomes. Like site-built homes, there is a huge amount of variation in design quality and sustainability. “With the addition of select features, whether they are modular customizations or even site-built elements, a prefabricated home can be adapted to a specific climate, topography or sun orientation,” says Aragon.

Beyond the confusion surrounding quality, there’s also misconception over the cost of prefab homes. “You have to make sure you are comparing apples to apples,” says Chris Krager, founder and principle architect at Austin-based ma modular. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the cost per square foot of a typical modular home is $76.80, while the average stick-built home costs $94.34. Just like site-built homes, there are a variety of factors that impact the final cost.

Weathering the Storm

Because they’re built in a controlled environment, prefabricated homes are built with less construction waste and more precision — there is no unexpected interference from Mother Nature during construction. A specialized inspection takes place at every step of construction, as well as at a final inspection once the home is assembled on site. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), modular homes “performed much better than conventional residential framing” in withstanding extreme conditions.

Efficient Design

Because they are factory-built, prefab homes are, on average, quicker to build than traditional stick-built homes. “About 60 percent to 65 percent of the work is the module in the factory,” said Krager. “You can definitely save time — 3 to 5months, I would say — but it is by no means as simple as ordering a widget on a line.”

“Prefabrication may be at its best when used as part of the overall design — modular homes lend themselves very easily to energy-efficient materials and processes, but building sustainably requires unique specifics that must be integrated into the solution,” said Aragon. As with any new home, good design makes a world of difference.

Seve Kale is a contributor to NewHomeSource.

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