Modular Homes: Everything You Need to Know About Going Prefab

There’s one part of modular homes that’s definitely a plus over stick-built homes, though.

“[Y]our bathrooms and kitchens are usually 100% done,” Casazza says. “That’s probably the most time-consuming part of a [traditionally built] house, the bathrooms and kitchens.”

How are modular homes built in the factory?

Modular homes are built in smaller, connectable pieces—the modules that give modular construction its name, of course—in factories that are often far from their eventual sites. Each segment is built to the relevant standards and ready to integrate into their slots once they arrive on-site.

“Clayton off-site built homes, including modular homes, are constructed inside a climate-controlled home building facility, allowing for a more efficient building process,” says Ron Powell, president of Clayton, the largest manufacturer of modular homes in the US. “A modular home can be anywhere from 70% to 90% complete when it leaves the building facility. The level of completion depends on the features chosen by the homebuyer and design of the floorplan. That final 10% to 30% of the construction is typically the fit and finish-type amenities that buyers associate with quality.”

These factories are huge, and the work is done indoors, unlike houses built on-site, meaning that they’re not subject to the kinds of environment stresses that stick-built homes usually endure for months as they’re slowly put together.

“The lumber doesn’t get wet and dry out,” Casazza says. “It’s a very simple system. If you look at the way bridges or ships or skyscrapers are built, they’re built with a series of parts from a factory that has shipped them out and put them together on-site. That’s what the modular industry is doing.”

There’s also one important similarity to stick-built homes that people aren’t aware of, Powell says.

“Modular homes are constructed using the same standard materials found in traditional site-built construction, including lumber, windows, doors and appliances,” he says.

Where can you build a modular home?

Local zoning restrictions dictate where modular homes can go, and passing this hurdle is often the hardest part of the whole process for many people.

“Off-site construction is often zoned out or relegated to the outskirts of cities and towns,” Powell says. “Our industry is working closely with municipalities across the country to help ensure that off-site built homes are permissible as a homeownership solution.”

Still, it’s easier than it used to be to put in a modular home.

“When I started in the industry, you’d go into towns and they would say, ‘We don’t let modular homes into this town,’” Casazza says.

How big can modular homes be?

Size is arguably the most critical limiting factor of any modular home—and not for the reason you may think.

“They’ve got to be driven down the highway,” Casazza says

That means that, depending on where the sections of your modular home have to travel, each section can’t exceed the dimensions that are safe on the road. In most of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, for example, Casazza says, the maximum width is 15 feet and 6 inches, and the maximum height is 65 feet, though you can go wider in rural areas like southern New Jersey. Tennessee-based Clayton, on the other hand, manufactures modular home sections up to 16 feet wide and 76 feet long.

“This can be a challenge if your home site is heavily wooded,” Powell says. “Branches will need be trimmed and trees removed.”

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