Modular Homes: The Future of Housing?

Originally published by: Detroit Free PressDecember 24, 2011

The following article was produced and published by the source linked to above, who is solely responsible for its content. SBC Magazine is publishing this story to raise awareness of information publicly available online and does not verify the accuracy of the author’s claims. As a consequence, SBC cannot vouch for the validity of any facts, claims or opinions made in the article.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- When Jack and Gina Sheehan wanted to demolish and replace their 1952-built waterfront home in Yorktown, Va., they didn't choose the custom-built route.

Instead, they went with what is mostly a modular home.

"I did a lot of research online, looking at modular, the pros and cons, and visiting a couple of factories in Virginia and North Carolina," says Sheehan, a retired aeronautical engineer who is now a business development consultant.

"When you look at the construction methods, you found out the basic factories are all about the same. The difference is what is put into the engineering and quality controls."

In the end, the couple went with Professional Building Systems in Middleburg, Pa., because the company was better able to work with their custom plan and still give them the benefits of buying modular.

With the plan of spending the holidays in their three-story house with 2,700 square feet of modular-built living space on two floors, the Sheehans hired John Glover of Tidewater Custom Modular Homes in Smithfield, Va., to oversee the construction site. The first level is a custom-built, above-ground basement with garage space and full bath designed by an architect.

Accustomed to damaging storms like Hurricanes Isabel in 2003 and Irene this year, the Sheehans are also building their home to withstand 130-m.p.h. winds; any flooding will be limited to the garage level. Instead of the standard 2-by-6 framing studs, basement walls are done with 2-by-8s, placed closer together, or on 12-inch centers instead of 24-inch centers. Bolts, larger-than-usual hurricane clips and threaded rods that go into the concrete footers help tie the house and foundation together. To access the second- and third-floor modular spaces, the Sheehans installed an elevator.

"The brick mason set the cinder blocks so the rods run through the cavities into the footers," says Jack Sheehan.

"There's more strength in the first floor of this house than in most whole homes."

For amenities, the house offers quartz counters, hardwood floors, gas fireplace, ceramic tile floors in baths with floor heater strips, tankless hot water heater, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and 50-year architectural shingles. Elevated front and rear screened porches offer scenic views.

Price to build the entire house: $110 per square foot.

That's considerably lower than many custom homes, which usually start about $125 per square foot and can easily reach $200 per square foot.

"All areas vary," says Glover. He has a mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Military Institute, has been refurbishing and remodeling homes since 1998 and has been in new residential and commercial construction since 2003.

"In our area, we find that there is typically a 10%-20% savings versus comparable site-built construction. This savings can vary from plan to plan. We have a 3,000-square-(foot) plan we provide turnkey, excluding site activities like well, septic, clearing, driveway to our published standards for $77 per square foot."

Glover and his wife, Tammy, an interior decorator and real estate agent, live in a modular home they built in 2004. Since that time, they have built more than 50 modular homes from Virginia Beach to Richmond, Va.

"Up to that point, I equated modular with mobile, but I quickly learned that modular construction was far more than I perceived," says Glover.

"Modular homes contain 30% more material because they are built as individual boxes. When the boxes come together, they create interior walls of 2-by-8s versus standard 2-by-4s and add extra insulation qualities.

"Construction is quicker, meaning you move in faster, and you eliminate any exposure to weather or moisture problems in the process.

"Early on, the buyer could only choose from standard floor plans, but nowadays we can virtually design their home on the spot, whether we modify a standard plan, or start from scratch. You can build totally modular or partially modular and customize the rest, it's your choice," Glover adds.

Modular, by definition, is a green and energy-saving form of construction when compared with typical stick-built, according to Dan Goodin of Nationwide Homes. The company built modulars for HGTV's "Extreme Makeover" house in Virginia Beach, Va., earlier this year.

"At Nationwide, every home we build comes out of the factory both EnergyStar and green 'ready' (some simple on-site items and certification are required for full compliance)," says Goodin.

In Newport News, Va., Clayton Homes and Oakwood Homes offer modular homes as small as 28-by-40 feet in the $70,000-$80,000 range, depending on amenities. So far, their largest modular is a 3,000-square-foot home done in three sections for $180,000-$190,000, according to home consultant Audrey Briggs, who has been in the home-building industry for 25 years.

"Our modulars are bolted, nailed and screwed, built to code for each city or county and made to travel down the road without any damage," says Briggs.

"We can order a home without walls and you do the rest, or you can order it turnkey. Modulars are the future of home construction in this country."

Check out this extra section in each digital issue of SBC Magazine for additional news, perspective, and advertiser content. Learn more and access 2016-2017 archives here.