Modular or prefabricated homes are seeing a surge in popularity. They can be build quickly and efficiently. Plus, in a time when social distancing is a concern, modular homes require fewer builders on site for a much shorter periods of time than traditional stick built construction. With home prices continuing to rise, new construction is a more reasonable option for some potential homeowners.
Working with manufacturers of prefab homes could increase your visibility and lead to landing more work. You can become known as a trusted construction professionals for modular homes and grow your business in this new market.
What are modular homes?
Modular homes are constructed in a factory and transported to the building site in several large pieces. As opposed to mobile or manufactured homes which are completely constructed and attached to wheels, modular homes are attached to a foundation, crawl space or basement and are permanently attached in this location. The terms modular and prefab are used interchangeably, but technically, prefabricated homes includes modular, steel frame and panel-built construction. These homes leave the factory with differing amounts of completion, from just the floor and wall panels being constructed to entire rooms that are ready to fit together like Legos. Regardless of the exact method, much of the labor for prefabricated homes is done in a factory setting where computer aided construction makes the process faster, more exact and quicker than stick built construction.
Benefits of prefab homes include:
- They are built to exact specifications. Modular homes are build in factories, where equipment can be used that would be impractical at the work site. Computer aided design and construction means the features and dimensions of the home can be very specific and accurate.
- They are very strong. Because prefab homes have to be transported to their final site, additional materials are used to keep them safe and strong. That means these homes are high-quality and can withstand nearly any environmental disaster.
- They can be built quickly. These homes are built inside factories, with the aid of computer equipment. There are no delays for weather or unexpected construction snafus.
- While they are factory constructed, it doesn’t mean they all look the same. Home owners can easily add or change features of the home to the design. The use of computer aided drafting equipment means its easy to design a modular home to exact specifications. The fabricator will have standard floor plans available for customers, but custom design or alternation is common practice.
Become a modular home contractor
As the popularity of modular homes continues to grow, so will the need for contractors and trade professionals who can prepare for, build and repair these structures. Understanding the intricacies and unique elements of prefab homes will give you additional opportunities for streams of income. Just as with a stick built homes, there are many considerations and skilled trade professionals that are necessary for correctly assembling a modular home.
One option for trade pros is to become a certified builder for a company that manufactures modular homes. These companies have the technical means to design and fabricate the homes, but often contract with other professionals to install the building at the site. Prefab home manufacturers generally do not sell homes directly to consumers. They sell to builders or installers who are competent to correctly build the home on site.
Several modular home businesses also offer franchise opportunities. While this does require an upfront investment, you will own a new business and be able to make the decisions for your company.
To be recognized as a qualified professional to work on modular homes and recognized for your skills in the field, consider the following certifications or memberships:
- Modular Home Builders Association- Providing referrals, education and advocacy, the MHBA is a national organization dedicated to providing opportunities to the builders, manufacturers and suppliers in the modular home industry.
- Modular Building Institute- MBI has a variety of in-person and online training programs so you remain at the top of your industry. In addition to certifications, membership in the MBI includes discounts, referrals from their website, up-to-date information about policy and practices and more.
- Manufactured Housing Institute- The MHI online training program certifies builders to install manufactured housing and to be licensed to be HUD installers and inspectors. Other benefits of membership in MHI includes industry updates, referrals, supply discounts and regulatory support.
- Offsite Construction Council- This is part of the National Institute of Building Sciences that was established in 2013 to bring together all members of the modular construction industry. They focus on new education, advocacy and standards for commercial, institutional and multi-family buildings.
- Modular Home Building Council- Part of the National Association of Home Builders, this council focuses on increasing awareness of the quality and advantages of modular construction. They maintain a vetted list of builders who are competent to work on modular construction.
Other trade pros needed for modular construction
Even those who are not general contractors or modular home contractors will find their skills in demand as prefab home sales continue to rise. Many of the jobs preparing a building site for a modular home are subcontracted out to skilled professionals. Builders are looking to connect with subcontractors that have experience with and knowledge about modular homes and their unique features. Contractors are also used to do all the “button up” work- the finishing work that needs to be done to make the home habitable.
The follow are a few of the trade professions that are required to prepare for and complete the construction of a modular building.
Land clearing/ Prepare the building site
When preparing the building site for a modular home, keep in mind that the modules will arrive via flatbed truck and will be assembled with a crane. This means that heavy equipment must be able to access the site. The road leading the the home site needs to be wide enough to accommodate this traffic, and the area around the building site needs to be cleared to provide safe access to all areas of the building. Heavily populated areas may require that you work in conjunction with the local police for traffic control or parking permits.
You may also be required to perform land tests, site inspections and receive plan approvals. Check with the zoning requirements in your area.
A surveyor should be used to mark the boundaries of the land. This will eliminate any potential disputes with neighbors over property lines. The results of a land survey will also help the builder to determine the best place for the house, utilities, driveway and more.
Basements and foundations
Modular homes can have a full basement or crawl space foundation. These would be constructed before the rest of the home arrives at the building site. A foundation contractor or concrete finisher would be employed to build the foundation prior to the delivery of the modules. Because modular homes are permanent and will need to have utilities permanently installed, they can not have a slab foundation. Options for foundations include:
- Pier and beam- This is the most affordable option and gives the home extra stability in areas prone to earthquakes, high winds or flooding.
- Crawl space- A concrete finisher is already familiar with designing crawl space that provide a secure foundation to a home. This area will be unfinished, but allow access to the electric, plumbing and HVAC systems.
- Basement- While a full basement will cost more and take more time, it provides additional support and living space. A full basement used as additional living space will be warmed and cooled by the home’s HVAC system and will also have plumbing and electricity. Connecting all of these systems before the modules arrive will require the skills of professionals to ensure the process runs smoothly.
- Walk-out basement- Just as with stick built houses, modular homes can be built over full walk-out basements or even garages.
As a foundation specialist for modular homes, you would need to be familiar with the floor plan for the house so you can align the supports in the foundation with the structure that will be placed on top. Some subcontractors work with one specific manufacturer or style of prefab home. If you plan to broaden your scope, you will need to study the detailed plans for all the homes you will work with.
A professional electrician will need to connect all the wiring in a modular home. The house itself is pre-wired during the manufacturing process. The home will be delivered with all outlets and switches, but the local electrician will connected the wires between the modules. When it arrives at the site, the electric company will install the electric meter, but an electrician will make all the permanent connections. This includes connecting the wiring for the HVAC system, the basement and any exterior lighting. Because modular homes are nearly complete by the time they arrive at the construction site, the electrician working on the home needs to be experience in reading modular home plans and understanding all connections that need to be made. They may not be obvious because the wiring is already covered by the walls and flooring.
Water entering the house will come from the public water system or a private well. Water exiting the house will go to the sewer or septic system. The main plumbing of the house will be installed when the foundation is built. Plumbing for individual modules will be built in the factory so a plumber will need to know exactly where all the connections will be to correctly place the lines in the foundation. Working in conjunction with the manufacturer is necessary to avoid any complications during the installation.
If the home will have a septic system, it should not be installed until the house delivery is complete. Heavy equipment could damage or destroy the septic system.
The hot water tank may be installed in the manufacturing process if it will be located in a finished space. If it will be located in the basement, it will be shipped as a loose piece and need to be installed on site.
In addition, water and sewage connections between modules will need to be completed on site. Pressure tests will confirm that all lines are connected and secure.
Exterior construction and landscaping
After the modules have been assembled, the finishing work on the exterior of the home will need to be completed. After the house is assembled and the heavy equipment has left, porches and decks can be built and landscaping can be designed. Other work that can be done outside the house could include:
- Securing roof shingles
- Installing siding
- Driveway construction
- Concrete work for sidewalks, retaining walls, etc.
- Decks and porches
All modular homes need to have home inspections before they are determined safe for occupancy, just as stick built houses do. Some inspections will be done in the factory as the home is assembled. Inspections for the roofing, insulation, wiring, wallboard and framing will be done by the manufacturer during the building process.
Inspections on the building site will also need to be done. Inspectors should understand the structure of modular homes and how the utilities are installed to be more efficient and effective. Professionals will need to perform all of the following inspections:
- Mechanical (including HVAC systems)
- Septic/ sewer
- Soil engineering/ grading
Large modular construction projects
Private homes are not the only construction that is switching to modular. Office buildings, apartments, hotels and even skyscrapers are using modular construction. Contractors that focus on commercial clients have both a fabricating team and an on-site team to complete the building quickly and efficiently. While many of the same on-site skills are necessary for commercial projects, they are on a much bigger scale. There could be a dozen or more modules, and the completed building will need to comply with state and federal regulations as a public space. This includes:
- Wheelchair ramps
- Fire safety
- Independent utility hook ups (for apartment buildings or shopping centers)
- Any modular-specific regulations that apply in that state or municipality
Companies that specialize in modular construction for specific industries can offer customers prefabricated buildings with unique floorplans, added technology and privacy. Modular health care facilities requires additional utilities, communication, safety and soundproofing. Restaurants can be prepared with large kitchens and open seating areas. Banks will be constructed with additional security and areas that will be inaccessible to the public.
While modular homes are intended to be permanent fixtures and are assembled as such, it is possible to disassemble and reused the modules, creating an eco friendly solution to housing. Currently 40% of landfill waste is a result of construction. This can be greatly reduced by moving, renovating, adding to or repurposing modular construction.
Modular homes are on frame or off frame. In the fabrication facility, modules are constructed on steel chassis so they are secure during transport. When they arrive at the construction site, the chassis can be left on or the module can be removed before assembly. Those that are on frame will be easier to move so if the plan is to reuse the modules in the future, the better choice is to leave them on the frame. However, with some extra work, it is also possible to relocated off frame modules.
Certified plumbers, electricians and HVAC pros will need to disconnect all of the utilities and safely terminate them before the building can be relocated. The process of preparing the new site will be the same as preparing the original. A professional experienced in moving modules should be used to ensure that nothing in the home is damaged.
Even commercial use buildings can be repurposed. Classrooms can be transformed into dorm rooms. Apartments can become medical centers. Even within a large company, office buildings can have additions or be reconfigured to meet changing and growing demands of their industry. A growing number of contractors for modular homes are becoming creative thinkers in ways to repurpose the modules to save time, energy and waste. During the planning and design process, consider if the building may be moved or repurposed in the future. Building in some accommodations at this point will make the building easier and more cost effective to relocated.
Modular construction trends continue to grow and adapt to the housing and business needs of communities. Being part of the movement toward more sustainable building will open possibilities of new markets to your business. Whether you want to be an approved onsite builder for a major fabrication company or you have unique and innovative ideas for modular building uses, trades.org can help you make your ideas reality and grow you business. We’ll be here to help you understand new trends, abide by local and national regulations and market your business to the ideal audience.