Catching up with the Modern World: Part II

Part II:The History of Modular & Mobile Homes

MAIL ORDER HOMES

Understanding how modular homes have shaken their stigma begins with a look at their history. The concept of prefabricated housing started in 1910 when the Sears Roebuck Company sold what was known as “kit” houses through their catalogue. The materials were standardised and pre-cut then shipped to the customer who would hire a carpenter to assemble the house.  

These houses increased in popularity in 1917, when the Canadian prairie wheat prices were booming, and suddenly wealthy farmers wanted bigger houses. Eventually, the Depression killed the housing market and many kit house companies including Sears Roebuck, stopped producing prefabricated homes.

 Mail order kit houses were popular at the turn of the 20th century when wealthy Canadian farmers wanted bigger houses built fast.

Mail order kit houses were popular at the turn of the 20th century when wealthy Canadian farmers wanted bigger houses built fast.

THE END OF THE WAR MARKS THE BEGINNING OF MODULAR HOMES 

It wasn't long before a cookie-cutter style of modular houses took over where the kit house left off. Supported by an initiative led by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), modular coordination and standardized home production exploded in popularity just after the Second World War. The returning war veterans drove the demand for inexpensive, efficient homes that could be built quickly. This style of home was the answer to a growing housing crisis in a time when resources were depleted from the war effort.  However, their construction and design were primitive by today’s standards and could be at least partially responsible for the development of their unfortunate reputation.

TODAY'S MODULAR HOME RESEMBLES TRADITIONALLY-BUILT HOMES

Today’s modular homes are a vast improvement over their post-war predecessors. They’re popularity is growing exponentially as their energy-efficiency and cost-effectiveness make an impact on the housing market. Also appealing to the masses are the modern, sleek and airy designs that are built with high-quality materials. Modular homes often look like traditionally-built homes. In fact,  you've probably driven by several without realizing what they were. But they’re built the same way and with quality materials, just like a traditional home. The only real difference is that modular homes are built indoors and then shipped to their site, which is a more streamlined, cost-effective way to build!

MODULAR HOMES MARKET DEMAND 

The shift in perception happened quickly and today’s discerning home buyer is not only accepting the idea of the modular-style of building – they are demanding it. Modular housing is fast-becoming its own culture as it moulds to the core values of today’s consumer. This change is the result of an increase in population, the inflating costs of real estate and a growing awareness of environmental concerns. Such changing values and lifestyles are driving the housing market to demand cost-effective, well-designed, energy-efficient solutions. Modular homes are responding by reducing the carbon footprint with more compact living spaces, more energy-efficient buildings and by providing greener building choices. 

 A factory-built (aka modular"home by Radec Group

A factory-built (aka modular"home by Radec Group

FACTORY-BUILT HOMES ARE THE FUTURE

The latest buzz on their future is that factory-built homes will solve the housing crisis. For example, stackable modular housing pods are being used as a temporary apartment building for the homeless in Vancouver. The ultimate goal is to provide 2000 apartments to meet the demand of homelessness in the Lower Mainland.

Furthermore, a growing labour shortage is driving the need to build homes faster and more cost-effectively. It’s become a vital competitive advantage to have the right technologies and people to leverage factory-building.

Also notable is that the gap in the market share between modular homes and traditional stick-built houses is closing. A recent study by the Canadian Home Builders' Association projects an increase in demand of almost 3% annually will drive growth in the modular housing sector.

As the modular home stigma fades into a distant memory, the trend of modular home building rises. Perhaps future generations will someday talk about the “old days” when houses used to be built on-site – stick by stick.

Read Part I of this blog series where we explore the difference between a modular and a manufactured (Park Model) home.

Catching Up to the Modern World

A two-part series where we differentiate between manufactured and modular homes and  discuss the history that damaged their reputations.

Part I: Manufactured (Park Model) vs. Modular

There’s an evolution happening in the Canadian home-building industry. More than ever, people are talking favourably about modular homes. The negative stigma about this style of the building is fast-becoming a faded memory as both old and new generations embrace the idea of modular homes. But why the sudden shift in perception? 

In today's terms, it's not an insult to interchange the names "modular" and "manufactured"(aka "park models") as both are valid options and have their uses in the housing market. But it wouldn't be accurate to refer to them in the same way. So let's take a look at each style of home and clear it up, once and for all.

About Modular Homes

There has been a lot of misconceptions and even some confusion about what modular homes are. In the past, modular dwellings were sometimes mistakenly referred to as mobile homes, double-wides and manufactured homes. Sometimes they were even called “trailers”. It seemed that anything that wasn’t stick-built on site was lumped into the same poorly regarded category.

Modular homes are also known as prefabricated (or “prefab”) homes, precision-built, or factory-built homes. As their name suggests, they’re produced in a factory as three-dimensional segments for later on-site assembly. But it's this fact that's part of the confusion between modular and manufactured homes. Since modular homes are technically built in a factory,  it's only natural to refer to them as "manufactured". But the housing industry sees a clear distinction between modular from manufactured homes.

Homes built in modular units are like traditionally built homes in almost every way. The only difference is that most of the building components are completed in the factory including framing, drywall, insulation, electrical wiring, flooring, plumbing, heating/air-conditioning and exterior siding. Some elements such as specific flooring and siding material are finished on site for practical reasons. The modular units are transported in sections on a flatbed truck. Once there, the units are combined and set on a full-perimeter foundation, a crawl space or a full basement. The finishing process takes a few weeks or more, depending on their size and design.

Modular homes are built with the same current local building code standards as traditional on-site, stick-built homes. In BC, modular homes are constructed with the CSA A277 standard, which requires a manufacturer to be certified to build houses to the corresponding provincial and local building codes.  The regulatory inspections are done by a third party agency at the factory; whereas, for traditionally-built dwellings, the code inspections are done on-site. There is no limit to the size of a modular home that can vary from small bungalows to large apartment buildings. 

This style of building is becoming a preferred form of construction for those who want cost-effective, high-quality homes that can be built quickly. Building a Modular-style home makes more sense, particularly in harsher climates, when the weather can be detrimental to the building process. Building a house in a factory removes many of the challenges that on-site builders face with weather issues. Also, concept-to-completion companies like Radec Group further expedite the building process and reduce cost by having all of their own in-house trades.

 Radec modular & manufactured homes are eco-friendly and built with quality, beauty and functionality in mind.

Radec modular & manufactured homes are eco-friendly and built with quality, beauty and functionality in mind.

 Trailers evolved from campers to homes. But their poor construction damaged their reputation, rendering them as little more than an affordable housing option. But eventually, along with their name change to "Manufactured" homes, came a vast improvement in quality, design and eventually their stigma.    (Click image to download infographic)

Trailers evolved from campers to homes. But their poor construction damaged their reputation, rendering them as little more than an affordable housing option. But eventually, along with their name change to "Manufactured" homes, came a vast improvement in quality, design and eventually their stigma.
(Click image to download infographic)

Manufactured vs. Modular - what's the difference?

Click here to Download a Copy of above infographic

About Manufactured Homes

On the other hand, manufactured or mobile homes (aka Park Models) are considered to be closer in structure to a recreational vehicle than to a traditional home. The main difference is that manufactured homes are built to a CSA Z241 standard, which has a different set of requirements than modular homes. Manufactured homes are built as one or two pieces on a permanent steel frame. The structural design of manufactured homes limits their ability to be fixed to land. Instead, the structure is blocked and leveled, then its base is skirted.   The building can be easily relocated by having a truck drive under it and haul it away.

Manufactured homes have evolved from the 70’s trailer park models they’ve become infamous for. Once considered an expendable, poor quality building that appealed to a low-income market, today's manufactured homes share little to no resemblance to its predecessor.

 This highly successful franchise has done well with a hit TV series that had a 12 season run, including movies and merchandise sales. But its lampooning of the trailer park culture only reinforced the negative stigma of trailer parks.

This highly successful franchise has done well with a hit TV series that had a 12 season run, including movies and merchandise sales. But its lampooning of the trailer park culture only reinforced the negative stigma of trailer parks.

The building industry and its consumer has changed. Contemporary architects are designing modern structures, while forward-thinking manufactured home builders are using better quality materials and catering to a sustainability-minded demographic. Although this style of home is often placed for longevity, there’s a buzz in a new generation of manufactured home-buyers towards the concept of being untethered to land and living in “compact spaciousness”. This new ideology is in stark contrast to the traditional concept of property passing through generations of a family and is driving demand for a new age of manufactured homes. The Tiny House Movement has created an awareness of living life more modestly and ecologically.

So, gone are the trailer-parks of yesteryear, soon to be replaced with modern, sophisticated manufactured and/or modular home communities. And as their stigma fades into a distant memory, the trend towards alternate forms of construction will continue to rise. Perhaps future generations will someday talk about the “old days” when houses used to be built on-site – stick by stick.

(Stay tuned for Catching Up to the Modern World part II where we discuss the history of modular and manufactured homes.)