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.
Manufactured vs. Modular - what's the difference?
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.
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.
(Read Catching Up to the Modern World part II where we discuss the history of modular and manufactured homes.)