Catching up with the Modern World: Part II

Part II:The History of Modular & Mobile 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.


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 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!


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


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.