______________________________________________________

A Cookbook Approach for a Successful Build of a new Modular Home.

A Brief History: Modular vs Mobile

Modular or 'Pre-Fab' homes are not a new phenomenon. In fact, tracing their history shows these homes made an appearance as early as 1910 with the advent of Sears Roebuck and Co selling 500,000 of these before 1940. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of confusion as to what a modular home is, and the term is often used incorrectly as a reference to mobile homes. Prior to 1976, there were few standards as to how mobile homes were built, and constant recalls and consumer complaints forced the Housing and Urban development (HUD) agency to establish new rules for how they were to be made going forward. The name 'mobile home'  was changed to 'manufactured home' to identify homes built under the newer, better processes.

So why does the confusion still exist? Probably, because both modular and manufactured homes are made in a factory setting, and many of the manufacturers can offer the same floor plan in both a manufactured or a modular format. A major difference between them lies in the stronger materials used in modular manufacturing. They are built to the same local codes as ‘stick-built’ homes: IRC code, and not HUD code. The difference is also reflected in price; modular homes are more expensive than manufactured homes due to the higher cost of the materials used. Regardless, modular homes can be significanlty less costly than a stick built due to the manufacturing nature of the home. In our area, stick-builts are quoted from $275-$375 sqft, and we completed our home build with a total move-in cost of $59 sqft. Quite a savings, and the result is an excellent, high-quality home.

Modular Home Requirements

Unlike manufactured or mobile homes, modular homes cannot be placed on leased land or in parks. Nor can they be placed on a concrete slab like a manufactured or mobile home. Plumbing and HVAC runs are typically preattached to the house below the modular's floors, so only crawlspaces or basements are usually allowed. Also, once this type of house is set, it can't (haha*) be moved again, and are considered 'real' property versus a personal possession such as a mobile home.

Their history is interesting, but this page is meant to provide a first hand account of what it took, start to finish, and step by step, to get our modular home built on our land. A range of costs may have been provided here for some of the steps here, but a caution. Prices mentioned in this build are only valid for our area, and these should be thoroughly investigated for your build.  We have seen reports of the same items in our build listed at 3x to 5x of our costs in other areas.
 

These costs were incurred during our Modular build between August and December of 2019.
 
 Before:
    After:     

How hard is it to build this simple house? Turns out, there is more work than you might think...
here are the steps we took for this build.

PREQUALIFY FOR A LOAN

Modular homes require a construction loan- just like a stick built, and banks treat them the same. It is a good idea to find a lending company, bank, credit union, etc. that offers construction loans, and get prequalified for your build. Things will go MUCH more smoothly if this step is taken before any effort is spent for a build.
______________________________________________________

THE TYPICAL BUILD: STEP-BY-STEP

______________________________________________________

1. The first step is to identify builders in your area that may be modular resellers, and can offer a range of costs and represent different manufacturers available for you. If this information is hard to find, Google ‘modular homes’ to find a manufacturer within 500 miles max of your target property, then contact them directly and ask them who ‘sets’ their homes in your area. If there are no modular manufacturers within that distance of the property, it may not be possible to complete this type of build so stick-built will be required. This is due to the fact that the finished home must be moved to the site after build completion, and costs and logistics become difficult beyond that distance.
______________________________________________________
2. Once you find out which manufacturers are available, go to their website, and select a floor plan that meets your needs and budget. Here is where your involvement will start to get deeper with the builder, so it is a good idea to already have a plot of land pre-selected, if not purchased outright, for the build.
______________________________________________________
3. Finding land can take time. Once you find some land ( that drives you crazy because you can't stop thinking about it...), contact the township and /or building department in the county where the land resides to see if there are any zoning requirements from either the township or county that would preclude you from putting a modular on this land. Unlike manufactured/mobile homes, modulars are normally accepted almost anywhere. In addition, modulars are treated the same way as stick builts when it comes to loans...which is not the case with manufactured / mobile homes.
______________________________________________________
4. Research to find out if the land is close to municipal water or sewer lines. If it is, go to the building department of the town/county to investigate tap costs. [ Our land was not near any services, so well and septic were required ]
______________________________________________________
5. If the land is not close to municipal hookups, a septic permit will be required from the county. Septic permits are not expensive. Ask the seller of the land if it has been 'perc' tested. A 'Perc' test measures the rate of drain in the soil for a septic field. If the soil is sand, it drains quickly, and getting a septic permit is easy. If the land is clay it will drain slowly so the cost of a septic increases greatly. If the soil is bad it may either fail a perc test, or require what is known as a 'mound' system (above ground) septic system, which is expensive. If the land passes ‘Perc’, proceed on to step 5. [ If it doesn’t, it may not be possible to even get a building permit for the land. Ours passed ]
______________________________________________________
6. The size of the septic (and therefore, cost) will depend on the number of bedrooms in the house chosen. The larger the house, the larger the septic system. Once you choose a house design, then contact septic system contractors for cost of a septic system installation. Important: verify installation timing; these contractors may be scheduled out for a long time. Rural septics run $5000-$12000 depending on complexity and size [ ours was at the lower end of this range ]
______________________________________________________
7. Once you have a plan defined, the next step is excavation. With a house plan defined, and topology of the land, an excavator needs to be chosen. Issues include trees to be removed, house placement and foundation type (South facing? North facing? Walkout basement or crawlspace?). A builder will normally have a crew they work with, so this may be handled by the builder. In our build, we already had a great excavator we worked with previously, so demanded that he be used in our build. The builder agreed. Depending on the size of the house, a driveway and pad will have to be created for 1-2 semi-trucks and trailers carrying the house to park. They will also have to be able to turn around, and a large crane will also need to fit to be used to lift the house modules onto the basement or crawlspace. This requires space. [ Excavation. Ours ran about $20,000 ]
______________________________________________________
8. If no water taps are available, a well needs to be drilled. The well needs to be at least 50 feet away from the proposed septic tank and system. Depending on area and terrain, wells run $6000 to $12000-or more if rock drilling is involved. [ Ours ran about $7000 ]
______________________________________________________
9. Once excavation is complete, land cleared, driveway and pad in, the basement crawlspace needs to be excavated for the foundation pour. The foundation generally needs to set for at least 7 days before a house can be placed on it. [ Our walkout ]
______________________________________________________
10. “House set”. The houses are parked next to the foundation, a crane is moved into position, then one-by-one, the modules are lifted, and ‘set’ onto the foundation. If on a basement, floor jacks are installed during the first module to support the main beams, and the second module is lifted on to the foundation. The two modules are then attached, and permanently attached to the foundation. The roofs are lifted into place, and the carpenters finish attaching the roof, and the house sides, then the roofers complete the shingles. [ The House 'set' ]
______________________________________________________
11. Outside finish, such as vinyl siding is completed to finish the dry-in within a few days. [ Siding Finish ]
______________________________________________________
12. Water lines are trenched from the well and attached through the concrete crawl/basement to the homes plumbing and water heating system. This requires excavation, a well guy, and a permit. [ Utilities ]
______________________________________________________
13. Propane or natural gas lines are trenched from the source to the basement, and 'black pipe' has to be attached to the homes heating, and if available, dryer and cooking systems. Our heating is propane, which required trenching from a gas company, black-pipe hookup from a heating company, and county permits.
______________________________________________________
14. Electrical lines are trenched from the closest pole, and attached to the whole-house disconnect box on the outside of the modular. This requires an electrician, and a permit.
______________________________________________________
15. If a basement is ordered, it typically needs to be framed or insulated to meet code. [ Basement Insulation ]
______________________________________________________
16. After this, and final inspection is done, and....
______________________________________________________
17. The Certificate of Occupancy is issued. Yay! Move in.
______________________________________________________

* Can't is a relative term here. Given unlimited amounts of money, manpower, and space, the Rushmore Monument can be moved into one's backyard.

Updated February 17, 2020