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The primary foundation of the American dream is homeownership, and for good reason. The freedom and independence it brings cannot be compared to almost anything else. And while it has naturally caused some skepticism, a trend in housing has been disrupting the industry, saving time, energy, and thousands of dollars for new and veteran homeowners.
Traditional/conventional, or “regular” buildings require a great deal of time, resources, and stress. They involve many moving parts: builders, contractors, and subcontractors, all of whom are adjusting their schedules to changes in timelines and expectations. A regular building’s construction is subject to fluctuations in weather — the “elements” often cause disruption and delay.
“Prefabricated” buildings (aka “building systems,” or “prefabs”) address many of these concerns, and the future is bright for these buildings, which are becoming extremely popular and are being produced at higher rates.
What is a Prefab Building?
A prefab building is one where the parts are constructed in a factory before being shipped in pieces to the building site where they are constructed in a matter of days. Many of these pieces include plumbing, electrical, and other conveniences, making the actual process of building the home extremely easy and efficient.
Prefabs are constructed according to state and local building codes as opposed to the federal building code of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Therefore, prefab buildings are a new and widely-accepted form of construction which is not as rigidly subject to the limiting zoning restrictions of regular buildings.
Conventional buildings are constructed arduously, with architectural planning, foundation, and building over a period of time on-site. Then amenities like plumbing and electrical have to be contracted and built. This takes a lot of time and energy, and as mentioned earlier, remains subject to many changes and moving parts.
A strong selling point for prefabs is that you can essentially build them anywhere, as they do not fall into the same category as traditional buildings. And what’s more, construction and home loans are applicable to prefabs, just like conventionally-built homes, so you don’t necessarily have to bear the whole cost upfront. In fact, many prefab manufacturers themselves can help you find the best financing for your situation (and sometimes they offer it in-house).
The affordability of these units is compelling: $180 – $220 per square foot when compared with regular buildings (over $300 per square foot). Significantly less time is required to build them and this convenience is simply incomparable to regular buildings. Since a large part of the prefab building process takes place in a factory and there are limited building specifications available, human resources are saved and energy efficiency is the gold standard.
Because prefab buildings are increasing in popularity, many manufacturers have been improving the aesthetics of their products. Modern companies are now creating materials to reflect the demand for customized, luxurious, and environmentally-friendly consumer tastes.
Types of Prefab Homes
Modular homes have one or more modules built in a factory and this usually takes 6-12 weeks. The modules are then transported to the building site where construction is completed. This takes roughly 3-4 months. Each module usually comes fitted with plumbing, electrical, doors, and closets to maximize efficiency. Because of this, there is little fitting work that needs to be completed.
Modular homes fit in nicely with the small house trend and although building a house is never necessarily cheap, by comparison, these are cheaper and easier to build in a short amount of time. They also require less in terms of foundation and utility expenses. Modular homes are sleek, modern, and boxy because the boxes are built in squares and rectangles that are then stacked and arranged according to building plans.
With panelized homes, the parts are built-in panels, then each panel is moved to the construction site. They typically require more finishing work than modular homes. Painting, cabinetry, stairs, and flooring must all be completed on-site. Factory build-time is similar to modular, but the time spent on-site is greater. The average total build time is 3-5 months
Pre-cut homes are “kit” homes like log cabins or dome homes. They are cut to design specs in-factory then shipped to be constructed on-site. Some pre-cut homes are panelized, but not all panelized are pre-cut. Pre-cut homes appeal to those who want to have a more active part in building their homes on-site once the materials have been shipped. The kits come with detailed instructions, similar to a piece of furniture. They could take at least 5 months to build.
Panelized homes can be built in almost any style or aesthetic and have almost no limitations, while pre-cut homes are often created with a specific aesthetic, like the log cabin style. Aesthetics of the pre-cuts depend on the kit you use.
Size and Aesthetics
When it comes to size and aesthetics of prefab homes, there are fits for every taste. Prefab homes can be built in almost any square footage. In keeping with the current small housing trend, you could build a 300 square foot home with one bathroom and zero bedrooms, like a studio apartment, or you could build one at 3000 square feet with 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It’s simply about your taste, because customizability is a big selling point for prefabs.
There are also convenient residential hardware solutions, and innovative products, and some off-the-wall materials people are using to build their prefab homes. For example, shipping container homes have become very popular. These are literally made from industrial steel shipping containers. These unique designs have captured the attention of the media in recent times. They’re not designed necessarily for residential use, but there are definitely ways to get creative with them.
Prefabs Are the Future
While prefabs have been on the scene for a while, they have never been as efficient as they are now. The time and resources they save simply cannot be matched by regular buildings. It’s clear that as time goes on, it will only get more difficult to deny the benefits of using the prefab system to build new constructions.