The Benefits of Building Modular

A former stick builder counts the ways he loves it.

Frank Dusick founded Mustang Builders of Eau Claire, Wis., in 1981 as a stick builder, but these days he sings the praises of modular construction.

"It's faster, improves my profit margins, is built to higher standards, reduces callbacks, and is much less of a hassle to build with than stick-built construction," he says. "Picture this: If you were to take your house and you were able to just load it onto a flatbed truck and then start down the road at 60 mph, how would your home fare after a couple hours? How many shingles would you have left on the roof or siding on your home? Your stick-built home wouldn't fare too well, but your modular home would be intact. That's how strong modular homes are."

Skeptical? Want more details? Dusick is happy to elaborate on modular's advantages:

Speed. It takes 10 to 12 weeks from the day a customer comes into Dusick's office to the day he turns over the keys. "In six to seven weeks, the house will be completed and shipped from the plant," Dusick says. "During that time, I'll get the permits, build the foundation and do the site work. Once we get the home on site, it takes about three to six weeks, depending on the size. And that's it. This is much quicker than the three to six months it took me to produce a stick-built a home."

Dusick also appreciates the speed of modular construction because it limits opportunities for customers to make small but expensive changes. "When these homes are put together at the plant, they use glue and ring-shank nails, and their nailing schedule is much more thorough than stick-built construction. You can't just take these homes apart. You need to take it out in chunks.

"As a stick builder, I saw that people frankly had too much time to look at their home. They would start worrying that this wasn't right or that wasn't right. I've found over the years that most of the things that people decide to change really don't make a difference in the house. It's something minor like moving a plug to the other side of the stud, or moving a window three inches to the left. They think it's a small thing, but it takes a lot of time to do it."

Lower costs, guaranteed pricing. "It costs me, on average, 10 percent to 15 percent less to build a modular home than to stick-build it," says Dusick. "But I can sell the home for the same price as a stick builder, because a stick-built and a modular home get appraised at the same amount. This has led to bigger profit margins for me.

"In addition, the first time people come in to see me with a floor plan, I can normally price it out right to the penny. I know how much the house is going to cost me, and I'll know what my on-site costs will be because they are pretty much the same on all the homes. When you're stick-building, the best you can say is that it's going to run you about so much a square foot. Once I order a house, no matter what pricing does in that six- to eight-week period when we're waiting for the house to be built at the factory, the price is guaranteed. That's a big deal in this day and age."

Easy installation. "Once the modules are assembled, the home is 95 percent complete. They arrive drywalled, taped and textured. The plumbing fixtures are already installed, as are the cabinets, trim, and light fixtures. All I have to do is connect the mating walls, where the modules come together."

Superior quality "The quality of modular homes is much better. On a site-built home, when you get a little rain shower in the middle of the day, you get back to work as soon as it stops. You can't afford to stand around and wait for everything to dry off. In a factory, all the material goes into that plant under the roof in a controlled environment, and the modules don't leave until they're weathertight. I've seen a reduction in callbacks since switching to modular. There have been very few. But if there is a problem, (the factory has its) own service guys come out and take care of the problem."

Flexibility. "We can do 9-foot ceilings, 10-foot ceilings, steep roofs, fireplaces. If a customer wants masonry, we can do that on site. The only significant limitation is certain configurations. Some homes have many corners and jogs, which require separate modules. When you get to a point where you have too many modules, then it begins to get expensive. Your transportation costs go up, and you catch up with the cost of stick-built homes. So once in a while, we site-build a section of the home, but it's not very difficult to do. It's all configured into the planning ahead of time, and the engineering department at works with you to make sure everything ties in."

Availability of labor. "It's actually easier to find workers to construct the modules than it is to find stick-building crews. These guys know that the turnaround on my modular homes is fast. Consequently, they get their money fast. It's a big factor."

Fewer inspections. "The house has been inspected at the plant. The only thing that the building inspectors have to do on my end is look at the foundation work. I have to get a footing inspection, and an inspection before we backfill for drain tile, and then usually a final."

Lower insurance costs. "I carry a floating builder's risk policy that costs less than keeping a policy 365 days a year. I call my agent when a house comes in, let him know where it is and what it's worth. Once we're done with the home, I call my agent again and he'll pull it off the file. I also have a lower rate because the insurance company has realized that there is very little material that ever sits outside for people to steal. There's less to go wrong from an insurance standpoint."

This article is provided courtesy of PATH — the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Homebuilding.

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