A model modular home and a pen atop some home floorplans

Modular housing has quickly risen in popularity these last few decades, with modular homes becoming more sought after due to their impeccable balance between convenience and quality.

As on-site construction becomes costlier by the day, many homeowners have turned to alternative ways of bringing their visions to life.

Modular homes are a departure, as they’re built inside a manufacturing facility and assembled on-site, cutting out a lot of time and costs. 

Though modular (or prefabricated) construction is a significantly quicker and more straightforward process than traditional, on-site building, there are still some considerations you’ll want to keep in mind before taking on such a consuming project.

The following sections will take you through everything you need to know about building the modular home of your dreams. But first, let’s outlay the steps required to construct a modular dwelling.

The Modular Building Process, Step-by-Step

The six step-by-step process of building a modular home includes: 

  1. Preparing yourself adequately
  2. Obtaining the necessary permits 
  3. Choosing the layout
  4. Waiting for the components to be built
  5. Assembling the home
  6. Obtaining the certificate of occupancy

Now that you know the basic process let’s consider each of these steps in-depth.

Prepare Yourself (And Your Home Site) Adequately

While with traditional homes, the “preparation” phase is usually the least time-consuming, when it comes to prefab homes, this is where most of your responsibilities and commitments lie. 

Preparing to build a new house is never an easy feat, and modular home preparation is no exception. Between the design, cost analysis, and the endless consultations, chances are you’ll have to spend a few months refining your vision before placing an order with the manufacturing facility. 

Here are some key factors you’ll want to consider when preparing to build a modular home: 

  • Location – arguably the most crucial element in your decision-making process. Finding suitable terrain to keep the manufacturing costs as low as possible when constructing a modular home can be challenging. Therefore, when choosing the right location for your house, it is always best to consult an expert specializing in the field.
Closeup of a surveying machine with a build site in the background
  • Local legal requirements – every locality has its own set of laws and regulations regarding construction practices.

    Considering that modular homes are a relatively new trend, their legal requirements might be even more varied. Therefore, always check your local building codes beforehand to ensure you comply with them throughout the entire construction process. 

  • Costs – we touched on the importance of a thorough cost analysis when preparing to build a new home.

    Sometimes homeowners overestimate the potential savings they might make building a prefab home, often forgetting to consider the related additional costs such as special permits and extended consultations. 

  • The manufacturer – you’ll want to think critically about this decision, as the quality and structural integrity of your future home is only as good as the manufacturer you choose. You’ll want to factor into your decision elements such as prices, experience level, third-party reviews, etc. 

  • The service you choose – after picking a manufacturer, you’ll want to consider the service packages offered.

    For example, you can opt for full service, which includes obtaining permits, architectural consultations, building the foundation, and completing the assembly. Alternatively, you can always opt for limited service and choose the processes you wish to employ. 

  • Utilities – though the manufacturer will build your home’s structure in a factory, the foundation should still be constructed on-site. Therefore, as part of your preparation, you should install your HVAC system (if planning on having one), along with gas, waste, plumbing, and electrical lines.

    We highly recommend reading this article for more information on the topic. 

What To Consider Before Building a Modular Home

The preparation process doesn’t end with figuring out the costs and choosing a manufacturer. 

Thus far, we’ve compared modular homes to traditional ones and described the former as a more time and cost-efficient alternative. However, because this construction method is still new, there are still challenges you want to consider before embarking on the project.

Difficulties include:

The Foundation and Structure Should Fit Perfectly

First of all, the pre-built foundation must be perfect before receiving your assembled house (or modules). If the base of the structure and the foundation don’t fit evenly, you can only imagine the hazards that could ensue. 

A traditionally-poured concrete foundation at a construction site

It’s usually best to have the foundation and home made by the same company, if possible. Otherwise, ensure the people you hire to handle these individual components are in constant contact to avoid any unpleasant surprises. 

Separate Components vs. Pre-Assembled

You’ll need to decide how you want your modular home delivered. Depending on your budget and customization, you can either manufacture separate components and have them delivered flat-packed or panelized or get the entire structure pre-assembled and ready to set up. 

Now that we’ve thrown around a few different terms let’s explain a few facts regarding the semantics used around this topic. 

Technically speaking, modular homes are houses that come to you pre-assembled. Flat-packed, panelized, or any other type of building that comes while separated into components is usually called prefab. However, for consistency, we’ll refer to all facility-manufactured homes as modular. 

Hidden Costs

Even though modular buildings are generally much cheaper than their traditional counterparts, hidden costs might affect your ability to construct your dream home. 

Additionally, while you’ll benefit from fewer permit fees and lower labor costs, you’ll need to consider whether these savings outweigh the accompanying delivery and customization fees. 

Obtain the Necessary Permits

By this point, you should be adequately prepared and ready to obtain the necessary permits. 

Go through your local building code requirements and check the laws and regulations regarding modular homes. If necessary, consult a professional to ensure you won’t miss any of the fine print. 

Closeup on a building permit application for a mini-split installation

Many jurisdictions detail size requirements and the permissible materials and inform you whether your property will be correctly zoned. Naturally, you’ll want to go through that building code requirement with a fine-tooth comb, as the slightest issue could later derail the entire project. 

After reading through the requirements, you’ll likely need to obtain a zoning permit. Once received, you’ll also need approval from your local code enforcement agency before proceeding with the preparation process. 

This process entails a local governing body inspecting your building project and construction site to check whether they comply with the building code requirements mentioned. 

Additional documentation you’ll want to think about acquiring before building your modular home includes: 

Even though the house won’t be constructed on-site, you’ll still have to get a building permit from your municipality. However, they’ll handle this process if you’ve opted to receive a full-service package from your manufacturer. 

Choose the Layout

Depending on how evolved your creative bone is, this can be either the most exciting or daunting part of the entire process. Still, choosing the layout is an essential step in building your dream home. 

Luckily and contrary to popular belief, prefab homes are highly customizable, and you can choose any layout you like. 

Overhead view looking down at a modular home partially-assembled on site

Unfortunately, most homeowners live under the false presumption that modular houses are off-the-shelf structures that you buy just as you would a new pair of pre-made pants—which couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, given that the construction will be carried out in a controlled environment, your customization options are even more vast with a modular home. However, as briefly mentioned, this comes with an added price. 

When choosing a layout, consider that the more you customize and adjust your future home’s components and features, the costlier it will become. Therefore, when drawing your foundation, floor, and general site plans, be careful not to be over-ambitious if on a tight budget. 

If you want more in-depth information regarding the design aspect of a modular home, this article from Design Build Modulars is an excellent read.

However, for those looking to enjoy some savings, here’s what you need to consider while choosing the layout of your abode: 

  • Overall design 
  • Positioning of the components 
  • Elevation level 
  • Deck plans 
  • Connection to the municipal sewage system 
  • Heating 
  • Air conditioning 
  • Ventilation 

Wait for the Components To Be Built

After a tiring planning process, it’s almost time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. All you have to do in this next step is wait for your house’s components to be built (and possibly assembled). 

Depending on the construction’s scope, this procedure’s timeframe can vary.

However, one thing is for sure: Regardless of your design, the building process moves along much quicker in a manufacturing facility than on-site. Therefore, by opting for a modular house, you’re almost always assured that you’ll be saving time alongside costs. 

Your home will be built primarily using automated, precise machinery, optimizing the structure’s overall quality and durability. Moreover, the process is carried out in a climate-controlled space, meaning all components are handled in their ideal environment. 

A modular home being fabricated in a factory

It’s thus easy to imagine how prefab homes tend to be much higher quality than their traditional counterparts. If you’ve opted for a fully-assembled structure, each component will be secured with utmost precision, moving down the production line with minimal delays until the final construction is created. 

The average modular home can take anywhere from 6-18 weeks to build after ordering. So, as you can see, the process can be much quicker than you’d expect.

Afterward, the structure will get delivered to the site, allowing you to proceed with the assembly. 

Assemble the Home

We’ve used the word “assemble” here, but this step also pertains to the setup process of fully-built structures. 

After your new home is manufactured, it will be delivered promptly via your chosen channel. But, again, this process can move along much faster if you’ve picked the full-service package from the construction facility. 

At this point, both the foundation and your home (or its components) are ready. These systems include: 

  • Sewage 
  • Heating 
  • Plumbing 
  • Electricity

On the scheduled delivery date, the assembly process should begin. 

Most modular houses are installed using a crane. Therefore, ensuring the ground is firm enough to support the crane and any other vehicles is crucial. 

A module of a modular home being lowered by a crane with a worker grasping it as it comes down

This technique anchors the structure’s base to the foundation while every component gets fastened together. Of course, you’ll also need to set up a few mechanical systems throughout the process, which can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. 

If you’ve opted for a pre-assembled structure, this step will be much quicker, as there’ll be few intricate connections to be made on-site.

On the other hand, the more components you have to assemble, the longer the process will take because putting them together can be much more challenging in an uncontrolled environment. 

Obtain the Certificate of Occupancy

Your new home is now ready! However, one step still stands in the way of you moving in—obtaining the certificate of occupancy. 

If you’ve obtained all the necessary permits and have followed your local building code throughout the manufacturing and assembling process, getting your certificate of occupancy will be a breeze. 

Once your modular home is fully set up, a building inspector will perform a final check to determine whether the construction is well-built and abides by the local laws and regulations.

The builder will also conduct a similar inspection in the manufacturing facility where it built your home. 

Assuming both inspections go well, you’ll be issued a certificate of occupancy, and you can proceed to move in right away. 

Final Thoughts

Modular homes have revolutionized the construction industry by allowing homeowners to build their dream houses quicker, cheaper, and better. However, there are still some important considerations when planning and building a modular home. These will help ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. 

Hopefully, this step-by-step guide has taught you the fundamentals and set you on the correct path to building a modular home. 

Best of luck!

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