Modular homes an affordable alternative

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There’s a new building in town, and it just got here this morning.

It’s a modular home, which is built in a factory and driven to where it is now.

To the untrained eye, modular homes look just like a typical stick-built home that is erected on site by carpenters.

But modular homes can be built in only two weeks, compared to the months or years it may take for carpenters to build a stick-built home.

Robert Brent, owner and operator of Louisiana Modular LLC, works closely with modular home producers and distributes them to the public.

“They’re built to exactly the same code as a stick building,” said Brent. “The banks finance them the same, and the appraisers apprise them the same as stick-built houses, because I’m built to those codes.”

That means that modular homes are just as wind resistant to hurricane winds as stick-built homes.

In fact, FEMA conducted a study assessing the destruction after Hurricane Andrew, and they concluded that modular homes and masonry homes fared best compared to other types of construction.

Although most manufactured homes depreciate in value over time, a well-built modular home should have the same longevity as a stick-built home, appreciating its value over time.

Modular homes are built in indoor factories, meaning that Mother Nature won’t slow down the building process.

“So when it’s raining outside, they’re underneath the roof,” said Brent. “It’s an assembly line with a house on it. So regardless of the weather, it takes two weeks to build this house. There’s no weather delays in those two weeks, because it’s inside every day.”

Because the modular home is built in a factory, the site work can be completed at the same time, which also cuts production time.

Affordable Homes of Louisiana owner Captain Brett Rutledge said customers can request modular homes with one story, two stories, three sections or five sections.

“They would customize it completely to what the person wanted,” said Rutledge. “You can draw pretty much anything that you want built.”

Brent added that modular homes are about $25 per square foot cheaper than stick-built homes, and Rutledge said modular home buyers could save up to 75 percent over stick building a new home.

This is because large-scale manufactures can bargain for cheaper materials from suppliers.

“Whereas a site built home, when the contractor leaves, you get what you paid for, these [modular homes] have seven-year warranties on mechanical items and 10-year warranties on the entire structure,” said Rutledge.

And since modular homes are shipped to remote areas rather than built in remote areas, the cost of carpenter travel and labor is non-existent.

According to Brent, modular homes can be built on pillars or on a slab.

In fact, he added that building on pillars is easier, which is convenient for those in the southern reaches of the Tri-parish area who need to ‘build-up’ in high-probability flood areas.

Chris Jenkins, owner of Custom Carpentry, feels that the technology of modular homes is getting more and more difficult to compete with.

“If you’re a carpenter like I am, obviously it’s something I don’t like,” said Jenkins. “From the standpoint of quality control and repeatability, having the same process time after time, there’s no variables, there’s no weather situation. They have a better control of consistency than we do.”

Jenkins added the high level of organization that goes into building a modular home is also difficult to compete with.

“With a modular home, they’re able to do everything concurrent, as in the stages of the assembly line,” said Jenkins. “In a stick built house, it becomes a scheduling nightmare – coordinating, trying to keep the time where nothing is going on to a minimum, but you can’t have people working on top of each other.”

However, Jenkins said modular homes will have to overcome the fact that they still have the stigma of being a mobile home.

“It’s really not, but at the same time, for a builder to deal in modular homes in Louisiana, you still have to have a license for mobile homes,” said Jenkins. “It’s still lumped into that category.”

But Jenkins said he thinks the quality of a modular home is still not equivalent to the quality of a stick-built home.

“To make it economical, [modular home manufacturers] have to put the minimal amount of materials that will still meet the criteria for the place the house is going and nothing more,” said Jenkins. “For instance, if they could push the centers a couple inches further apart and save one board to a wall per house, and they just look at it at the end of the year that that saves $400 or so. Whereas a conventional stick built house, we’re basically doing things the same way we’ve done them for 35 years that I’ve known of.”

Jenkins said stick-built house builders have the tendency to build the house with more materials than those who build modular homes.

He also noted that most modular home manufactures are out of state, so buying modular homes does little to help the local economy.