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Prefab Homes Ontario: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Prefab Homes Ontario

A prefab or modular home is a home that is partially built in a plant and then shipped to a construction site where it is set on a previously constructed foundation. While a typical one-story bungalow consists of two or three modules, larger custom homes might use five or more of varying dimensions.

Prefab Homes – Ontario

The prefab homes Ontario industry mentions many advantages of using modular home construction. It’s literature often states that it is more cost effective and time efficient compared to conventional “stick-built” home construction.

However, all home building comes with some hurdles. While the use of modular prefab building techniques helps to overcome some of the difficulties associated with stick construction, the prefab process has some unique challenges.

prefab homes ontario

Prefab’s Claims to Fame

There are a variety of claims made by prefab industry to support the idea that this method of home construction is the best way to present modern architecture to the masses. Not every prefab manufacturer makes every one of these claims, but they are so widespread, we will approach them as the claims of the industry as a whole.

  • Prefab homes cost less
  • Prefab homes take less time to build
  • Prefab homes create less waste
  • Prefab home is more “Green.”

So, let’s take a deeper look and compare pros and cons of prefab home construction to stick built:

Prefab Homes Cost Less

We are starting here since it is the easiest to expose, and is also the main reason that many people start looking into purchasing a prefab home.

When asking how much a modular home will cost to build, many different sources will give you many different answers. Some salespeople will tell you that they can build you a home for as low as $100 per square foot, but what they are quoting you is only the base price that is far from the total cost of the finished home.

The cost to build a house depends on a variety of components; home design and layout, the number of bedrooms, the number of floors, the size of the home, and types of materials used in construction. It also depends on your lot and contractors you use.

Prefab manufacturers, resellers, and salespeople will tell you that modular construction is lower because of the time and labor savings, but let’s ponder this subject a little deeper:

  • a.) Prefab manufacturers work in factories requiring staff above and beyond those building the homes. They also have costs that most residential builders don’t, such as large equipment costs, utility costs, and maintenance costs.
  • b.) Company Profit – studies show that manufacturers are making at least as much profit as the average residential builder, frequently much more. The most of the cost savings resulting from the prefab manufacturing process stays in the pockets of the manufacturer.
  • c.) Trucking and Crane Fees – These can easily run over $10K per house and can be notably more if the distance from manufacturer to the construction site is considerable.

It is a given that building a home in the factory is cheaper than building it on site. You don’t have to fight with the weather, and modular construction can be more time efficient.

Nonetheless, after you pay for the delivery, transport insurance, and a crane to place it, the costs for the average custom home are approximately the same. Most studies concluded that there is no price difference in the actual construction from start to finish.

Clip Art Graphic of a Yellow Residential House Cartoon Character

Prefab Homes Take Less Time to Build:

Building a custom home takes time. It includes planning, getting a permit, onsite prep work, foundation construction, framing, servicing, and finishing.

Prefab modular construction is faster than stick-built. It can take place at the same time as the on-site prep work or when the weather conditions are not suitable for outdoor work.

However, the owners have no control over the construction of the project once the construction begins. Their home it is in a factory being moved down an assembly line. Therefore, it is crucial that owners make up their mind on all aspects of the design before construction begins.

As a general rule, prefab homes are anywhere from 50% to 80% finished when delivered. The amount of remaining “finishing” work will take anywhere from four to eight weeks depending on the layout, size and complexity of the house.

As the building of a custom homes takes in average from 6 to 8 months, the construction of a prefab home may shorten this period by 1-2 months.

Prefab Homes Create Less Waste:

Since modular is built in a factory settings, it is easy to see why they claim to produce less waste by setting aside their off-cuts and reusing it in other places or projects.

What they do not often tell you is that their modular structures use 20%-30% more raw materials than stick-built homes to withstand transportation.

Some will argue that on a stick-built construction site, one-third the materials are wasted through theft, water damage, or just tossed into the garbage bin.

Prefab Homes Ontario

 

Prefab Home is More “Green:”

“Green” is hot now, so the modular home manufacturers are jumping in and claiming advantage in the “green” department. Much of the green claims in prefab come from the lower waste claim.

The new one that we’ve been hearing more of lately is that the insulation is installed to better standards than site-built homes because of the superior labor and inspections put in place by the factories.

This seems like a weak claim for a number of reasons. Most prefab companies are still using loose, batt insulation that is often falling out of the framing by the time the modules reach the site. Batt insulation alone is not what is making the better green homes out there more energy efficient.

Also, in many cases, all of that house wrap that is supposed to be sealing up the home from the outside is tearing apart and falling off of the exterior by the time the modules reach their final resting spot.

Lastly, the extra framing we spoke about earlier is causing more thermal bridges in the building envelope.

In other words, a more structural framing that connects to hold the drywall inside and the exterior finishings outside, the poorer the total insulation of the home. Wood makes a very poor insulator.

Design Considerations:

There is one definite advantage to having a home ‘stick built’, and that is in versatility – the ability to make changes to the floor plan. Let’s face it; a modular home has a basic floor plan, and the only options available to you, are cosmetic changes. Whereas a contractor or architect, for a site built project will happily charge you to make changes to their approved plan. It’ll cost you more, but you can get exactly what you want

When comparing the design restrictions of both techniques, it is clear that stick-built has fewer limits that prefab does.

Modular architecture is limited to short based spans and does not use concrete or heavy gauge steel beams which are required for making long unbraced floor spans.

There are very few design restrictions when it comes to stick-built custom homes. With materials such as steel and concrete, spanning large distances, carrying heavier loads, and incorporating large amounts of windows in an outside wall are all feasible. Stick-built construction is also not limited in height.

Secondly, the amount of available customization between modular and stick built homes varies considerably. Modular home manufacturers do not usually offer a lot of customization. Your choice is usually restricted to 20 or so of their own previously drawn plans. If they do allow changes or upgrades, the customization options are limited to in-house samples.

Prefab construction is also limited in that it cannot be built on a slab-on-grade foundation because it requires a crawlspace for placing and connection of heating equipment.

If your plans are not very intricate, you have no large window area and do not need large spans, modular construction is most often the better choice.

Clip Art Graphic of a Yellow Residential House Cartoon Character

Financing:

Many financial institutions make a distinction between site-built houses and modular homes when it comes to eligibility for a mortgage.

Before buying a prefab house, you should consult with your bank to find out if it is willing to give you a loan.

Some lenders don’t want to give mortgages for prefab houses because they see them as a greater risk. Prefab houses have a reputation for not holding their value over time.

The difference is how money is allocated throughout the project. Stick-built construction spends money more gradually as subcontractors complete their tasks. Modular construction demands more finances up front to pay for the speedy completion of the construction.

Modular construction is also unique in that the buyer must pay to have the modules shipped to the building site, and must rent a crane and an operator to place the modules on a prepared foundation.

When financing a construction project, most project owners get a construction loan from a bank.

Building a prefab home requires you to pay the manufacturer while the construction process is under way, with payment in full due before the home is completed. If you don’t have the cash on hand, you will have to take out a loan to cover the costs.

Prefab Homes Ontario - Delivery

Prefab Homes Ontario – Delivery

Transport:

Due to transport and sometimes manufacturing limitations, module size can be restricted, resulting in smaller room sizes.

Also, since prefab modules must be carried from the factory to the lot, there is always the possibility of damage while in transit. Moving the completed modular building sections take up a lot of space. Depending on how far the modules must travel, your transportation costs could also be relatively high.

Shipping costs can be high when building in remote locations and modular units are transported over long distances, as plants are typically stationed far away.

Use of Materials:

Because modular homes are factory built, materials and lumber are often bought in quantities at reduced prices that are passed on the client. Climate controlled factories also protect you from the replacement cost of materials from on-site theft or damages caused by bad weather

Some will argue that the prefab homes are mass produced by large companies in centralized factories. As these businesses do this for profit, they will not use the highest quality or expensive materials available.

Others will say that because modular home manufacturers store their materials inside the factory, in a controlled environment, it reduces the risk of mould, rust, and sun damage that can often lead to human respiratory problems. Dryer wood also makes for a fewer drywall cracks and callbacks.

Other Challenges With Prefab Homes – Ontario

It can be difficult to find sub-trades to do on-site assembly of modular units. Some local tradespeople felt that the contracts for doing the on-site assembly of prefab units were too small to bid on, and they would rather bid on full construction projects.

Some local trades were apprehensive about doing the onsite assembly, due to a lack of familiarity with modular housing.

Responsibility for managing callbacks for modular units can be ambiguous. It can be difficult to arrange repairs once modular units are brought to remote locations. It can be debatable whether the manufacturer or the onsite contractor is accountable for performing callbacks and repairs.

Clip Art Graphic of a Yellow Residential House Cartoon Character

Conclusion:

It is tough to single out either prefab or stick-built construction and pick one as better than the other.

It depends on what you are aspiring to achieve. There are not a whole lot of differences between the two. If speed is what matters most, prefab is the best way to go because it’s a bit faster. If the flexibility of design is the most important aspect of the project, stick-built construction can offer more flexibility.

The quality of modular homes seems more consistent, but the same quality can be achieved by a skilled custom builder using stick-built construction methods.

What type of work will you need to perform that is not done by the manufacturer?

  1. Major considerations such as excavating and constructing a foundation.
  2. Constructing garages or bump-outs will also need to be completed by the homeowners or their builder.
  3. Depending on the lot, it may also be required to drill a well and arrange for a septic system.
  4. Any “finish” work that is not completed by the manufacturer will need to be done by you.
  5. Examples of “finish work” are:
  6. Utility connections: Testing electrical system and installing any remaining light fixtures. Completing the electrical service connection to the panel box in the basement as well as any water and sewer connections.
  7. HVAC System completion – Installing the central air unit,
    furnace, and make ductwork connections.
  8. Taping joints and sealing any drywall cracks that may have happened during transport.
  9. Interior clean up and paint touch up.
  10. Exterior concrete work –Arrange for the pouring of any concrete slabs, patios, sidewalks, curbs or driveways.
  11. Construction of wood decks or porches

The industry as a whole has grown over the last twenty-five years. There are still some big differences between wide-ranging products and manufacturers, but the improvement is undeniable.

You have to be careful when buying your new home. If you decide on a modular home, it is important to pick the better quality manufacturer. I would recommend this warning when looking at stick-built homes too. One builder is not necessarily as good as another.

Manufacturers in Ontario

Prefab home manufacturers all tend to resemble each other, but, even though, they all make similar homes, every establishment is different. Some large manufacturers make thousands of homes a year and serve Canada-wide and small manufacturers that serve only regions or provinces.

Some modular manufacturers specialize in only custom homes, and some build only certain floor plans.

Some prefab home manufacturers focus on only one type of home, and some manufacturers will make you almost anything under the sun.

Like every business, some firms do a better job than others, so look over the following list of the most popular prefab home manufacturers in Ontario.

http://www.qualityhomes.ca
http://www.comforthomes.ca/
http://www.guildcrest.com/
http://www.frontenacmodularhomes.com/
http://www.royalhomes.com

Before buying a prefab home, research the manufacturer you are considering to find out what types of materials they employ. Some materials, such as glues, caulking, foam insulation, carpeting, pressboard and MDF may also manifest health risks due to off-gassing of formaldehyde.

Clip Art Graphic of a Yellow Residential House Cartoon Character

Is A Modular Home An Option For You?

If you are the sort of home buyer that is looking for the best deal and is up to date on the quality of many modular homes, you may be extremely satisfied with one.

If you are a buyer who wants something uniquely yours, something customized or something that will impress the neighborhood, a modular home may not be the right fit.

Although, these days, prefab homes are regularly built using high-quality craftsmanship that is similar to traditionally built houses, they are often thought of as substandard, and similar to such manufactured housing as mobile homes. It is a delusion that continues to endure.

Because of it, the value of your prefab home in Ontario, may not be as high as it should be when the time to sell it comes. The potential buyer may feel like the house isn’t worth as much because it is a modular construction.

Wht’s Not Included in Most Prefab Home Contracts in Ontario:

  1. The cost of the land,
  2. Soil test and reports required by municipality,
  3. Tree cutting and lot clearing,
  4. Excavation (gravel, fill, topsoil, landscaping, culverts, ditches, and other site work),
  5. Sewage, septic system or well installations
  6. Surveyor,
  7. Engineering,
  8. All permits (building, plumbing, driveway, septic, etc.)
  9. Foundation,
  10. Steel beams and posts,
  11. Concrete and concrete work,
  12. Basement finish of insulation, drywall, flooring, electrical and plumbing,
  13. Appliances
  14. Central air, fireplaces wood stoves, etc.
  15. Central vacuum systems,
  16. Caulking on site including vanity counters etc.
  17. Plumbing connections
  18. Installation of main and completion of electrical panel
  19. Hydro Electrical connections for well or septic system
  20. Telephone and cable connections to public services
  21. Some exterior finishes (stone, brick, stucco),
  22. Porches, decks, dormers
  23. HST
3 Comments
  1. Have you seen the new steel frame modular home builder?
    Unique in that they are the only csa certified modular home builder that manufactures steel free homes in the factory at pricing below wood frame homes

    • You’ll be cursing every time you go to hang something on a stud.

  2. Be careful of hidden fees Tina.

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