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Beyond Trailer Parks: Prefab Homes

People tour a modular solar house on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. See more prefab home pictures.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Having suffered a bad reputation for the past few decades, prefab homes are making a comeback. In an age where people are paring down, thinking more ecologically, and trying to save money, a prefab home can be a great solution.

Prefab homes first appeared on the American landscape around 1908, when Sears, Roebuck and Co. began selling kit-homes. Automotive workers in Michigan -- where the Aladdin company was based, another manufacturer of pre-fab homes -- wanted to build homes for their families outside of the city. And as assembly line production methods improved due to the automotive industry, manufacturers realized that homes could be produced efficiently on conveyor belts as well. Instead of sending an entire construction team out to a property site to build a house, kit-homes could be manufactured in just one place and then shipped to each site at a lower cost.

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Around 1920 or so, you could buy a kit-home for about $2,500. Your kit would come with very detailed instructions and about 30,000 pieces -- which kind of makes that IKEA desk seem like a cakewalk, doesn't it? The low price also made kit-homes a popular option for more wealthy homeowners who wanted to build a vacation home. However, after the stock market crash, people could barely afford their own homes, let alone a vacation home, and kit-home sales dropped off. After World War II, prefab homes found popularity once again, for returning veterans who had little money. Many people would just tow their home from town to town, wherever the jobs were.

Soon enough, these mobile homes settled down in what we know as trailer parks and became associated with low-income housing. Pre-fab homes no longer signaled wealth.

Today, however, that's all changing. Pre-fab homes have come a long way, and many people now embrace them for their cutting-edge design, their sustainability and their low costs.

Read on to find out more about the new boom in pre-fab homes.

 

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Cheap, small, sustainable, trendy? What's not to love about a prefab (also known as "modular") home? As with any home, this purchase isn't something you should jump into blindly. Make sure you do your research, and ask the right questions. Let's take a look at some of the pros of buying a prefab home.

Affordability. Modular homes have always been less expensive than traditional houses since they're mostly built in the factory. Weather, inspections and supply delays are no longer an issue. Just about everything is done onsite.

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Construction time. A prefab home takes much less time to build than a traditional home because a large portion of a prefab home is built on an assembly line. It's inspected before it even leaves the manufacturing facility, and the house is then driven right to your property on a truck, hooked up to gas and electrical lines, and -- welcome home, it's ready.

Design options. With a modular home, you don't have to pick from a group of designs that all look pretty much the same, as you do with traditional homes. Cutting-edge architects have embraced the flexibility of the modular home and you can find designs that are both utilitarian and artful at the same time.

Sustainability. Because they're built with more modern materials, prefab homes tend to be more energy-efficient, with good insulation and tight windows. Some can even be built with recycled materials.

Keep reading to find out the cons of buying a prefab home.

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Of course, not everything is perfect. Prefab homes have drawbacks as well as advantages. As with any home or property purchase, make sure you look into all your options and get references on any company or builder. Here are a few cons to buying a prefab home:

Owning property. Typically, when you purchase a home, it already resides on a piece of property, and the cost of the land is built in with the price. With a modular home, you must first find and purchase a piece of land, and then purchase your prefab home to be placed there.

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Waiting. If you buy a traditional home (not new construction), you can move in right away. However, with a prefab home, you obviously can't move in until it's built and placed on your property. Construction time is certainly shorter than it would be with a traditional home, but you'll still have to make arrangements to live somewhere else until your home is ready for you.

Upfront Costs. With most prefab homes, you need to pay the builder in full before your home is completed -- meaning you're paying for the work as it's happening. You can pay this with savings or get a loan from the modular home dealer. As with any lending institution, we always advise you to make informed decisions, and always shop around before choosing a company to go with.

Prefab homes of today aren't the trailer-type or log cabins of yesteryear. Read on to see what's new in the world of modular homes.

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People tour a two-story, three-bedroom modular home in New Orleans.
People tour a two-story, three-bedroom modular home in New Orleans.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

If you hadn't heard of prefab homes before, you probably did after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and left thousands of people homeless.

Evolving out of an organization called the Mississippi Renewal Forum, the Katrina Cottages are affordable prefab homes, designed in the tradition of Gulf architecture. They cost only $35,000 to build and are much more comfortable and visually attractive than a government-issued FEMA trailer.

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Currently, the big draw of prefab homes is their sustainability, energy efficiency and small size. Everyone talks about downsizing like it's a bad thing, but proponents of prefab homes call it "rightsizing." Prefab homes are more efficient and Earth-friendly to build. Since they're assembled in factories, this eliminates onsite construction waste as well as trucks driving back and forth to construction sites burning gas and polluting the air.

Today's prefab homes aren't boxy trailers, or old-fashioned log cabin styles, either. You can purchase a modern prefab home in ranges of $100 to $300 a square foot, or more for luxury. Clever design makes the most of a small home, with built-in shelving and storage spaces.

Designers try to match a specific home design to its surrounding landscape. They don't want the home to be the focal point. Rather, they want the home to become part of the landscape. This is why you'll see prefab homes with lots of floor-to-ceiling windows and open floor plans.

Here are a few of the more interesting prefab designs we've read about lately:

  • Recycled shipping containers
  • Refurbished boxcars
  • Prefabricated outer walls from sustainable wood
  • "Alley houses" -- 8 feet wide, 4 stories tall

To find out more about living and home, check out the links on the next page.

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Related Articles

Sources

  • Bartz, Bianca. "25 Prefab Homes." TrendHunter.com. July 20, 2008. (April 25, 2011) http://www.trendhunter.com/slideshow/25-prefab-homes
  • Connors, Tiffany. "How Prefab Houses Work." HowStuffWorks.com. Sept. 27, 2007. (April 25, 2011) https://home.howstuffworks.com/prefab-house.htm
  • Lahay, Bill. "Pre-fab homes can be earth-friendly." The Miami Herald. April 24, 2011. (April 25, 2011) http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/24/2177703/pre-fab-homes-can-be-earth-friendly.html
  • Lee, Evelyn. "Katrina Cottage." Inhabitat. March 8, 2006. (April 25, 2011) http://inhabitat.com/katrina-cottage/
  • "Pros and Cons of Buying a Modular Home." Modular Today. 2011. (April 25, 2011) http://www.modulartoday.com/prosandconsofbuyingmodularhome.html

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