How Prefab Houses Work

The history of prefab houses dates back to the early 1900s when companies like Sears offered housing kits. See more pictures of home design.

Manufactured houses often get a bad rep. There's nothing like getting stuck behind a truck hauling half a house to get the jokes rolling. And "trailer-trash" is part of the modern vocabulary. However, just as Starbucks redefined coffee and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" redefined game shows, "prefab" modules are redefining assembly-line houses. Those who favor them tout benefits like smaller price tags, better construction, increased environmental benefits and quicker move-in times. Prefabs are growing in size, too. They're no longer two-room cottages without indoor plumbing; modular houses can grow to thousands of square feet with multiple stories and basements. The prefab industry is expected to top $10 billion in 2007, according to Plus, since Hurricane Katrina, prefab houses have gotten a boost as more attractive and sturdier alternatives to FEMA trailers.

­The assembly of a prefab house is based on the same concept as that of a car. Just as Henry T. Ford's production method for the Model T made cars affordable for the average consumer, assembly-line production and bulk buying drive down the cost and construction time for prefabricated homes. Prefabricated homes have evolved over the years and now come in many varieties and with lots of extras. Just as you can add a satellite radio or heated seats to your car, you can add hot tubs and crown molding to your modular home. Welcome to the world of prefab.­


But what exactly is a prefab house? How are the pieces constructed and assembled? How much money does it take to get a house on a plot of land? And what kind of instructional manual comes with the ultimate model kit?

­In this article, we'll find out what prefabricated houses are all about.