Factory-Built Modular Homes

Modular homes are an approach to modern construction that has slowly been gaining acceptance. Probably because the efficiencies of constructing buildings in a factory setting has several advantages. Regardless of the weather, the materials and crew are protected indoors; water damage is eliminated and productivity is high. On-site time is greatly reduced and much of the construction waste is handled at the factory.

I recently went on a tour of Guildcrest Homes in Morewood, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa. Several model homes are on display at the property to help purchasers see some of the many designs available, but the real action is in the factory behind. In a one hundred thousand square foot building, house modules start their life at one end of the building and emerge at the other end packaged and ready to ship. The company manages the construction process through eighteen stages of completion supplying materials and related tradespeople as required.

First wall on deck In the first stage, the deck is built and set onto steel wheels that guide the developing module through the factory on tracks in the floor. Here we can see that a protective layer of paper has been laid down on the deck and the first wall section has been lifted into position by crane. The section already has vapour -barrier and drywall installed. To the right, we can see a module that already has its interior and exterior wall sections in place.

Walls up The factory has workshops that specialize in producing various sub-components like stairs and roof trusses. The sub-components are made to the custom requirements of the individual module’s design and transported to the factory just in time for assembly. With the framing done and drywall in place, crews can work to install electrical and plumbing from the outside and the interior through openings in the drywall where required.

Siding and trim Insulation, sheathing, windows and doors, siding, soffit and facia trim are all applied on the exterior while drywall is taped sanded and painted on the inside. The completed module will have shingles and interior finishes including flooring, cabinets and plumbing fixtures installed. Sufficient wiring is bundled at the end of each electrical circuit to complete the run to the electrical panel. I’ve glossed over the work performed here pretty quickly because the materials are not unique its the environment and the order they are installed in that differs.

In normal construction emphasis is on getting the building envelope sealed so that materials are protected and the work then shifts to building from the outside shell inwards. In the factory environment, once the drywall is installed work can be performed on both sides of the wall. Supply of materials is much easier, as is working from a level concrete floor or from permanent overhead scaffolding when shingling the roof.

Ready to travel At the end of the production line, the module is wrapped in plastic to protect it from the wind and elements while shipping. Hydraulic jacks lift the module off the steel wheels and onto higher stands. A transport truck backs a trailer under the module and it is lowered to be hauled away. Guildcrest’s website has a nice sequence of shots showing the craning of the finished modules onto a waiting foundation. Their installation makes for a dramatic advancement in a single day at the construction site. Of course there is still work to be done on site to link the modules together, connect electrical and plumbing runs and install any brick veneer or stonework required.

Guildcrest estimates that only one percent of the new-build housing market is being supplied by factory-built modular homes. Given it’s advantages we are likely to see more of this approach to residential construction. As a home inspector, I like the potential of higher quality construction in homes that are better sealed from the elements. If significant cost savings are passed on to the consumer, expect to see more modular homes going up in a subdivision near you.


Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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