Why You Should Ditch Modular Construction for System-Built

Why You Should Ditch Modular Construction for System-Built

Modular construction has been around for over a century. With a coming of age in the ’50s, modular homes seemed like they were poised to take the nation by storm. There was a lot of excitement in the air, and Americans were certainly interested in what they had to offer.

Fast forward to today, and modular homes have spread throughout the United States. But looking at present-day modular homes, one can’t help but wonder if the technology that was so innovative in the ’40s and ’50s might be considered primitive by today’s standards.

So what homes are the homes of the future?

If you’ve been curious about prefab and modular homes, you may have come across the term system-built. Introduced by architect Frank Lloyd Wright around a century ago, system-built homes offer a lot of great features, and although they overlap with modular and prefab, they do offer some distinct advantages.

The model B1 American System-Built Home, by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Image by Michael Lilek | Shared from CURBED

What Is the Difference Between Modular Homes, Manufactured Homes, and System-Built?

A modular home is completely built and finished at the factory, then driven to you in a truck. In fact, both modular and manufactured homes are completed in a factory, driven to the site and then set into place. While a modular home is set on a permanent foundation, a manufactured home is set onto an axle foundation.

A system-built home is not shipped as one whole unit. Rather, it is assembled at the job site from components that are pre-built at a factory.

There are also differences in the aspects of planning, permitting, construction, and personalization of the home.

For example, modular homes and manufactured homes are classified in a certain way by the city. System-built homes, on the other hand, are treated the same as regular construction. More on that shortly.

Fairland House by Proto Homes | Los Angeles, CA

What Makes System-Built Homes Better Than Modular Homes?

Because of the way they’re fabricated and assembled, modular homes will not really allow you much flexibility when designing your dream home. You’ll have to choose from limited floor plans, finishes, and interiors. None of which take either your land or your taste into account.

You’ll also discover down the road that modular homes can be harder to sell.

Why is that?

Modular Homes Are Often Small, Constrained by the Size of the Truck They Are Transported On, While System-Built Homes Have No Size Restrictions

Modular homes tend to have low ceilings, narrower hallways, and smaller rooms than traditional site-built homes. These size limitations are because there are legal restrictions as to how big trucks can be on roads and freeways. These restrictions impact the size of the homes they are able to carry. Roads also have overpasses, which means if you choose a modular home it will never reach the soaring heights that make a space feel open and airy.

System-built homes are completely different. Instead of being assembled off-site, the parts are fabricated and then driven to the job site. There are no restrictions. And when it comes to ceiling height, the sky’s the limit.. Your home can be as large as your land allows, and you are able to get the most out of your plot, just the way you would with a traditional home.

Modular Homes Are Often Stock, While You Can Personalize the Interior of Your System-Built Home

Buying a modular home is like getting a product off the shelf. There may be a few options, but the floor plans are very limited. If you’re happy looking (and living) like everyone else out there, this may not bother you too much. Most of the time, though, those options won’t be the right fit for you. You’re stuck with a layout that someone else dreamed up that doesn’t make good use of your land.

A system-built home gives you the opportunity to lay out your living space exactly the way you want it. Rooms can be sized, shaped, and configured according to your needs. You’ll even have the chance to select the exact finishes you want for your interiors.

Modular and Manufactured Permitting Can Be Extremely Challenging, While This Is No Longer an Issue for System-Built Homes

Although modular is often presented as an easier or simpler solution there may be hidden headaches.

When it comes to permitting, Modular homes require you to deal with both state and local inspectors. Many local authorities have a negative view of modular and don’t appreciate that many of the approvals occur within the state level bureaucracy.  

Not so with system-built homes. Because they are constructed much like a conventional site-built home, local building inspectors can be involved at all stages of the process. There’s no reason for authorities to worry, so system-built homes are popping up in Los Angeles and other major cities. Our homes are actually classified as type-5 construction and therefore are treated exactly the same as traditional construction by the local municipalities.

You Have More Options for Buying and Selling With System-Built Homes

Here’s a hint of how people really think about modular:

You have to warn home buyers before you sell them.

Yes! When you want to sell a modular home, you’re required to disclose on the title and other paperwork that it is prefabricated modular.

Lenders have taken notice of this, and they don’t like to deal with modular, either. You will find that many banks are averse to financing modular homes, even if you have great credit and income. If you are able to find a bank that will work with you on your loan, they will add complexity with multiple lending stages and restrictions. Not so with system-built. Financing a system-built home is essentially the same as financing an ordinary home.

System-Built Homes Last Much Longer than Modular Homes

Last but not least, there’s the question of longevity.

With modular, there is a general perception in the market that these homes are not as hardy as regular homes. Depending on which modular building company you’re considering, this may well be the case. The benchmark is always whether it will last as long as a home built with traditional construction methods. Most modular builders are used to defending their homes, and many aspire to be in the same league as a regular home when it comes to longevity.

With system-built, if you go with a reputable company with sound technology, the home can last much longer than even a traditional home. At Proto Homes,  every one of our homes includes robust, replaceable infrastructure centered in one place. We use a remarkably strong, stable, and simple structural system, and a “bullet-proof” outer envelope that guards against moisture. Our system-built homes are purposefully built to last much longer than any other homes.

System-Built Is Better for Construction Companies Too

Construction companies are learning to love system-built homes.

In an industry that’s often hampered by workforce shortages, system-built means predictability.

There is much less reliance on skilled trades – such as electricians and plumbers – whose schedules are packed and time is at a premium. That translates to lower labor costs. Projects get done faster with fewer delays. It’s even better for the environment, with less waste and fewer dumpsters on each site.

In the end, everyone wins – the company, the customers, the permitting authorities, and Mother Nature. The only thing holding system-built from meeting California’s housing needs en masse is the lack of information out there among the public – but now, you know.

The choice is clear. When it comes to modular homes versus system-built homes, system-built wins hands down.

Contact us to find out if system-built construction is right for you!

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