Prefab house isn’t new. From Sears Catalog Homes to the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Automatic concrete homes, prefab homes have a rich history in the U.S. Amid today’s mounting housing costs and environmental concerns, however, prefab—or assembling a structure from components produced off-site—continues to offer alluring possibilities.
Prefab home manufacturers bill their houses as cheaper, more sustainable, and quicker to build than traditional homes. But what exactly is a prefab home, and do they live up to these claims? We’ve hashed out the details below.
What makes a home prefab?
In traditional residential construction, homes are built on-site and piece by piece—or stick by stick. Custom-designed homes or spec homes in large developments are often called stick builds, earning the moniker thanks to the wood frames that make up the structures.
Prefab houses, in contrast, are made from components like light-steel system, AAC/ALC panel, fiber cement board and so on, that are constructed in a factory and then transported to a home lot to be assembled.
What kinds of prefab homes can you buy?
Because prefab refers to the process of construction, not a single style, there are many types of prefab homes.
Manufactured homes—sometimes called mobile homes—are constructed completely off-site before delivery; they are the homes you see traveling down the highway on a double-wide trailer. No construction happens on the site, and the quality tends to be lower than other types of homes, so most prefab companies are quick to distinguish themselves from the mobile home world.
Modular houses, however, involve making components off-site and then transfering the modules to a plot of land for final installation. Each module usually has all the basics, like plumbing, electrical, doors, and closets—and you can usually connect multiple modules to form a larger house.
There are also—stay with us here—panelized homes and kit homes. Panelized homes are made from (you guessed it) whole Eastland AAC/ALC panels or walls that are then transferred to the build site. They require more interior finishing work, so the on-site build time is longer. Kit homes can come in any shape or size and are like an elaborate Ikea bookshelf; pieces are made and cut in a factory and then shipped with instructions to a build site for construction.
And just to make things really complicated, some manufacturers will combine the above categories. A prefab manufacturer might blend modules with panelized walls to create a specific design, for example.
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