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Modular homes may solve Coast shortage, but what are they?

Modular housing is a new concept in Mississippi, but it’s being cited as one of the solutions to solving the housing shortage in hurricane-ravaged areas. Housing — quick and affordable — is a pressing need as the Gulf Coast rebuilds and thousands of people come to the area to work. This type of housing may also be the answer for first-time and lower income homebuyers.

Modular homes are built in sections in a factory setting, indoors, where they are never subjected to adverse weather conditions. The sections move through the factory with the company’s quality control department checking them after every step. Finished modules are covered for protection, and then transported to the home site. They are placed on a pre-made foundation, joined, and completed by a local builder.

Modular homes are not manufactured or mobile homes, and they are as sturdy as site or stick-built homes. There are differences that can affect a home’s price and its resale value, and may dictate whether or not a modular can be built on the homeowner’s land.

“The main difference is code,” said Marty Milstead, executive director of the Mississippi Homebuilders Association. “The technique has been around for a while. It takes away some weather delays and is a different way of building a home.”

Still, he doesn’t necessarily think modular homes are right for everyone. “Modular homes can control certain environments, but when it comes to the custom elements of a home, most people want a custom look that can be changed on the job,” he said.

However, the Gulf Coast may not have the luxury of building custom homes for everyone who needs shelter. As a leader of the recovery, Anthony Topazi is involved with efforts to solve the area’s affordable housing shortage. The CEO of Mississippi Power Company and chairman of the Gulf Coast Business Council, he frequently addresses groups on the importance of this issue.

As for the housing need, he said, “We have a rough estimate, a number that came out of some survey work done by the Governor’s Commission. According to that survey, we lost about 70,000 units, including single family homes and apartments that were destroyed. We have another 65,000 units that were severely damaged.

“That’s what we lost and must replace. We must also add to that number to provide housing for the growth we anticipate in rebuilding. We need 80,000 housing units (single family homes and apartments) over the next five year period.”

Providing adequate housing must be done at a rate eight to 10 times greater than what is normally done in a year.

“If we’re not successful in producing housing at that rate, it will stall our overall recovery,” Topazi said. “We must ask, what role will modular construction play? It must play a key role because of the speed involved. We can’t build all the homes needed in the conventional way.”

Modular homes may sound like mobile homes, now called manufactured homes, but they are vastly different. While many neighborhoods have restrictions regarding manufactured homes, most developments allow modular homes.

In some cases there may be restrictions due to confusion about the differences between modular homes and manufactured homes.

What are site or stick-built homes?

• They are constructed entirely at the building site.

• They conform to all state, local or regional codes where the house is located.

• A well-built, cared for site-built home generally increases in value over time, although its location plays a key role in value.

What are modular homes?

• Modular homes are built in sections at a factory.

• They are built to conform to all state, local or regional building codes at their destinations.

• Sections are transported to the building site on truck beds, then joined together by local contractors.

• Local building inspectors check to make sure a modular home’s structure meets requirements and that all finish work is done properly.

• Modular homes are sometimes less expensive per square foot than site-built houses.

• A well-built modular home should have the same longevity as its site-built counterpart, increasing in value over time.

• Unless you were there to see the house delivered and assembled, you might not guess it’s a modular home.

The amount of time it takes to build a modular home depends on the design and the manufacturer. Some modular homes can be built in the factory in as little as one to two weeks. Since they’re built indoors, there’s never a weather delay. Completion time at the site depends on the size and design of the home.

Modular home manufacturers use computer aided design programs to draw plans to specifications or to modify one of their standard plans to suit the homeowner’s needs.

What are manufactured homes?

• Formerly referred to as mobile homes or trailers, but with many more style options than in the past.

• Manufactured houses are built in a factory.

• They conform to a federal building code, called the HUD code, rather than to building codes at their destinations.

• Manufactured homes are built on a non-removable steel chassis.

• Sections are transported to the building site on their own wheels.

• Multi-part manufactured units are joined at their destination.

• Segments are not always placed on a permanent foundation, making them more difficult to re-finance.

• Building inspectors check the work done locally such as electric hookups, but are not required to approve the structure.

• Manufactured housing is generally less expensive than site-built and modular homes.

• These homes sometimes decrease in value over time.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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