What are Prefab Homes?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Prefabricated houses, also known as modular or prefab homes, have been around since 1624, when the first wooden house was broken into pieces in England and shipped overseas to Cape Ann, Massachusettes, to be reconstructed on a different continent.

The growing movement of prefab housing is attracting more and more respected architects.
The growing movement of prefab housing is attracting more and more respected architects.

In 1908, Sears introduced its wildly popular "House by Mail", a prefabricated house they sold nearly 100,000 units of between 1908 and 1940. Even historic architect Frank Lloyd Wright was in on the action, setting up a factory in Wisconsin to produce many of his designs en masse for the American people.

The popular conception of prefab houses is one of virtual trailers, either shipped whole on the back of a truck to the lot they will live, or sent in modular pieces to be constructed on site. While it is indisputable that a large segment of the prefabrication market is at the lower cost end, the fastest growing sector is at the upper-end of the market. In some areas, an attempt has been made to differentiate between the two market segments by referring to the low-cost structures as manufactured housing and the more custom-built, high-end structures as prefab or panelized housing.

The growing movement of prefab housing is attracting more and more respected architects, turning out creative and practical designs that may be built at a slim fraction of the cost of traditional construction. A bottleneck has begun to appear at the manufacturing end of the equation, where many manufacturers are reluctant to become known as glorified mobile-home producers. This in turn causes architects to turn to manufacturers long distances from their target build location, increasing overall costs.

Prefab housing is also attracting great interest from environmental groups, because of its potential to easily incorporate green-friendly designs into a model that will reach millions of people. In England, the Summit House was erected in early February of 2005 in just over ten hours as a demonstration of the speed, affordability, and attractiveness of prefab housing. This three-story house received an excellent score on the EcoHomes rating, and is fully modular, allowing for a great deal of customization.

Ultimately it appears that the movement towards prefab housing will overcome its current difficulties and become a viable choice not only for low-income families, but also for more wealthy consumers interested in a designer house for a fraction of the cost.

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Discussion Comments


@SurfNTurf -You know I have seen a few manufactured homes in South Florida and possibly they might be classified as mobile homes even though they are not mobile homes. I know that these are usually found in trailer park communities in South Florida, and in other parts of the state they are found in traditional neighborhoods. I would imagine that the homeowner’s insurance rates must be high if these prefab homes are classified as mobile homes. In fact, I think that the insurance rates must be at least double what the average insurance rates are on a typical home which ranges anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 a year. This might make buying a prefab home in South Florida too expensive which is why you don't see too many.


@Sneakers41-I agree that you really can’t tell the difference between a traditional home and a manufactured home. I would probably say that while these homes are attractive, they are not recommended in all markets of the country.

For example, in areas with potential hurricanes like South Florida, these types of prefab homes would not be permitted because all new homes have to be made of concrete and these modern prefab homes are made of wood. Concrete can withstand hurricane force winds while wood can’t.

Although mobile homes are legal in the area, but because this is classified as a home and not a mobile home it does not meet the building standards. There are other parts of Florida that do have prefab manufactured homes and many communities were built with these types of homes.


I have seen some of the prefab manufactured homes and they look pretty nice. I also think that the prices are pretty reasonable for what you get. I think that the average price per square foot starts at $60 which is considerably less than what a traditional home would cost.

I always thought that the log homes would be really great to have because they look so different than a regular home. It makes you feel cozier especially if you are situated in a mountain area.

The construction timeframe is really short when you consider how long it takes to build a typical home. It only takes about one to four months to build prefab manufactured homes. This is great if you have an empty lot of land and need to build a structure on it.

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    • The growing movement of prefab housing is attracting more and more respected architects.
      By: benik.at
      The growing movement of prefab housing is attracting more and more respected architects.