Modular Construction: “Not there yet”

“There is only one way for a modular project to go right, and a million ways to go wrong.”

By John E. McNellis, Principal at McNellis Partners, for WOLF STREET:

Watch enough construction and it may occur to you that things have scarcely changed since Ramses II’s building spree. Yes, we have cranes, forklifts, and electric saws, but so much of building still comes down to backbreaking labor: guys digging ditches, pushing wheelbarrows or swinging hammers. Wed this commonplace observation with our apparent need to disrupt and revolutionize every industry and your offspring is modular construction.

What is modular construction? It’s a method of construction, not a building type.   It’s a matter of where rather than what. Instead of erecting a building on-site, most of a modular structure is built off-site. One assembles everything but a project’s foundation, exterior siding and roof in a factory a thousand miles away. It’s constructing an apartment building in individual modules—imagine freight containers—in, say, Boise, trucking them to your site, easing them onto your foundation and then screwing them in, side-by-side, and then stacking them floor-by-floor like a child’s building blocks.

When finished, the Modular Building Institute says that, “Modular buildings are virtually indistinguishable from their site-built counterparts.”

Why do this? Why bother fooling with a construction method that has worked for the last five thousand years? Simple. Modular companies claim their approach can save up to 40 percent on construction costs and finish buildings 40 to 50 percent faster. How?

First, like the offshoring of tech work, there is a big savings in wages: one can pay those Boise carpenters $18 an hour instead of $50 in the Bay Area.

Second, there are no rain delays in a factory; its carpenters can pound nails 365 days a year; and third, you can finish your apartments in the factory at the same time your local contractor is doing all of your site work: grading, trenching, utilities, pouring the foundation and so on. When the foundation is done, so are your apartments; this should—theoretically— shave months off your construction time.

Even if these cost savings prove elusive—one owner with whom I spoke said his modular project cost as much as and took as long as traditional construction—there are a couple compelling reasons for modular. By shifting the building process to where the trades can afford to live, it’s one small way to address the nation’s labor shortage in construction. More importantly, it should prove a great step forward for worker health and safety:  An apartment on an assembly line can be raised and lowered to accommodate the carpenters’ aching backs; plumbers don’t need to crawl under the floor. And, if you’re working on the factory floor, you have no risk of falling off a five-story project.

Modular construction has been around for decades. Why hasn’t it taken off? 

“There is only one way for a modular project to go right, and a million ways to go wrong,” said Ken Lowney, president and founder of Lowney Arch. Having designed and overseen the construction of modular buildings with over 5,000 units, Lowney has experienced most of the problems one can with the process: modules that fit like a poorly cut jigsaw puzzle, modules that were damaged in transit, modules that weren’t properly weather-proofed and thus ruined while awaiting installation, and even the bankruptcy or failure of the modular construction companies themselves.

Lowney thinks that modular isn’t the answer for every project, but rather just one of the tools that owners and builders should consider. “It works best for projects over 100 units located on flat, rectangular sites with ample land area. It can really shine with suburban hotels.  If you’re building the identical hotel room over and over again, modular’s efficiencies can kick into gear. Marriott is a huge proponent.”

One major contractor said his team has wasted too much time “pre-conning” a half-dozen modular projects that didn’t go forward, presumably because the cost savings weren’t there. “Right now, modular is more bleeding edge than leading edge.”

He pointed out a constraining factor to the process: Without a “lay-down” yard within a half mile of the project to store the delivered modules awaiting installation, the concept simply doesn’t work. This eliminates highly urbanized areas as modular candidates. He also pointed out the elephant in modular’s factory: the unions. Wherever unions can effectively veto a project’s approval—San Francisco—modular will only proceed with their participation.

Another contractor was far more sanguine about modular’s future. “It’s not there yet, but it’s inevitable,” said Paul Cunha, a vice president with S.D. Deacon, a leading west coast contractor. “The country needs it to address both our labor and housing shortage.”

He likened the state of modular construction to the auto industry. “Modular is well beyond the Model T stage, but nowhere near Tesla. It’s like car manufacturing in the forties, just after the war. But they’re going to figure it out, they’re going to make it work far more efficiently than site-built construction.”

For the sake of our housing shortage, let’s hope it arrives soon. By John E. McNellis, author of Making it in Real Estate: Starting Out as a Developer.

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  175 comments for “Modular Construction: “Not there yet”

  1. jizazkn says:

    Psst, used shipping containers – amazing what’s being done w/ them!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yes, go ahead, pay $250 a night to stay in a Marriott made out of shipping containers. Do it for the experience! YOLO ?

      • Mike Canant says:

        I grew up in Tyler, TX where a company called National Homes built homes in a factory and delivered the parts to a nearby lot to be installed. They stayed in business only a short time and went broke.
        Houses turned out to be cheap, bad houses.

      • Use & Throw says:

        The exorbitant rates, the US builders are fleecing the blissfully ignorant customers for new homes and its updates (that should have come along with the original structure), I am happy to import the more economical Chinese-built modular homes, that can be set up within a day or two and live in it for a year and reorder another one for the next year and change that one for the latest design. It’s not that different from wearing imported Chinese textiles of the latest style. Moreover, we are already doing it in other sectors. We import all crap from China, why feel different about this? Importing modular homes will really be another shining example of American Consumerism! Let’s make america great again!

        • David Hall says:

          What county is that? My county building code does not allow tents.

        • Swamp Creature says:

          When the Wuhan virus broke out in Jan 2020 I saw satillite photos where they build a whole city for quarantined patients in two days. If they could do it there they could do the same here. South Fla below Holmstead AFB would be a good place to build one of these cities.

      • raxadian says:

        You could stay in a house made out of recycled bottles instead.

        • NBay says:

          The old Calico “ghost town” had a house made of bottles….think it was somewhere in the Mojave.

      • Cas127 says:


        Well, actually the broader point concerning new modes of construction/housing, is that people would be spending $12.50 a night to sleep in a modified shipping container *in preference to* $250 per night for the Marriott.

        Aggressive overpricing leads to innovation, which leads to lower prices – that is the fundamental dynamic I think some of us are trying to get across.

        • NBay says:

          Don’t usually agree with you, but yeah, a Motel 6 made out of shipping containers might fit a lot of people’s needs and budget and possibly be a cheaper and for sure longer lasting building. Super strong, too….extremely excessively so.

          I started a container home with that belief, and also maybe a better chance in a forest fire.
          One thing is CERTAIN, there would be plenty of the structural element left to use in rebuilding, even if fire was hot/close enough to ignite the insides.

    • TS says:

      Look twice.. they are EXPENSIVE and actually not bullet proof. Note that the floors are plywood over steel beams and they are meant to have all their walls to keep their strength and with insulation fittings and furnishings, it is easy to go over their gross designed weight, so you still need an architect to pass code..

      • roddy6667 says:

        You are confusing factory-built homes, like trailers, with modular. The cheaper homes are often mistakenly called modular. I see vast projects of glorified trailers in Florida that people call modular. Modular homes are built just like site-built houses. They do not have steel beams, they have wood floor joists. When I was a Realtor, I helped to design a few modulars, build them, and sell them. One was a 3500 sq. ft. colonial with a 3 car garage, an au pair apartment, and a finished walkout basement.
        When you walk through a modular home, the only clues are the thicker walls where the modules are joined. Ver people ever notice this.

        • DanS86 says:

          I want a house built of steel and concrete like office buildings. Will wait for the deflation.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Having ”bid” on all the other components of modular high rise projects in FL, TX, and CA, I can verify that R2/3 is correct.
          These ranged from 21 stories of modular apts on top of the currently very popular ”podium” style to 7 stories of apts or motel rooms starting with the mods on the second floor.
          Of course the main issues, FKA problems, are the vast amount of connections aligning correctly for quick assembly and hence the challenge will remain the skills of the various trades involved.
          There was no doubt at the bidding stage of the POSSIBLE cost efficiencies,,, but, as this accurate article points out,,, there is a ton of possibilities of costly errors at every stage,,, AS IS TRUE of every construction project ever.
          The answer, as always, is competent management at all levels, especially coordination and supervision in the field.

        • NBay says:

          Agree. Even using the old “trailered in halves”, if put on a proper perimeter foundation (instead of blocks under the steel beams), they can as good as any “stick construction” home, (maybe better, because they have to withstand wiggle from being on the road) and have easier to figure out electricals, as they are divided into 4 sections. In fact, you may even get a schematic! Something I’ve never seen or heard of in stick, as nobody bothers with any “as built” drawings. I do have some bad things to say about “push into panelling” electrical “boxes” and wire gauges used in the distant past, though, likely they are all nailed to studs properly, now.

    • IanCad says:

      Oh Dear!!! It is so sad to see intelligent folk spout nonsense about shipping containers.
      Wrong size, need welding, lining and other modifications that make them more expensive than a conventional build of the same size.

      • Heinz says:

        Agreed. I did a bit of research on homes made of shipping containers. Although they have some pros, I think they are way overpriced for what amounts to steel building blocks of repurposed containers.

        Ditto for most tiny home manufacturer products– they are very expensive on a square foot basis. While a plus is that you can uproot and move rather easily because of the wheels, they can be problematic in terms of city permits and utility service.

        Folks wanting to downsize inexpensively from their big money pit houses but are not impressed by conventional tiny houses or container houses might want to look at other options.

        Boxabl is one manufacturer that makes ‘tiny houses’ that come as ultra-modern ‘fold-out’ houses in the sense that all the structure elements, including plumbing, electric and HVAC are pre-assembled and the whole thing can be unfolded and completed in a couple of hours. You will however need to furnish a foundation.

        Manufactured, or pre-fab houses as they were called back in the day, are nothing new. Some may recall that Sears (famous dept. store) sold DIY craftsman house kits sold by mail up until the 1940s. Reportedly they could be assembled in 90 days by their customers (or as one wag noted, with help of 90 friends). Nonetheless there are many beautiful Craftsman bungalow (and other architectural designs) houses around to this day and are still coveted.

        Lustron Homes created a stir with rather innovative steel-walled pre-fab homes back in the 1950s

        • Patrick says:

          Or, even earlier (1940’s), the “Wingfoot” homes in Goodyear AZ were built offsite:

          “Priced at $2,650 and only eight feet wide, these nifty “Wingfoot” houses could be transported by truck (once on-site the bedrooms pulled out like drawers) and showed up in enclaves of Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Indiana, among other places, in addition to the city of Goodyear itself.”

      • NBay says:

        Don’t think you are at all right about that. There is a guy in Ukiah, CA that has a team that is getting really good at building them as houses, barns, to spec at his yard and then delivering/assembling them. He did my 2-2-1 20 ft stack and I was working on finishing it (stupidly, at that age) when my back went out for good end ’13….but it’s solid with a good concrete foundation. Just leaks a bit.

        • NBay says:

          People have to remember these 20 ft x 8ft containers are designed to hold 67,000 lb each, and can be stacked 9 high….on a rolling ship.

          That is STRONG, and Korten Steel is almost forever as long as water doesn’t pool up on it. You see it on a lot of roofs in tough climates, like in the Rockies of CO….and in bridges….EVERWHERE.

      • Dave Chapman says:

        I actually own a shipping container (20 feet long; one trip). It is great storage for stuff, but modifying such a container to be a house is simply too expensive. The whole “turn a bunch of containers into housing” idea is just another fad which will fade away soon.
        In order to make good cuts for doors and windows, you are going to need a plasma cutter. Then, you will still need door hardware, window hardware, insulation, wiring, etc., etc., etc.
        It is not remotely cost-effective.

  2. What about 3-D printed houses? I keep hearing that they’re so cheap and the quality is so high. Why haven’t 3-D printed houses taken over the market, yet?

    • josap says:

      People think of them like geodesic domes of the 70s.

      I think they are pretty neat. Thick walls, fast builds. Not sure how long setup and finish work takes, still has to have plumbing stems and elec outlets, kitchen cabinets, etc.

    • Heinz says:

      “Why haven’t 3-D printed houses taken over the market, yet?”

      Patience, young grasshopper.

      The housing industry is quite averse to change their tried and true stick-built model of house construction. They are a one-trick pony and they like it that way.

      This current aberration of a housing market with prices going through the roof (pardon pun) and contrived ‘inventory shortage’ will IMO spur a little much-needed innovation in that industry. It’s about time.

      “A New York homebuilder has put a 3D-printed home on the market for the first time in the United States …”– recent story on CNBC. And he is getting plenty of offers.

      I even think the tiny house movement has a future here, although it is not for all. Empty nesters, retired singles, and young couples long on dreams and short on cash are obvious customers.

      Everyone needs a place to live, and few will need (although many ‘want’) the traditional American ‘dream’ house of a 3200 sq. ft. McMansion in the burbs. Especially in a perverted housing market gone wild.

      • Educated but Poor Millenial says:

        In LosAngeles there is 2 types of construction going on, 2500-4000 sf 4 bedroom luxury macmansion or doghouse condos. No middle ground.
        The condos are really large scale projects by large corporate builders. I don’t see a lot of mom and pop builders building 4-5 units.

      • NBay says:

        Odd you “researched” containers, found them wanting, and yet go for this “3d printing” involving all sorts of exotic framework and exacting concrete pouring mechanisms, which only puts up some concrete walls to someone’s remote design….nothing can go wrong with this monster 3d printer during the process?

        Think they had better stick to one-off plastic and glued metal prototypes….although it is fun to imagine with.

    • Cas127 says:

      3D printers seem awfully slow and raw material intensive for them to outpace modular/panelization in terms of impacting the real world mkt first.

      The key seems to be importing as many mass production techniques (assembly line, etc) as possible in order to maximize productivity.

      At current speeds, 3D printers seem better suited for custom/one-off manufacturing.

      • Dan says:

        Are you kidding me? 3-D printed houses are the most efficient houses with regards to building material, energy conservation, speed.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          This is a garage-sized shack with windows. 600 square feet. And only the walls are printed. Wood-framed windows are purchased from a supplier and built into the walls on site. The foundation is made on location (poured concrete?), and the roof is handmade out of wood and some roofing material. On the inside, it looks like a third-world cinder-block shack painted white with an exposed plywood ceiling. Light bulbs dangle from the rafters by their wires. Not sure if there is any plumbing. Doesn’t look like it. So sure, maybe an option to house the homeless?

        • Dan says:

          There are 2 things you are missing:

          a. This is just a prototype mostly for homeless; the cost of this only $10,000. Compare this with cost of traditional houses.
          b. You want more sophisticated 3-D printed house? Watch this one:
          c. This is the start; in 4-5 years, this technology will be much more advanced.
          d. You can give the computer any design, and it will print the house according to that plan.
          e. Young people/couples who live in apartments will prefer this to both apartments and buying traditional houses in RE casino.

        • roddy6667 says:

          3-D printed houses are only the shell. The site preparation, the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, floors, walls, kitchens, bathrooms, roofing, windows, etc are still done the old fashioned way..

        • nick kelly says:

          When a normal house build is to lock-up, i.e., the basic structure is there, you have only spent one third of the final cost. You can’t print the plumbing, electrical, etc. which go inside the walls. And do you want the floors and walls to be the same material, the stuff shot by the printer?
          BTW: it took a long time for stick built to penetrate much of the world, where brick walls were the norm and stick built was suspect, as was dry wall or sheet rock. But now many are hitting a century old, with no issues other than periodic roofing.

          My only input here is that we would be better off using good, old fashioned, genuine plywood instead of OSB, which should be out the code at least for roof sheathing.

        • NBay says:

          Yep, plywood for sure. You easily get the idea when you compare sag in cheap 3-ply 1/2″ to even 5-ply 1/2″. All wood is always best used when paying close attention to length/orientation of grain.

          Trees do.

    • Dan says:

      3-D printed houses is the future. Don’t let anyone to convince you otherwise. 3-D house printing is the great deflator of real estate.

      But think about how many people would be against 3-D printing and how much money they will spend on smear campaign to stop people from moving towards 3-D printed houses. All the real estate industry, all rental conglomerate, landlords, all construction workers, banks, lumber industry, … and even gov.

      All people in above industries will want to stop 3-D printing housing revolution. So, they will try to make it as difficult as possible. But technology always wins. So, remember that 3-D printing is the future.

      • Dan says:

        A 3-D printed house sold for $50K will earn the RE agent, bank, loan company very little; it will earn gov very little tax in comparison to a $1.5 Mil McMansion. So, they will fight against us; but the great thing is that huge number of common people will be behind 3-D printed houses and they won’t be able to stop us. Let’s deflate real estate like never before.

        • Cas127 says:

          Can you provide links to some 3D printers for home scale projects, so that we can see output rates?

          My initial sense, mentioned elsewhere is that interim technologies (panelization, etc.) are already real world available whereas 3D printers for homes are still a number of years in the future in practical, large scale terms.

          I think it might be like the hybrid vs. full electric car debate.

          Hybrids were available in 2000 and doubled MPG…full electrics took another 16 to 20 yrs and are arguably not really avl at large scale yet.

          A lot of savings could have occurred in those interim 16 yrs if everybody just went hybrid instead of waiting around on “perfect” full electric.

          Ditto for panelization vs 3D printing, I think.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          That’s not the issue with modular homes. Most of a house’s price in expensive areas comes from the land. Material costs are going to be largely the same. You also still have to have local people to hookup and do final stages of construction on site. Modular houses often lack basements or have to have the basements, done on site. Building a house in a factory has some advantages, but it’s very different than automating the building of say, a car, alot of modular construction for houses still has to be done by hand. Modular construction, might benefit some living in certain areas with high labor costs, but the end house isn’t going to be hugely cheaper. The only way factory houses could be alot cheaper is if houses were alot smaller (then it could be automated more), but mobile homes and RV’s have been going up alot in price, and if modular construction caught on, that price savings could be largely sucked away over time.

          The local governments could EASILY find ways to ensure those in new modular homes pay just as much in property taxes.

          The biggest problem though, is that construction is a big part of a local economy, shifting that away to other areas of the country for what, would likely be a modest price savings, will hugely damage many, if not most local economies. As for the sediment that construction is price gouging, that could be true in large cities, but in most of the country it isn’t. And almost everything could be accused of price gouging these days.

          Personally, ranch style (1 floor with basement) houses are the most appealing to me and what I think most people should go for. All those wires and pipes are also very easy to deal with in a ranch house. There isn’t much height to deal with either.

          Modular construction might be a good thing for certain types of large buildings like hotels, that stuff is usually done by non local companies, anyways. But, I’m not optimistic about modular houses. It’s also possible that new on site construction techniques can be developed.

          The biggest factor in the price of housing in expensive areas is, what is the most maximum possible loan, those wanting to live in that area can get?

        • Dan says:

          Cas127, I provided a link, but it is awaiting moderation.

          But here’s some quote “These 3D-printed homes can be built for less than $4,000 in just 24 hours”

          Printable homes represent the latest wave in construction, but they’re not always cheap or easy to build.

          In March, New Story, a housing nonprofit based in San Francisco, and Icon, a construction-technology company that designs 3D printers, defied these stereotypes by producing a $10,000 tiny home in just 48 hours.

          Icon called the structure “the first permitted, 3D-printed home in America.”

          As I said, expect a lot of resistance, comments, smear campaign against 3-D printed houses since these will deflate RE market by probably 90% whether they like it or not.

        • Cas127 says:


          Looking forward to the link…I am open to being convinced, but I just favor near term fixes (even if suboptimal/imperfect) over longer term ones whose full arrival date might keep getting pushed back.

          Leaving 3D printers out of it, there is a lot to be said for well thought out, smaller footprint house plans (real world tested) becoming more widely/clearly available and certified as being complete and vetted.

          A ton of websites offer house pkana/blueprints but I don’t know if any sites really specialize in price optimized construction/real world vetting in terms of plans for sale.

          (Btw, I would love it if Habitat for Humanity would make its own internal price optimized home plans/take down lists/etc much more openly available, with additional educational material. If H4H really wants to make a widespread impact, the broadest possible distribution of cost-optimized plans is the way to do so…it is much, much easier to publish pdfs on the internet than it is to round up dozens of volunteers weekend after weekend, in every metro in America).

          Also, detailed take down lists (itemized cost lists) seem to be much more scarce…blueprint sites seem to target the “Barbie’s Dream Home”
          market whereas there are (sadly) fewer numbers geeks obsessing about ultimate cost-to-build.

          The bottom line is that unless buyers educate themselves a *lot* more about true cost-to-build, they are always going to be at the mercy of ZIRP gaming developers.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          I found the article you are probably referring to, it dated to 2019. Alot of companies claim they are going to pull off big things. They almost never cost anything remotely as cheap as they claim. There are however, a lot of potential issues with that kind of design. It appears that a single slab of concrete is the entire wall. It’s not clear if that wall, will have cracking issues, if it does, outside becomes inside real fast. Various quality of life concerns such as noise, general maintenance, vibrations, and how easy it is to evenly heat and cool come up real fast. It doesn’t seem like it’s made to last. The roof in particular seemed like it could be ripped off quite easily during big storms. You’ll also probably run into issues like the water pipes freezing.

          If all this machine does is make concrete slabs and walls, it’s not clear what the advantage is over a poured single piece concrete wall. Well over 100 years ago, they could have put up temporary cheap wood and then poured a concrete wall.

          Stuff like this comes out alot, they hugely understate how much everything will end up costing. The price of land, some cities have a one time tax everytime a new house is built, the cost to attach utilities, and much more are left out. On most of the shows where they built tiny houses, they commonly did the labor for free as part of the show, but didn’t mention that in the show.

          Cities can easily still charge just as much property taxes to these homes if they want to. If a bunch of tiny homes are allowed in, the city isn’t just gonna suddenly take in hugely less money. The city can easily block homes that are not built to quality standards and they often have a minimum house size for the city. Usually, I think it’s something like 800 to 1200sqft, it can vary within the city for different neighborhoods.

          In most of the country, you can buy a cheaper old house for less than tiny houses and it will last much longer and be cheaper in the long run. Normal houses can be sold for a good amount, tiny houses and stuff like this, losses most of its value fast.

      • c_heale says:

        I’m not sure 3D printed materials are yet as strong as traditional subtractive methods. And how does it compare for costs?

      • Whenever I see 3-D printed houses at work, I see the concrete being poured by a machine. But as Top-GUN mentions further down below in the comments, what about the electricity, plumbing, ductwork, etc? How do they deal with that?

        I am familiar with the article published by CNBC on February 25, 2021 by Diana Olick on the first 3-D printed home for sale in the US market. The article claims the sale price is half that of a conventional home and the video shows customers who are impressed by the quality. But the lack of details raises many questions. I have walked by residential buildings at various stages of construction, so I have some idea of what it takes to build a house with a concrete foundation, a wood frame, and stucco on the outside, but the 3D houses are like a black box to me.

        • What I meant to say in the first sentence above is “whenever I see videos of houses being 3-D printed…”

        • Dan says:

          Good design of 3-D printed houses means the lines for wire, plumbing, etc. are all already built in. As usual, it’s a matter of paying more to get the best company to do it for you; but when I say more, I’m talking about let’s say $20K more to get the best, not pay $500K to get the best. Housing has been turned into a casino by Wall St. This is the technology that tells Blackrock and all the other gamblers to shove the houses they have bought.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          I think you can give up trying to persuade everyone that 3-D printed homes are the way to go. If it were the way to go, they’d be everywhere. Homebuilders are smart. They can figured out if something quadruples their profit. But they’re not using 3-D printing yet, and they’re the pros.

        • Cas127 says:

          Re concrete…

          Even the Soviets in the bad old days were able to slap up functional (if brutalist) apartment blocks quickly and in quantity using basic concrete building techniques.

          This fact may have relevance for the US today…

          The Fed’s multi-decade foray into derp (via ZIRP) first led to probably 2.5 million excess homes being built by 2009…and the subsequent blowback has likely left us 1 million+ short now (excellent work, DC dumb*sses).

          I’m willing to bet there is a market for $600 per month concrete Brutalist apartment towers in a ZIRP addled world of $1200 1 bedrooms…

          But builders (like most manufacturers) seem blind to any mkt but the higher end carriage trade (regardless of how fast it is shrinking).

        • Dan says:


          Exactly my point; people compare this to McMansions and criticize that this doesn’t have this or that, or it’s ugly. Even at $10,000 this is as good as many apartments that people are paying $3000 per month for rent. This is to provide low cost alternative, not replace McMansions. But given that that all first time home buyers will prefer to own such a cheap house to getting $1M mortgages for McMansions, the prices of McMansions will also deflate by at least %50-60%. So, good luck selling your McMansions in 10 years from now.

        • Dan says:


          I’m not invested in 3-D printing to want to pump it; I see it as the future. I will definitely intend to get into this industry as an investor or owner. Good products sell themselves; no one needs to pump them. And as for traditional builders, If you were at trandional builder, which one do you prefer to build? A McMansion that you sell for $1.5 Mil, or a 3-D printed house that you sell at best for $100K? But there will be new building companies solely based on 3-D printed houses; and those will leave the traditional builders in dust.

        • nick kelly says:

          Dan is certainly enthusiastic and has some points but his answer to the hold up in 3D?
          Of course, a conspiracy.

          The building biz is full of innovation, some quite recent, although it doesn’t change as fast as women’s fashions. Plastic plumbing, now they have it debugged saves a lot of time. The pour- and- tilt concrete wall was a a cool idea.

          As someone else points out, the price of the lot has overtaken the cost of the build. No builder in his right mind is going to put a 30K box on a 200K lot.

          Re: the conspiracy mind- set: the human mind seems to prefer the ‘malevolent agency’ explanation for almost anything.
          We’ve come a way since blaming weather etc. on gods or demons, or blaming our cow’s ill health on that weird old lady who gave it the ‘evil eye’, because science intervened. But the tendency remains. How often do we assume a missing item has been stolen, and then find it?

      • rankinfile says:

        The property assessments would be far lower than traditional buildings.Every local tax man knows that the pension crisis is upon us.They will prevent anything like modular homes through code enforcement.They already know the stern is sinking and the bow is fast rising, we already know how it ends.

        • char says:

          Why, the price of a property has little to do with its build cots but everything to do with its location.

      • Dan says:

        Guys, for those of you who want to buy a house, but you know the current market is just ridiculous, just watch a few videos on 3-D printed houses on YouTube, and you will get why I say this will revolutionize the house building industry, and will deflate RE prices by a huge percentage.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          As someone who has built houses in all kinds of markets since the early 1950s, I agree with your idea of how rid I clue less the entire house building market is these days.
          However, as has been said, most of the ”price” of houses — and all other RE is the cost of the dirt, with that cost currently varying up to hundreds of per cents between locations that I know of.
          We are currently living in a house built in 1950, more or less structurally the same 700 SF of concrete block on concrete slab, the block inside and out plastered directly on the block to cover the errors of the block masons, and tile on the floors ditto…
          Old style plaster on extruded metal lath on wood frame interior walls and ceilings complete the finishes.
          Houses like ours sold for approx $2500 to $10,000 new at that time, and ours, like most, were sold on the GI BIll similar to most around the USA at the time,,, and has been added onto for another bedroom and bath,,, and now worth about 100 times what it sold for initially.
          IOW, the problem is not the building method, it is the hugely awful loss of value of the USD.
          Having studied the 3D house printing methods, IMHO it will be popular some day as you suggest, but more likely in about 40 to 50 years, rather than 4 or 5 years,,, and be limited to the smaller ”starter” homes for ever…
          And to add a little more background/perspective, the ”top of the line” houses we were building in Port Royal subdivision in Naples in the early 1960s for $12.50 per SF are now selling for at least $1,000.00 per SF — including the land of course.

      • Dan says:

        Also this should encourage you to postpone any house purchase plan that you might have. In my view, millennials should save their money and wait for this technology to become mainstream in 4-5 years. There is no point in buying overpriced houses that fools are buying in betting wars; anyone who buys at these ridiculous prices will curse themselves for their stupid action.

        • Caveman says:

          “anyone who buys at these ridiculous prices will curse themselves for their stupid action.”

          I’ve been renting & waiting for 5+ years, the whole time hearing from folks (20 years older than me) to keep waiting, because their crystal ball says prices will come down…finally, a pandemic shows up, printer goes “Brrrrrr” guess what, prices doubled. I guess I should have been stupid & bought 5 years ago.

          Market discovery died 10+ years ago.

        • Dan says:

          Every one knows this house of card is going to collapse soon; no one predicted that central banksters will go this extreme because it’s just insane and will destroy the economy. In any case, this house of card is already collapsing in many ways.

          And with 3-D printed houses, the value of houses will deflate.

          Also “Japan in the 1980s: when Tokyo’s Imperial Palace was worth more than California and golf club membership could cost US$3 million – 5 crazy facts about the bubble economy”. No matter how much they print, the end is always the same thing; a hard crash.

        • Dan says:


          Also stop blaming others; you can pull the trigger tomorrow; be my guest. Buy a house; who is stopping you?

        • Caveman says:

          “pull the trigger tomorrow; be my guest. Buy a house; who is stopping you?”

          Can’t, priced out.

    • c_heale says:

      Many modern construction methods are already additive (for example concrete pouring) and much cheaper than using a 3d printer.

    • nodecentrepublicansleft says:

      You have to wear those 3D glasses or everything is blurry….

    • raxadian says:

      They are actually not cheap, Igloo cement houses are way cheaper. 3D printing a house is expensive even if done in a mass scale. To be actually cheap you would have to 3D print way way way many houses and hope the printing machines don’t break.

    • Olivier says:

      I asked my question to an architect a while back and his answer was that 3D printing is a gimmick because most of the cost of a new building is interior finishes plus the roof and, unlike modular construction, 3D printing does not help with that.

  3. David Hall says:

    Double and triple wide manufactured homes were built in factories and trucked to a site and placed on piers. After Hurricane Andrew flattened many of them, Florida made a stricter building code to make them sturdier. These are cheaper than site built homes. Cement block homes on concrete foundations are sturdier in the face of storms and were sold for higher prices. Some masonry homes lasted centuries.

    • MiTurn says:

      Modular homes, aka mobile homes, don’t age well. They’re cheaper than site-built homes, but you get what you pay for.

      Been there, done that…

      • Heinz says:

        “Modular homes, aka mobile homes, don’t age well.”

        Longevity and durability depend on quality materials and construction. That goes for site-built homes as well as modular or manufactured homes.

        When constructed to site-built standards and placed on a permanent foundation manufactured houses are treated like ordinary real estate.

        Mobile homes on wheels and propped up on cinder blocks or non-permanent foundations are in another league– and can be regarded as personal property, not real property.

        Around these parts many, if not most, newer (post-WWII) rural homes are manufactured houses. Many are very well-equipped and attractive.

        • David Hall says:

          It depends on who owns the lot the manufactured home is on. Some parks charge $600 to $1000 for the monthly lot rent. The mfg. home owner owns the home on the lot, but not the land. The landlord raises the rent same as in other rental communities.

          In subdivisions where the homeowner owns the lot and the mfg. home, the owner owns real estate subject to property tax. The assessor will notice if there is a home on the lot. The owner pays HOA fees for common area maintenance like a condo owner.

  4. drg1234 says:

    Modular construction exists for hospital operating rooms and ICUs. The electrical, plumbing, and oxygen/vac lines are run in prefabbed wall units which are installed on site. A nice bonus is that the room-facing surfaces are tempered glass, which is much easier to disinfect than paint.

  5. fajensen says:

    They build houses like Ikea furniture in Sweden. A factory designs and makes the parts based on the architects design.

    At the site they put down the foundations, then the builders open the flat packs and assemble the factory made parts according to the assembly plan.

    They can do a house in about three weeks.

    • guy in Berkeley says:

      Bear in mind that where Wolf lives, and me across the bay, we live on major fault lines, and construction accordingly requires significant tying-together of parts to be able to sway, and stay in place. I did an addition to a home several years ago, and the metal ties between posts and studs was quite impressive. A lot of work and cost, and compliance with codes. That said, the older part of the house was built in 1919, and golly, it was built to last. Thick rough studs, but the foundation could have been more substantial.

    • Erle says:

      fajensen, in the 1920s/1930s Sears Roebuck & Company had fully cut lumber for several differing styles. The roof and sheathing was included. They were inexpensive but not cheaply done.
      There are many of them in my area that have served well for 90 years.

  6. Cobalt Programmer says:

    Back during the second world war, tents were no longer used. The modular homes were constructed for housing the temporary labor for the military machine. Enough to do the job but “temporary” and “weak”.

    Can they impress a women enough to live with a man and start a family? Nope?

    • Cas127 says:

      Some people might be happy to live (for a while at least) in an updated, upsized Quonset hut for a $300 per month mortgage rather than a “traditional” home at $1800 per month (with huge un ZIRP’ing risk built into grossly inflated purchase price).

      It might not get you l*id but it will save you a fortune.

      • gary says:

        Cas127, those Quonset things looks awesome! I’m going to look into it.

        • Cas127 says:

          Quonset huts were developed in WW II precisely because of ease/speed/transportability/low cost of production…exactly the aspects we could use today, in the era of the $300k median starter home (after 20 years of labor mkt stagnation…at best).

          But the incumbent, vested interests of the large builders finds it infinitely easier to simply exploit ZIRP than to innovate for improved affordability.

          That particular dynamic will prove to be one of the Fed’s worst all-time mistakes…funding speculation rather than innovation due to the too blunt tool of ZIRP.

          Starting that policy was a mistake…but failing to course correct after 20 yrs is a crime…

      • Frederick says:

        If you need a fancy apartment to get girls then you’re a LOSER IMO I had a nasty old three family in Brooklyn in 1980 and had all the cute girls I needed but hey

      • SwissBrit says:

        There are a load of similar style post-war style pre-fab huts still being used as accommodation here in Geneva at CERN; for visiting students and the like I imagine.

    • Dan says:

      So, according to you, I should pay $2 Mil for a traditional house whereas I can get the same house in 3D printing for $100K or prefabricated house for $250K just to impress women? That way of thinking was what the older generations got us to where we are.

      The majority of younger generation are both smart enough and also have to due to tight financials to value a house for living in it, and not for impressing women.

      • Educated but Poor Millennial says:

        Well said

      • LessonIsNeverTry says:

        2 million for a traditional versus 100k for 3D printed? lol. Must be using standard Brazilian hardwood for the traditional frame. Or did you decide to ignore the lot cost in the former and not the latter?

        Exaggeration likes this is why most people consider 3D printing a fringe method for crazies.

        • Dan says:

          3-D printed houses is the future and the revolution in house building that should have come long ago. It doesn’t matter how much you are against it, it is the technology that will win and will deflate the RE values so hugely that the heads of all those fools who were buying houses by overbidding will explode.

          Trying to stop 3-D printed houses from being adapted, would be like trying to stop electricity from being adapted in the 20th century.

      • Heinz says:

        Actually, in a couple relationship, it is almost always the woman who wants the more expensive, ‘nicer’ house (and the man is usually talked into it). In any case, that has been my experience.

        Many of us men would live in trees if we could get away with it. And have a garage beneath the tree for that pick up truck or SUV. :-)

        • Cobalt Programmer says:

          Another important reason to buy expensive homes in nice neighborhoods is the schools. Kids need a good school. Unfortunately, schools are funded by property taxes. Nicer better homes means good schools and the parents themselves are well off.

        • Paulo says:

          People who talk about 3D printed homes are quite obviously NOT builders. Must be computer folk.

          I am a builder, and have done so for for almost 1/2 of my 50 years of formal work/employment. In fact, I just finished a 440 sq ft post and beam covered outdoor living area, for myself. Old Growth yellow cedar and T&G pine. Fibreglass deck. This stuff cannot be printed, trust me. A few years ago I helped my son wire up a prefab home in a remote location. It looked like a very nice cape cod 2 story home. Then the deficiencies emerged. Factory in wall wiring mistakes (dangerous wiring issues), shoddy finishing, staple marks, everywhere poor workmanship. I talked to the general contractor about it who did the foundation work and he said that by the time all the little fixes and remediation issues were dealt with, it would be the same price as having one built by hand.

          I have renovated countless prefab/modulars. The insulation sucks, the wiring is suspect, the sheathing is crap 1/4″ to 3/8 inch OSB, and the siding ends up leaking at the corners. Every corner. A few months ago I had a guy ask/beg after hinting….could I fix his bathroom? The toilet was sagging. My answer was to give him a few phone numbers. They use particle board for flooring. When wet…(bathroom..think about it)…condensation off the tank and missed aims rots out the flooring. I would have had to charge at least $1500 to even look at it, and the job would be a terrible one to undertake. Everyone would feel mad and ripped off. No thanks

          You get what you pay for. Turning housing into a Walmart product is not the answer.

          Buying a home is the biggest single purchase most individuals will ever make in their lives. Know your builder, use common sense, and don’t get caught up in the bling finishes and furnishings. Don’t buy from the giant mass builder companies that churn out cookie cutter mirror image subdivisions. And for God’s sake, don’t fall for modulars without a realistic comparison to a HOME built by a qualified tradesman/contractor.

          3D printed? Riiiiiight. I don’t think so.

          If everything is too costly then build smaller and more realistic. Starting out? Then build with a design easy to add on if the family grows. Use quality materials like fir sheathing and fir sub floor. Insist on it.

          The best bang for your buck is to buy used, and renovate. I have done it several times. Sweat equity and enjoy the journey. You can obtain a fully paid for home at 1/2 the cost and everything you need to know can be found online. It ain’t rocket science.


        • Dan says:


          As I said long before you commented, builders will be against 3-D printed houses like they are fighting the red army. 3-D printing of houses require 2-3 workers on the site. It makes a lot of builders and a lot occupations in house building obsolete. So, you will be against it like there is no tomorrow.

        • Brant Lee says:

          Paulo is right, Dan. It’s the craftsmanship and materials that count. Sorry, but it’s too easy for builders and promoters to cut corners on a building but still make it look great to sell. This business can be worse than buying used cars, you don’t know what you’re getting.

          Do you understand what Paulo said about a builder installing particleboard on a bathroom floor? No one knew until it was too late and the whole bathroom has to be torn out then replaced. Double the cost of doing it right the first time. A lot of people would cut corners on your type of building, trust me.

      • J7915 says:

        Same faulty logic that sells Benzes, Beemers, and up to Ferraris etc. To me I’d rather have someone who wants to help me deal with $$$$, than someone impressed with what I have spend. Of course in a divorce what’s either to give up? Unspend money or memories of all those (sound of v12 reving?

        • J7915 says:

          Sorry email screwed up. Please fix. This is the right one. Don’t want some innocent bystander to get mail.

        • Wolf Richter says:


          I cannot fix that. Re-post your reply to the correct commenter, and add their screen name to it, so we know. Then I can delete the original comment that has gone astray.

      • Nathan Dumbrowski says:

        Still have to have place to place the structure no matter what it is made from. The structure is part of the cost but the property is a massive investment. Plus you get NIMBY

      • Frederick says:

        NO that’s NOT old generations Not this olde generation anyway and please stop blaming us Boomers for all that is wrong in this country That’s just stupid

    • Heinz says:

      “The modular homes were constructed for housing the temporary labor for the military machine.”

      Who has not seen the oddly quaint Quonset Huts that housed our service personnel during wars? They were in many a war movie and your Dad or Granddad may have quartered in one.

      Cheap and easy to construct, these arched metal structures have made a come-back. They come prefabricated and are assembled on site DIY. Interiors can be as fancy as you like– a far cry from the bleak military olive drab accommodations.

      Dome houses are another option to conventional stick-built cube houses. Easy to build, durable, and are said to be hurricane and tornado resistant.

      Prospective home buyers/builders have so many non-conventional choices these days– but most people will of course stick with the boring cubes built of sticks.

    • nick kelly says:

      ‘Back during the second world war, tents were no longer used’

      Sorry but this is a bit funny. I’m a Quonset fan but where you have one of those is not where the fighting is: it’s a place a long way behind the line.

      Just read ‘Blue Skies’ the autobio of Canadian Spitfire pilot Bill Olmsted. He spent a lot of time in the North African theater, Tunisia etc. The Spit is a short range plane and his ‘airfield’ was rarely more than a few miles from German lines, but always moving. He always lived in tents as did millions in WWII.

      • nick kelly says:

        In addition to jaundice and worms, he had dysentery which is not good in a cockpit.

  7. BuySome says:

    When the nation’s greatest builder of steam locomotives, Norris of Philadelphia, reached the end of the line in the 1860’s, the works started by Matthias W. Baldwin were able to survive and grow into the massive Baldwin plant in the city. (Note, they were also exporters to other countries.) But this became cramped and led to the opening of the giant Eddystone plant on the Delaware banks. Even the diesel electrics would be built here, yet the plant never exceeded 1/3 of it’s production capacity. Why would you invest in building concentrated modular production facilities when our present form of living might just go out like the Dodo or the steam locomotive? What happens when governments are forced to realize they might have to use public condemnation powers to take back massive tracts along transportation corridors in order to build future housing far beyond the stick huts we’ve been living in so far. Maybe they will need modular factories that can be assembled on site in order to build the modular components for futuristic living. And don’t forget those on site monorail construction plants they’re going to need. Or do you really believe the future will be a bunch of trucks flying over those failing interstate roadways that are too damn expensive to maintain? Haven’t we figured out yet that formula is a long term money-losing program?

    • 2banana says:

      The only successful monorail project I have ever seen and reliably used by the public is at Disney.

      100% privately built.

      • timbers says:

        Put Disney and it’s monorail in Boston – or Kabul or Badgad or Detroit or New York – and you’d swiftly change your mind.

      • Frederick says:

        Wuppertal Germany has one that’s pre war I believe

      • Wolf Richter says:


        “The only successful monorail project I have ever seen and reliably used by the public is at Disney.”

        Maybe you need to stray further afield, no?

        Tokyo has a monorail. Connects Haneda Airport to the Yamanote Line. A train every few minutes. I used it. Works fine. And it’s used by the public too.

      • KGC says:

        Seattle has a monorail. It’s been running for over 20 years.The only reason it hasn’t expanded is the NIMBY guys fight it, the cost of real-estate slows it, and the local politicians put all their bets on light rail. Guess who’s financing them…

        • Swamp Creature says:

          The monorail was built for the Seattle Worlds fair. That’s more than 20 years. It was there in 1973 when I lived in Seattle. It went from nowhere to nowhere as I recall. Never rode it.

  8. John Vermeer says:

    After reading this I’m glad our modular retirement house in the hills of Santa Fe didn’t materialize. Two friends and I planned a pod house where we could grow old and die under the same roof but not on top of one another, we’d each have our own private space. Before we could act, one friend died and it killed the plan completely. I still think it’s a good idea but was interested to learn here that modulars are just as expensive as traditional building. We thought otherwise, that they’d be a cheap way to go. I guess not. Now I’m too old to try it anyway.

  9. WWG1 says:

    I suggest the requisition of all but one homes of people whose net worth is greater than 1 billion.
    That includes castles of aristocrats and royalty.
    And transform them in low income housing.
    That’ll save some money .

  10. Seneca's Cliff says:

    In the housing development where my son is looking they have several sections of homes that are being built by a Japanese Modular construction company called “Ichijo” or something like that. The video shows a factory with automated equipment ( might have one in the U.S.) building the wall sections. Watched them working on a few of them. The wall , floor and roof sections show up in big vertical pallet bundles and are stored on site. But they seem to work just-in-time so they don’t sit around in the rain. Similar cost to other houses in the development. Interesting thing is that in the model home they have engineers from the factory (in Japan) showing you and selling the home instead of real estate agent types. My wife and I visited the model and home and two days later we received a hand written thank you card wrapped in a ribbon. Leave it to the Japanese to make this work.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Japanese houses have a design life of 30 years. They’re designed to last one generation. It’s cultural, always been that way. They’re ultra-flimsy, and normally not worth rehabbing, though they move and flex easily without collapsing and survive earthquakes very well. After the design life, you just tear them down and build a new one, with all the newest stuff in them.

      My in-laws live in a house built in the 70s. Most of it with prefab panels. It is quite clear that it passed its design life. No one is going to rehab it. It’s a tear-down.

      That’s why in Japan, the land has value, not the house. The house’s value after 30 years is negative because if you sell it, the seller ends up paying to tear it down.

      Is that what we want in the US?

      • Seneca’s Cliff says:

        My wife who is a professional engineer (civil) and also one of the rare board certified civil engineers ( 5 in the state of Oregon) was very impressed with the Ichigo prefab houses. The construction methods are very sophisticated now and in my opinion they are as similar to the 1970 penalized Japanese houses as a 2021 Camry is to a 1972 Datsun 510. The most unwanted houses in our area are the 1990’s mini-McMansions. With the osb sheathing, fake brick veneer, LP siding, fake tile asbestos shingles, dryvit stucco and plastic flex heating systems they are only really good for 30 years. We Americans just fool ourselves to keep the real estate game going instead of being matter-of-fact like the Japanese. American houses from the 1950’s are a different story with old growth framing, oak floors, copper pipes and cedar siding they can be maintained and renovated indefinitely.

        • Keepcalmeverythingisfine says:

          My orange Datsun 510 was one of the best cars I ever owned, but I get yourpoint.

      • Tom Stone says:

        Wolf, it is a truism in Appraisal that the value always lies in the land.
        Over all I agree with Paulo, I’m not a builder but I have renovated older houses and seen a lot of both modular and stick built homes over the decades.
        I have seen very well build modular homes, they cost about the same as stick built of the same quality.
        However I have also seen more problems with Modular homes than stick built, which is somewhat counterintuitive.
        And I have seen plenty of problems with stick built homes over the years.
        Like Paulo I recommend buying a an older solid home ( Good wood!) because good bones give you something to work with that can last.
        The “Rule of Thumb” for maintenance costs is 1% of the purchase price per year over the lie of a 30 year Mortgage, but it comes in lumps.
        Roofs and Gutters…
        Do a first rate job rehabbing and you can cut that in half, buy a pig and it can be 5% a year, sometimes more.
        “Dear, I think we should have had some inspections done, we just got a letter from the County saying that the whole hill is unstable”

        • VintageVNvet says:

          10 per cent per year for repairs and maintenance of any home TS, certainly NOT 1% if you want any home to last for decades…
          Of course the real question is what ”value” to be used for the basis of the cost of repairs and maintenance.
          And sure you can buy and rehab any home or other construction, with sweat equity or hiring others; the question there is quality of the result!
          As a free lance carpenter and then licensed GC in SF bay area for many years, at least half of my work was repairing shoddy and sometimes very dangerous work done by others, both amateur and alleged professional…
          Hearing it is very similar situation today, in spite of all the efforts of the building departments to enforce compliance with basic codes.

        • Swamp Creature says:

          1% ?????

          Way Off!

          I’ve shelled out at least 2K per year on my $650 Colonial on maintenance. And that doesn’t include the fact that I did a lot of the work myself, or hired contractors who worked for “Southern Income”.

      • fajensen says:

        Is that what we want in the US?

        If you are honest about not inflating asset bubbles, then having “the home as a depreciating asset that only lasts as long as the duration of the mortgage bonds that paid for it”, is one way to do it!

        In Denmark, some of the people from the “gældfri” (“free of debt”) movement are building homes out of bales of hay covered with lime-cement. The floors and roof structures are all wooden, insulated with sea-shells. They usually put floor-heating in. Surprisingly, those constructions works very well, the homes are airy and warm. Straw-bale homes look a lot like Mexican houses.

        They are also very cheap to build, so, the home probably needing to be rebuilt in around 30 years time is not that scary when one only paid perhaps 400 kDKK to build it (and the timbers can be reused). This works out at 1200 DKK per month, for a 200 m^2 house, which was (in the 2010’s) pretty much impossible to get otherwise.

        Now, a couple of things happened:

        People are bound by their nature. So what happens in reality is that they build the biggest house they can afford, the cheaper the land and the base construction, the more they will bloat it until they are at their financing limit. Now they have a huge home and they are also back to having no money :).

        Mortgage rates crashed from 7% down to 1%, that is for a 30 years fixed rate mortgage, the bonds trade on the Copenhagen exchange. I.O.W’s It does not really matter what a home costs, as long as one can get the financing for it, the limit is usually 5x annual income.

        If / When rates go up, the market value of those 30 year, 1% bonds are going to be wiped out. The way mortgages work in Denmark, all those home owners are basically short the 30 year, 1% bonds and they will either make a nice windfall if rates go up or they will keep paying very little interest if rates stay low!

        I think that the idea of “bio-degrade-able homes” has some merit and good sides to it, it is just that “market conditions” is not aligned with any of the ideas behind it, so, it is not worth doing at scale.

        IMO, It is better to buy (or build) a home that is well within ones carrying capacity. Get a smaller, less presumptuous home, and use any extra cash on the location rather than the house! The location is the investment!!

      • VintageVNvet says:

        SC is correct Wolf: HUGE delta between the cheap stuff built everywhere in the 1970s era, e.g. results of hurricane Andrew vs Irma and many others since the codes were vastly upgraded since 1994.
        And, even though not especially informed re recent practice in Japan, I did know an outfit in Emeryville who exported every component of houses to J in the early 80s. Containers shipped from SeaTac had every item, supposedly in order of need, above the site built foundation and slab, from frame to fenestrations to final finishes, cabinets, paint, everything.
        And it all was the very finest American made stuff, fully engineered to withstand quakes, etc.
        Also was looking at older houses now being sold very cheap in the rural parts of Japan where approx 8 million empty homes have recently been identified, some with large cash incentives to help with rehab, and some are really beautiful and of obvious quality of design and construction.
        Think you are ”generalizing on the basis of insufficient information.”

  11. guy in Berkeley says:

    Interesting topic. I know it’s apples and oranges, but brings to mind the way liberty ships were built. Sections were built away from the shipyards, and transported by rail. But, the key thing is, they were all assembled in the same spot.
    I highly recommend this documentary made during the war: Birth of Victory.
    The video gets into the details of templates, etc. How they did it. Amazing.
    If I were having a house built, I would prefer a crew of experienced builders, and be able to watch it going up.

  12. SpencerG says:

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, my area saw a lot of modular construction. But it was of “Katrina Cottages” which were essentially single family homes that looked like trailers but were oriented with the entrances at either ends rather than in the middle. They were (and are) very popular because they emulated the “Shotgun Houses” of the area that were built before air conditioning became a thing. But that effort didn’t last long… people wanted bigger homes than that.

    The other thing I still see is modular construction of commercial buildings. Family Dollar, Waffle House, Wendy’s, Taco Bell… these are all erector set types of construction that were first built elsewhere. But they don’t require much in the way of laydown space to make them work.

    I get why suburban hotels and apartment buildings may be the next wave of this type of construction. But the author is right… it is more bleeding edge than leading edge. For one thing. the more internal walls the more problems that will arise. And if people will be living in these things day and night then they will find the flaws… and report them.

  13. Cas127 says:

    Important and interesting article, Mr. McNellis.

    1) How about panelization as a halfway measure, with somewhat less upside but also less risk?

    2) How much of home price inflation (essentially doubling prices since 2000 on a nationwide average) do you attribute to “ZIRP affordability abuse” vs. honest increases in cost-to-build (ignoring wildfire inflation of last yr).

    My personal sense is that most of the doubling in home prices over the last 20 years (which saw some of the worst labor growth in many, many decades) is actually 75% attributable to developers simply jacking prices skyward because Fed ZIRP made it possible, while providing an intermediate term illusion of “affordability” to bamboozled buyers.

    It isn’t that cost-to-build has doubled (again, ignoring 2020 insanity) since 2000, it is that slashing mortgage rates from 8% to 4% provided developers a huge government subsidized “out” to hike prices.

    • Seneca’s Cliff says:

      Panelized construction is how some of the Japanese modular home builders who now operate in the US. build. Factory with robotic XY gantry robot lays down the construction materials including plumbing and electrical then the robot nails them together.

      • Cas127 says:

        Panelization does seem much more amenable to in-factory mass production techniques (and transport) than full “cubic” modular construction.

        I suppose one issue is error tolerance in fittings/tie ups when the panels have to be assembled into cubes onsite though.

        Still, I have visions of largely automated factories “stamping” out a ton of panels per day.

        (Actually, a move away from the drywall sandwich to some “single wall” new standard (with electrical/water conduits built in) could really make the “stamping” analogy literally true…and tremendously increase production volumes).

  14. 2banana says:

    It is interesting that to me, thr MAJOR advantage of modular building, is not even mentioned.

    Reliable high quality that can be inspected and certified.

    The are amazing high end construction contractors. There also seems to be just as many low quality have no idea what they are doing contractors. Seen plenty of both, even in million dollar houses.

    Would you rather have a EV built in some guy’s garage or a Tesla?

  15. Top-GUN says:

    3D printed houses… we’ll they are not houses,, basically a cave..
    No electricity, plumbing, heat, AC, ductwork, windows, doors, cabinets, toilets, etc, etc…
    All that stuff has to be installed in the cave/box…. And since these things are extruded concrete you have to have heavy tools to cut holes, punch through openings. You can surface mount all this stuff but then it looks like you’re inside a warehouse and not a regular house where all the wiring, plumbing, etc is hidden inside the walls…
    Yeah the cave is cheap, but it costs to make it into the home momma demands!!!
    PS,,, and you have to figure out how to insulate the exterior walls,,, and do you want to cover that up… 3D just isn’t as simple as it sounds!!

    • Cas127 says:

      “You can surface mount all this stuff but then it looks like you’re inside a warehouse and not a regular house where all the wiring, plumbing, etc is hidden inside the walls…”

      From a man-hour perspective, stuffing electric/pipes/HVAC into a drywall-frame-drywall sandwich is likely responsible for a huge pct of costs.

      You would think attractive, concealing external runners would have made a market over the last 100 years, especially if they could knock 25% off cost-to-build.

  16. KGC says:

    Modular housing in America is held hostage by status quo. Local politicians are reluctant to change building codes to encourage them, unions fight not to lose their labor rights, and materials providers and contractors also prefer to do business in the current style.

    The military has proven the ability of modular construction for most major structures, from housing, to bridges, to airfields. I’ve spent years inside modular buildings with no ill effects.

    The simple “container” building (more often than not not constructed from a used shipping container) is a perfect example. They are used world wide, for everything from housing to hospitals, but just try to use one in an established community in the USA. They are not fragile, they are very energy and material efficient, they can be made quite comfortable, and they are considerably less expensive than traditional bricks and mortar. Seattle could easily solve their local homeless problem with a few hundred of these, but that wouldn’t fly politically. (FYI two 40′ containers provide 700 sq ft of usable floorplan).

    My local city council, which is rubber stamping permits for ADUs will not allow modular construction, or even tiny homes, and they are not unique.

    • Anthony A. says:

      Two office buildings were built in our town using shipping containers. The buildings were several stories tall and very unique in design. Actually, they are more attractive than the old traditional concrete boxes sitting nearby.

      • Dan says:

        That’s exactly what is going on. If they allowed modular houses to become mainstream, factories would be incentivized to solve many existing problems when they have huge demand. It is all about those who benefit from current RE situation that stopping any attempt at improvements. But given the current insane RE situation, we must force these politicians to change their attitudes towards innovation in house building.

  17. stan6565 says:

    Yeah, exactly.

    Modular may be better than traditional.

    Or not, as the case may be.

  18. MonkeyBusiness says:

    So basically in the future, when we want to move, we can drag our homes along using a tow truck?

    Where do I sign up for that?

    I would think, plumbing, electricity, etc would be a major concern?

    • Anthony A. says:

      MB, we can do that now with some of the big RV’s I see around here.

    • josap says:

      Anything from a converted van to a million-dollar diesel pusher, plug and play or stay in the wild for a week or two. Your choice, almost anywhere on the continent.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      Mobile homes — and that’s what you’re talking about — have been around for a very very long time. But that’s not what the article is about.

      The article is about “MODULAR” building technologies, NOT “mobile.” I know the words look close. So just scanning the headline, you could make that mistake. So read the headline again, and then read the entire article so you know what it is about.

      • roddy6667 says:

        You can lecture all day, but you can’t make the average person understand the difference between factory-built homes (trailers, etc) and modular housing. To further complicate things, people call their trailers modulars to avoid the stigma of the trailer name. Banks do not write mortgages on factory-guilt homes. They are personal property, like a Winnebago. Modular homes are the same as site-built houses. You get a regular 30 year mortgage. The houses are stronger than stick-built because the modules have to survive being shipped over the road with cracking the sheetrock or the windows. Of course, there are bad actors in the modular business, just as in site-built.

        • Seen it all before, Bob says:

          We looked at a “modular” home about 7 years ago. It was very nice on the interior and exterior. The RE agent pointed out where the 2 halves of the house were joined. It was hardly noticeable. I have no idea what was behind the walls. RE agent said it would be very difficult to obtain a mortgage so we passed on this house.

          I refinanced last year and one of the questions was “Is this a modular home?”

          Why don’t lenders want to offer mortgages on modular homes?
          Can you prove that the modular you want or own is better than the average modular home?

    • timbers says:

      Get what you’re saying…but the more I read about mobile (not modular) homes the more I think they get their ever rising taxes from you one way or the other. Like fees for the land your mobile is on, etc.

  19. Brent says:

    “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
    William Shakespeare

    50-100 years ago the word was “Sears kit houses”.

    Sears sold them from 1914 to 1940 for $600-$6000 each.Many of them still stand.Here is an article from the local Historical Society with original Sears ads.

    “Kit houses from Sears,Roebuck”

    The idea is not entirely dead.US Navy builds bases and installations all over the world,in every climate,from Alaska to Africa.

    Quality is on par,everybody from Admirals to the enlisted men is comfortably housed according to US Navy pecking order…

    Construction costs are about 10% compared to the US commercial sector.

    And US Navy Seabees (construction workers) dont strike me as particularly bright fellows ?

    • Cas127 says:

      “Construction costs are about 10% compared to the US commercial sector.”

      Honestly interested to see any documentation of these relative costs if you have links to reports etc.

      I’m pretty sure that private builders are exploiting the hell out of ZIRP (interest rate down=immediate price increase) but 90% over-pricing is beyond even my own wildest nightmares.

      At worst, I might have guessed that private builders were unjustifiably doubling price in order to exploit ZIRP…but no 9x markup.

      • Brent says:

        Mr Richter would probably disapprove link to secnav…

        Google “MCON_Book.pdf”

        Link to “Military Construction & Family Housing Programs 2021” will pop up.

        378 pages book.You’ll see 1950’s prices there – like $160,000 for enlisted quarters etc.

        Also USN Seabees training circulars,manuals & handbooks are very popular items at the gun shows.No-nonsense construction in full everlasting glory I might say.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      Don’t knock the Seabees B:
      Old old saying from WW2 was, “When the Marines stormed ashore,,, the Seabees were there to hand them the keys to their Quonset Huts facilities!!”
      (Might be a slight exaggeration, as I was not there to see it my self,,, LOL)
      Most of those guys were the same guys who could and did build anything anywhere in USA before and after that war,,, including those carpenters and electricians who had an endless debate about who was the most intelligent on the construction work site — usually required to do at least some ”fixing” of the Ivory Tower blueprints and specifications that were and still are produced by folks who frequently do not know which end of a hammer to hold.
      I knew a lot of those folks, in the 50s and 50s,,, and it is surely one reason, noted earlier by several commenters here re quality of construction pre 1970s by when many of that generation were retired from our industry.

      • Brent says:

        No offense meant VVN
        I am not a particularly bright fellow myself,just a humble member of E4 Mafia.

        “an endless debate about who was the most intelligent”

        Those were the days…R&R which was ACTUALLY I&I…

        In the 80’s, during Ronald Reagan times, I often participated in those lively debates which took form of bar fights.Everybody tried to get their point across w/o saying many words.

        MP’s always won in the end.So I planned my retreat in advance.

  20. Candyman says:

    Welcome to Boston. Home of future Winthrop Center. World’s first Class A passive house building! Not sure how that could currently be built with modular cnstruction. I see this progress every day, just around the corner from my shop. And yes….I also had to research what it meant to be passive hoouse!

  21. WES says:

    I have built a few houses in my life but have built many large open pit mining machines in mines all over the world. Never did I face the same building situation twice. Every single one of them was unique even if it was the exact same model of machine!

    How was modular built machine shipped to customer? Railway, truck, ship,
    railway, truck?

    Local conditions were always different. Whork and travel visas? Yellow fever, vacs? Malaria? Police or army road blocks? The work site was always different. Prepared gravel pad at best, to muddy field, hill side or hill top, middle of a wheat or corn field. Power or no power? Can cranes move on site? How to keep cranes stable when lifting heavy loads on soft ground? Mine blasting just hundreds of feet away! Military jets buzzing low.

    Labor was always different. The weather was always different. Montana or Siberia in winter? Desert in Nevada or Jordan? Temperatures and wind were different. Rain or snow. Flooding! Yeah in the middle of the Sahara desert! Flooding 2 times a day in the Congo, during rainy season, no problem! Temperatures 47 degrees C, no wind, keep hand tools in bucket of water, wear gloves to handle metal, no problem! Dust storms during dry season, no problem! Sand in your food!

    The political situation was always different. Union or non-union? I once had to vote during a union election! Marshall law with armed soldiers guarding machine! Timing was always different. One work shift, or 2 or 24/7. How close to customer’s tax year end? How much pressure to build? Can you speak the language? Swahili? Sure!

    Parts delayed, missing, damaged, or lost in transport? Example. Lost major machine axle on train from port of Dar El Salome, Tanzania to copper mine in the Congo. Had to put people on flat car to look for axle lost in jungle bush. Took 2 months to find the dam axle! Had to build machine without axle, then lift entire machine using 4 large mine front end loaders! Pulled axle into place with D9 Cat!

    Who is ever prepared for this kind of sh*t? Only an experienced contractor.

    Modular my ass!

  22. Roger says:

    Do the google…

    China built “modular” a “57 stories high rise in 19 days.”

    Put that in your fortune cookie and smoke it!

    • roddy6667 says:

      That wasn’t modular. It was a precast concrete office building, not housing.

  23. LGC says:

    I delivered for a few of these projects. Modular built apartments. it’s not like apartments are all that interesting. Think 10×10 (more or less) sized walls, already decked on the outside. They would bundle them together and put 3 or 4 buncles on a trailer. (BTW legal max width in USA is 8.5′ so they were paying for oversize trucking). figure an hour or so for them to load the bundles and tie them down. Drive from the factory to the jobsite. Back in, the crane (usually a small portable tower crane) unloads and they set them. Takes maybe another hour.

    i talked to the framing lead guy. he had 25 to 50 framers on site. 5 weeks max. (block apartment building 2 to 3 stories high), he could set 150 panels a day. They crew followed the job. (they worked for the modular company). follow the blueprints, set them in place. nail, screw bolt, grab another one. AND the outside is already decked so there is no standing on ladders trying to put a 4×8 sheet of plywood on. No waste of wood, engineered correctly and built correctly (lots of things are engineered correctly, not always built to plan on site) and pop pop pop. Most of the ones I helped out at were in downtown locations where there is no room to work/park/truck and so minimizing that time is a big deal.

    even pre holes for plumbing and electrical. Set the roof and floor panels on, boom, next floor. They used the crane to set the windows (cuz big windows are heavy) and bang, on to a new job. As someone said earlier, i could totally see motels being this way, they are the same all the way down. apartments too

    it’s not like houses are all that different. You get maybe 4 floor plans in a new development (1 tree, 3 shrubs), they already have the exact lumber order for each plan, with no extra. be way less waste and theft if it’s all built in a factory and trucked.

  24. Micheal Engel says:

    1) Starbucks opened stores from impaired shipping containers. It’s a new art. To go.
    2) European and Chinese constructions co compete with each other, bribing third world countries officials, building prefab micro apartments and spying on each other !!
    3) NEXII building solutions build prefab stores/ apartments from recycled materials, to avoid concrete and steel, pollution and construction debris, within a short time, cutting cost, solving the climate crisis.
    4) DXY reached Mar 2009 fractal zone. China devalue the Yuan, USD/CNY is prefab.

  25. scott lee ellis says:

    Look up the old Lustron homes. Prefab enamel over steel. My uncle saw the one by my grandparents arrive after the war. It was there when I was a small kid, it is still there in 2021, over sixty years later. SAME colors, never needed paint.

  26. Kaleberg says:

    Modular housing is already in use. Surely you’ve driven down the road and seen a wide load modular house section on a flatbed truck. Typically, the houses are double wide, that is, a house is built in two pieces and joined on site. The downside is that it is harder to build with more than two modules and road size limits module size. There’s also the stigma of pre-fab versus stick built.

    I remember seeing Habitat ’67 back in 1967. It’s made of stacked modules, each a complete apartment. People still love living there, but the technique hasn’t been copied a lot. For one thing, roads limit the module size, and city roads are even more limiting.

    Suppose you do want to build modularly in NY or SF. In NYC, you’d have to barge in your modules and then figure out how to get them cross town, assuming there’s a place to unload the barge. Otherwise, good luck with the Lincoln Tunnel or GW Bridge. SF isn’t all that much better. There’s land access, but then there are all those hills. You may have noticed that in most cities, those monster HVAC units used in skyscrapers come in via helicopter, and those choppers are expensive and cannot deliver to ground level in an urban canyon.

    I’m not sure labor arbitrage would work out well given the transportation issues. It would be cheaper to rent space in a hotel, set up a catering operation and bring in cheaper labor from lower cost parts of the US or from overseas.

  27. William says:

    People in nearly all countries don’t understand modular construction because they don’t live under the same SOCIAL and ECONOMIC conditions like in Hong Kong where modular construction has proved to the THE RIGHT WAY to go. Consider the following factors which either make or break this construction method:
    (1) Homes are mass-produced hence there must be a HUGE DEMAND to justify the huge supply economically;
    (2) All homes LOOK ALIKE and are in fact the same in ALL RESPECTS, or only falling into a small number of categories;
    (3) Homes NEED to be constructed in steel or in reinforced concrete and NOT in wood, so that they can be stacked one on top of another to at least 10 storeys high and also be fire and earthquake resistant. Elevators would be needed.

    • Old School says:

      Local community college builds one 450sq ft home every year and auctions it off. Their are intended to be used by a single person or a couple as they are one bedroom and one bath. Size and simplicity seems to be a good way to cut housing costs.

      My friend has a ten year old 16 ft wide single wide second home. Best layout I have ever seen in 1200 sq ft home. I think if you are retirement age and don’t care about appreciation any more a high quality mobile home is the way to go. They have come a long way. It will outlast you and then who cares.

  28. georgist says:

    If construction costs drop more cash will be available for land, leaving prices unchanged.

  29. Michael Gorback says:

    The tiny house movement glitch is that it turns into a tiny compound of outbuildings to store stuff.

    A lot of people get tired of RV living too. RV construction isn’t what I’d call high quality and there’s a lot of upkeep. It’s not like a big car where you change the oil and rotate the tires. They have unique electrical, plumbing, waste disposal, and mechanical issues.

    I’ve been researching this stuff for several years, ranging from a camper van conversion to RVs to tiny houses to prefab houses.

  30. Tom Stone says:

    Right now I think Panelization is the way to go because QC is easier than with complete modules.
    It’s cheaper to do well than modules by a small but significant amount if you are a builder.
    And every penny counts.
    I think we’re about a decade away from really successful 3D printed homes, and while I think they will offer real advantages in some parts of the USA such as Miami and Houston, not in earthquake country thank you very much.

  31. Finster says:

    Another major constraint with modular is that modules have to be small enough to be transportable. It’s not practical to construct a large room in one place and move it to another hundreds of miles away. Some things are always going to have to be site built.

  32. WES says:

    I lived in one of those standard Soviet built 5 story concrete pre-fab apartment buildings while working in Sibera in 1983. Interior 100% concrete. No insulation. One light per room. Window glass wavy distorting view.

    Watched soldiers building an adjacent apartment building. Every concrete wall, floor, or roof section trucked in and crane lifted into place like building an apartment out of cards! They had started building the apartment before I got there and were only 1/3 finished when I left 6 months later. Fast not!

    Yeah, the first earthquake and the whole dam thing would collapse like a house of cards killing everyone inside before they could say “oh my god”!

    Classic definition of government housing! A concrete box!

    • KGC says:

      Your 1983 car was a POS too. Things change in 40 years.

      What’s funny is watching all these smart people who totally accept that robots can build a car but can’t grasp that housing is not that much more complicated.

  33. IanCad says:

    A little late to the thread otherwise I would have an overheated keyboard.
    Every few years the delusion surfaces – modular, panelized, concrete, shipping containers – More recently SIP’s Panels and Cross Laminated Timber (CLT – Cut lotsa trees) have been getting fulsome praise from those who know next to nothing about construction.
    Off-site, factory built homes, or the component parts thereof, necessitate from those promoting such nonsense a departure from reality and the embrace of a Cargo Cult mindset, in that while celebrating the arrival of a product
    they discount the time, effort and expense in its production and delivery.
    There is currently no better or quicker method of creating sound, attractive and reasonably cheap housing than conventional timber frame construction.
    That efficiencies could be made I will not argue. Briefly – off-site cutting of framing components is long overdue. Walls should be framed in the vertical condition, not on the floor. Stem wall/footings with timber flooring must be encouraged; faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than concrete slabs.
    Home building is an assembly process. The notion that production requires highly skilled, specialized trades has passed long ago. Measuring, cutting, putting together is the basis of all framing, electrical, plumbing, roofing and other tasks. All rounders are needed. Gotta have a good painter and drywall taper though.

  34. Jack says:

    Housing, is a very serious subject,

    it is the second in hierarchy of human needs next only to nourishment (food).

    As such this article short as it may be , serves one purpose and that is added much needed ( fuel)! For Wolf streeters!!
    To bounce ideas of each other on this perennial problem in the US as is everywhere else.

    ( and bouncing they did, some great, some short on details, some sarcastic which still served the purpose of educating us on this part of the economic life and daily struggle of the average man in the street ) so thank you everyone for your input.

    My take on this is as follows:

    Modular methods in building technology past present and future have a role to play in the building industry, the size and efficiency of it will be determined by factors such as :

    technology advances (3D printing amongst them).

    Market take up and acceptance of new technologies. A two way street here.

    Government planning, building regulatory bodies, design firms, manufacturers, and above all the appetite for investment driven by a clear plotted path to profitability.

    A commitment to provide a reasonable and equitable opportunity for the needs of the community at large to housing at affordable prices.

    ( housing in the US is a disgraceful blot on the world leading country that is spending trillions of dollars on programs that achieve very little to protect the dignity of Americans).

    In regards to my personal opinion, I think one must keep his mind open to the developments in building materials technology, as we’re going to depart from the outdated beliefs that heavier and bulkier materials translates into better more stable design!

    Something I sensed in the comments from Paulo, Wolf and others who at a stroke of a pen derided the usage of lighter materials as “ weak and unstable “!!

    This is NOT to say that the failure to produce a valid strong and quality building products is condoned and encouraged.

    All the faults stated by commentary pertaining to the lack of understanding of how a building elements works and are out together doesn’t make the prefabricated process a pariah.

    Once trades like the electrical, plumbing hydrological air conditioning and others inputs are incorporated into the design of a building part, the process should be straight forward and quite simple to be upsized and replicated over and over again.

    Nature will always be our teacher, just look around you and you’ll realize that great design and enduring designs are the simplest ones!

    So to recap on the notion of passing judgment on a great concept like modulation by citing the bad examples is the wrong approach to wade through..

    If the above was true( the notion of inferiority of modular design),

    then we wouldn’t see skyscrapers,or large high rise building jutting throughout our cities skyline!

    While this is being said, the current prefabricator and modular systems are still leaving MUCH to be desired.

    This is a long and hard discussion that doesn’t include the most important elements of the building processes.

    The continuum of which have to incorporate aesthetics as well. ( read the comment of Wes regarding the Soviet built which looked at functionality as the only facet in building and failed in that aspect too) ! Great comment Wes.

    In summary we are human beings that need shelter as a essential need, but once we move above that we look at aesthetics as well.

    This can be achieved also once we understand the relationship between materials and how the interact with the environment around them.

    These relationships are explored throughout the human civilizations built environments. From the earliest forms of simple structures to the current array of hybrid materials users and functions.

    I encourage everyone here to look at the amazing architectural designs of houses in south western and southern US states for some of amazing examples of understanding the environment you build in.

  35. Todd says:

    Prior to Covid, it seemed like manufactured housing was making significant strides. I was getting pretty excited about it and trying to figure out our place in it as a building materials manufacturer. I have a feeling that things have been set back a few years by Covid though, frankly, I have no real support or reasoning for that. The shortage of trade labor is a real issue for traditional field construction but, right now, with the boom that is occurring in construction, folks are very much gravitating toward proven and tried methods rather than new things. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  36. Micheal Engel says:

    1) The prefabs are disruptive. Nobody like to be disturb, especially carpenter will never. When their performance improve, be good enough, they will find New Markets.
    2) No printing. The walls are real, not fake paper thin walls and wooden floors. The floors don’t crack when u kiss your wife, or bounce a ball. Termites don’t chew them.
    3) Large thermal windows, air condition, electrical sockets, pipelines, good to go.
    4) No roofers, no steel or concrete, no BC woods, no garbage bins, no debris, no thefts, all fabricated in a factory not far away, shipped and cast.
    5) They don’t rot, they resist fire, stronger than bricks and sand,
    cheaper and quicker to build.
    6) Unions don’t like them. Banks don’t like them. They disrupt bank’s assets.
    7) But good enough, cheap enough prefab will find new type of customers. The gov will like them, because they narrow the gap between rich and poor, young and old and cost less.

  37. Micheal Engel says:

    8) What will happen if the 3D $6T budget will not print free money.

  38. Keepcalmeverythingisfine says:

    Building industry resistance is really not the problem. The industry loves new materials and methods to sell. Some, such as the change from plaster and lathe to drywall stuck with us. Others have not stood the test of time. Experienced/successful builders are naturally careful and have healthy skepticism on new materials and methods, but by no means are they stagnant. Builders can make a lot of money out of turning dirt lots into houses regardless of construction methods. The problem is not how to build but where. Most of the best locations are either already built on, are regulated to death, or are protected from development. The dump truck has become the new symbol of development in many areas as old houses are scraped and new ones are built on the old lot in a nice location. Distributed on-site power systems and more efficient water/sewer systems is how previously unbuildable areas are becoming practical as the population grows. Houses don’t really need to be small and crappy.

  39. Esohbe says:

    Modular homes are built following the uniform building code. Manufactured homes are built to HUD standards (code). There used to be approx a $15,000 difference in cost, not sure what it is now.

  40. Micheal Engel says:

    1) Special orders vs casting.
    2) Special orders : buy an old house or a vacant lot for $3M in a good area. Hire good architects, get permissions, demolish and build a 7,000 – 11,000 sq ft mansion. Use the best materials, avoid shoddy work. For status & investment. Completion : 3Y – 4Y. Any design change, different paint, different windows, for the queen of the house, who will keep changing her mind, cost more. The customer in the builder pockets. But the queen of the house don’t care, because it’s her dream house !
    3) Casting : cast precision kits, paint and ship.
    4) Prefabs are not for sustainable/ established builders. Innovated prefabs are for new types of customers, new markets, not millionaires.

  41. hernando says:

    BLU homes aren’t cheap but they are pretty cool.

  42. gametv says:

    This is yet another component of the fake American dream we are sold. There are many industries where efficiency is king and then other industries in which government legislation has removed the ability/incentives for efficiency. Home building is just a joke.

    There are many newer building technologies that could be much cheaper and reduce the need for lumber – things like aerocrete, rammed earth and ICF construction. But the need to get approvals from local building departments that are unfamiliar with these types of construction makes them a big gamble.

    If we really want to create good blue collar jobs, we should have a complete review of building permitting and any other local laws that impact on the construction industry. We should also figure out why Tesla can build a new factory in China at a fraction of the cost and time it takes in America.

    But instead our “unbiased media” and government overlords are busy litigating racial and gender grievances and protecting special interests against the overall interest of our society.

    America was built on hard work and innovation – but our current government, both dems and repubs, are bent on destroying it from the safety of their Washington DC exclusive clubs/homes.

    • Jack says:


      Great input there gametv .

      The west in general is digging itself into a very deep hole! One that will take us a generation or more to get ourselves out of.

      Every step in this direction is dooming the future of Europe, the US and efficiently the entire world to a world dominated by the communist party in China.

      Something that those who are advocating for the RE-orientation of our societies might come to regret big time.

      The problems can be seen in the education system, that has been hijacked by the narrow minded narrative of “righting the wrongs of the past”!

      The more nails that are driven through the body of collective heritage that was handed down to us from the Greeks and the Roman, the more this wound will fester and burst to a mighty upheaval .

      You’ll observe it in the anger that permeates throughout the society that’s been divided and hollowed out of its spirit.

      Yes, the building industry is the least of our worries when you think of the overall picture that is slowly emerging to our horror and chagrin.

  43. Edward H Jones says:

    It all depends on the character of the people making the product. There are plenty of very poorly made traditional stick homes. There are many companies making wonderful “modular” homes. Some come in two halves and are attached on site on a traditional foundation. Other companies work with builders. All the wood is cut in a factory — this improves a house a great deal — imagine everything is straight and square. Wall panels are produced or lumber is sent to the site ready to install. Wood structural products are “modular” you can buy beams and joist all preformed that are much better than site built. The Europeans and Japanese are about 40 years ahead of the US in building engineering. Factory built products are common there. They are very well engineered and manufactured.

    • Guest says:

      It seems you are defining more prefab than modular. Prefab is like building walls elsewhere then shipping it to location for final assembly. Modular is building a standard unit and dropping it whole.

  44. Nigel says:

    As to old fashioned quality building, the Essential Craftsman series on youtube is phenomenal. Every step of construction is lot prep to final painting is detailed in a custom home. It is expensive and watching the one about taping and mudding drywall, you see how any prefab might be desirable.

  45. JRM says:

    If you want to experience modular homes, just take a cruise. Your cruise cabin is a modular unit that is stacked with many other clones to build the floating ant colony that is today’s super-sized cruise ship.

  46. Todd says:

    It plays off of my earlier comment. I think manufactured housing is going to take a big step backward with lost momentum due to Covid and the world raw materials shortage.

  47. Olivier says:

    By the way, Berkshire Hathaway just entered the fray with its MiTek Modular Initiative

    • NBay says:

      The downside of being a few days behind here.

      I read the article, make some comments, and then read the rest of the comments and see everything I said has been said, or hashed out.
      But being at the front drives me nuts, changes too fast and I type really slow….hunt and peck.
      Oh well, still learn stuff and get my 2 cents in….and still beats MSM.

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