Prefab Vs Modular Vs Manufactured Vs Systems-Built

Prefab vs Modular vs Manufactured vs Systems Built

Prefab Vs Modular Vs Manufactured Vs Systems-Built

If you’re out there looking into different types of prefab homes, you’ll quickly learn there are several options out there.

You’re likely to also notice that there’s plenty of confusion around the terminology used to describe these homes and the way that they are built.

If you do some digging, you may even come across the term system-built. You may be wondering what this means, and how it relates to prefabricated homes.

Navigating the terminology isn’t easy. Since there are so few sources of up-to-date information about the latest trends in prefab homes, many clients come to us with questions. So we thought we would write about the differences and see if that helps clear up some of the confusion around these different types of homes.

So what’s the difference between a prefab, a systems-built home, a manufactured home, and a modular home?

Let’s take a closer look at these four main categories of homes and what they mean:

What is a Prefabricated Home?

Prefabricated is a general term that doesn’t just apply to homes or buildings. The basic idea of prefabrication is simple: You pre-build important structural elements, move them to a building site, and them assemble them. This is not a new concept – In fact, building in this way has been around for thousands of years!

Many ancient civilizations used prefabricated buildings for homes, temples, palaces, and more. Famous Greek columns such as those found in the Parthenon and other important religious buildings were constructed using prefab methods. So were parts of ancient Japanese pagodas.

Prefabricated homes hit the mainstream in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. – the very same Sears that announced its closure this month – sold more than 70,000 prefabricated homes. The homes were shipped via railroad boxcar and came in dozens of different layouts. They even had groundbreaking amenities like indoor plumbing!

Prefab today utilizes the same fundamental methodologies as those early homes described above. The main difference is that now you can buy prefabs of all shapes and sizes, and the technology has evolved to support a more savvy homebuyer with high expectations for the way their home integrates into their world. 



What is a Manufactured Home?

In 1913, the first modern assembly line went into action in the United States thanks to Henry Ford. Purpose-built replaceable parts drove remarkable efficiency in industrial production, and it was this idea that gave rise to the manufactured home.

A manufactured home is a type of prefab structure designed to minimize cost and waste. It consists of a steel frame on which the portions of a house can be built. Underneath the structure is an axle so wheels can be placed directly on the home for transportation.

Once constructed, it is parked at the final site and becomes a stationary residence.

Today’s manufactured housing is used in many different ways. It can be used to provide temporary housing to those displaced in the wake of natural disasters. You might also see it in mobile home parks: A mobile home or trailer is what most people picture when they think of a prefab home.  

There are some severe drawbacks to a typical manufactured home:

  • Standards for manufactured homes are set by the federal government, not by state or local jurisdictions. Companies that make them submit to quality control protocols, but there are no in-person inspections – and no way to catch manufacturing defects before they cause problems.
  • The size of a manufactured home is limited to the size of the trucks used or the size of the load that highways between the factory and final site can bear. There are no wide or tall spaces within the home, and the final product can look quite a bit like a shipping container.
  • Since sizes are so restrictive, there’s no way a manufactured home can take full advantage of the plot of land where it is situated. Preconfigured home models and sizes cannot be calibrated to the maximum allowable square footage of the lot, leading to a waste of land space.

What is a Modular Home?

A modular home is similar to a manufactured home. Construction methods and most of the applicable standards are comparable. Instead of having an axle underneath it, however, it is shipped on a flatbed truck. This allows for a slightly greater variation in sizes.

The biggest difference in modular homes isn’t how they’re made, but how they’re regulated.

While regulations pertaining to manufactured homes are crafted at the federal level, each state has its own standards for modular homes. Standards may be lax in some states, so it’s even more vital to select a vendor with a reputation for excellence.

The Systems-Built Home: The Evolution of Prefab

Homes have evolved from manufactured to modular – and systems-built is the next step.

A systems-built home maximizes quality, construction speed, and longevity while reducing cost. By using sophisticated components that can be configured according to virtually any floor plan desired by the homeowner, a systems-built home has more opportunities for customization than any other type of home mentioned here today.

What Makes a Home System-Built?

Components of a systems-built home are produced at a factory. Picture walls, framing, windows, doors etc. These are then transported and assembled at the final site. The easiest way to picture it is if you imagine a life-sized set of Lego blocks! The blocks (components) can be arranged in various combinations to produce an infinite set of outcomes, while still using the same blocks.

What Are the Advantages of a System-Built Home?

For homeowners who want a long-lasting investment, the biggest advantage of the systems-built approach is that construction times are quick and quality is assured.

Home inspections take place based on the rules set by the local jurisdiction, and so your home will have to pass the same rigorous tests as any home built using regular construction methods, which is quite different from the other categories of homes mentioned in this article.

This can make it much easier to get financing for a systems-built home.

Why? Lenders know that systems-built homes can stand the test of time: With appropriate maintenance, they may last for centuries. Plus, overall ownership cost of a systems-built home tends to be lower than a conventional home’s, making it easier for homeowners to maintain their financial health.

Some system-built home builders, like us here at Proto Homes, have our houses categorized as “custom homes” which puts them in the same bracket as any custom home; This makes everything from financing to inspection to zoning and more much easier to deal with because the home is more “typical” in the eyes of the city. This equals less red tape and less hassle for you.

The system-built home industry remains in its infancy, but it won’t for long. That industry is growing and changing by the day. New capabilities are unfolding even as you read this: Before you know it, AI could make it possible to design your new home from your couch…stay tuned for more on that!

Our goal at Proto Homes is to be the most forward-thinking brand in modern home construction. If you’re interested in chatting to us about your project, contact us today.

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