Off-Site Manufacturing Could Play a Larger Part in the Building Renaissance

Danny Small

Danny Small

Danny Small is Manager, Building Science Development for CertainTeed Corporation

Lately I’ve been revisiting the benefits of modular or prefabricated home construction, otherwise known as off-site manufacturing (“OSM”). There are several advantages to this method of construction that could be attractive to consumers looking to build a custom home.

This isn’t your daddy’s mobile home we’re talking about here.  The traditional manufactured (“mobile “) home is built to special Housing and Urban Development (HUD) building codes.  These homes are extremely simple, lower-end homes constructed in one or two pieces on a steel frame.

Today’s modular home can be beautiful, complex, exquisitely detailed and of the highest quality.  It’s built in modules or panels, in a clean, climate-controlled facility to meet (and often exceed) standard building codes for the area where the home will be finished.   The modules or panels are then shipped to the construction site, where they are permanently assembled on a full foundation, and the final details are finished.  Once completed, these homes are indistinguishable from site-built homes.  For some examples, check out Haven Custom Homes’ gallery.

While off-site construction has been around for decades, most of the earlier homes fell into that category of mobile (HUD-code) homes.  However, the move toward more sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy homes creates compelling reasons to look at modular as a truly viable method for all construction.

Some of the advantages of offsite construction are:

  • Construction can begin while foundation work is done, reducing the overall build time by several weeks.
  • Because building is done indoors in a climate-controlled facility, there are no weather delays.  Crews can work year round with no problem.
  • The home is built dry and clean because the wood is not subjected to dampness or dirt.  This could make for a healthier house.
  • Greater accuracy in cutting is possible because precision equipment can be utilized.
  • Lower costs because of consistency with crews and minimal lost time.  An off-site built home can cost up to 15-20 percent less than the same home built on-site. (Source: NAHB)  Savings for commercial construction can be much higher.
  • Very low waste.  Just about all remnants can be re-used for other projects.  This enables contractors to purchase more wisely.
  • Off-site manufacturers can ship up to 500 miles from their factory.
  • The building envelope is fully customizable, enabling increased energy efficiency in the wall and ceiling systems, as well as design features that meet the needs of the occupants.
  • Modular building, especially in commercial, enables easy expansion to buildings when needed.

Although off-site construction currently accounts for only two percent of construction in the U.S., the industry is gaining popularity.  In Europe, especially countries like Sweden, this type of construction is on the rise and accounts for up to 40 percent of new construction. 

If you are considering building a new home, a vacation home or a small office, do a cost comparison for on-site versus off-site construction.  You may be surprised by what you find.

Energy Deregulation is a Positive for Consumers, but Do Your Homework

 Danny Small is Manager, Building Science Development for CertainTeed Corporation

Danny Small

Danny Small

 If your utility called you up and offered you a significant discount on your electric or natural gas rate, would you take it? 

Usually I’m speaking to builders, architects and homeowners about reducing energy costs by using less energy.  Now, in many parts of the country, you can also reduce your energy costs by simply paying less for the energy you use.

With the recent deregulation of the energy industry, individuals as well as businesses in certain areas of the U.S. now actually have a choice of utility suppliers.  What that means is that you can now lower the rate you pay for your energy by taking advantage of a seamless and easy process.  Electricity choice is well under way, and natural gas is right behind it.  If your state does not yet offer energy choice, it’s coming, and it can offer a significant savings for residences, small businesses and large commercial and industrial entities.

Here’s how it works:  Your utility bill consists of three components:  generation, transmission and distribution.  The utility remains responsible for distribution:  Getting the energy to your house, maintaining the lines and poles and taking care of the billing, collections and customer service. The generation and transmission however, is now open to competition and can be “shopped around,” resulting in potentially large savings for the customer.

You may be wondering how the utility feels about this whole thing.  In one of my previous positions, I helped manage energy efficiency incentive programs in several eastern states, working closely with utility companies as deregulation started to roll out.  The utilities actually actively encouraged their customers to shop their rates.  Since the utility does not make its money on generation or transmission, they are not looking to provide the lowest rate; they just pass the cost on to the customers.  You can view a news interview with a representative from a Pennsylvania utility, explaining how the process works.  

Switching is easy.  It costs nothing, takes only a few minutes online or over the phone, and in many cases there is no long-term commitment.  Everything stays exactly the same from the customer’s perspective:  Same bill, same payment process, same service, same electricity.  Just a lower rate! You really have nothing to lose in making the switch.

Among energy suppliers, both rates and terms can vary widely.  Go to www.ShopForEnergy.com to see the options available in your area.  Besides a competitive rate, look for a plan with no termination fee.  In addition, some suppliers offer 100% renewable energy options (recommended) and other benefits to win your business.  For example, one major eastern supplier, North American Power, offers all of the above and also contributes $1 per month from its own profits on behalf of each of its customers to a charity of the customer’s choice.

So far, my experience “privatizing” my energy has been extremely positive, and I highly recommend it if the option is available to you.