Prefabricated Houses: What They are, Advantages and Disadvantages

Avatar
Updated on
Avatar

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
Get Smarter On Architecture and Design

Get the 3-minute weekly newsletter keeping 5K+ designers in the loop.

Enter your Email to Sign up

Side-bar-footer-forum

Even though prefabricated houses are nothing new, the increasing sophistication of industrialized systems and the lack of space in large cities make them topical again, but are they as ideal as they seem?

Densification and rising land prices in large cities have caused many to consider purchasing land on the rural outskirts and building personal homes

The demand for a more adjusted price, and the possibility of not having to suffer the usual setbacks of traditional work, had brought back to the scene the prefabricated construction model that, although it is more than half a century old, seems to be acquiring in Europe vigor that he had never before enjoyed.

What Is a Prefabricated House?

What Is A Prefabricated House

Image Source: flowersofvice.com

To begin with, it is useful to differentiate between manufactured homes and modular homes.

A prefabricated house is built entirely in an industrial warehouse and then moved to its final location, where it is permanently located after a brief construction process, in which it sits on the ground, and the facilities are connected to the local network.

Unlike mobile homes (like a caravan, for example), manufactured homes are real property and must remain on their site forever.

On the other hand, there are also modular houses, whose construction is carried out on site, but they have the advantage that most of their pieces are already prefabricated in advance so that the assembly is reduced to the assembly of modules as if it were a giant Lego. 

This typology has the great attraction of being easily expandable in the future since it is enough to acquire and assemble new modules.

Dismantling Myths About Prefabricated Houses

Artificial Plants: The Low-Effort Staple

Image Source: mobileprefabhomes.com

There are many prejudices against prefabricated houses, as if because they were built in a workshop, they are not “real” houses or necessarily have to show a lower quality. But the truth is that nothing is further from reality since, in most cases, it is impossible to distinguish between a prefabricated house and one that is not; there are cases of prefabricated houses with absolute luxury finishes.

Prefab House Price

Prefab House Price

Image Source: bfp.vc

There is also a certain trap behind the headline that prefabricated houses are cheaper: although it is true that their manufacturing system implies a cost reduction and that there are specific models at very affordable prices, a prefabricated house is not much cheaper from a certain range of quality.

In most cases, it is impossible to distinguish between a prefabricated house and one that is not.

How Long Does a Prefabricated House Last?

How Long Does a Prefabricated House Last?

Image Source: kotodesign.co.uk

The durability of prefabricated houses depends on the quality of the materials with which they are built. On average, approximately, a prefabricated house can have an average lifespan of between 50 and 70 years.

Prefabricated houses made of pine or fir wood can last up to 100 years if they are properly maintained, and they are also the most environmentally friendly. If it is true that these types of houses require more frequent maintenance, and in general, every five years, they have to apply varnish.

On the other hand, houses made of concrete can reach 70 years of life and do not need specific maintenance, just like those made of steel.

Although it may seem that choosing a house by catalog greatly limits the choice, numerous companies offer a high degree of customization to design a custom-made home, with the client being able to choose between all kinds of materials, distributions, and finishes. 

Not surprisingly, the final quality of the property depends on the budget, so before judging a possible saving, it is advisable to read the small print since many offers that say “for a price starting at” end up being much more expensive as you get more accessories.

Finally, it must be taken into account that no matter how much prefabrication is carried out, there will always be a small commissioning process since, in the vast majority of cases, it is essential to build a foundation in situ, in addition to connecting the house with the urban infrastructure: the sewage system, the electrical network, telecommunications, etc.

Advantages of Prefabricated Houses

Advantages and Disadvantages Of Prefabricated Houses:

Image Source: autoevolution.com

1) Speed of Execution

The indisputable attraction of a prefabricated house is the speed of its execution. The fact that the companies that manufacture them are so specialized facilitates their mass production, which considerably reduces their delivery time.

Most manufacturers guarantee a delivery time of five months, a figure much lower than that of a house built traditionally. This is due to the optimization of industrial resources and the fact that there is total independence from meteorological factors (which often delay outdoor works), as they are built in controlled spaces.

2) Compliance with Deadlines and Budget

Another of the great advantages of prefabricated houses is the dramatic reduction in unforeseen events during their manufacture. Being produced through a system that has already been refined and tested in a suitable environment, surprises are minimal, and there is a practically total guarantee that the buyer will receive the keys to their home within the agreed period and without spending a penny further than what was agreed.

3) Sustainability

Concerning its mass production, calibrated to the millimeter, the prefabricated construction enjoys a very efficient optimization of resources, which considerably reduces its ecological footprint. A system of this type generates much less waste and also fewer emissions, as it requires much less transport of material to work. If we also add that it also makes it easier for the resulting houses to obtain more efficient energy classifications, it can be said that, at least in theory, producing prefabricated houses constitutes a more sustainable model.

4) Licensing

We must not lose sight of the speed of construction and the pace of legal procedures. At the end of the day, prefabricated or not, a house must comply with all existing regulations. Although the house may be ready in record time for industrial reasons, obtaining a building permit may still take years, depending on the efficiency of each Administration.

As a positive point, it should be added that most manufacturers already offer a team that is responsible for managing all these procedures as part of the order.

5) Less Waste

When building traditional homes on a site, a lot of waste is generated compared to building the homes in a factory where wastes can be managed and recycled for use on other houses.

6) Energy Efficiency

Prefab homes maximize energy efficiency because more designs are geared towards smart solutions to things that would rather take up a lot of energy. These include the use of floor-to-ceiling windows, proper insulation, good airflow, and more. Home builders include solar panels that reduce the dependence on non-renewable energy, encouraging the use of green energy.

Most prefab structures have rainwater systems that collect rainwater to be used in the house.

7) Rural Home Construction

The challenge with building homes in rural areas is having to transport the materials to the site. This makes the process painfully slow and costly. This is where prefabs come in since they can be constructed in an off-site factory and then transported to the site to reduce the costs of building on-site.

8) Emergency Situations

There are moments when disasters befall humanity, and in such instances, the fastest way to get people settled is to come up with prefab homes as they are easy to build and are relatively cheaper. Furthermore, prefabs are built with sustainable materials that do not wear out fast.

Other than disasters, prefabs can work in events where revelers need somewhere to stay the festival.

Disadvantages of Prefabricated Houses

Disadvantages of Prefabricated Houses

Image Source: bonestructure.ca

a) Not Highly Adaptable

On the contrary, there are cases in which it is not convenient to choose this option: on very sloping and uneven terrain or on plots with very low occupancy, which make it necessary to build underground floors. 

If we are looking for a house that is highly adapted to the terrain and its vegetation, it is also preferable to opt for the traditional construction model.

b) Prefabs May be Subject to Regulations

It is also necessary to be vigilant in urban environments, both because the price of land is much higher (counteracting the possible savings derived from manufacturing) and because it may be subject to urban regulations that excessively condition its personalization.

c) Structural Drawbacks

While manufactured homes (such as Nova City homes) have many advantages, they also suffer from some drawbacks, the main one being that they are only viable on very flat land.

The moment a considerable volume of excavation and earth retention has to be carried out, the very concept of prefabrication becomes absurd. For this reason, this type of construction cannot have basements, nor do they include any operation that has to do with the land they occupy, especially if it is steep. This does not mean that a hybrid solution cannot be chosen, building the house in a prefabricated way and carrying out traditional works on the site, but in this case, we would not be talking strictly about prefabrication.

d) No Improvisation

Due to its nature, the planning of a prefabricated house must be carried out previously and in a very rigorous way; once closed, the design does not allow last-minute changes. Therefore, all decisions have to be very clear and made in advance. In addition, there is a risk: prefabricated houses do not have an organic settling-in period.

In traditional construction, the weight of a building is progressively transmitted to the ground as the work progresses, making it possible to correct it on the fly. However, a prefabricated house is placed on the ground suddenly, so any error in the geotechnical forecast can result in surprise settlements that lead to undesirable breaks or cracks.

Additionally, there are strict building codes put in place by the government that all prefab homes have to adhere to. When getting building permits, you will only be issued one if the building process is in tandem with the laws in place.

e) Transportation

One major disadvantage of prefab homes is having to transport the house from the factory to the home site, which can be a pain, especially when you have to deal with a lot of local permits.

While transportation is not the easiest thing, it can be an advantage later when moving locations of residence, and you can transport your house instead of building another from scratch. Transporting a house is cheaper than building a new one, especially over shorter distances.

f) Damage Risk

During transportation, prefabs stand a risk of getting damaged. Once on site, the prefab house needs to be installed properly and on flat ground. However, the prefab will get damaged due to uneven terrain.

Should You Buy a Manufactured Home?

Should You Buy a Manufactured Home?

Image Source: toughnickel.com

Analyzing its details, it can be said that there are circumstances in which it is highly recommended to opt for a prefabricated house: fundamentally, those in which the construction time is a determining factor. Another possibility is that the customer is willing to give up a certain quality for a critical drop in price.

It could also be an attractive option if you have chosen a plot far removed from civilization due to the savings it entails in terms of transporting materials and maintaining operators on the construction site. But be careful because it must have good accessibility for road traffic; otherwise, the truck that transports the construction will not be able to deliver its merchandise.

Prefab Homes Ideas

Prefab Homes Ideas

Featured Image Source: busyboo.com

Once installed, it should not be too obvious that a house is a prefab house. To achieve this, different finishes and ideas can be incorporated into the building to give it a comfortable finish. Here are some ideas you can use on a prefab to make it stand out.

1) Design Pick

Pick a design that will resonate most with your style and visual language. The problem with this method is how similar they can all be, especially when built as a large project. To counter this, you can pick a more personalized design that will be comfortable and suited to your needs.

2) Large Windows

Large Windows

Image Source: modernize.com

Having large windows on the house lets in natural light and saves you significant energy costs. Furthermore, large windows are aesthetically pleasing and give off an illusion of space.

3) Plants

Plants

Image Source: mindfood.com

The use of plants is one of the most common strategies in interior design. Plants make spaces look more welcoming and natural.

4) Colors

Colors

Image Source: southernliving.com

How you color your house, both on the interior and exterior, will give off a certain kind of energy. Using colors in interior design is one way of communicating your personality.

5) Landscaping

Landscaping

Image Source: additivemanufacturing.media

Regardless of how well a modern prefab home is built, it will not look complete or appealing when the landscaping is off. There are many cool landscaping ideas, and you can not go wrong in your search for the perfect example for outdoor spaces.

6) Lighting

Lighting

Image Source: prefabreview.com

Lighting dictates the vibe that your house will have. There are energy-efficient options like using natural light by having large windows and a skylight. Lights have a way of defining spaces and creating a mood.

7) Furniture

Furniture

Image Source: blog.prefabium.com

The best way to enjoy any space is to ensure it is comfortable. Getting comfy furniture makes whoever is occupying the space comfortable enough to focus on enjoying other aspects of the space.

8) Purpose

The essence of designing any space is to ensure it meets its purpose. For instance, if the prefabricated house you are getting is meant for use as a gym, then the design should be in sync with the intention of the space. You should have the purpose of the building in mind right at the design stage.

9) Minimalism

Since method homes are smaller in square feet, you may need to have a minimalist approach when furnishing the house. This ensures every inch of the house is put to use.

Frequently Asked Questions About Prefabricated Houses

Frequently Asked Questions About Prefabricated Houses

Image Source: triplepundit.com

i) What is the best material for prefabricated houses?

While there are different materials one can work with when building prefab homes, concrete is the go-to choice.

Concrete is the most widely used option because of its many advantages. For instance, it powers through different weather conditions and is more adaptable than other materials. Achieving modern designs is easier with concrete, achieving design ideas such as flat roofs, neat lines, large windows, and more.

While concrete is popularly used on site-built homes, it can be manufactured and transported to a site for assembly, just as seen with other prefab home kits.

Depending on your preference, there are other materials you can go for.

ii) What is prefabricated vs. traditional?

Also known as stick-built homes, traditional homes are built on the ground using holes in the ground. Traditional stick-built homes have their foundations built on-site, unlike the prefabricated homes installed using cranes and made in factories.

iii) What are prefab homes built from?

There are three general materials used in prefab and tiny homes. The materials include wood, steel, and concrete. More materials are being experimented on to come up with panelized homes.

wood

Image Source: trendir.com

iv) What does prefab mean in building?

Prefab stands for “prefabrication,” which means manufacturing components of a structure in a factory and then assembling them on site.

v) What is the difference between precast and prefabricated?

Precast concrete is synonymous with prefabricated or premade concrete that is made off-site and assembled on-site.

vi) What are the main disadvantages of prefabricated homes?

Prefabs are convenient. However, they have some downsides, including their lack of adaptability to different landscapes, the high cost of transportation, and the difficulty in remodeling already finished units.

vii) Are prefabricated houses cheaper?

Prefabs are cheaper than stick-built homes because they require much less labor than traditionally built houses. Generally, prefabs require fewer materials and lead to less waste, which further reduces building costs.

viii) What is the difference between prefab houses and modular homes?

Concrete

Image Source: curbed.com

A modular home is just another word for a prefab home. Both the modern prefab homes and modular homes are built in the factory and transported to the site. Unlike site-built homes, modular and prefab homes have modular construction companies that have a different site of operations away from where the house will stand.

ix) Are prefab homes mobile homes?

Not all prefab homes are mobile, but all mobile homes are prefab homes. Some prefab homes have a permanent foundation and, once installed on-site, will not be moved around. However, since mobile homes are not built on-site, we can say that they are prefabricated homes that are used in locations other than where it was built.

x) What size prefab can you build?

Prefabs and other forms of clever homes can be used in large projects from one bedroom to houses with three bedrooms. Other than homes, other projects can be done in the form of prefabs other than the typical home. The prefab world keeps growing, with innovations coming out every day.

xi) What are kit houses?

Kit homes are somewhat similar to prefab homes. However, in the instance of a kit home, the parts are precut by the manufacturer and mailed to the homeowner to build into a house, unlike prefab homes that may be transported as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Prefabricated homes are a go-to today because of their immense advantages. In the modern housing scene, prefabs offer solutions to most construction challenges, including the cost of building, time, labor, wastage, and more. There are different types of prefabricated home designs to choose from to suit your desires for a modern and sustainable house.

Photo of author

About the author

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
Related Articles

Architectural Engineering vs. Architecture: Understanding the Distinctions

It could be assumed that architectural engineering and architecture are identical fields. It's tough to distinguish between the two because ...

modern warehouse design

Modern Warehouse Design to Improve Safety & Productivity

Ready to supercharge the safety and productivity in your warehouse? You're in the right place. It's not all about stacking ...

fabric buildings

Unveiling Futuristic Architecture: The Rise of Fabric Buildings

In architectural innovation, one fascinating trend has captured the imagination of designers, engineers, and urban planners alike: fabric structures. These ...