Modular Building Sense

Modular Home Construction, unfortunately, gets a bad rap.  Any house made in a controlled environment(IE a factory) is referenced all too often as a Modular Home, especially by the salespeople who don’t want to call their HUD code homes by their correct name– Trailers,  Mobile Home or Manufactured Home.  This is not a slur on HUD code, Trailers or Mobile Homes.  My first house was a mobile home, a trailer put on a foundation.  It was a great home.   It was a great place to get my feet wet in home-ownership after leaving the Army.
A Mobile Home or trailer is built to a specific code called a HUD code.  It is not built to local building codes.  It takes special zoning to allow this house to be put on a site.  Just because a mobile home is put on a foundation, doesn’t make it a modular or permanent house.  The one true way to tell if a home is built to a HUD code is it always has chassis under it, so wheels can be attached and it can be moved.  These homes have improved 1000 of % in quality and structural stability over the past 10-15 years.  They are being used in many redevelopment areas and the uninformed person could never tell it was a mobile home.  Some of them are two stories and quite stately.
“Modular Building Goes Mainstream in Storm-Ravaged Areas”

“Factory-built homes engineered for coastal conditions are taking off in towns devastated by Hurricane Sandy.”

By Jennifer Goodman

As the above article highlights, with today’s shortages of qualified tradesman, modular building is solving the problem.

What a majority of consumers don’t understand is a Modular house is built to the local building code.  It is built to the same standard as that stick built-on site-home we are all familiar with.  Instead of assembling all the parts on site, it is built in a controlled environment(no rain, no snow, no freeze).  It is built out of the same components as on-site built housing, both single and multi-family, only better and stronger.   The United States Navy builds its AirCraft Carriers, the big boys, by modular construction practices.  If it is good enough to withstand the storms of the North Atlantic and Pacific, it is strong enough to sit on a building site and last.  Modular constructed homes have been shown in Florida to sustain hurricanes substantially more intact than stick built homes.  The quality? Come on, there are multi-million dollar beach and mountain houses being constructed modularly by people who don’t have to worry about money or budgets.  See “Modular Mansions” by Sherri Koones or “Prefab Green” by Kaufma & Remick.  They have come a long way baby.


Focusing on Practical Green, Sustainable Energy Efficiency or E=MC2, but how do I make toast?

Some time ago the  “Zits” Daily Comic Strip showed the main character, a teenager,  sitting in a chair contemplating equations, calculus, formula’s and other examples of our fixation with complicated solutions to all problems.  The last scene is the same teenager asking how to make toast, with the toaster in front of him.  It is analogous to the fact that we, the United States has become fixated on arriving at complicated solutions to simple issues.

Zero Energy Apartments


Daily we in the “Green” building business are inundated with messages invoking Green principles.  So much so that a normal layman having minimal knowledge of the purpose of “Green” building, or as I call it, Energy Efficient-Sustainable Building, would be hard pressed to understand what this movement or trend is about.  Everything all of a sudden is Green.  It’s kind of like a pendulum where one day we are minimally aware of Green Building and the next day it has swung 180 degrees to the point of everyone being aware with a proliferation of experts.  In this day of Green expertise, you can be a shoe salesman one day and a solar expert the next.   The real problem is who do you believe or what do you believe?

One of the greatest sources of confusion is the lack of a recognized, all-encompassing standard to begin with and venture from there.

If you work in the residential field, you have Energy Star for New Homes, Home Performance by Energy Star, Department of Energy’s Build America and Builder’s Challenge, LEED for Homes, the National Association of Home Builders Green Building Program, EarthCraft House,  Passive House, along with many other local and regional Green Residential Building programs.  This does not even include the new program working its way through Congress–the jobs/energy efficient homes bill called HomeStar.

If you work in the commercial field, the 1000 lb Gorilla in the field is the United States Green Building Council’s(USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED).  Now under LEED, you have LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations,  LEED for Core and Shell, LEED for Schools, LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, LEED for Commercial Interiors, LEED for Retail, and LEED for Healthcare.

Besides LEED in the commercial field you have Standard 189 or 189.1 shortly, GBI America’s National Standard for Commercial Green Buildings and Energy Star’s Commercial Building Design.  These are just a few.

To tell you the truth, I am confused–I get overwhelmed.   I spend hours daily trying to keep up.  Thinking that maybe someone has discovered the missing link, but whoa, it is usually just a spin on what we already know.

I got involved in this energy efficiency business back in the 70’s.  To me, it was about improving energy efficiency in buildings.  Then I expanded to Solar thinking– this was an alternative path to weaning the US off of foreign oil or oil period, over a period of time, kind of like going to the moon.   Then I started thinking about buildings that last without substantial yearly maintenance.  Now I look and see a rush for designations by some third-party standard, that costs additional money, but at times adds no overall benefit, just the designation and I lose sight of why I am involved.

To get my bearings and focus back I have to constantly reread an article by the superhero of buildings scientists, my idol, the highly respected, practical, irreverent, tell it like it is,  Dr. Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corporation entitled “Prioritizing Green, It’s the Energy Stupid!”  He credits the quote to Edward Mazria, the noted architect.  But reading that article by Dr. Joe brings me back to reality and why I am involved.  Frankly, we are losing the practically minded people by not focusing on the real issues that started this:  Energy Efficiency and Building Buildings that are healthier, operate better and don’t fall apart in a few years.

Renovation, Adaptive-ReUse and Affordable Housing Building Advisers.