Modular homes are trying the bridge the gap these days. Customers will come to modular manufacturers and say they want things like open floor plans, or home offices, or a jacuzzi in the bathroom, and modular home manufacturers want to send the message that they can deliver on all these counts. According to John Colucci, of Westchester Modular Homes, customers will come to him and will no longer want the large open foyer, mostly because energy efficiency is starting to play a larger role in home design. They'll still want the open living spaces, he says, but they also will want a separate room that they can use as an office, as more and more people are working from home these days. John Palmucci, of Advantage Modular Homes reported that his company is seeing a rise in chalets, and not just as second homes, but as primary dwellings. There is also a general consensus that homes are starting to get smaller, both for energy efficiency reasons, and because people are starting to watch their budgets a bit more closely. However, Palmucci notes, "Our process has allowed people to buy a little more house than they would otherwise." Palmucci has also seen a request for more open floor plans. In the forties, fifties, and sixties, homes were compartmentalized, but now rooms like a formal dining room have become virtually obsolete. "The kitchen has become the focal point of the house," Palmucci said, and often there is no wall separating the kitchen from other living spaces in modern modular homes. Customers demand features like granite flooring and counter-tops, radiant heating systems, low flow bath fixtures, and hardwood flooring, and all are now available in modular homes.
In today's modular community there is no longer a gap between modular and stick built. "If there's something that I can't do in the factory," Colucci explained, "then the builder just supplements that in the field." Modular homes will come with certain features standard, but there is the opportunity to upgrade if the customer so wishes. Builders like Howard Kipnes, of Westchester Modular associate Cedar Knolls can provide custom finishing on site if need be; however, he warns, it may add to the cost, so upgrades need to be taken into consideration. "Oftentimes during the design process people's appetites will get bigger than their ability to afford the house," explained Greg Buhler, a certified green professional from Atlantic Custom Homes. Kipnes said that anything the customer wants can be provided, whether it's granite countertops or Hardiplank siding, the builder will be able to do anything that a traditional stick-built home would be able to do. "It's an endless thing, in terms of features," Kipnes reports. If the modular home manufacturer does not currently have what the customer wants, they are often more than willing to either let the customer buy it and bring it to them, or they will order it for them. There are benefits to the manufacturer buying it as well, as modular home manufacturers get a discounted price that most customers might not be able to get, Colucci explained.
Modular is a fast growing industry. Colucci puts the modular industry at around 15 percent of the new home market currently, but he expects it to grow to 20 to 25 percent in the next 10 years. With more and more options becoming available, and with an even higher level of customization than ever before, it's easy to see why. Modular homes go up fast, reduce the waste stream, and are well insulated, and are in certain ways a greener option than conventional stick-built homes.
"We can provide exactly what the customer wants," Buhler said proudly. He is a certified green professional and co-principal of Atlantic Custom Homes, which is part of the larger Seattle-based Lindal Cedar Homes. At Atlantic Custom there is a lot of emphasis on building to customer specifications. "Every home is custom," Jan Buhler said. Greg and Jan Buhler can do this largely because they use post and beam construction, which allows for a full range of flexibility when it comes to design. While their homes are not specifically modular, they are as close to modular as a customer can get while still being stick built, as they are what are called "pre-engineered"
The future of home construction is in customization. Today buyers want a home that says something about themselves. As one Westchester Modular representative explained, even customers who think they want a standard home end up saying: "well, we'd like to move the kitchen to where the living room is;" or "we'd like to take down this wall." The home that they thought would be standard becomes custom. Westchester Modular itself was formed out of a frustration about not being able to get a custom modular home. With each home needing to suit the particular family's needs, it is crucial that modular home manufacturers can deliver if they are to survive, but as John Palmucci, of Advantage Modular Homes explained, "When you do things in modular construction, there is no limit to what we do."
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