The Myths of Modular Building: Debunking the Stereotypes

Breaking Down the Myths and Stereotypes of Modular Building

By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated

Modular construction has a mixed reputation. It claims to be the path toward a sustainable future while alleviating the housing crisis. The opposite side of the spectrum refers to modular houses as flimsy and repetitive in design. Here’s more on the myths surrounding this breakthrough building trend. Are they worth believing in?

This article is part of a series on: Modular Construction.

7 Myths of Modular Building

1. Modular Homes Aren’t Made to Last

Modular builds are assembled in pieces, but that doesn’t mean the fasteners securing them are loose or unstable. Many believe they are temporary fixtures meant to be demolished and replaced with a sturdy build in the future. This is not true.

The assumption is their frames typically use wood, which is prone to rot and decay. However, many contain steel frames making them as strong as mechanical builds, as they must meet the same safety standards as any other structure. Builders can make them with any materials and don’t exclusively use low-quality components. Integrity is dependent on the reputation of the maker, not the fact that the build is modular.

Many innovative buildings have a life cycle of at least 50 years, whether their components are easily expandable, upgradable or ready for retrofitting. They have shelf lives similar to those of homes built with conventional methods. New modular homes may be more durable, as construction companies consider how to strengthen their structures as extreme weather conditions increase in severity and frequency.

2. All Modular Home Designs Look the Same

Some argue they may point to any house and determine if it was modular based on its aesthetic. The truth is modular homes can take any shape, form and texture. They could be indistinguishable from stick-built houses and have just as much character, beauty and functionality.

People may have assumptions about what these builds look like because several companies are expanding rapidly in concentrated areas, exposing people to a particular modular home style. It’s worth considering whether or not this stereotype is derived from limited exposure to different makers and styles.

Modular home
Modular home in Sutton, Alaska
Public Domain,

3. Mass Production Means Sacrificing Quality

Making homes fast to build doesn’t mean the ingredients are low quality. Manufacturing enterprises typically have rigorous standards for assembly. The speed at which the modules are made determines price — not that companies make them with weaker materials.

Incorporating Industry 5.0 technologies like artificial intelligence and next-generation robots could mean the modules are consistently higher quality because of automated checks and balances. This keeps output reliable despite millions of workers leaving construction in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, it’s essential to distinguish the intent behind particular modular builds. Some are temporary, meant for recycling and repurposing after the building is no longer necessary. This doesn’t mean modular homes are also not permanent. Each project’s application determines its strengths and weaknesses — not the methodology itself.

4. Modular Homes Ruin Property Value

Modern toxic stereotypes insinuate modular homes are for people within certain income brackets because many advocate for it as a solution to the housing crisis. The assumption that modular houses are limited to class is harmful and deepens systemic inequalities embedded in homebuying culture.

Modular homes can be in every budget and priced based on their square footage, amenities and geography like any other home. Economies of scale reduce costs from a manufacturing point of view, which likely translates to the price tag on the property. However, it doesn’t mean being near them will reduce property values or be assigned to particular income levels.

A prefab home - The Myths of Modular Building: Debunking the Stereotypes
Prefabricated house in ValenciaSpain.
Credit: Ulises Palermo – Own work

5. Temperature Regulation Is Impossible, Making Them Unsustainable

How prefabricated homes are assembled has no bearing on the quality of their insulation, meaning they aren’t energy-inefficient on principle. Homeowners may install the year’s most well-known material in their envelopes for ideal temperature regulation, designing the property to be as eco-friendly as they desire.

Modular homes are often touted for their favorable climate impact, as construction is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Because they are easy to disassemble if necessary, the materials are easily recyclable for new builds, reducing environmental stress in harvesting new ones. Manufacturers forge the pieces in controlled environments to prevent environmental factors from damaging the project midway, keeping houses in mint condition until move-in day.

6. Modular Construction Limits Customization

A modular home’s shapes, colors and layout are just as customizable as a site-built home. However, many confuse it with the limitations of other dwellings, like mobile homes. Houses can be more than rectangles, and they have the potential for expansion.

The limitations in customization are not from the designs themselves. This myth likely arose because of logistical complications. It is true modular homes are a challenge to transport since moving rooms and roofing across interstates for thousands of miles is laborious. Therefore, travel restrictions are a prominent enemy to blueprint adjustments.

7. Modular Methods Aren’t Proven to Be Viable Solutions

This way of building is not new, and industry experts have explored its potential for hundreds of years. As with any trend, they fade in and out of relevance. When a seemingly new idea disrupts how an industry has operated for decades, it feels offensive and unfounded. However, the validity of prefabricated builds is proven by their extensive history, years of refining and attentive production techniques.

The stereotype has likely risen from a lack of awareness about the history of modular homes. Revising mindsets to understand this concept introduced previously may help others recognize how long humans have been working to perfect this type of infrastructure.

Other viability considerations may be budget-related. A business that has built houses for decades using conventional methods will likely want to avoid putting forth the high upfront costs it needs to transition to modular operations. It would be too expensive, making it seem like a poor business choice. However, switching to all-modular processes is not required for any construction organization, so investing in the prefab business is viable on a company-by-company basis.

Debunking Modular Myths

Mass production doesn’t equate to poor quality or lack of inspiration. It’s essential to reconstruct the method’s reputation so it can flourish. The industry needs professionals dedicated to making it even better, more eco-friendly and more cost-effective than it is now. These stereotypes may deter top contributors to modular success, so it’s time to acknowledge the facts and see how this construction method could benefit the world.

Rose Morrison

About the Author

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.

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