Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Modular Home Builder is the Key to an Architect Designed Home

One of the biggest hurdles any modular home factory faces is when the builder’s customer wants a custom home and arrives with their Architect’s plans in their arms.

Two things happen when the customer lays the plans out on the builder’s desk. First, red flags go up all over the place, especially if the Architect has never been told the customer was going with a modular home and secondly, more red flags go up at the modular factory when those plans land in the company’s engineering department.

The customer has already paid the Architect thousands of dollars for those plans which are almost useless if the home is being built as a modular. The barriers that need to be overcome are too numerous to mention.

If a customer really wants to use an Architect to build their new home, the big question is “when should the builder and factory get involved?”

The answer is trickier than you might imagine. The first thing the builder needs to do is ask their factory if they are interested in building an Architect designed home. That may seem like a no-brainer but ”of course they do” is the last thing that should leave the builder’s mouth.

In every case, the Architect’s plans will have to be redrawn by the factory’s engineering department. Every factory may produce similar looking products but each factory has slightly different ways to produce it and those differences will not be known by any Architect if the builder “shops” the house around to a couple of factories.

The answer to when to get the factory involved is before the customer selects their Architect. Early engagement is highly useful to allow the customer to fully understand that a modular factory’s system of building a house includes dimensional arrangements of walls and floors, materials and finishes that the Architect probably has never encountered before. 

At this point, a huge red flag should rise up immediately. Architects and the CAD and design team at the factory will almost without a doubt take on adversarial positions, each telling the other they are wrong.

And who could blame either side? The Architect, with their degree and experience in designing custom homes, comes at the project from a more aesthetic point of view while the factory people look at the project from a practical build point of view. Rarely do the two sides agree on anything.

So what is the builder to do? You need to talk to your customer, hopefully before they sign a contract with the Architect and tell them the factory will help them come up with a custom home that fits both their wants and needs and can actually be built on the production with minimal disruption to the factory’s total process. And the factory can do it for a lot less of an investment by the customer.

In traditional site-built custom homes, progress and quality can be monitored directly as the house is being finished. Big red flag here! Architects will visit a site-built house and demand changes be made to reflect more closely what they designed and the customer, especially the ones that can afford to build with an Architect, will continually make changes in sizes and materials as the house progresses.

This is different for the custom modular house as a significant amount of investment in time and cost is needed before anything turns up at the site and is tested for fit and quality.

Are Architects needed when the customer builds a custom modular home? 

“Yes”, “No” or “Maybe” are all appropriate answers. However, if they are involved, they must understand the game rules set out by the factory and the state modular code regulations which will probably be quite an eye-opener for any Architect that has never done modular before.

The simple step of having the Architect involved from the very beginning will at least allow the factory to understand what they want and the Architect to understand the limitations of modular in that particular factory.

The Architect and the customer will also have to be told that no changes will be allowed after the final set of plans is approved and the house ready for production. Both can visit the house online but only to observe its progress. 

I remember when a builder’s customer camped his motorhome in the factory parking lot and watched his home from the production mezzanine the entire time it was on the line. He arrived on a Tuesday morning and left Friday morning. It was not a pleasant experience for anybody. Good thing he didn’t have an Architect with him!

The bottom line: If an Architect is going to be involved in designing the customer’s modular home, make sure she/he meets the factory engineering team and completely understands what the limitations are in going modular and the added expense to the customer if he/she demand the factory to do more than they have ever done before.

And we haven’t talked about special order products that Architects love to add to every home. Those can become a real bottleneck for both the Purchasing Department and on the production line.

And what happens when the Architect specifies Kolbe VistaLuxe casement windows throughout the home with Neat Glass and Preserve™ Film and only 20 of the 24 windows arrive in time for the house’s slot on the production line? You guessed it...It’s the factory’s fault.

I love what Architects bring to the custom home market but they’re usually not a good fit for most modular home factories. 

Gary Fleisher, the Modcoach, publishes Modcoach News and Modular Home Coach blogs for the modular industry professional and Modcoach Connects for construction consultants

email me at

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Excellent article Gary,

We couldn't agree more, understanding what the factories are capable of and how to design a home that will be built there are key. We work with clients from a preset starting point to customize their home for solar gain and personal preferences. About 20% of our homes are also custom, due to lot constraints or preferences, but we know how to do that so the factory can complete up to 70% of it.

Happy to chat with people about possibiities: