If you are like most Americans, when you hear the term “Factory-Built” or “Modular” housing, you probably think of what you see rolling down the highway with the house-wrap flapping in the breeze and looking like a small step up from a trailer. You think of a “double wide.” Your impression is that a modular house is a low-cost factory-built dwelling that arrives on-site by truck and usually pops up out in the rural parts of the country. But modular housing and factory-built housing can be much more than that. And the quality can easily exceed the quality of even the best built “site assembled” house.

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Panelized House in Norway Built by WWL Houses

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Panelized House in Latvia Built by WWL Houses

Factory built housing does not automatically consist of inferior materials. Absolutely not. The quality of the materials and components can be at whatever level you specify. So in that sense, it can match anything you could have with a site-built house. From this point, the factory-built house can exceed site-built houses. Here’s why:

First, factory-built housing is assembled in a controlled environment. Rain or snow never sits on the wood. Temperatures never vary more than a degree or two so the materials don’t expand or contract. It makes good sense. Just think about this. Would you want to buy a new BMW and have a crew show up in your driveway with cartons of parts and start assembling your car there? My guess is the rain, snow, and mud getting inside the car would be more than a little distressing.

Second, the work can be done more efficiently. This is because the materials in a factory are moved to the worker. When building on-site, the workers have to move every piece of building material to the location where it is to be used. Add to that the benefit of never losing work days to weather, and you have a construction schedule that is predictable and faster.

Third, the cutting and fitting of materials will be better under factory conditions. Lasers and jigs are used to ensure accurate measurements and the “squareness” of connections. Think of the BMW assembling in your driveway again if you want a disconcerting visual.

We are strongly considering using a factory-built panelizing system for the construction of the house I am designing in Latvia. We’re talking to Ivars Reinhards and his company, WWL Houses. I’ll be adding blog posts with more details about this as we progress.

Follow the Latvia house progress: here, here, here and here