Contrasting to the traditional construction style, where a group of people work for months to create a structure, prefabricated techniques are manufactured and preassembled off-site in factories, then transported and set up on-site at the final location, saving time, energy, and cost. This expedited the construction process providing flexibility for the workers and reducing theft, damage and hazard. The concept of pre-fab homes dates back to the 1160s by Norman Poet Robert Wace, expressing the ease and importance of a castle in a kit form. Movable structures followed him to India in the 16th century during Emperor Akbar’s rule. Traditionally constructed homes were the most preferred choice worldwide. Eventually, in the 1920s, with the help of advancements and facilities, about 10 percent of the residential homes in North America were made-to-order kit homes. Prefabricated homes came back as prefabricated buildings, with modern designs taking keys from postmodernism. It is a recognized fact that modular homes have become a preferred buying option now. Over the last few years, the evolution and adaptation of factory-made houses and furniture have transformed traditionally built homes into enhanced automated properties. 

The Harsh Reality About Pre-fab Homes - Sheet1
Prefabricated Stand-alone House _©

Prefabricated homes have three main iterations | Pre-fab Homes

Manufactured homes are built in sections and fixed together by professionals and heavy machinery at their final site, following HUD requirements.

Kit homes are much simpler than manufactured homes, prototyping a similar building style, and buyers themselves can build these.

Modular homes are much more personalized in layout, design, functionality, and usability, yet immovable.

The Harsh Reality About Pre-fab Homes - Sheet2
Prefabrication Process Illustration_ © Homes_24070923.htm

Although prefab homes have many benefits and advantages, there are also some shortcomings compared to traditional construction techniques. With the production being completed away from the site, there’s less opportunity to make alterations with almost no time once the segments are on site.

Land use and locality are vital in the construction of prefab homes or apartments. From testing the soil to surveying and analyzing to conclude, including power, water, sewage, and all the necessary service systems, all together significantly drive up the construction cost. Not just limiting this additional cost, outsourcing services, purchasing the land, laying a proper foundation, and securing permits per the property’s regulations increases the expense substantially. This pay-as-you-go feature of prefab homes makes one more cautious of the spending and money pouring into the process, with a chunk of initial down payment at the beginning of the construction and complete payment before the delivery. Though the construction method and assembly of the prefab property may not take much time, the planning and preparation process is usually extensive and exhausting.

The Harsh Reality About Pre-fab Homes - Sheet3
Modular building unit assembly _ © Homes/

A second major downside to the prefab process is the limitation of customizing. Depending on the manufacturer one chooses to build their modular home, there is never complete flexibility to modify the option. Based on the standard sizes and limited design parameters, mass-producing varied options is not feasible, restricting the dynamic approach. Of course, customization is offered for most elements, but it comes with a hidden cost and extended timelines. Not only does customization inherent manufacturing concerns, but it also reflects the transportation logistics, depending on the size and size and nature of the custom part. Since prefab structures are carried from the industrial unit to the construction location, the risk of damage in transit is always high. Due to the percentage of buyers’ options for a prefab house hasn’t changed much in the past few years, finding an experienced contractor to understand and deliver to detail can be challenging. Precision assembly being a vital step; utmost skill and attention are required while assembling the units. 

Factory production of a Pre-fab Homes _ ©

Due to the preconceived notion of factory-made products lacking quality, it is difficult to change the biased thinking of the client. The idea of not being able to monitor and observe the process during its production doesn’t guarantee the quality of the materials used. Agreeing to the manufacturer’s word and trusting his production is the only one-way approach, leaving the buyer with no choice. Unlike a traditional stick-built system, errors and quality checks can be rectified immediately and instantly, avoiding delays and ensuing standards. Most prefabricated homes with the timber framing method do not store and accumulate heat during the day. In an unfortunate event with heating technology not available, the house can change temperatures very quickly, making it very cold. Adding to the heat accumulation, it can resist fire for significantly less time, leading to a higher property loss.

Considering the above factors, a crucial concern of modular homes is the possible effort for resale. Both real estate agents and prospective buyers could be biased against prefab homes, irrespective of their advancements, leading to a lower resale value than a traditional home of a comparable build. To avoid the hassle of the prefab process, it is best recommended to source a company that includes all the hidden costs and efforts. Thorough research of the designer and manufacturer is crucial to finding yourself informed, updated, and comfortable through the process. 

References : 

  1. Prefab Housing Disadvantages – The Nest

  1. The Pros and Cons of Prefab Homes by Amelia Josephson

  1. 10 Disadvantages of Modular Homes: What to Consider Before Purchasing


Vruti Desai is an architect and a designer based in Mumbai with a master’s degree in Architecture from Pratt Institute in New York. Being a multi-disciplinary artist, designing signature spaces and creatively expressing narrative experiences that enhance everyday human activity was an ideal way to combine these interests.