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What Does the Term Prefab Home Mean to You?

by Matt Goering

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The term "prefab home" is one that carries a lot of baggage with American homebuyers. The perception is that prefab is cheaper, poorly built, and more temporary than traditional stick construction. While this does apply in some situations, the truth is that most prefab houses being built today, whether they're panelized homes, log homes, a modern prefab home, or even modular homes are just as well built and durable as those built by more traditional means.

What Exactly is "Prefab?"
While the types of homes that are categorized as prefab vary hugely, from a prefab log home to an experimental modern prefab home, they all do have one thing in common: in one way or another the building blocks of these structures are prefabricated off site in a factory, then shipped to their final destination where they're raised or installed at the building site.

Why Choose a Prefab Home over Traditional Ones?
This is the big question. The easy answer here used to be cost, and in some instances, that's still the case. Some prefabricated homes are still cheaper than traditional construction. However, a quality panelized home or log cabin home isn't going to be substantially cheaper, if any, than traditional building styles. What you do get, however, is more out of the money you do spend.

  • Because prefab residences are built in a factory, the building process is more efficient. That means less waste, less materials, and the savings get passed on to you.

  • You're guaranteed a certain level of quality if your home, or parts of it, are built in a factory setting. Unlike many construction job sites, factories tend to run a tight ship around the clock.

  • Finally, because they're built and ready to go, the frame of a prefabricated home usually goes up much faster than traditional construction. In many cases, prefab homes can be raised twice as fast or faster.

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Prefab Home Styles
As has been mentioned, there are many different styles that make up the prefab family, all with differing levels of prefabrication. Let's look closely at four of the most popular prefab designs and their particulars.

  • Panelized Homes—A panelized home is a prefabricated home in which the entire frame, including the walls, ceiling trusses, floors, and gables are prefabricated in the factory before being shipped to the jobsite. The construction is more or less the same as traditional stick building, with the exception of the advantages mentioned above. Panelized homes are fast growing in popularity because they go up so quickly and efficiently and because they are immediately ready for finish work.

  • Modern Prefab Home—It didn't take architects long to realize that modern architecture, with its straight lines and simplistic nature, is almost perfect for prefab building. The modern prefab home has yet to catch on on a large scale, but its utilitarian style, open floor plans, and futuristic appearance are turning heads across the nation.

  • Prefab Log Home—The prefab log home is made of pre-cut, and sometimes milled, logs that are pre-assembled at the factory, then taken apart and shipped to your job site. Typically, the logs are labeled or numbered so that anybody familiar with log building can easily reassemble the home on your property.

  • Modular Homes—Modular homes are what most people think of when they think prefabrication. These homes have come a long way since their inception, and high quality modular homes are just as strong, durable, and reliable as traditional construction. Modular homes are constructed in their entirety then shipped to your site in pieces that are reassembled.

Prefab houses are not the cheap-o housing alternatives they used to be. In fact, with a membership role that includes modern homes, log homes, and panelized homes, they are some of the nicest, best looking, and up and coming homes on the market. If you're interested in prefabricated housing, talk to a contractor or builder experienced in the style you're drawn to about getting your new build underway.

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.