Offsite manufactured housing (OSM) refers to housing that is built, in whole or in large part, in factories, before being shipped to its final location. OSM is comprised of two main categories. The first category, called simply a “manufactured home” and often referred to as a “mobile home” or a “double wide” is built on a steel I-beam frame with axels and wheels. It is then towed to the prepared home site where the towing tongue and sometimes the wheels are typically removed. The second type, called a “modular” home and sometimes referred to as “pre-fabricated,” is also produced in a factory but is transported in sections to the home site where it is then assembled. This allows companies to design various rooms or units that the client can select from (hence modular) to customize the design while maintaining the economies of scale and standardization.
It is important to understand the differences between these two types of building. Modular buildings (whether commercial or residential) are still accountable to the code standards of the site where they will be erected – though produced in a factory to save time, they are treated the same as site-built projects with respect to codes, regulations, and other laws. Manufactured homes, on the other hand, are subject to their own set of codes – as far as building practices are concerned they typically have less restrictive requirements.
History and Construction
OSM has become quite popular, especially from the 1960s onward, as it helps to solve a lot of housing challenges. It is inexpensive compared to a site-built home, flexible and customizable, and it saves time because the factory can begin to produce and assemble the components of the structure at the same time as the foundation is being laid and utilities are connected.
In recent years, standards for fire safety have improved and customers’ tastes grown more sophisticated. As a result, Vinyl Over Gypsum (VOG) is beginning to fall by the wayside in favor of standard drywall paneling in OSM structures. Drywall offers improved fire resistance and, while the vinyl paneling of days past may have been low cost and easier to clean, it doesn’t look or feel like a stick-built home when compared to drywall.
This is because drywall is a familiar material from non-OSM buildings and offers more design options such as curved archways, many varieties of corner finishing, and even custom-built drywall art. Drywall is also easier to paint, allowing the new homeowner to change the look of their house as easily as they would in a stick-built home. Simply put, improvements in OSM construction are offering products that increasingly resemble stick-built structures and customers want a finish that matches.
Market and Future
The OSM market started small, but it has come a long way from the days of cheap-feeling pre-fab structures. As the economy changes, especially the housing market, OSM homes are going to become more and more popular. They are a perfect replacement for the end of the McMansion and they address many of the persistent inefficiencies in the building industry: waste of materials, labor overruns, installation errors, and so on. People are concerned more than ever with getting a good value and with a sense of customization. OSM homes are the answer to those concerns, so any professional who wants to stay relevant in the industry should be familiar with them.
Besides the applications catering to homeowners, modular buildings are gaining traction in commercial construction. OSM offers easy standardization and large-scale production, making it increasingly popular with hotel chains. The modules allow hoteliers to quickly produce buildings with dozens of standardized rooms without losing time to labor shortages, bad weather, etc. In addition to the ease of completing the job on time, modular construction ensures familiarity to regular clients – no matter where they go, their room will be more or less the same. To see an example of modular rooms being used this way, check out Cardinal Homes, a major player in the modular construction history, who are currently contracted to build a 192-unit modular hotel for the Intercontinental Hotel Group.
Future-Proof Your Business Against the Rise of OSM
Building materials consulting company Whizard Strategy identified OSM as one of the main factors in the “future of building materials” because of its ability to maximize efficiency, decrease cost, and offer customization. Whizard even predicts that large-scale OSM firms like Katerra will fundamentally reshape the relationship between builders and manufacturers in the coming years, so it’s crucial to start preparing for the future now.
The rise of OSM will necessitate a re-evaluation of your products. Think about what you can offer both to builders finishing a large OSM structure and to the OSM firms themselves. What will their needs be? How can you tweak your model and marketing to address the applications that will be increasingly faced by these large factories offering homes built at economies of scale?
Finishing tools like Trim-Tex’s Mud Set Jumbo and Shower Bead are a great solution to this problem for small builders. Good finishing products allow these modular structures to feel more and more as if they are built by hand, increasing the appeal of modular housing to the hospitality sector. After all, everyone who goes to a hotel wants to feel at home, and finishing details that give the impression of a stick-built project go a long way to giving the structure personality, rather than feeling mass-produced.
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