Modular homebuilding has met modern, environmentally conscious design.
Admiring the sleek, contemporary home down the block, complete with quartz countertops, glass-front fireplace and fiber-cement exterior? It might surprise you to learn that it’s a modular home.
Modular homebuilding has met modern, environmentally conscious design and now they’re setting up house throughout the Pacific Northwest. These days you can find spacious vacation homes in the San Juans, Craftsman bungalows in Shoreline, and carbon-neutral backyard tiny houses in Seattle — all of them built before they’re moved to the final site.
“Modular houses are everywhere,” says David McKim, president of Timberland Homes in Auburn. “Most of the time, you wouldn’t recognize them as modular unless you saw them being delivered.” Timberland assembles houses in their Auburn facility and ships them to Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. “We’ve even built several custom luxury floating homes where we craned them onto the float and used a tugboat to move them into place at their Lake Union sites,” McKim says.
The Alaska connection
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The modular housing industry in the Pacific Northwest owes a lot to the Alaska housing market. What with the cost of shipping building materials north to Alaska, and the difficulties of battling Alaska weather during construction, many people found it easier to have a modular home built in the states and shipped up to them.
McKim says that at least half of Timberland’s 2700 homes are in Alaska, and that serving the Alaska market helped the modular home industry develop better products. “For that harsh climate, builders really have to do it right, using high-quality materials and overbuilding,” McKim says.
Unlike traditional “site-built” housing, most modular houses are initially put together in large production facilities. Once assembled, they’re taken apart again and shipped in a few large modules to their destination. “They have to be tough and durable to stand up to shipping,” McKim notes. Installation — on a foundation, crawl space or basement — is permanent.
When it started out, modular housing was a lower-cost choice for homeowners who had little interest in customizing a company’s basic designs. But today, all that’s changing.
Sustainable, modern design
Contemporary housing design, with its emphasis on durable, sustainable materials and clean, geometric lines, is the perfect match for the modular housing industry. Today’s home buyers are interested in structures that are energy efficient and easy to maintain — and many modular home companies are certified for green building practices. Because no excess supplies are hauled to a building site, modular houses reduce waste of building materials.
In response to the current market, designers of modular homes are offering a wide range of options for both home exteriors and interiors.
“Architects and designers for modular houses can create just about anything the home buyer wants,” McKim says. This includes dramatic, multistory geometric structures, traditional homes, single-story houses designed for “aging in place,” and accessory dwelling units. Seattle currently allows units of up to 800 square feet, and people are clamoring to get modular ADUs for use as studios, “she sheds,” rental properties and in-law accommodations.
Interior finishes now include custom touches like dramatic stone fireplaces and tiled flooring. McKim says that most materials used for homes built on-site can also be used for modular homes. Granite and quartz countertops are standard, and companies offer wood, tile and vinyl flooring, as well as elaborate cabinetry.
“Modular homebuilding has become a lot more innovative in the past few years,” McKim says. “Something that might have been a special order a few years ago is now likely to appear on the list of standard specifications.”
McKim notes that in Northern Europe, modular homes are considered more desirable than site-built homes because of the better quality control. In Germany, 20 percent of existing homes are factory built, and the modular industry is outpacing traditional building. “I could see that happening here as well,” McKim says.
Building in the era of overnight shipping
Modular homes may be the perfect solution for a culture used to point-and-click ordering and overnight shipping. While modular homes tend to be slightly less expensive than site-built houses, the most dramatic advantage they offer is speed of construction. Site preparation can be done while the house in being built at the factory, and the actual assembly of the modules is speedy.
“There’s no problem with weather delays, or waiting for some kind of materials to arrive,” McKim says. “So people aren’t just buying a modular house, they’re buying a process — and it’s the process that’s becoming really popular.”
Every Timberland Home comes with high-quality finishes and brand names you can trust. For nearly 40 years, we’ve built homes from downtown Seattle, southeast Alaska, to the San Juan Islands. Check out our furnished display homes located in Auburn, Washington.