Modular housing is like manufactured housing in that it is built in a factory. Modular housing is delivered to the building site in modules. Like manufactured housing, the module size is limited to a total height of sixteen feet (including the wheels) and a total width of sixteen feet (including eaves, doorknobs, light fixtures and the like) in most states. The length of module has a greater state-to-state variation for both modular and manufactured housing. And transportation costs for both modular and manufactured housing are significant; the general rule is that beyond 500 miles from factory to building site, the transportation cost becomes prohibitive, so customers are limited to manufacturers with factories in their regions.

In most other ways, modular homes are different from manufactured homes. Modular homes are regulated by the International Residential Code, or IRC, in most places, but within the industry it is sometimes referred to as “Mod Code” to distinguish it from HUD Code. Modules arrive with exteriors mostly complete, but without interior wall finishes so that local building inspectors can inspect the structure, electrical, plumbing, and other items before the walls are closed up. There are no inspections within the factory.

Like manufactured housing there is a stigma to modular housing in some parts of the country depending on who the regional manufacturers are, but it tends not to be as great a burden because the modular industry as a whole often does a better job with exterior design. And in both cases, there is no reason that factories cannot turn out perfect architecture to microscopic precision, because computers, smartphones, cameras, cars, and many other items roll off assembly lines to that degree of precision around the world, and have for years.


Modular housing has a somewhat more limited application in disaster recovery for two reasons: A modular house can be completed in a few weeks, which is a lot faster than the few months it takes to stick-build a house, but it’s not nearly so fast as the few days it takes to install and finish a manufactured house. The second reason is that because modular houses allow larger houses to be constructed because there is no limit to the number of modules that can be used, its use in disaster recovery tends to be limited to those who are not so financially stressed that they can go ahead and rebuild their entire house rather than just a cottage to get a foothold on their land again.

Katrina Cottage VIII, shown here on temporary display in a parking lot near Washington DC, is one of the smallest modular houses, with only a body module and a roof module. It was the first Mod Code Katrina Cottage built in a factory.

© New Urban Guild 2017