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Cannot Get Beyond Thinking Kit Houses Are The Way To Go

 
pollinator
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I am pretty set in my ways, and one thing I greatly dislike is insurance. Everyone does, but I have chosen in life to self-insure. That is just a fancy hyphenation for, "I live with risk that many people just would not." On another thread I mentioned that if I had insurance on our (3) houses, I would have paid in $42,000 in insurance so far. At the time, I made the point that I could have paid off half a doublewide with that money...then the mail came.

In a flyer from my local building supply was two "kit houses" they have. A single story, 1200 sq ft 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house was $31,000. It did not include the kitchen or bathroom, but everything else was delivered to your site. A person would have to put in the well, septic and concrete slab foundation...all the same requirements of a doublewide, and yet be 1/3 the cost of a doublewide.

Did I mention it was $31,000!

I have my own sawmill, and I do not think I could build a 1200 sq ft home for $31,000.

My brother and his wife, just bought a double wide and paid $150,000 for it turn-key, and they bought it in September, and just moved into it last week. What is the point? They could have saved 1/3 of the money, and been in their new house sooner, and had a home that appreciated in value, instead of depreciated, and would have a much higher probability of selling years down the road. (In Maine it is hard to finance a doublewide that is over 10 years old).

I am just blown away by the price. Who could not come up with $31,000 cash? Pour the concrete slab yourself. Install the septic system yourself, come up with a sensible kitchen and bath, and pay someone to drill a well, and for less than $50,000,  a person could be in a brand new home.

What am I missing? This seems so obvious.
 
pollinator
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Personally, I'm not a fan of new houses. I like old houses. While I haven't looked into a kit house, I would never live in a trailer/double wide or any kind of manufactured home. When we were looking for property, manufactured homes were completely off the list. Further building on our property will be natural building, with as much as possible being site harvested. But to each his own.
 
pollinator
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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I've done about 30-35 modular home sets, from 1000 sq' to about 4500.  We did everything from just setting, knitting (bolting together, nailing to the sill plate, foaming the gaps and filling them) and watertighting (almost always fully shingled when we left) to full finishes including decks and basements.

First of all, like anything, you get what you pay for, so cheapest isn't always best, especially in our climates.  That said, they are about 25% cheaper than a comparable stick-framed home, are built on jigs, in a factory, so they're much better built and much more airtight, they can be set and watertight at the end of the day with a crew of about 4 that knows what they're doing, can come up to 90% finished, so they can get occupancy within 2 months, and your cost/time over-runs are much less.  

I've set modulars from 4 different companies.  Guildcrest, in Ottawa, are well made and come about 90% done.  Cote, out of Quebec, were far less finished, but cheaper and still well built and insulated, and I did a couple of other one-offs that were from the States.  There's also Kent in Bouctouche, NB, about 200 miles from Houlton, ME.  They're less expensive, I've heard, but I don't have any direct experience with them.  The reason I'm mentioning the Canadian builders is that our codes for modulars are the same as houses here, where it seems code for the American ones are more akin to mobile homes, your doublewides.  There's RitzCraft in MI and, though I've never seen their stuff, my bosses had and raved about the quality.  Royal Homes in Guelph, ON are a little better built than Guildcrest but at a much higher price.  

From a quality standpoint, the two American modulars had push-connect wiring in a lot of places, less insulation, and a finish quality that was embarrassing, to be frank.  They were cheaper, though, but the ones I dealt with from Canada would've paid back in energy use.  The Guildcrest ones were 2x6 outerwall, with batt insulation and OSB cladding, then 1.75" foil insulation, taped, then usually sided, though we did a couple brick and PVC cladding, too.  OSB roof sheathing and subfloor, but code on native land is ply, so that's available too.  Guildcrest has a very nice standard package for lights, doors, etc.  Cote was 2x4 outerwall, but with XPS insulation sandwiched between OSB and the foil XPS on the exterior, again taped.  They were much less finished, but that could be a good thing.  There are a lot of options, including backing out stuff like flooring, so you could save money on that kind of thing.  They came wired with coils on each half to reach the panel, same with plumbing.  Typically, we'd budget $2500 each for elec and plumbing finish work, assuming utilities to the foundation.  

We would always stick frame the garage, but the materials came with the house.  The reasons for the savings are using unskilled labour, huge buying power and the ability to cut out a lot of waste, though there was always a full bin's worth on site.  They're built to be trucked, so they're on 11.75" deep LVLs, 3-plyed and we saw almost no drywall screw pops with Guildcrest or Cote.  The roof is hinged, so you just crane it up after the set and swing down the purlins.  If you go full gable roof, it's 90% done; you just have to block it, put down your synthetic, run your ridge vent, shingle and put in drip edge.  You've got to insulate and vapour barrier the basement, which is a pain in crawlspaces, especially if you're me, who's short and got the job.  The attic is blown cellulose and, while it's 20" deep shipped, it's probably worth topping it up after the roof's up.

BlueRidgeLogCabins.com in SC looks like they do quality work and I was impressed with them at a trade show.  Modulars are very hard to tell from stick-framed except for the join walls, which are 2x4 plus drywall each plus about a 1.5" gap for setting.  You'll need a 90T crane to lift and set, though some are done by sliding onto the foundation, if you've got the space and access.  

As a closer comparison to doublewides, there's a company called Maple Leaf Homes out of Fredericton, NB, with several dealers in Maine.  MapleLeafHomes.ca is the URL.  I didn't do any of these, but toured a few and they're very well made and have better insulation and insulation than the two American modulars we set.  

I've also done panel construction for a 135ish unit condo near Toronto.  I've got to say, as a civ eng with experience in building science, I think they're both the wave of the future.  I don't think you're missing anything.  Let me know if you have any more questions.
 
Timothy Markus
pollinator
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Personally, I'm not a fan of new houses. I like old houses. While I haven't looked into a kit house, I would never live in a trailer/double wide or any kind of manufactured home. When we were looking for property, manufactured homes were completely off the list. Further building on our property will be natural building, with as much as possible being site harvested. But to each his own.



Check out Ritzcraft or Blue Ridge.  They are high-end homes.  You can also get modular or panel log homes or log interior & exterior with XPS insulation inside.  It can be very hard to tell that it's modular and they can be much better built.   Also, you don't have the weather/contractor delays with modulars, so your cost over-runs are almost negligible, plus you're not paying framers to have to pick through crap lumber to build straight walls and waste materials, or do a crappy job trying to air-tight the home at the top of a 40' ladder in rain.  

The industry agrees with you about past quality, which is why they don't like the term 'pre-fab', but instead prefer modular or manufactured.  You can also do almost any customization you want in the design process, or even bring them your favourite floor plan and get it made, though it's most economical to change sizes in 4' increments.  Your house will also be delivered on time; most delivery issues are due to the site not being ready for the house.
 
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Now that's a complete answer, Timothy. I've been in one of those Royal homes from Guelph Ontario. If they don't point out that it was modular, you would never know it.

I've seen many really cheap prices for kits that are basically framing. The real money goes into all the finishing. People often choose windows and doors that end up costing more than all of the framing materials.

Anything that resembles a trailer home, around here has horrible resale value and thus,  is a very bad investment. When a trailer park closes, sometimes units are available for $500 to $1000 per unit. I've demolished a few that still had useful life left, but no economic life.
 
pollinator
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I think it's the ease with which people can be talked into debt, and the idea that they aren't capable of doing it themselves. Kind of a spin on the old saying "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist".

"Why spend $ and have to do it myself when I could spend $$$, or $$$$$, and move right in? I can still afford the monthly payment."

Never mind that you will be making that monthly payment for the next 20-30 years and actually pay 2-3 times as much in the end.

A couple years ago when I was going through my own health crisis and subsequent career change I was looking at what it would take to move back to the family a farm and build a home we could live in until I could build our dream home. I had been researching various tiny homes and such for some time and in this instance I settled on 40' High Cube shipping containers. I developed several models in Google SketchUp and was able to import them to Google Earth to get an idea of what it would look like in the location I was planning, started a spreadsheet and work plans, and priced it out from local suppliers at the time. Everything from 2 to 8 containers in various configurations. What I settled on for our needs at the time was 3 containers on piers with at comfortable crawl space under it. After doing the math, I could have built a 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 960 SF house, move in ready for $15,000. Another $5k-$7k would have put a lot more bells and whistles on it.
And it would have been debt free.

Ultimately my parents offered the farm house as my sister was moving out. So the budget went to major renovations there and we are quite happy and comfortable there.
 
Dale Hodgins
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There's some could have and would have there.

When looking at what things are likely to cost, I think it's important to look at things that are completely built and  to talk to the owners about what their actual costs were.
 
Stacy Witscher
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Having been raised in a house under construction, I don't mind things "in progress". I know that I'm not the norm. The property we just bought has two houses, my daughters house is perfectly livable, but mine is a mess. Everything from the design, to the crazy ways the former occupant tried to make it work is a mess. That being said, I can make it work. It's a 40' x 40' square, and none of the interior walls are load bearing. It was built in the 1980's, which I wasn't happy about, I prefer pre-1970's houses, but it isn't a tract home, so I thought the bones might be better.

But that's my point, a lot of people don't see beyond the facade. Good bones are what matters to me. Any additional spaces we build will likely be detached bedrooms with bathrooms.

 
gardener
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Its been decades but the lumberyard i worked for sold kit houses. There was no discount for buying the kit vs buying the lumber separate. My job was to figure the price for the kit each time the ad run. I had to figure all the materials for the kit based on current pricing, then round up to a number ($35,000 instead of $34, 438). It was a pain to do for the 1 we sold in 2 years.

The other issue is warping from sitting too long. A person is better off ordering it in manageable portions. Walls, then ceiling joists, etc.

Hard to argue with a mortgage free home though.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I've had people try to build their own kit from my demolition projects. It can be quite tiresome when they insist on materials that just aren't present. Or when they decide it's a good idea to buy 11 for two by fours to be cut down to eight foot studs, in order to match a pre-existing materials list. I always tell them to look at everything that's here and then design around that. Otherwise they are going to need to go to several different demolition sales.

Lately I've been selling all of my full dimension lumber to one customer. He provides a 30 yard container and buys everything over eight feet. It's so simple now and I don't even bother putting up a sign on most buildings. I just call a few people I know to clean up the scraps. He owns a mill that specializes in reclaimed wood.
 
pollinator
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Speaking of kit homes, I might still start a separate thread on the subject of A-frames. With all the rural exposure I've had to them (seems everyone has lived in one or knows someone who has), I'm surprised I couldn't find any discussion of them here. The people I've talked to really enjoy them, though all were occasionally annoyed with the awkward standing and furniture arrangement occasionally necessitated by the sloped ceilings.

Travis, these kit homes you're talking about include plumbing, electrical, insulation, flooring materials? Just excluding the kitchen and bath alone is really significant, aren't those the most expensive rooms, requiring the most skilled labor?

But since we're talking of kits, there are some interesting European kit designs hitting the market. The one that's already reached the US is Estonia's Avrame, the one that probably will next is Italy's M.A.DI. Avrame suggests a build budget comparable to the OP's: $32,000-72,000 USD for a 1200 foot model. Though of course the devil is in the details like finishing, I believe they ballpark that budget as 30% of the house. The former is a kit that you build on site, the latter a kit stood up, in sections, with a crane on site, then locked into place and fleshed out. M.A.DI. can even be installed without a foundation, or just with screw piles. The "flat pack" building idea, that it arrives flat and is lifted/locked into place -- then can be similarly folded up again -- is really seductive, but probably deceptively oversimplifying.

Further along the price continuum is Ecocor, building on the PassivHaus efficiency principles which are both too byzantine and spendy for me to trifle with. Perhaps I am a terrible person, but insane thermal efficiency has never interested me. It always seems to come at the expense of stifling, stale air laminated with various oxidized human stenches...whether it's an airtight tiny house, an office or a hospital. I think of the decades of offgassing from both building materials and living tissue and gag.

So for us statesiders, the only current option is Avrame, and they look pretty good to my untrained eye. Sexy (think "modern rustic"), solid and affordable. You can have a dried-in shell in 3-6 months, costs for such seem comparable to budget stick-builders like Adair and HiLine, and if you can follow instructions and build with common sense, you have a better shot at a finished product than if you hired contractors (though you'd still need a general and subs for your finish work).

There are a lot of question marks in these European kits, though. In the EU Avrame uses spruce; in the USA, they use the exotic LVL (laminated veneer lumber), which led me to some interesting reading on cross-laminated lumber (renewable building material! will replace concrete even for skyscrapers! feels like wood but structurally emulates harder materials!) but I don't see kit builders on a budget using that. I also distrust glues or the like that offgas unless they've been in use for decades and haven't killed more people than anything else. Again, air circulation is good. I am somewhat reassured that Avrame's a-frames, building on a postwar tradition that is already earthquake resistant, are seismically sound. Snow load is not a problem. Insulation of A-frames has been improved in their redux of the design (there's an 8-12" deep gap in the framing that accommodates all kinds of insulations friendly to damp, cold environs). It'll take a lot to reassure me that these Ikea-houses -- a comparison the company blithely makes itself -- can handle mold, condensation and rodents as needed here. Apparently they are kind to wood heat but how to design one to include an RMH?  How do they work with heat pumps? How are the acoustics? It's hard to be an early adopter on something as weighty as a house, and the idea of an RMH, not widely-tested in all residential builds, as central to a bleeding-edge A-frame redux realized with exotic industrial materials, could be a little unsettling.

All of which is to say, I agree with the OP that kits seem like the best deal, but with the kit world changing so fast and materials, technologies and climates in flux, it's hard to feel secure about anything. (But how much security is there in permaculture, anyway? Haha!)
 
Travis Johnson
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Just to be clear Timothy, you are describing a Modular, or panel home, and that is not what I am referring to. A kit house for me is like the Sears, Aladdin or Sterns houses of 1890-1940, where they sell you the quantities of material you need. My father's home was a modular made one, huge at 5200 square feet and it was a NIGHTMARE. His came out of Canada, but the time he thought he would save in building it, never came to fruition.

Wayne makes a valid point on the kit homes just sitting in storage for too long, but that does not seem too bad to deal with. I have my own sawmill so I have long gotten used to warped and twiisted wood.

And Stacy makes a valid point as well. In fact the Tiny House we now live in was sort of a kit home, at least, its plans came from Sterns, it being a 1930 Four Square. Being Maine though, the most heavily forested state in the nation, the orginal builders just took the house plans from the sales brochure, and had the lumber sawed locally, and changed teh dimensions to fit on the existing fieldstone foundation.
But here is where Stacy's point is oh so true. Five years ago when this house came with the farm I bought off my father, we looked into fixing it up. We came up with $10,000 for a cost, yet when we did the actual renovations, it was ready for occupency at only $1,700.

I have watched several old houses in town be torn down because "they were not worth fixing up", but I wonder if that is really true? One grand home, with turret and widow walk on a major corner in town, was knocked down with a car wash to be put in its place. My wife was MAD when she heard that. Now granted we did not know the extent of the damage to the home, but the owners of it owned a lumber yard.I would think if any home could be saved, they could have done it.

We almost knocked down this Tiny House, and were told too by many people, but I think after it is rebuilt, people will be amazed at how well preserved it is, for so little money. I hope it can be an inspriration to others. BUT if this house was to burn down, I would buy a $31,000 kit house to replace it. The well is here, the septic system is here, and so it would just be a matter of some ground work and pouring a concrete slab, and building would commence.
 
Caleb Mayfield
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Dale Hodgins wrote:There's some could have and would have there.

When looking at what things are likely to cost, I think it's important to look at things that are completely built and  to talk to the owners about what their actual costs were.



This is an excellent point, particularly if you've never built a home before or taken on a similar project. The key in my case to reducing costs was my ability to perform nearly all the labor and the fact that I either already had the tools I would need or had access to them and the experience in using them. My father in law has a CAT 305 mini-excavator and large farm tractors that would be more than enough to do any and all earth work, but you have to factor in fuel and equipment rental. Chances are he would insist on me just using it at no cost, but you can't assume that. In college I ran a lawn care and handyman business. One summer I helped my now brother in law build his home and was able to get a lot of first hand knowledge and experience. The company I worked for after college is an international construction company. I did everything from field engineering and estimating to environmental compliance and project engineering and project management all over southern California, Hawaii, and finally Minnesota. Working out the man-hours, materials, access, STS (Safety, Tools, Supplies), and literally all the nuts and bolts that go with it were things I had experience doing, and did well.  
Not many have the opportunity to get that experience and I know I am very fortunate and thankful in that regard.

Just a few months ago my brother asked me about this exact topic and I dusted off my old plans and took a look at what it would cost today if I were to do it. Based on the increased cost for used shipping containers alone over just two years I would be looking at a minimum of $20,000 for the same build. I have a feeling if I updated all the cost tables I would be in the lower $30's very quickly.

The hidden costs can kill you on a project like this. So like Dale said, talk to people who have done it. If it's not something exactly like it, find people who have done the pieces, like the plumbing, electrical, and drywall on a new build.
 
pioneer
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My cousin put in a manufactured home about 20 years ago.  He said he would never do it again because it cost as much as a stick built home and now his manufactured home is basically worth the value of the improved land it sits on.  We were in the process of buying some land and putting a foreclosed and refurbished manufactured home on it when the opportunity came to move to MO.  Glad now we didn't buy that land, because it has flooded several times over the past 5 years, and is currently flooded thanks to all the rain in East Texas.

We are building a cordwood home and doing as much work as possible ourselves.  If we had taken out a loan and had it built for us like everyone in my family thinks we should, we would be in a house by now.  But we are 60 years old, and I don't want to take on a mortgage.  So, we are doing work ourselves, using oak trees I had to cut down to build a post and beam frame, and taking more time.  In the end we will have the house we have dreamed of.  People are absolutely amazed that we would build something ourselves because they would never dream of doing it themselves.  Our only supporters are a cousin who bought a log cabin kit that she and her husband put together and finished out themselves.

I've looked at the kit homes and can see the possibilities.  However, we want something unique, and we want to use the trees we had to clear to make room for the drive, house, and garage/workshop.  I like the idea that the trees we cut down will remain on the land where they grew.
 
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I've been seriously considering a kit-home. There's several companies that do log-cabin style kits, but that's not my cup of tea so I didn't save those links.
The company I'll probably go with is shelterkit.com - I am attracted to the polished GoodFit series by an architect who specializes in small homes, but if I do a little more design work myself I could save even more with a basic kit I think. They swear that you don't need any cranes or large equipment to put their kits together. Just a couple of able bodied people, no carpentry knowledge needed. I imagine I'll have to get some help, I have no head for heights.
They quoted me 6k for shipping from MA to the Portland, OR area, and depending on the kit, from 45-60k for the kit. That includes roofing and siding, but not doors and windows - and of course nothing is finished inside.

I've lived in a manufactured home before, and while I didn't mind it, I just never felt like it was a House? I also want to customize my own kitchen, don't want a dining room... Most of the modulars and manufactureds on the market right now are more of a 'pick your colors' on existing floor plans that don't make me happy.

It's still a long ways out, since no matter which way I end up going I have to have the money saved up first. And find land. And the money for the land. I have hopes but I'm not betting it's anytime in the next two years. Either we'll find a plot with a house that works ok, or we'll probably do the kit.
 
Travis Johnson
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Jessa Hunt wrote:I've been seriously considering a kit-home. There's several companies that do log-cabin style kits, but that's not my cup of tea so I didn't save those links.
The company I'll probably go with is shelterkit.com - I am attracted to the polished GoodFit series by an architect who specializes in small homes, but if I do a little more design work myself I could save even more with a basic kit I think. They swear that you don't need any cranes or large equipment to put their kits together. Just a couple of able bodied people, no carpentry knowledge needed. I imagine I'll have to get some help, I have no head for heights.
They quoted me 6k for shipping from MA to the Portland, OR area, and depending on the kit, from 45-60k for the kit. That includes roofing and siding, but not doors and windows - and of course nothing is finished inside.

I've lived in a manufactured home before, and while I didn't mind it, I just never felt like it was a House? I also want to customize my own kitchen, don't want a dining room... Most of the modulars and manufactureds on the market right now are more of a 'pick your colors' on existing floor plans that don't make me happy.

It's still a long ways out, since no matter which way I end up going I have to have the money saved up first. And find land. And the money for the land. I have hopes but I'm not betting it's anytime in the next two years. Either we'll find a plot with a house that works ok, or we'll probably do the kit.



Jessa, I have a lot of respect for you because I think you have something that is becoming increasing rare; the ability to visualize something taken from a 2 dimensional image, and being a future home. I think that is the sole reason people really buy into doublewides. I know it was with my Brother and Sister-in-law, she could not visualize a house from a drawing, but could when she walked into a manufactured housing center. She said, "I want it exactly like this", and she got it, and paid DEARLY for that...because that was exactly what the dealer wanted her to do.

We went to that same dealership before fixing up this place, and we could just not get the numbers to work. As others have said, you can build a stick built house (not a kit house) for less money than a doublewide easy, and the depreciation just made no sense. Again, here in Maine anyway, banks will not finance a doublewide over ten years old which is really what worked well for doublewides. It was a way for young couples to get into homeownership, and then transition to a bigger, better house. That is pretty tough to do when there is a ten year clock starting to tick the day the house is built.

I think a kit built house is a better way, but then again, a lot of people can just not envision one drawn on paper, to one they can live in. Too bad, that lack of ability dearly costs them.
 
Been there. Done that. Went back for more. But this time, I took this tiny ad with me:
2020 work trades for PDC, PTJ and/or SKIP
https://permies.com/t/work-trades-2020
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