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Innovation & Design

Prefabs: Shipped on the Old Block

Whatever your taste in homes -- traditional, contemporary, or rustic -- chances are you can satisfy it going the prefab route. Costs for modular homes are usually 10% to 20% cheaper than for stick-built houses (built on site as opposed to assembled), and you can count on construction taking about a third of the time.

Here's a quick primer on how the process works and a look at some houses in all three styles.

Modules can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to build in factories, but the climate-controlled environment helps to uphold the condition of the building materials. Once built, delivered, and set on the foundation by crane, the house will take several more months to finish.

The first step in going modular is finding a local builder. You can do that by looking online or in the phone book -- or through a modular manufacturer, if you've already found one with designs you like. Generally, builder/dealers will act as middlemen and get information on the designs a factory offers.

Even if you find a factory design you like or go to an architect first, your builder is the only one who will be able to give you a final, turnkey price, after taking into account the factory price and on-site costs, including clearing land, laying the foundation, and finishing the house. The builder/dealer will help you obtain the necessary permits to build on your land. Even earlier in the process, your builder can help figure out how much and what kind of land you need to build the house of your dreams or, conversely, what your design must include given the land that you have.

After being built in the factory -- sometimes in just a few days -- the pieces are transported to the building site on trucks, and set onto the foundation by a crane. The roof is secured, and the building is "weathered-in" to protect the interior from the elements. Finally, builders make the mechanical connections, including electrical and plumbing, and complete other finishing work inside and out.

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