Modular Homes Section

Modular Homes Interview with Dr. David Smith

Dr. David J. Smith
Professor of Physics
University of Virgin Islands
September 2007
For more information about Dr. Smith's work in physics please visit here.

Modular Today: What should people be most concerned about when building a new home?
Dr. Smith: Finding a reputable builder if they are hiring. That means looking at homes they have built and talking to the homeowners. If they are building it themselves, then they need to study local codes and understand what licenses and/or training they must have to do so. Some states have very lax building codes. In those cases, make sure you sue federal guidelines for building. Even contracting can have legal pitfalls, so doing your homework is critical.

Modular Today: What can a home owner do to increase the strength and integrity of the house to withstand natures force.
Dr. Smith: Does this mean for a home being built or already built? If the former, makes sure it is built to code. There are plenty of government and commercial sites that give the guidelines for houses in flood plains, hurricane and earthquake-prone areas, etc. If the latter, there are some things than can be done to strengthen homes in hurricane areas, such as installing hurricane clips in the rafters, steel plate reinforcement at major support points, installing shutters, etc. There are also things to be done for strengthening against earthquakes, but they are more problematic and expensive.

Modular Today: Does the height and number of floors in a home impact the strength of a home?
Dr. Smith: Definitely. But the building codes for what joist and rafter sizes are required are well established. A one floor home is generally more resistance to wind and earthquakes than multistory homes, but multistory home can be built strong enough.

Modular Today: If a person was going to prepare the foundation for a modular home by themselves, should they be concerned about the mixing ratio for their concrete?
Dr. Smith: Absolutely. But codes for the proper mixes are well established. If they are purchasing the concrete from a dealer to be delivered, the strength of the mixture is generally specified by the psi compressive strength. The correct amount of rebar needed must also be determined. A modular home company should specify exactly what is needed, along with the method of attachment. A foundation is not something to be done with a wheelbarrow and supplies from Home Depot unless you have studied this and know what you are doing.

Modular Today: Many consumers are confused about the strength and integrity of modular homes. Manufacturers claim modular homes are stronger because they are over engineered (for example using screws instead of nails). Critics point out that modular homes also endure long journeys from the factory to the building site that stick built homes do not have to endure. What is your point of view on this?
Dr. Smith: Many modular homes live up to their advertisements.. Generally, shipping should not be a problem, but you should certainly inspect for damage upon arrival. But many folks around here use screws and plates in building their homes. Modular homes may be better constructed than some in states with very lax building codes because they want to sell them in states with more strict codes. But I don't know that they are better than those built in states with proper codes.

What words of wisdom would you share with a new home buyer to ensure their home is a high quality home?
Dr. Smith: The only general advice is to be patient and do a lot of investigating. Check local consumer groups and talk to folks who have dealt with the companies. Even Googling a company or contractor can reveal useful info.

This is not an endorsement by Dr. Smith or The University of Virgin Islands of any specific type of home or product. This is only intended to help educate people on how to make more informed housing decisions.