Modular Homes Section

Modular Homes Today Speaks with Excel Homes

Steve Scharnhorst
President & CEO
Excel Homes LLC
January 2008
For more information about Excel Homes please visit here.

Modular Today: How did your company become involved with modular homes?
Steve Scharnhorst: Based in Harrisburg, PA, Excel is one of the largest modular housing manufacturers in the United States.

Excel has three manufacturing facilities. The two plants in central Pennsylvania (Liverpool and Avis) serve the modular home market in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. The Ghent, West Virginia, plant serves the modular home market in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southeast U.S.

Here's our history in brief:
  • 1980-Excel is formed by original owners
  • 1997-Excel Homes, Inc., acquired and refinanced under current ownership
  • 1998-Excel acquired AvisAmerica, Inc.
  • 2001-Excel expanded with a green-field manufacturing plant located in Ghent, West Virginia

Modular Today: We know that the scale of modular factories is big, can you put it in perspective?
Steve Scharnhorst: Excel factories range in size from 82,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet. These factories are capable of holding and manufacturing between 12 and 45 "floors" per week. A typical house is between 3-4 floors, so the factories are large-they have to be. We are building whole houses inside, out of the weather, and with skilled craftsmen coming to work indoors with all of the latest tools for home building. Think about the efficiencies of knowing where you will work, where material can be found and where your tools will be, in the same place day after day. It's a superior process for home building.

Modular Today: There is concern that big factories have a hard time ensuring high quality. How do you handle that challenge?
Steve Scharnhorst: I would challenge the notion that site building, in the elements, with trade people who are not all a part of the same organization, assures higher quality than a modular system. If you can relate to the high quality standards that are achieved in automobile assembly plants that range from 500,000 square feet to several million square feet, I think you can relate to our process being a much more controlled process.

In site-built housing, you have various trades from various companies working intermittently on pieces of the project. Modular manufacturing assures a continuous flow of process-driven construction with no lag time between trades executing their piece of the process, reducing time and securing continuity in the building process. In addition to the superior craftsmen approach to building, we employ our own internal dedicated quality teams to certify that we follow an exacting set of process controls and procedures to build in quality from the beginning. In addition to our own internal standards and strict quality control process, we are monitored by a third party inspections system that ensures we meet and exceed all local codes where the house will eventually be delivered to our valued customers.

Modular Today: Is there anything that modular home buyers overlook or not pay enough attention to?
Steve Scharnhorst: Modular building requires the same number of decisions that building a customized site built house does. The difference is that you are making most if not all of those decisions up front. The plus to this system is the costs can be calculated to a much higher degree of confidence than the traditional building process. One negative is that there are a lot of decisions to be made when specifying your custom modular home and those decisions need to be made up front.

Another area where consumers need to pay attention is the selection of their builder and modular home supplier. Price should not be the only criterion when selecting a builder or home supplier. Quality, reputation, years of experience in the industry, and good trade and customer references are a must when evaluating who to buy your dream home from. And this is sometimes overlooked in favor of the absolute lowest price.

Modular Today: Is there anything that modular home buyers spend too much time focusing on?
Steve Scharnhorst: NO, an informed buyer is our best customer. Modular manufacturers and builders encourage homeowners and buyers to ask a lot of questions. Modular homes represent the best value in terms of cost, quality, speed of delivery and occupancy, and overall home satisfaction. An informed buyer has a lot of choice in who they partner with to provide these choices, so focusing on all aspects of the process is encouraged and welcome.

Modular Today: How can new home buyers make their modular homes energy efficient?
Steve Scharnhorst: Excel Homes and AvisAmerica offer ENERGY STAR® Compliant Homes. An ENERGY STAR® rating assures the home buyer that selections of materials and fixtures in the areas where energy consumption can be affected meet or exceed energy efficiency ratings and make the home 15% or more energy efficient than the standard home. We will recommend doors, windows and appliances as well as insulation and exterior finish options that guarantee homeowners their dream home will not only provide the shelter they need, but also the comfort they want at an affordable price.

Modular Today: Is there a time of year that is better to buy a modular home than another time?
Steve Scharnhorst: Because modular homes are constructed indoors, out of the winter weather, spring rains and harsh heat of the summer, anytime is a great time to buy a modular home. Preplanning of foundation and site work, including grading and utility installation, allows modular homes to be constructed, transported and fitted to foundations all year long.

Modular Today: If you looked in a crystal ball, what do you see happening in the future with the modular industry?
Steve Scharnhorst: The process of building a car at the turn of the last century was controlled by small factories and garages assembling a few cars a week with varying levels of quality and sophistication. Today, factories mass produce cars to a demanding public, sometimes in countries far away. These factories are the model of efficiency, quality control and flexibility to meet a variety of customer demands.

Although building and transporting a home across the ocean is not in the near future for the modular industry, volume manufacturing of homes with exacting quality standards through the use of automation is the future of home building. The modular industry has already taken the first steps toward this vision. As customers become more aware of the benefits of the modular system, manufacturers will continue to grow in sophistication and expertise, with the consumer being the ultimate beneficiary of these investments.

Modular Today: What keeps you up at night (other than really spicy food)? What words of wisdom would you like to share with new home buyers?
Steve Scharnhorst: As with any industry, there are differing levels of price and quality. Because of the relatively young nature of our industry, consumers are not aware of all of the requirements and expectations they should have of their builder and of their modular home manufacturer. Many times, they over weigh price in their final selection. Consumers should do their required homework to make certain the partners they have selected, for one of the most important investments they will make in their lifetime, have the dedication to quality and customer service that they should expect. One bad experience with price or quality damages our entire industry and concerns me. An informed buyer will see the value selecting a partner in the home building process who is dedicated to producing a high quality product that meets the needs of the client today and for the life of the home.