Designing a Modular Home

A brief summary of chapter 3 "Designing a Home" (55 pages) in The Modular Home , by Andrew Gianino, President of The Home Store

Once you have decided to build a new home, you need to select a plan that meets your needs and expresses your personal style. Most modular dealers try to steer you to one of their standard offerings, and most customers can usually find at least one standard plan that comes close to meeting their needs. Dealers like to work from standard plans because they save them time and simplify their job, since the design, engineering, and pricing have already been done by the manufacturer. Customers benefit accordingly; standard plans are engineered to be built economically, and the price can be estimated quickly.

When standard plans do not work, ask dealers if they will help you design a custom home. If you already have a plan in mind, find out if it can be built as a modular. Many plans drawn up for stick-built houses cannot be built with modular construction, although the dealer may be able to come up with a very similar design. If your plan cannot be built as a modular home, ask dealers to show you plans offering similar features.


A modern T-shaped Cape with character

Some customers do not have any idea of the type of house they want to build. What then? You certainly can work with an architect. You can also visit a few model homes. Seeing a home and walking through its rooms tells you more about what it would be like to live in that design than looking at its drawings. In addition, you can create a list of your likes and dislikes. This chapter helps you create a list by asking you a series of questions about your preferences. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Do you prefer one-story or two-story living?

  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need?

  • Do you prefer an informal family room separate from a more formal living room?

  • Do you prefer an informal eating area ("nook") separate from a more formal dining room?

  • Do you need a study or home office?

  • Do you want the laundry on the first floor, second floor, or in the basement?

A modular home is created when one or more modules are transported to a building site and assembled on a foundation. Each modular section is a semi-independent structural unit, essentially a box that is built to interconnect with other modules. Whereas "sticks" are the basic building unit in stick construction, and walls are the basic building unit in panelized construction, modules are the basic building unit in modular construction. Modular design, engineering, and construction work because many home designs can be subdivided into modular sections.


Due to economic, legal. and safety constraints, modules can only be so large.
This illustration shows the maximum length, width and height of each module.

Modular construction, like all construction, has design constraints. The limits to what can be built are a function of a module's maximum width, length, height, and structural capability. The limits are themselves determined more by what can be safely, legally, and economically built and transported than by what a manufacturer can fabricate. It is technologically possible to build almost any structure as one or more modules, regardless of size. But delivering two 30-foot by 40-foot modules from the factory to the job site would be another matter, as would lifting it onto the foundation. In spite of these constraints, the design possibilities for modular homes are countless. Since you need to know what is possible with modular construction, this chapter will answer the following questions:

  • What are the possible widths, lengths, and heights of a module?

  • How can you combine modules to make different designs?

  • What kind of changes can you make to a standard modular home plan in terms of layout and exterior appearance and how do these changes impact on the cost of a modular home?

  • How can you increase the size of a modular home plan by making it longer or wider and how much does this affect the cost?

  • How can you open up a flo