Prefab homes - All you need to know

Key information
  • Prefab - short for prefabricated - means the building has been constructed off site, it’s not about the style or design
  • Going down the prefab route could be cheaper and will certainly allow you to budget more accurately
  • Prefab homes tend to be quicker to build, more durable and more heat efficient

Building a bespoke home from the ground up is a dream for many. But unexpected problems that delay traditional construction or blow the budget can turn a self-build into a nightmare.

With that in mind, many self-builders are turning to prefab homes as an alternative. With the construction done off-site and to high factory standards, prefabs can remove a lot of the uncertainty - and a lot of the risk - from a self-build project.

If you’re looking to build your own home and wondering if prefab is the way to go, our guide is here to take you through everything you need to know.

What is a prefab home?

Prefab home design

Prefab homes come with a lot of connotations, and not all of them are good. For many people, the term conjures images of mobile homes, identical and uninspiring dwellings erected on the cheap - or worse, the squat “tin town” emergency housing of the post-war years.

But the modern prefab means something very different. Prefab, short for prefabricated, just means that the building is constructed off-site in a factory and then delivered to the plot to be assembled. The modular home sector's 'modular designs' are a broad term for a construction method, not a specific style or design, but can be formed to make a modern, contemporary house.

Using a prefab doesn’t necessarily mean you have any less freedom to design your house than if you were building it the traditional way. It is true that some construction types in prefab are more prescriptive than others. Kit houses for example come pre-designed with little to no input from the buyer, while some cheaper prefab packages offer only a limited range of flexibility.

However, the majority of prefab house suppliers will work with you to ensure the house is built to your design and specifications. From the roof and walls to the internal layout and fittings, you’ll still have enough design control over your prefab home to create a completely bespoke project.

Are prefab homes cheaper than traditional homes?

Building a prefab home

If self-builds are notorious for one thing, it’s their tendency to burn through even the most careful of budgets. So it’s no wonder that prefabs are often looked to as a way of realising a dream home for a fraction of the usual cost.

Unfortunately, when it comes to initial costs, prefab homes aren’t much cheaper, if at all, than a traditional build. In fact, prefabs can sometimes price higher as they need extra materials to ensure they’re strong enough to journey over motorways and bumpy roads from the factory.

That being said, prefab projects can often work out cheaper in the end. For starters, you’ll likely be paying less in labour costs as construction times can be faster. But most importantly, prefabs offer much greater certainty on what the final cost will be.

Because prefabricated houses are built to precise specifications, it’s far easier for suppliers to estimate required materials. That can spare you from either paying for more than you need, or having to dip into a contingency budget to buy extra materials partway through the project. Factory-manufactured homes also give you an extremely accurate timescale, as inclement weather won’t be able to halt work and cause any costly delays.

The benefits of prefabs

Prefab house

In the long term, prefabricated buildings offer quite a wide range of advantages over traditional homes or stick-built homes. For starters, they are considered an inherently more durable type of construction. Any prefab homes including mail-order kit homes need extra reinforcement to withstand being transported from the factory to your building site. And while that increases the costs - on average they require 10-30% extra materials for reinforcement - it also gives site-built homes greater structural strength.

In fact, studies in the US have shown that prefab homes - and modular houses in particular - suffer less property damage after hurricanes and tornadoes than traditional stick-built home builds and it is far easier to create/or raise a house on stilts. While your home is unlikely to be tested to quite the same extremes in the UK, it’s still reassuring to know just how sturdy a prefab can be.

When it comes to energy efficiency, prefab homes tend to be highly energy efficient. That’s because the high level of accuracy that comes from factory manufacturing means prefabs are generally more airtight, therefore lose less heat and are more energy efficient. Not only will that help the environment, but it will also help keep your energy bills down.

But what if you decide to move on? A common misconception about prefab homes is that they’re worth less on the market than a traditionally-built house. However, on average prefabs are valued about the same as their counterparts.

Drawbacks of prefabs

Buying the land -  if you are looking to live in a prefab home, you will still need to buy the land on which the home will be placed/put together. This can be unexpected for some that find their ideal spot with panoramic views with lots of natural light on which to place their modular home, only to find they will not be able to afford the cost of the land. If you are looking for the perfect plot to place your modular construction Addland's land marketplace or research tool can be a great help whether you are finding, researching, buying or selling land.

Hidden Costs - While off site-construction can be cheaper. Hidden costs can add major expenses to the cost of your folding dream house. Cheaper manufactured houses may hide the cost of essentials that other more complete packages may include, such as connections to utilities, electricity, sewer and water. Aside from costs that can be included, you will also have to consider the costs of assembly, landscaping building parking spaces. However, if you carefully plan the project prefab homes often come out 10-25% cheaper than stick-built homes. 

Despite these however, prefabs generally provide a high-quality and affordable alternative to traditional builds, and for many self-builders, they’re the best way to make their dream home a reality.

Published: 06 May 2021
Last updated: 08 November 2022

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