In the past few months, modular builders say they are seeing an uptick in demand that they hope will translate to long-term business, especially as new federal flood maps and insurance rates force more homeowners to elevate structures. Because many older beach bungalows won’t survive being raised, those owners may choose to replace them with new, easy-to-produce modular homes that are fabricated in factories and shipped in sections to the building site.
Two days after Sandy struck, John Westrum, who has built modular homes primarily in Pennsylvania suburbs, took a helicopter ride to survey the devastation along the Jersey Shore and had an idea: He would take his prefab houses and put them on stilts.
Westrum Development’s first elevated modular home is scheduled to open Saturday in Seaside Heights. The two-story, Cape Cod was assembled in 28 days after the local permits were secured and the land was cleared. Former telephone poles were used to lift the first floor about 10 feet above the ground.
Architects said the modular-construction industry’s improved quality control and ability to use materials in different ways have helped bring its buildings up to design standards in the city. “The day of modular housing is dawning in New York,” said Rick Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York.
As money trickles in from insurance companies and government, a handful of modular homes on stilts are popping up in some communities in New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island. Many can be made to evoke beachside bungalows or modernist vacation homes. That has helped allay concerns about identical rows of new, cheap-looking homes.
“It looks beautiful,” said Anthony Rusciano, a local 51-year-old utility worker in Seaside Heights who is buying a three-bedroom modular home from Westrum for $179,000. “It went up so fast. I don’t have the time or patience to deal with any of this stuff anymore.
Modular single-family homes aren’t necessarily less expensive than traditional construction, but may save time because they can be built in the factory while owners are waiting for demolition and foundation work. Once the modules are built and transported to the city, it takes a day or two to bolt the pieces into place.
Michael Fehling, a 55-year-old Island Park resident, and his wife, decided to build a modular home seven feet in the air after docks smashed into their 90-year-old wooden house. Their new home took about a week to build in the factory and was delivered from Pennsylvania a month ago. They plan to move in at the end of August, after contractors finish with touches such as radiant heat and fireplaces. He doesn’t miss the old place.
“A house that’s almost 90 years old, it’s not going to have the insulation.It’s not going to be built as strong. The house was always cold. The house wasn’t level,” he said. “With the breeze going through the whole house, I don’t miss that.”