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Thread: Panelized home

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
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    Massachusetts
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    Default Panelized home

    You won't normally find me in the rough framing thread, but I'd appreciate your expertise. Has anyone had experience with a panelized home?

    One of my good customers is talking about buying some land, selling his current house, and building a new home. He asked me if I'd build it for him. I am a general contractor, normally do additions, remodels, and finish carpentry. I have built four complete homes over the course of time -- from a hole in the ground to front door key. He asked me my thoughts on a panelized home because he'd seen an article about a particular company that specializes in the style he (and I) like , but I've never had experience with one.

    I'm curious whether anyone has had experience and what the con's might be -- things you might have run into. I understand the supposed pro's based on sales litereature. I told him that I think I'd lose the ability to adapt or make his/his wife's changes on site since exterior and interior walls, and exterior trim are pre-planned, measured, and pres-assembled. I know plans can be changed and altered, but once they start building the panels my impression is there is little room for alteration. The foundation has to be dead on.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on costs comparison vs. stick framing based on their experiences? I know a good framing crew can stick-build in about the same time as the sales literature claims the house can be assembled -- about 5000 sq ft including garage. I saw the article in the May issue of JLC.

    I, personally, lean to the flexibility of a stick-built house...but I'm keeping an open mind, since I'd have control of the whole job anyway. Any insights positive or negative would be welcome.

    Thanks.

    RJ

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    RJ,
    Are you doing panelized walls or finished units like a modular?

    I've never done the modular units, but I've done the panelized walls from the lumberyard. The send out framed and sheathed walls with a truss package. Personally I don't like it, from my experience it didn't save money only time, and on a 5000 sq ft home, it will only save you 2 weeks maybe.
    The quality of the walls will depend on the plant you get them from, but my experience has been mixed on quality. As a framer I am biased becuase I enjoy framing the house from the ground up. If your leaning toward the flexibility of a stick built home, just do it.

    When you mention trim and stuff being preplanned and preassembled, it scares me. I haven't built a house yet that the wife didn't make changes till the last day. Anything preassembled on a house of 5000 sq ft could be a nightmare for you doing change orders and explaining why its so expensive to simply add a window that is going into a finished wall, and not one that is just framed and sheathed.
    Good luck man,
    Rob
    O'Brien and Sons Construction
    Swansboro NC

  3. #3
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    Jun 2004
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    Lake Placid, NY
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    I have no direct experience, but I know a guy here who has built four times, three of them specs, one for a family member, and all were panelized packages from Harvest Homes. You can go to their website to learn more.

    This guy is a contractor, but not a GC. He specializes in poured concrete foundations. For him, the benefit is speed, and not having to deal with the framing part. He builds the foundation, has a contractor who is a dealer-installer for Harvest come in and pop it up, and then he takes over from there.

    I have observed daily progress and activities while two of these went up, both of them in the range of size you'll be doing. One was completed in five days, the other took four. By completed, I mean the part that begins with an all-ready foundation, and wraps up with a roof all felted and ready for shingles. The house has all its exterior windows and doors installed.

    There are degrees of panelization. A Harvest Homes package is the most complete, having floorframes all panelized and sheathed, exterior walls with windows and doors already installed, and roof system components all factory-made, such as trusses, gable ends, hipsets, rake ladders, etc.

    We can get through almost any of our lumber suppliers, a lower degree of panelization, meaning only wallframes. Exterior panels are sheathed and include housewrap, and inside wallframes are of course open. We pay about
    $20/lf for 2x6 exterior wallframes, and about half that for 2x4 interior frames.

    My own analysis for the simple panel option tells me I cannot afford to build wallframes from drawings and a pile of lumber unless my average hourly cost for labor in a frame crew is $21 or less, and that rate has to include overhead, payroll taxes, and insurance.

    Stick building from a lumber pile, unless you have a large crew and power equipment such as a telescoping forklift, you cannot hope to achieve the speed that is achieved with prebuilt panels and components. Never.

    I don't understand your need for "flexibility," but I guess that is just me. I have never built a house for which the planning wasn't complete before we began, and thus we just execute, rather than fool around discussing changes. My packages have been architect-designed customs, averaging $250/sf and more in hard costs, with huge custom interior packages of hardwood trim, built-ins, and cabinetry.
    Last edited by Bob Dylan; 12-22-2006 at 09:01 AM. Reason: update

  4. #4
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    Virginia
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    My take, as a non-carpenter (well, not professionally), is that these work well as long as nothing goes wrong. I deal with a great number of engineered products, and most of the design assumptions presume (a) simple plans, and (b) everything else goes in perfectly. Now, I'm biased because of the thousands of these that go up every month, I only see the one or two in my area which have problems. (Nobody pays a structural engineer to visit a house that came together perfectly)

    If you are confident that your foundation work is going to be spot on, and you trust the package maker to really understand the whole building load paths - including the trusses - then it might not be a bad idea. If you don't have access to a good framing crew and you're certain you can get the foundations spot on, then panelized will be your savior. Probably.
    Disclaimer: I am a structural engineer, but I'm not your structural engineer. Check with a local PE before you try anything I suggest.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    I am a structural engineer, too, and you have piqued my curiosity. Why don't you tell us the details of what went wrong on the one or two panelized jobs you needed to go out and solve?

    I spent quite a while in industrial and commercial construction, where everything is pre-engineered, and system building rules. I have been dabbling in residential work since I retired from my desk job, and am constantly amazed by how loosely things are planned, and how badly they are often executed.

    Spot-on foundations? What in the world is so hard about that? And if they are not right, why not just fix them? It is only concrete and rebar.

    Figure it out as you go? IMHO, that is for rummies who cannot understand drawings and think in three dimensions.

    I am anxious to hear your tales of woe about panelized jobs gone bad.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Something about building walls in a temp/humidity controlled area and shipping them out to the elements doesn't sit well with me. Just as others have stated, they do not save you money, only time. What that mean is if it would take a framing crew four weeks to build the house, and your panels let you get it done in one week, you're still paying the same (roughly). Also, you do have to be very careful in making sure that everyone follows the plans. One slip from someone on a dimension will start eating into the time saved quickly.
    Your guy lost. Get over it.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Ever heard of Toll Brothers, Bill? Everything they do is panelized. Everything.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    I'm sticking to building them one at a time, on site. If the giants like Toll Brothers want to panelize, they can have it. They are a corporation driven by profits, I doubt the care goes much further than that, as it is in most large corporations. I believe in building homes piece by piece, assembled by craftsmen who take pride in what they do. The degenerates working in my local panel shop, don't take pride in there job. Its a paycheck till they get fired or find something better paying. I walked into their break area one time and asked if any of them were interested in joining a framing crew, and not one was interested. The unanimous response, was working there was easy and it was indoors, they looked like a bunch of slobs moping around waiting for the next smoke break.
    Rob
    O'Brien and Sons Construction
    Swansboro NC

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    I'll bet you scratchbuild your own doors and windows, then. Your approach and attitude toward panelized construction makes me think of someone building a car in their driveway.

    Ever used shop windows from some of the NC or SC makers? How about brand names like Windsor, Andersen, Marvin, Kolbe, Lincoln, Pella, or Eagle? Doors from Simpson, JeldWen, ThermaTru, Stanley, Morgan, or even the $90K custom entry packages from Craftsmen in Wood? I was in that industry, and have been in every one of the plants listed above. You'll find the same kinds of people in all those plants, and in all the shops that are prehanging the doors you use, or the trusses you buy, as in your panel plant.

    I make my building product and systems decisions based on pure econonomics and judgements about quality, and the panels we can buy are better than we can site-build. Read the JLC article all about it, from earlier this year.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Dylan View Post
    Ever heard of Toll Brothers, Bill? Everything they do is panelized. Everything.
    Don't forget, though, that they realize significant design efficiency by building the same house hundreds (well, thousands) of times. Everything is value engineered at significant expense. A couple hundred thousand dollars of careful planning can save several times that much when amortized over the volume they build.

    An example I know of for costs is truss packages. An architect friend built his own house near me. It was very complex, having multiple roof levels and intersections, and odd angles coming together with unusual pitches to make the eaves work. The roof was so complex that the truss package was 50% more expensive per board-foot than some of the most expensive packages he built. Much more than a straight truss roof.

    That's not to say that a complex framing plan won't take more time (labor hours/money) in the field, but some of the biggest savings the all-panel production builders gain is not going to be realized in a one-off job.
    Disclaimer: I am a structural engineer, but I'm not your structural engineer. Check with a local PE before you try anything I suggest.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Dylan View Post
    You'll find the same kinds of people in all those plants, and in all the shops that are prehanging the doors you use
    http://forums.jlconline.com/forums/s...=prehung+doors

    enough said

  12. #12
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    oregon city, or
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Here in St Louis we build quite a few panel homes, nothing anywhere near 5000 sq ft. Just like most everybody else, I hate them! They never seem to be built very well.
    There is one company that seems to build good panel jobs though, Wausau Homes out of Wisconsin. www.wausauhomes.com
    These homes are panel walls with windows, doors and tyvek. Prefab floors and stairs.
    The homes I have built were nothing fancy, but they were really the best quality I have every seen (in general). Every board is straight, clean and no knots. Everything fits like it is supposed to.
    The biggest home I have built is just under 2000 sq ft 2 story with a 1 car garage and truss roof. We will have the trusses rolled and braced in 32 man hours (1 day) and we will walk away in about 145 man hours. ( framing only)
    I now nothing about how much money they cost, but it must not be to much because they ship them down from Wiconsin to St Louis.
    Even though they are pretty good houses I still hate to build them. You know they are being built with cheep labor.

    Dave

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Trust me, Wausau Homes aren't anything special.
    Your guy lost. Get over it.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    Hey Bob,
    One major difference between buying premade doors and panelized walls. I can send back premade doors all day long and get replacements the same day till I'm happy with one. How fast can you send back a panelized wall and get a replacement. I'll bet your annual salary I can frame it faster than you can get a replacement.
    Rob
    O'Brien and Sons Construction
    Swansboro NC

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Panelized home

    And yes Bob I have made my doors and windows from scratch before, when I was building in Iraq.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Rob
    O'Brien and Sons Construction
    Swansboro NC

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