For couple, it all came together in modular home Assembly of structure in wooded park captured on videotape

Dream Home

January 11, 1998|By Christopher Wolfe | Christopher Wolfe,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

For Larry and Joan Underriner, it took just about 10 hours for their dream to become a reality.

Imagine seeing the first nail of your new home hammered during breakfast and by dinner most of the home was in place.

Impossible? Not for the Underriners, who saw their modular home come together block by block a little more than four years ago.

At 7 a.m. on a February morning in 1993, the two of them stood shivering next to their 3,600-foot foundation on a hill that overlooked the woods of Hashawha recreational park in Westminster. That morning, the couple began videotaping as Haven Homes, makers of prefabricated modular homes, started to assemble the structure.

By 5 p.m. they had footage of their fully assembled, customized, contemporary rancher with vaulted ceilings and a two-car garage.

That's the beauty of modular homes. In a fraction of the time it takes to build a traditional stick-built home, the Underriners were able to enjoy a perfect assemblage of the house they sketched. The decision-making process and construction for modular homes take place in a factory.

The move toward building manufactured houses has become a popular trend in the United States. The Manufactured Housing Institute expects that 30 percent of the homes built in 1997 will be modular homes.

The Underriners learned of modular homes when their son, Larry Jr., had a modular home erected in New York in 1991. "I liked that Haven Homes allows the homeowner to build custom," said Larry. "I liked my son's house so much that I began planning for my modular home the following year."

Before moving into their dream house, the Underriners always had lived in older existing homes. "My modular house is the first new home I have ever owned," said Larry.

Modular homes are constructed, transported and then connected in sections at the homesite, much like a child's Legos. The Underriners home was made of 11 sections. Each section was 44-by-50 feet and was manufactured at Haven Homes in Beach Creek, Pa., near Williamsport.

"It took nine months to design my home, and two days to [completely] erect it," Larry said. "My home was built exactly to its specifications," he added. "Nothing went wrong because I went back and forth to Haven's factory with sketches, and each time Haven would give me the price of my changes.

"My ability to constantly manipulate the price of my home was the best part of buying a modular home. If I made a change I paid for it, but if Haven made a mistake, it would fix it free."

Underriner said he and Bob Campbell, a distributor for Haven Homes in Severn, worked together on the plans. "We went back and forth with ideas all the time," said Larry. "It was the largest modular house I ever planned," said Campbell. "A custom home as big as the Underriners would cost well over $400,000, but Larry saved money because his home was prefabricated and because he acted as general contractor.

Modular homes are usually 20 percent cheaper than stick built homes, and by being his own contractor, Underriner probably saved another 15 percent, according to Campbell.

Underriner was an engineering consultant for the Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals nationwide for almost four decades. He now works as the assistant administrator of plant operations for Saint Joseph's Provincial House in Emmitsburg. Those positions have helped to give him insight into the advantages of modular homes vs. traditional methods.

"With a typical stick-built house, you take your chances," he said. "Construction time can be hindered by weather, and building materials can be damaged by bad conditions. Different sub-contractors can't guarantee Haven's quality of work. It was cheaper, too. I spent $55 a square foot instead of $80 to $90," he added.

Underriner used his contracting skills to make his dream home even more affordable. "I saved a third of the costs by acting as general contractor."

In addition to sub-contracting heating, vents, air conditioning, septic, and excavation jobs, Underriner said he designed a high-efficiency heat pump that uses propane when the temperature drops below 20 degrees.

The Underriners chose the design of their home from a picture in Southern Living magazine. "We wanted a very open floor plan with vaulted ceilings for the living room, den and kitchen," he said. "This main part of our home is designed to separate our bedroom [the north wing] from the guest section [the east wing]. We built this home to be visitor friendly for our children."

The wide open, almost seamless, feel of the Underriner's main living space makes it hard for someone to believe this home could ever have been in 11 separate sections. The vaulted ceilings in the living room are 14 feet above the living room's hardwood floor. The acoustics of the large living room is like a music studio.

What's most impressive is the view from their deck and sun room overlooking the treetops of Hashawha. Gazing out his picture window, Underriner said, "I built my house here because I know the woods of Hashawha Park will never be built over."

When Underriner walked back into his living room he tried to point to a part of his ceiling where two sections of his home were "glued" together. "Marriage walls is the term for where the separate pieces of my house came together using bolts," he said.

"I wouldn't build a house any other way." said Underriner. "When me and my wife retire we will have a smaller modular home built."

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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