A modular in Finksburg has new image Pre-constructed house throws out the boxy look, brings savings

Dream Home

March 22, 1998|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"You don't have to tell anyone."

"I'm not embarrassed at all," Vanessa Freter replied when her friend suggested that she didn't have to reveal that her new home was actually a modular house.

Vanessa and husband Robert Freter's three-bedroom home in Finksburg is an excellent example of the level of design quality now found in modular construction.

The Freters originally planned a stick-built home, but changed their minds when they saw a modular.

"I was shocked when they told me it was a modular," she said.

The image of modulars as cheap-looking trailers plopped on a lot and sending neighbors into a panic about property values is changing. The Freters' home looks like a quaint, vernacular farmhouse with an impressive projecting front gable and tall windows that make it feel right at home in the hilly countryside adjacent to the Liberty Reservoir.

The porch with its nicely detailed posts and railing that runs across the front adds to the charm. Because of the increased sophistication of design, modulars can go beyond the usual low roof pitch and now can offer a steeper version such as the Freters', giving the house a more distinctive character. With these design features, the boxy look of modular housing is nowhere to be seen.

Modular homes are built entirely in a factory in accordance with the building code that applies where the house will be located.

More and more Americans are considering modulars. According to an industry trade source, almost one-third of all new house construction in 1997 was modular.

"In a way, it was like shopping for a car," Robert Freter said. "There is a base model, and many options can be added to create the look that you want."

The Freters went to Sun Built Systems in Pennsylvania, where they saw a videotape of the various models and decided on the "Dorsey," with modifications.

The center projecting gable was one option, as was the porch. Robert decided to add some windows and upgrade them to the Andersen brand and to have hardwood floors. They increased the width of the house by 4 feet. Sun Built produced a set of drawings with all the options and revisions that met the Freters' approval, and the building process began.

While building one's dream house can turn out to be a nightmare, the Freters had a relatively trouble-free time. At first, the bank wasn't willing to lend to them because Robert Freter wanted to act as his own contractor to save money. The bank felt it would get saddled with an unfinished house, but Robert convinced the bankers that he could complete the job. He would be taking off a month from his job at M. S. Willett Inc., a tool-and-die company in Cockeysville, to coordinate the work.

With the financing in place, the manufacturer started to construct the house in its factory. Within nine months it was completed.

On March 26, 1997, around 8: 30 a.m., six tractor-trailers pulled up to the Freters' lot and, by noon, the four main components, two consisting of the first floor and two of the second, were in place. The roof trusses went up and the main part of the house was shingled and weather-tight.

"The big advantage to modular building is that the house is immediately closed in and protected, you're not at the mercy of the weather like stick-building," Robert Freter said. The two-car, side-loaded garage was a $9,000 option that came in wall panels with roof trusses and pre-manufactured dormers for a room above the garage.

The amount of work required of the owner varies by modular company. In almost all cases, the owner is required to provide a foundation so that when the house arrives, it immediately can be erected.

The Freters hired subcontractors to do the plumbing and electrical work, install the vinyl siding, and lay the hardwood flooring. They wanted a family room off the kitchen to be 16 feet deep, but because of the width restriction of 14 feet for highway transport, they couldn't get it in a modular component. They stick-built it with a cathedral ceiling.

When it was all done, the home, with lot and the Freters' improvements, cost about $200,000.

By using a modular design and being quick on their feet when a lot became available, the Freters have a beautiful 2,500-square-foot home at a great savings.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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