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First custom modular home taking shape in San Diego

A unique way of building a home is taking place at a residential site near Del Mar, as assembly began Tuesday on the county’s first "custom modular home."

Four pre-assembled housing components will be connected together to amass a 4,000-square-foot custom home with four bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms on a current vacant lot.

The modular units are built in a factory -- in this case Idaho -- with all the plumbing, electrical wiring and wood framing.

The entire home is built to the homeowners' preferences, where they can choose what cabinets, flooring and the other details they want their new home to have.

Once the modules are transported to the job site, a crane sets the pieces onto its matching concrete foundation.

Cliff Hanna, the Del Mar property owner and future homeowner, said he went this route because the cost savings would be about 40 percent when compared to a traditional way of building an entire home on a property.

"It was too expensive to do it the traditional way," Hanna said. "My father was a contractor and had done modular home construction and recommended that I look into it."

The 40 percent savings comes in part from the shorter timeframe it takes to build modular, rather than traditional onsite.

Typically an entire home can be built in a factory in about 10-14 days in an assembly-line type of production.

The units are transported in about two days and are assembled in about one day.

After this, architectural and surrounding features are finalized like installation of decks, railings and landscape. The whole modular home construction process takes about three months to complete.

According to Steve Lusk -- founder and president of Lusk Custom Design and Construction, who is leading the Del Mar project -- a typical home takes about six months to complete.

"Since a modular home is built offsite in a factory, all the site work like the foundation and permitting work can be done concurrently," said Lusk, who added that weather delays are not a factor either when homes are manufactured indoors.

Lusk added that typical savings in a healthy economy are around 20 percent.

But what can get expensive in this process is transporting pieces of a home. Lusk said for this project, it costs $30,000 just to transport the four modular units.

Another issue that comes up is actually connecting the modular parts and making sure everything lines up with the foundation.

"You have to make sure it fits the first time," said Lusk, of the project that will be a first for him in his 30 years in construction.

Modular home construction has been around for more than 20 years, but it’s a relatively new concept to Southern California, according to Lusk.

"You don’t find it much around here because of the great weather," Lusk explained. "You find modular homes more on the (East Coast), where about 25 percent of the homes out there are built in a factory."

Lusk further explained that the concept is new on the West Coast, because no one has invested in these types of manufacturing plants -- west of the Rockies -- and because labor unions and construction associations play a role in track-housing employment.

The modules are built to each state’s building codes and are inspected twice -- once before it leaves the factory and once again when the home is completely assembled on a piece of land.

Hanna, with the help from licensed architects Michelle Kauffmann and Joseph Remick, designed the custom modular home, which sits on Carmel Valley Road, and has a price tag of around $1 million.

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