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Building A Modular Vacation Home On The Cape… Or Anywhere!

Building a Modular Vacation Home on the Cape… or Anywhere!

We are excited to share another success story by Modular Architecture. From sunny and windswept Westport, MA which is located in lower Cape Cod, this structure, is everyone’s dream home and hopefully will inspire you to design and build a modular home of your own someday.

Doug Cutler, AIA, founder of Modular Architecture, has joined us to answer a few questions regarding this home and its the modular design advantages.

Q. Welcome Doug, tell us about your customer’s dream for this vacation home.

Doug Cutler: A doctor and his family of several young kids, wanted a vacation home with spectacular views. We are building a modular home for them that turns tradition on it’s head – sleeping rooms on the bottom, living area on the top – so that the family can take advantage of the breathtaking views from about 30 feet off the ground. On a clear day they will be able to see Martha’s Vineyard and Cuttyhunk.

Family Area Installation

Family Area Installation

Q. Have you started the construction phase?

Doug Cutler: The home was set earlier this month and should be completed by midsummer 2012. By completed we mean that the furniture is moved in and the lobsters, dripping with butter on one of the beautiful decks, are being served. There are carports beneath the piers, 4 bedrooms with 3 baths, decks and an open floor plan on the top. The lot is small, 1/4 acre or less. Modular design makes it very easy to build quickly but the real advantages go even deeper.

Q. Doug, tell us about the FEMA Wind Zone Requirements in terms we can all understand.

Doug Cutler: FEMA regulations always supersede local zoning. That means that the government determines how we build homes in each area of the country. This property is in the worst wind zone in the Northeast US. It is called the North Zone and it is on the lower arm of the cape. Because storms can be so severe in this area, (remember the Perfect Storm?) we had to design this vacation home so that it could resist winds of up to 120 mph. That’s a lot of wind and a lot of pressure on any structure in its path.

Q. Okay. Can you tell us how this regulation was applied to this vacation home in Cape Cod?

Modular View from Family Area

Modular View from Family Area

Doug Cutler: We engineered and designed this vacation home with impact resistant windows to keep the residents safe from shattered glass in the event that they were unable to evacuate before a storm. If the home is, hopefully unoccupied, these windows will also protect the furnishings from wind and water damage.

This is only the beginning. In a storm with a wind load of this magnitude, the structural framing of the house is engineered in such a way that it can resist these forces, as well. We can do this much more effectively with modular homes since  modular has redundancy in the framing. That is, because the sections that fit together but are built in a factory, we have double the materials in each place that fits together. One of these fits is called the marriage wall, which is a sheer wall that inherently resists sideways forces from the hurricane force winds.

Q. Well I feel safer already! What about wave damage? Are there requirements for this as well?

Doug Cutler: Yes, definitely. This particular customer decided to replace an existing structure on his property. The government is trying to enforce new construction rules and FEMA has studied paths of hurricanes and determined that this is how high above the high tide line to build the living floor and how strong the foundation must be to resist the wave action. So, when we tore down the bungalow, our replacement floor needed to be built 10 feet higher above that line than the previous floor. The higher the floor, the less the waves can get at it.

Q. Are there requirements for the foundation as well?
Bedrooms Installation

Bedrooms Installation

Doug Cutler: Yes. Our foundation is literally a pillar of strength. We put in a series of 18 concrete piers, each one 12 feet high that come vertically out of the ground. The home is then placed above these pillars. The pillars are about 18 inches square, poured with 500 pound reinforced concrete and adhered to the grade beam horizontal which lies 3.6 feet below the finished grade. This is code for the pillar depth and height in this area. And even though there may be local regulations limiting the height of home, FEMA regulations always supersede local zoning for safety purposes. Trust me, this is very strong.
Bedrooms Installed

Bedrooms Installed

Q. Well, it certainly all sounds very safe but what is the modular advantage.

Doug Cutler: Customers are often confused about the differences between building a modular home and traditional stick-built construction. Just remember that custom modular is simply a hybrid form of construction. The foundation is built conventionally. The rest is built in a factory except for the detailing. Even more important is that in order to meet code and get the safest home available designed to resist the main natural forces that exist, the architect must always lead in the planning. When is comes to strength you will have a super advantage if you call your modular architect first.

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