Building and buying

A modular house: a property that grows with you

Arne Schätzle

Flexible construction with reduced space – modular houses are variable minimalists. But even if you don’t like the idea of living in around 50 square meters of space on a permanent basis, you should take a closer look at the modular house concept. This type of prefabricated house also offers interesting possibilities for families of four. You’ll be surprised – and maybe even inspired.

A two-story modular house in a new housing estate.
© Getty Images

In this article

Why the modular house is more than a compact single home

Modular houses are prefabricated houses, often with a living area of between 40 and 60 square meters. The individual modules are usually box-shaped, have a flat roof and are about four meters high.

If necessary, you can attach further elements so that the house can grow with your family. It is even possible to add extra floors. A modular house can also move with you: it can be dismantled in one place and reassembled in another.

Due to its small size, the classic modular house is primarily aimed at singles and couples. But this type of prefabricated house is now also available in completely different dimensions. These days, the living area of some models is quite comparable to that of a single-family house: certain providers offer bungalows with more than 100 square meters. This means that modular houses also appeal to larger families.

A modular house in orange, yellow and gray.

Large window fronts, a balcony and a wall covering in striking colors: modular houses offer many possibilities in terms of design.

Endless variations on modern living

Mainly made of wood, with wall and ceiling elements in steel or aluminum, modular bungalows are usually ready for occupancy ex works – including all equipment. The prices vary greatly depending on the region. You can buy a turnkey house with 76 square meters of floor space from just 250,000 francs, while houses with 105 square meters of floor space cost up to 500,000 francs.

Anyone who imagines that modules like this are just a slight improvement on containers will be amazed at the attractive, modern and high-quality designs these houses come in today. The dream of a spacious, stylish bungalow can be realized with modular constructions too. Large glass fronts for rooms flooded with light? No problem. A wooden facade or white plaster? You have the choice between different materials. Green roof or solar panels? Either is possible. After all, Bauhaus-style architects have already shown that even mass-produced components can meet high standards.

A modular house: advantages and drawbacks

We consider the following to be the greatest advantages of a modular house:

The house is delivered ready made

The construction period required for a modular house is shorter than for a solid house: it generally takes just six to twelve months from order to delivery. The assembly usually takes place within one day.

You can enjoy a more sustainable lifestyle

Since modular houses are often low-energy buildings with modern insulation, energy consumption is low. This also reduces operating costs. But even the construction of a modular house can be more sustainable than that of some other properties. This is because modular series production enables manufacturers to carry out precise calculations, make optimum use of the material and produce little waste.

As the occupant, you remain flexible

With a modular house, you are not tied to a place of residence in the long term. If you want to move, just take your house with you. And it can also grow individually: there is always room for another accommodation unit on the side or on the roof.

The disadvantages of modular houses are frequently cited:

Modular houses are not welcome everywhere

In some building areas with traditional development plans, modular houses are not allowed to be built because their design often does not fit in well enough with the existing architecture.

Transportation is not that easy

We have mentioned the flexibility of a modular house as one of the great advantages. That’s true. But getting the house from A to B quickly is not exactly an easy task: most modular houses can only be moved at night under special transport conditions with a heavy-duty truck. Transporting them is also expensive. And the costs rise according to the length of the route and the dimensions of the house.

The lifespan of modular houses is disputed

A study in New Zealand and Australia has shown that the average lifespan of modular houses is around 60 years. This is sufficient for one generation to live in, but a modular house is probably less suitable for handing down to the next generation and therefore not so much of a capital investment as a conventional house. Yet some modular house suppliers contradict this statement and stress that their lifespan is comparable to that of a solid brick house.

Four living situations when a modular house is ideal

You will have realized that a modular house is now an option for people of all ages, not just for singles. Here we present four interesting usage scenarios:

1. Young couples without children: relocations included

For couples just starting out in their professional and family lives, many questions often remain unanswered: they don’t know how much space they will need in the future for any children they might have, and they may not be able to make a long-term commitment to a fixed place of residence at the start of their professional career. A modular house allows them to remain flexible. They can stay in Appenzell for a few years, then move back to Fribourg – and take their mini house with them. And they can expand it at any time if necessary.

2. First child on the way: more space for the family

As the family grows and professional situations change, a house can gradually become too small. Perhaps one of the parents also needs a home study. If there aren’t enough rooms in their existing house, it will need an extension: why not opt for a modular house that can be attached elegantly to the existing construction?

However, a modular house is not just suitable as an extension for a child’s room or study, there are many other potential uses: your own workshop, a recording studio, a yoga studio – or perhaps a seminar, practice or therapy room.

3. A greater need for peace and quiet: the design garden lounge

Garden tools, flowerpots, lawnmowers and seeds – things we usually think of when we hear the term “garden house” or “summerhouse”. But there’s another option: a modular house in a modern design is the perfect alternative to the traditional log cabin. A mini house like this can be a contemporary garden lounge for barbecues with friends – or a retreat in the middle of a carefully attended garden.

A small modular house with a wooden entrance surrounded by nature.

A small modular house allows you to escape from everyday life like a holiday home in among the greenery.

4. As parents get older: a flexible multi-generation house

For many couples, the aging of their parents is a major and stressful issue. After a certain point in time, parents often find their own house too big, too expensive and too difficult to look after. They then may decide to move closer to their children and grandchildren again. A modular house on the same plot of land can be a good solution in this situation. A single-story modular house can also be designed to be accessible.

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