Do they put MSG in Chinese Pre-Fab Homes?

30 Nov

Dear Ronin,

We’re seeing more and more advertising about Shipping Container Homes that you can buy in China and then have shipped to your own building site in the United States. These homes are running under $100 a square foot in some cases. After preparing your foundation, you literally have a home in one day.

It sounds ideal for us. We don’t want to participate in the ISBU Home Building process. We want to find a good deal, have the house built and then… move in.

I’m enclosing a link that we find interesting for your review.

Is this a good idea?


Eager and willing…


Dear “EW”,

Wow. That was foreboding. Your signature initials say it all. EW!

Anyone who reads my blogs or books knows that I believe that Shipping Container Homes offer a tremendous opportunity to provide affordable housing in a “Pre-Fab” environment, where modules are built in factories (or off-site) and then transported to your building site for erection and assembly into ISBU Homes.  This allows for localized and regional distribution of affordable housing, efficiently and cost effectively.

That said,  I’m not a big proponent of buying a prefabricated house in China and then having it shipped to the United States (or any other continent) for several reasons.

First, you’re NOT really getting a home for $100 a square foot.

Before those modules arrive, you’re going to do your site prep, install your foundation and sewer/septic and provide your water source. After your modules arrive, you’re going to pay for assembly costs and roofing. Once your home is “buttoned up” (secured against weather), you’re going to bring in your installation people to install your appliances, which are NOT included in the price of your Pre-fab modules as they arrived from China. Additionally, you’re going to bring in your HVAC guys to install your heating and air conditioning. This is going to add thousands of dollars in fees and services (and appliance purchases) to your build.

But wait, there’s MORE:

These are some of the difficulties that I have observed;

First, you have no realistic fall-back position should there be a problem with your Chinese Modules. They weren’t built around the corner, they were built across the ocean. The manufacturers aren’t going to fly teams of repair specialists to your site or provide you with “corrections” to resolve issues without a lot of difficulty.  WE often see these units with non-mating electrical and plumbing  connections. Those repairs and revisions have to be done on-site and it costs you time and money.  Remember that “Time is Money”. While you resolve those issues, your crew is standing around (on the clock), waiting to go back to work. In our experience, the broker or representative that sold you your Pre-fab (ISBU or otherwise) home doesn’t usually appear at your site to monitor and insure that everything goes well. If you’ve hired a contractor to do the work, he’s not going to show up for free. He’s on the clock, too.

Second, when your home is being built thousands of miles away, you have no control over the quality of the materials used to produce your home. It’s common for substandard materials to be used to product “export housing”.

Third, shipping a series of modified containers from China to a Seaport near you is expensive. Coupled with trucking or rail transport from that point of entry, you’re spending a pretty good chunk of change to get your boxes to your build.

The entire shipping process is hazardous to your build. Have you ever watched how container ships are unloaded? Those dockworkers don’t handle these huge boxes with kid gloves. They’re under a time crunch to get those boxes off the ship and then get it reloaded. Your boxes aren’t going to arrive from China with giant FRAGILE stickers plastered all over them. The union guys doing the offload sling them around and set them down at speeds (and impacts) that shouldn’t be watched by the faint of heart. After spending DECADES watching the boxes get unloaded (in places like Haiti or other disaster sites) it still makes me nervous.

Now, imagine that box is prefitted with your housing components. I’ve personally seen (and inspected) import boxes that have completely destroyed interiors, broken sheetrock, displaced jambs, and unseated flooring.

Okay, I’m also a huge supporter of homes built using 20′ ISBUs. It’s a part of the shipping container home phenomenon that I think is overlooked.

Fourth, in many cases (like the one demonstrated in the video you linked to) you’re talking about small 20′ High Cube boxes as a starting point that are already abundant in the US. A competent team of workers can produce a comparable structure here, on or off your site at a competitive rate and you’ll have a measure of control over the entire process. The boxes are actually small enough to be moved around using a roll-off trailer and truck. We’ve hauled pre-configured 20′ High Cubes ‘from city to country” into rural areas using old logging roads and forestry roads successfully with ZERO damage. I’ve hauled 20’ boxes into the woods on modified car trailers using F350 pick-ups and set them on pilings using forklifts, septic tank crane trucks and farm tractors.

And finally, IF you decide to purchase one of these Chinese “Prefab home units” you are totally at the mercy of the company providing it. Unless you are completely satisfied with this company and their work to date, you’re taking a huge risk.

Finally, I’ve yet to find an instance or example  where a domestically produced Container Home failed to be competitive with an imported one built overseas.  It’s good design and the attention to cost controls and details that will insure the quality of your produced home, not it’s originating address.  We regularly help families produce ISBU homes for under $100 a square foot.

Additionally, this is NOT an indictment of MEKA but a review of “import Pre-fab housing products” in general based on my own personal experiences.  MEKA is well-known in the Shipping Container Home arena. They’re really smart, creative guys and gals. Despite that, the only way I’d deal with them is if they could provide me with a domestically produced product.

One Response to “Do they put MSG in Chinese Pre-Fab Homes?”

  1. Clayton Lane December 1, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    I too have looked at these on allibaba , and as I am in construction for almost 30 year and in the process of doing my own container home, I read between the lines and see that some are not even wired to US standard , and no UL listing, which can cost you if you have a fire, no UL no insurance if it is electrical , plus remember the big blow up over sheetrock from China, they have you money and you have nothing to fall back on

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