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Modular house design overview

user-4482963 | Posted in GBA Pro Help on

Hi All,

My presentation can be found at

I am going to build a new house this year in south eastern MA. To reduce construction time I am planning on going with a modular builder. To control costs I am acting as the GC and planning on doing the HVAC install, attic and basement insulation, and plumbing/wiring hookups. I am still looking into modular builders, hopefully I can find one who is willing to set the house and make it weather tight and allow me to finish the rest of the work.

I am going for a Net-Zero ish build, with the heating/cooling handled by four MSZ-FH09NA mini splits. I am also going to include radiant loops in the basement slab,under the first floor, and garage slabs to be connected to a gasification boiler the following year ( would like to record data on heat pump only to determine cost effectiveness). The wood system might be somewhat overkill, but the house is on a large wooded parcel and I have a lot of trees to clear anyway.

Thoughts and sanity checks from the experience crowd here at GBA would be very helpful. As a way of saying thanks I would like to offer the use of my FLIR E8 IR camera to someone in the area who is looking for temperature data.

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    I'm not a fan of wood boilers. I belong to the "keep it simple" generation. If you want wood heat, install a wood stove.

  2. user-4482963 | | #2

    Hi Martin, Thank you for your input. I want to avoid wood stoves for a couple reasons ( our current house is heated 90% by a wood insert). There is no reasonable stove that I know of which features gasification, having a stove in the house also means a chimney, and wood in the house (which my wife is very much against). The other issue with a stove is thermal storage, if a fire is not burning its not putting out heat!

    My plan was to build the house with only the heat pumps at first, to see how it operates over the course of several months with the PV systems. After living with the house a bit I could then put in the boiler in a detached shed. The only part of the system that would have to be put in at the time of construction would be the pex in the slabs.

  3. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #3

    Mike, have you considered building without fiberglass and minimizing foam? There are drawbacks to both materials, well documented in the green building world and on GBA.

    We build high performance houses with panelized components (walls, floors and sometimes roofs), airtight and insulated with cellulose, that perform at Passive House levels. We install envelopes in your area. Check out our website at if you would like more information.

  4. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #4

    Mike. Check out Phil Kaplan' s blog published today for inspiration about modular buildings.

  5. Aledoux13 | | #5


    I am doing the exact same thing on the north shore. Take a look at PBS they specialize in energy efficient buildings and have experience doing double stud/remote wall modulars. I am going the pretty good house route but they have done passive house builds for habitat for humanity. Good luck!

  6. user-4482963 | | #6

    Hi Arthur, How far along are you in the process? I would love to take a thermo image of your house with my IR camera. I am looking into the double stud walls now too. I would like to talk more about the modular houses if you had time.


  7. Dirk Denzin | | #7

    Mike says "The other issue with a stove is thermal storage, if a fire is not burning its not putting out heat!".

    Not true, look into Masonary Heaters. They give out heat for about a day after the fire is out.

  8. Aledoux13 | | #8


    I am hoping to begin building in May(applying for permit next week.) I had originally planned to do a double stud wall but ended up redesigning it to a remote wall. My wall detail will be the following:

    Drywall(all their modulars are built using airtight drywall method)
    2x6 16oc dense pack cellulose
    1/2 zip
    Tyvek drainwrap
    2 layers of 2" xps or polyiso (whatever I can get cheaper from insulation depot)
    1x4 strapping
    LP smartside

    I'd recommend calling PBS they will answer any question you may have and have tours almost everyday with an appointment.

  9. LenMinNJ | | #9

    We built a modular pre-certified Passivehaus in northern NJ. The first two floors are four factory-built modules, stacked two on two. The dormered attic was built on-site as was the poured concrete foundation.

    We prevailed on our modular home factory to double frame the walls, inner and outer 2x4 wall frames on a 10" baseplate, and to insulate the walls with densepack cellulose.

    The modules came with electrical and plumbing installed, but we installed the HVAC systems on-site.

    For heating and cooling we're using two of the 12k BTU Mitsubishi Mr. Slim ductless heat pumps, one for each of the main floors. We have a Zehnder ERV. They've all worked well over this first winter.

    See this article for more information:

    There's lots more detail on our Facebook page: Passive House NJ

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