Modular home builder sees increased need for replacement due to fire, storms
BETHEL — A house destroyed by fire or weather leaves a heart- and gut-wrenching wake.
The home and its possessions are gone. The residents are temporarily homeless, and the process to rebuild is often fraught with hardship and frustration.
From what Paul Scalzo can see, it’s happening more and more, especially since Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. Scalzo, the owner of Bethel-basedWestchester Modular Homes of Fairfield County, said rebuilding with a modular home can help make the process faster, easier and less expensive.
Homes are being destroyed by fire and weather at such a rate that Scalzo said that half his business comes from rebuilding homes after a disaster. He had to launch a new unit of his business to keep up with demand.
“We shifted the business a few years after Sandy,” Scalzo said. “We weren’t even going after the business. People were coming to us. Now we are going out to get it. It’s become a new business venture for us.”
David Dillman, a home consultant with Westchester Modular Homes of Fairfield County, added: “Sandy happened three and a half years ago and we’re still getting calls. The need is so much greater these days. We can have a quote ready within 72 hours and that provides a sense of relief for these people in a time of anguish.”
Many fires occur, Dillman said, because old houses were not built to meet today’s building standards and have never been updated. Electrical fires become more commonplace as the housing stock ages, he said.
“They were built to code when they were built, but these homes are 30 or 40 years old, or older,” Dillman said. “In a lot of cases you have older people living in those homes.”
Scalzo added that carelessness is another main cause of fires that destroy homes.
“Space heaters, cooking and candles,” Scalzo said, are major culprits. “Multifamily-home fires are fairly common because you have more residents living under one roof. We’ve seen reports that there is a major fire in Connecticut each day.”
Many homes that suffer fire damage need to be demolished and rebuilt. Depending on the severity, damage may include that not only from fire and smoke, but also broken doors and windows, torn apart roofs and water damage from efforts to battle the blaze. The odors, Scalzo said, are often impossible to eliminate.
Traditional “stick building,” Scalzo said, can take weeks for an estimate and up to nine months to build once the work starts. Westchester Modular, he said, can have an estimate in 72 hours and have the house ready to occupy in a few months. Once the design of the home is agreed upon, the home takes about five days to build in the factory in Dutchess County, N.Y., and about two days to deliver to the site.
Scalzo said his company can get those displaced by fire or disaster back into their homes in about the same amount of time it takes to repair a damaged home. He said replacement also alleviates structural and mold-growth worries. Insurance companies, Scalzo said, which often put time limits on clients for rebuilding, like working with his business because of the quick turnaround time.
Richard Ouellette of Nutmeg Public Adjusters, a Bridgeport-based insurance adjustment company, has worked with Westchester Modular Homes of Fairfield County on several occasions. He has also noted an increase in the number of homes being destroyed in storms.
“The hard winter a few years ago created a lot of roof collapses and burst pipes. We had whole houses, top to bottom, whose pipes had burst,” he said. “There has certainly been an increase in sporadic storms that come through.”
Ouellette said he has also seen an increase in the number of clients choosing to replace their homes with a modular build, despite the perception some people have that modular is cheaper in quality.
“That used to be the case, but that’s an old way of thinking. Modular is actually stronger,” Ouellette said. “They (Westchester Modular Homes of Fairfield County) are a good group. They pay attention to detail.”
Scalzo said Westchester Modular Homes of Fairfield County builds about 20 to 30 houses a year. The company also does retail builds and town centers. The modular home unit of Scalzo Group employs 12 people.
The homes are built by an employee-owned company in Wingdale, N.Y., named Westchester Modular Homes, which is not affiliated with Scalzo’s company. The homes are designed by Westchester Modular Homes of Fairfield County with input from an architect, designer, engineer and the homeowner.
“We do everything from demo to build, all the way to CO (certificate of occupancy),” Scalzo said. “It’s unique what we can do.”