What Is a Stick-Built Home? What Is a Home Built In Situ?

Construct Your Home the Old-Fashioned Way

Construction worker in hard hat carries lumber as he builds a new stick built home
A worker carries lumber as he builds a new stick built home. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

A stick-built home is a wooden framed house constructed on a building site piece by piece (or stick by stick). It describes the process or how a home is built. Manufactured and modular homes are not classified as stick-built, because they are made mostly in the factory, transported to the site, and then assembled.

A custom home and a home made according to stock building plans may both be stick-built, provided that they are constructed board-by-board on the land where they will remain.

Other Names for Stick-Built Homes:

  • site built
  • hard construction
  • in situ

What is in situ?

In situ is Latin for "in place." It can be pronounced a number of ways, including in-SEYE-too, in-SITCH-oo, and in-SIT-oo.

Because commercial architecture is not generally made out of "sticks" of wood, the Latin in situ is often used to describe a process of building commercial properties or, more often, producing construction materials on site. For example, "in situ concrete" means "cast-in-place concrete." That is, the concrete is molded and cured (i.e., cast) on the construction site, as opposed to pre-cast concrete (e.g., columns or beams made in a factory and transported to the construction site).

"If there is one building in Utzon’s career that highlights this opposition between in-situ and prefabricated concrete it is his Bagsværd Church completed outside Copenhagen in 1976..."—2003 Essay, "The Architecture of Jørn Utzon" by Kenneth Frampton, The Pritzker Architecture Prize (PDF)

Pros and Cons of Stick-Built Homes:

A common perception is that stick-built homes are better constructed, last longer, and have a better resale value than prefabricated or modular homes. This perception may or may not be true. Comparisons depend on the quality of the manufactured product versus the workmanship of a builder or  carpenter.

The major advantage for the home builder is in control. The contractor is in command of the materials and how they are assembled. Likewise, home owners also have certain administrative rights as they can oversee the piece-by-piece construction of their investment when it's built in situ.

Common perceptions against stick-built homes involve time and money—that is, stick-built homes take more time to build and they cost more than houses built off-site. Competitors also claim that continuous construction traffic to and from the building site makes the stick-built process less than a "green" building environment. These perceptions may or may not be true.

Pushback from Prefabricators:

Stick-building is a traditional method being challenged by the marketers of modular and prefabricated methods. American Custom Builders, an independent modular home builder in Defiance, Ohio, describes why a system of prefabrication is better than stick built:

  • Stick built home have no controlled environment like a factory does—-building outdoors in humidity and water can damage wood and cause delays. They say: "A stick builder cannot control the weather....Our homes are all built indoors under a temperature controlled environment."
  • Frame carpenters can take short-cuts you'll never know about. They say: "With An All American Home they use jigs to make sure the walls are straight and square."
  • Stick-built homes take three times longer to build than prefabricated homes. They say: "When the house is delivered, we will have it up in aprox. 9 hours."
  • Homes built off-site are less expensive. They say: "Will match our prices against his, any day!"

In Situ Architecture:

In situ architecture is a structure designed for a particular place, a specific environment, and a known site. Stick-built houses may be constructed onsite, but that doesn't mean that the building was designed architecturally for that land.

Portland, Oregon architect Jeff Stern seeks to "create architecture that is site specific....to capture the experience of a particular place; how the sunlight falls, and the rise and fall of the land....maintain and create strong views, maximize daylight and natural ventilation, and generally create a place better than when we began." The name of his architectural firm?

In Situ Architecture.

Sources: BOCA Built, American Custom Builders; About In Situ Architecture [accessed September 8, 2015]

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Craven, Jackie. "What Is a Stick-Built Home? What Is a Home Built In Situ?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 13, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-stick-built-home-175922. Craven, Jackie. (2016, August 13). What Is a Stick-Built Home? What Is a Home Built In Situ? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-stick-built-home-175922 Craven, Jackie. "What Is a Stick-Built Home? What Is a Home Built In Situ?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-stick-built-home-175922 (accessed November 18, 2017).