In Situ and Stick-Built Homes

Construct your home the old-fashioned way

Construction worker in hard hat carries lumber as he builds a new stick built home
Justin Sullivan/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, modular, and prefabricated 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. "Stick-built' describes the construction method and not the design.

Other names for stick-built homes include "site built," "hard construction," and in situ.

What Is In Situ?

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

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). One of the "green" methods used for the London 2012 summer Olympic Games was to provide a batching plant onsite, a one-source supplier of low-carbon concrete for all of the builders of Olympic Park. Concrete was mixed and poured in situ.

In situ construction methods are thought to be more environmentally friendly. The main reason behind this belief is reducing the harmful effects of transporting beam after beam and pier after pier.

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.

Disadvantages: 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 house pieces built off-site and simply assembled onsite. 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 for these reasons:

  • 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 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 is In Situ Architecture.

Resources and Further Reading

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Craven, Jackie. "In Situ and Stick-Built Homes." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2021, Craven, Jackie. (2021, October 9). In Situ and Stick-Built Homes. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "In Situ and Stick-Built Homes." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).