The Home Store's Blog

Tales of a Modular Home Builder


You Deserve the Construction Details

Homebuyers Need the Construction Details for Their Home

Our homebuyers often tell us that few of our competitors, stick or modular, provide thorough and detailed construction information.  The reason homebuyers like our emphasis on construction details is that they are almost always novices.  They recognize that they lack professional knowledge, and they’ve heard the stories about cost overruns from their friends.  They’re afraid they’re going to make a mistake or be taken advantage of.  They are comforted by our efforts to patiently explain the construction details and then to document them in writing.

However, sometimes we don’t explain the construction details as well as we could because we forget how much more we know as professionals than our homebuyers.  Our homebuyers sometimes unintentionally contribute to this miscommunication by saying they understand something they’re embarrassed to admit they don’t understand.

We take our responsibility for presenting the construction details very seriously

We take our responsibility for presenting the construction details very seriously

For example, a construction professional knows the significance of this note on a homebuyer’s elevation drawing:

“The ground level elevations are approximate, and the final heights will be determined during the site work”.

The professional realizes that any of the following might be affected by the site work on their homebuyer’s property:

  • How much of the foundation will be exposed above the finished grade
  • Whether kneewalls will be required or a walkout will be possible
  • How many steps will be needed from the ground to their entry doors, porches, and decks
  • Whether railings will be needed on the steps to their entry doors, porches, and decks
  • How many steps will be needed from their house into the garage

Moreover, the professional knows that each of these changes will alter how their homebuyer’s finished home will look and function.  Because homebuyers are unlikely to recognize these implications, the professional needs to explain them in some detail.  Of course, this level of construction detail overwhelms some homebuyers.  And few homebuyers absorb all the construction details.  But even though the professional can’t make every homebuyer understand or recall every word they say, they should err on the side of too much information rather than on too little.  

Presenting the Construction Details to a Novice Is Not Over Explaining

Sometimes construction professionals are concerned they are guilty of “over explaining”.  They would be over explaining if they were talking to an expert rather than a novice.  An expert has mastered the material, so they can be presented new information in their area of expertise in a few simple, brief statements.  But a novice is trying to learn unfamiliar material they don’t yet understand.  When explaining this new material to them, the professional needs to elaborate the details until the novice understands how the parts fit together.

For example, if a construction supervisor tells an apprentice carpenter on his first day to “frame the house”, the apprentice might not know where to begin.  But once the apprentice has framed many houses, the supervisor can say this and the carpenter will know all the steps.  When we say, “Always keep your explanation short”, we confuse the two stages of learning.  What works for the expert isn’t enough for the novice.

Finally, providing the construction details to homebuyers does not necessarily mean being long winded.  Completeness and brevity can go together.  But if a construction professional is going to make a mistake, they should err on the side of completeness.  You as the homebuyer deserve this.

For more information about getting all of the details from your modular dealer and general contractor, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, Modular Home Specifications and Features, Selecting a General Contractor, and see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

How Long to Build a Modular Home

How long does it take to build a modular home?

It depends on what you mean.

For example, is the start date when you sit down with a modular home builder to complete an estimate or when you order a home?  Is the home “built” when the factory delivers it or when the general contracting work is completed?  Are you ready to move forward now or are just now beginning your shopping?  Will your home be small or big?  Will it be a standard or customized design?  Will it have mostly standard features or lots of upgrades?

Here’s an answer that breaks up the timeline into eight steps.

(1)   How long will it take for you to be ready to order a home starting from today?

1 to 12 weeks (assuming you are ready to meet with a modular home builder to complete an estimate).

It will take longer if you have not decided on the exact modular home floor plan and specifications.

A modular manufacturer's construction drawings of the first floor of a two-story home with notes

The modular manufacturer’s preliminary drawing of a homebuyer’s first floor of a two-story modular home.

(2)  How long after you order your home until you receive the first set of preliminary plans?

1 to 3 weeks.

It will go faster if the modular home builder and modular manufacturer are not too busy and if your modular home plans are simple with no custom details or special engineering.

It will go faster if you mostly select standard specifications and published factory options.

(3)  How long after you receive your first set of preliminary plans until you receive a revised set of preliminary plans that incorporate your changes?

1 to 3 weeks.

It will go faster if you select mostly standard specifications and published factory options.

It will go faster if the modular home builder and modular manufacturer are not too busy and your plans are simple with few changes.

It will take longer if you take more than a week approving your preliminary plans.

(4)  How long after you receive your second set of preliminary plans until you receive your permit plans?

3 to 15 weeks.

It will go faster if your modular home plans are simple with few changes.

It will go faster if you select mostly standard specifications and published factory options.

It will go faster if the modular home builder, modular manufacturer, and third party inspection company are not too busy.

It will take longer if you take more than a week approving your second set of preliminary plans of if you require a third or fourth draft of plans.

(5)  How long after you receive your permit plans until your building permit is issued and loan closed?

1 to 6 weeks.

It will go faster if your town’s building department is not too busy and if you’ve applied for your loan several weeks earlier.

It will take longer if your lender requires a building permit, since the closing cannot happen until after the permit is obtained.

An example of the first two pages of a building permit application

Click Here to See an Example of a Building Permits Application.

(6)  How long after you receive your building permit and close on your loan until you authorize us in writing to have the manufacturer begin construction?

1 week or less.

It can go as fast or slow as you wish it to go.

(7)   How long after you authorize us to instruct the manufacturer to build your home until the delivery and set of your home is completed?

6 to 18 weeks.

It will go faster if there are no special order materials with long lead times.

It will take longer if the modular manufacturer has a production backlog.

Modular general contractor turnkey tasks before home is delivered

Modular general contractor turnkey tasks before home is delivered

(8)  How long after your home is delivered and set until you receive your certificate of occupancy and can move in?

6 to 25 weeks.

It will go faster if your modular home is smaller, with few site-built structures and little on-site customization.

It will go faster if the modular home builder is not too busy.

It will take longer if there are unforeseen delays due to bad weather, utility company and building inspector schedules, material backorders, changes in the scope of work requested by you, etc.

It will take longer when the turnkey is substantially more involved than the “typical” project.  This happens, for example, when the modular home is bigger and/or it requires more button-up work, as is true of a chalet cape and a six module two-story or when all of the finished flooring – for example, hardwood, tile, and laminate flooring – is done on site.  Additional time is also needed when the GC has to build one or more structures on site, such as mudroom and family room.  The completion time will also lengthen if the GC has to finish a basement or the second story of a cape.

Modular general contractor turnkey tasks after home is set

Modular general contractor turnkey tasks after home is set

This gives a total range of 20 to 83 weeks.

Our experience is that most homebuyers take between 26 and 40 weeks (6 to 9 months) to complete all of the steps required to build a modular home.  Most homebuyers lead lives that are so busy that they don’t have the time (or energy) to go faster.

What should you take from this?

There are many more things that will slow you down than will help you go faster.  If you hope to move in to your modular home next summer, I strongly advise that you begin working on the first step now.

For more information about how long it takes to build a modular home, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

Rain Gutters Will Protect Your Modular Home

Purpose of Rain Gutters        

Many people think the main purpose of rain gutters is to protect the side of their home.  Actually its to protect their home’s foundation by channeling water away from the foundation.  Otherwise water running directly off the roof will dig a ditch along the sides of the foundation, and as the water soaks into the ground, some of the water will work its way through the foundation.  If you choose not to install gutters, the excavator must take extra care to grade your property so all sides slope away from your modular home.  Keep in mind that this solution isn’t as effective as installing rain gutters.

It’s also true that gutters are helpful with protecting the exterior of your modular home from back-splash stain and rot.  In addition, they help shield your landscaping and reduce ground erosion.  Most importantly, gutters shield windows and doors from water infiltration as well as family and guests from being soaked while entering your home.  Gutters are especially helpful for preventing leaks around the thresholds of exterior doors during heavy storms.  Without gutters, the exterior doors will be pounded with rain falling off the roof as well as from the sky.  In such circumstances, the doors will be prone to leak.

In fact, the reason I decided to write about rain gutters is that two of the problems we’ve had from time-to-time have been with homes that did not have gutters because the homeowners wanted to save money.  For sure, gutters are costly.  But homes without them are much more likely to have a leaky exterior door or a damp basement or both.  Since such leaks are not due to a defect in the exterior doors or foundation, they’re not a warranty claim.

The 44' long gutters on the front of our two-story model home are seamless.

The 44′ long gutters on the front of our two-story model home are seamless.

Rain Gutter Material

Gutters are available in four materials:  vinyl, steel, aluminum, and copper.  Each material has its pros and cons for your home.

Vinyl gutters are lightweight, the easiest to install for do-it-yourselfers, and the least expensive.  They come in a variety of colors, and since their color is part of the material, they hold it well.  Another advantage of vinyl gutters is that they won’t chip, dent, or corrode.  However, they can become brittle in extreme cold.

Steel gutters are the sturdiest, which enables them to support ladders and falling branches without damage.  On the other hand they require the most maintenance and can rust if water doesn’t drain properly.

Aluminum gutters are very popular because they won’t rust.  However, they can dent and bend from too much weight, powerful winds, or falling debris.  This is most likely to happen if the gutters are fabricated out of secondary aluminum, which is made mostly of recycled materials, rather than primary aluminum, which is of a higher quality and thicker.

Copper gutters are usually reserved for classic restorations. They’re very attractive, durable, never rust, and never need painting.  During their 75+ year life-time they will oxidize to an attractive green.  On the other hand, copper gutters are the most expensive, which also makes them a target for thieves.

Seamless vs. Sectional Rain Gutters

There are two types of gutters, sectional and seamless.  Sectional gutters are built out of pre-cut pieces that are joined and fastened together as they are installed.  Seamless gutters are created on site using single lengths of gutter that are as long as can be functionally installed.  This eliminates the number of joints that need to be fastened together, usually only at inside and outside corners and downspouts.  Since gutters most frequently fail at the joints and seams, seamless gutters virtually eliminate this problem

Gutters need to be cleaned regularly to prevent them from clogging with debris, which can cause damage to your home.

Gutters need to be cleaned regularly to prevent them from clogging with debris, which can cause damage to your home.

Rain Gutter Maintenance and Repair

Gutters must be maintained regularly to remove leaves and other debris, since these materials will back up the flow of water.  When this happens the gutters will no longer protect the house.  In fact, the overflow can damage the roof and encourage the formation of more ice dams than if you didn’t have gutters.  An option is to use “gutter guards”, which are designed to keep debris out but allow water to enter.  Although these reduce the need for frequent cleaning, it’s still wise to inspect your gutters regularly.

You should also regularly examine whether your gutters are fully attached to your house.  Gutters can pull away from the roof over time due to the weight of snow, ice, branches, and small animals.  Checking for holes and leaks where gutter sections connect is another homeowner responsibility for maintaining well-functioning gutters.

For more information about rain gutters, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Metal Roofs for Modular Homes

Metal Roofs Are Attractive

I’ve always found metal roofs attractive.  They come in a variety of bright vivid colors and designs to complement any style home. In addition to a traditional vertical seam profile, they can be made to resemble slate, shingles, wood shake, or clay tiles.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shingles or slate.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shingles or slate.

Metal Roofs Are Durable

Metal roofs are especially popular in areas of heavy snow, since they’re strong and shed ice and snow much better than asphalt shingles. They’re also resistant to cracking, shrinking and eroding and can withstand extreme weather conditions including hail storms, high winds, and wildfires.  Their durability is evidenced by the typical 30 to 50 year manufacturer warranty that accompanies metal roofs.  The average mon-metal roof lasts under 20 years.  This means that a metal roof will likely last about twice as long as an asphalt roof.

This is an example of metal roofs with vertical panels.

This is an example of metal roofs with vertical panels.

Metal Roofs Are Green

If you are considering building a “green” home, metal roofs are a better option than asphalt shingles. To begin with, they typically are made from 30-60% recycled material. If they need to be replaced many years down the road, the materials can be recycled.  Compare this with conventional roofing products, including asphalt shingles, which contribute an estimated 20 billion pounds of waste to U.S. landfills annually.  Metal roofs are easier on the environment even when replacing an asphalt shingle roof on an older home, since they can often be installed over the existing roof, eliminating the cost of disposal.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shakes.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shakes.

Metal Roofs Are Energy Efficient

Whether you select a light or dark color, a metal roof will lower your energy costs because it will reflect heat to reduce cooling loads in the summer and help retain heat in the winter.  This is possible because metal roofs now utilize reflective pigment technology, which results in overall home energy efficiency and lower utility bills.  A metal roof may also earn you discounts on your homeowner’s insurance.  Better yet, it can increase the resale value of your home.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble tiles.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble tiles.

Five Myths about Metal Roofs

Since there is a bit of misinformation floating around about metal roofs, let me quote some facts from the Metal Roofing Alliance about five common myths.

Lighting  A metal roof will not increase the likelihood of lightning striking your home. However, if your home were hit by lightning, your metal roof would disperse the energy safely throughout the structure. Since metal roofing isn’t combustible or flammable, it’s a low risk and desirable roofing option where severe weather is concerned, especially for lightning.

Noise  A common misconception is that a metal roof will be noisier than other types of roofing. When installed with solid sheathing, a metal roof on your home will actually silence noise from rain, hail and bad weather, many times much better than other roofing materials.

Rust  Today’s metal roofing systems are built to last. Steel metal roofing has a “metallic coating” made of either zinc or a combination of zinc and aluminum. This metallic coating prevents rust from forming and is bonded to the steel at the factory. Paint is then applied over the metallic coating to provide the long-lasting color homeowners desire

Dents  In most cases, a metal roof can withstand decades of abuse from extreme weather like hail, high winds, and heavy snow. Today’s systems also have a 150-mph wind rating (equal to an F2 tornado), meaning your metal roof is also safe from wind gusts that can accompany hail storms.

Durability  Many people think you can’t (or shouldn’t) walk on a metal roof, but the truth is that you can safely walk any metal roof without damaging it. Before you walk your roof, however, we recommend you talk to your installed or roof manufacturer first. They will have the details on how to walk the particular roof you have, based on the style you chose and your roof pitch.

Since modular manufacturers only offer and install asphalt roof shingles, you’ll need to have the metal roof installed on site by the general contractor after the modules are set on the foundation.  During the set, it is critical that the general contractor help the crew protect the house against weather damage.  Otherwise any water that finds its way past the unfinished roof will cause serious damage to those parts of the interior of the home already finished by the manufacturer.

For more information about heating and cooling systems, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Ductless Mini-Split Heating and Cooling Systems

Mini-Split Heat Pumps

I’d like to mention an option for heating and cooling a modular home.  It’s a ductless, mini-split heat pump.  The technology is not new, but it has improved so much that I’ve recently taken a closer look at it, and I like what I see.

Why Today’s Mini-Split Heating and Cooling Systems are Better

In the past, heat pumps did not work well in the northeast because of the cold winters.  But heat pump technology has improved so much that these mini-split delivery systems can take care of your heating needs on all but the coldest winter days.  They also can keep you cool in summer.

Mini-split systems have also become more viable because today’s building code makes their job easier.  The “thermal envelope” of all homes built today is so energy efficient that heating and cooling systems have to work less to maintain a home’s temperature, even in more extreme temperatures.  Given that modular homes are especially well insulated and air sealed, they make it even easier to take advantage of mini-split systems.

How Ductless Mini-Split Heating Systems Work

Like central forced air systems, mini-split systems place the compressor and condenser outside the home. But they don’t need a single air handler in the basement or attic to distribute the conditioned air through a network of ducts.  Instead they use thin tubing that pumps refrigerant from the outside unit directly to a single wall mounted unit in each room.

Ductless mini-split heating and cooling systems place the compressor and condenser outside the home.

Ductless mini-split heating and cooling systems place the compressor and condenser outside the home.

Advantages of Mini-Split Systems

The use of individual units for each room allows flexibility in where the heating and cooling can be delivered.  Since one outdoor unit can be connected to as many as four indoor units, you can control the heating and cooling in several zones or rooms independently of each other.

Mini-split systems are less expensive than gas or oil central air systems when you factor in the cost to install insulated and well-sealed ductwork that meets the current energy code.  They also offer higher efficiency (up to 27.1 SEER).  Not only is the core technology of mini-split systems more energy efficient, but it also avoids the energy losses associated with the ductwork of conventional HVAC systems, even ones insulated to current energy codes.

The bedroom air handler for this mini-split system is hung above the painting on the wall.

The bedroom air handler for this mini-split system is hung above the painting on the wall.

Another advantage to mini-split systems is that they offer greater interior design flexibility.  You don’t need to enlarge walls or lose headroom in your basement or floor space in your attic to accommodate the ductwork.  The indoor air handlers can be hung on a wall or mounted on the ceiling.  Many systems include a remote control to adjust the system when it’s positioned on a wall or ceiling.

A ductless system is a great solution for building an addition to a home.  You get both heating and cooling for a reasonable price and you don’t need to hook-up to the existing system, which may not be sized for the additional load.

Disadvantages of Mini-Split Systems

There are a couple of disadvantages to mini-split systems.  One, of course, is that they can’t keep your home warm when it is bitterly cold, say below 10 degrees.  You will need a supplemental heating system for those days.  Electric resistance heat is a low cost solution.  Also, keep in mind that heat pumps are not able to bring a cold house up to temperature quickly.

The air handler in the living room for this mini-split heating and cooling system is hung on the wall.

The air handler in the living room for this mini-split heating and cooling system is hung on the wall.

Another disadvantage is that the indoor air handlers of a mini-split system are not silent, since they blow air through a grill.  But they also aren’t loud.  If you are particularly sensitive to a low level whoosh, find someone with an installed system so you can hear it for yourself.

Finally, take a close look at the photo posted here and make sure you’re comfortable with the appearance of the air handlers.  After all, you will likely have one in every room.

Weighing the advantages against the disadvantages, I think the mini-split systems are an excellent option.

For more information about heating and cooling systems, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

 

 

Wood and Pellet Stoves

Wood and Pellet Stoves Can Dry Out a New Home

Wood and pellet stoves are sometimes said to dry out a home too much and especially cause problems in new homes.  That’s why we instruct our customers to delay using a wood or pellet stove until the second heating season.  But the claim that wood and pellet stoves dry out a new home is both true and misleading.

What’s true is that wood and pellet combustion sends warm moist air from inside to outside the home through the flue.  This causes “replacement air” to enter the home from the outside.  In cold winter weather, this air is drier than the inside air.  However, today’s wood and pellet stoves don’t draw in more outside air than oil or gas boilers and furnaces.  So they don’t dry out a home more than a conventional heating system.

Wood and pellet stoves can cause excessively fast drying in a new home, especially if cranked up to a high temperature during the first heating season.

Wood and pellet stoves can cause excessively fast drying in a new home, especially if cranked up to a high temperature during the first heating season.

However, many people crank up the temperature of wood and pellet stoves much higher than hot water baseboard or warm air.  I’m someone who really appreciates the warmth of a hot wood stove after coming in from a cold day.  But it’s this high temperature that causes the wood and other materials in a new home to dry much more rapidly than a conventional heating system.  And it’s this excessive, rapid drying that causes an undue number of drywall cracks and nail pops as well as more warping, cupping, and shrinking of wood and other materials.

Warranty Coverage When Wood and Pellet Stoves Are Used

As a new homeowner, you need to know that this situation is not covered by the warranty of the modular manufacturer, dealer, or general contractor.  Wood floor vendors also don’t warranty against the excessive gaps between boards or splits in the boards that often result from the use of wood and pellet stoves.  This means that if you decide to use a wood or pellet stove during your first heating system, you will have to assume responsibility for any loss or damage caused by the excessive heat conditions.  On the other hand, waiting just one year before using these products at very high temperatures will help permit the wood and other materials in your home to dry slowly and normally.

For more information about the risks of using wood and pellet stoves during the first heating season, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

No Blog Post This Week

The word blog on a yellow paper in a conventional typewriterLast week I made a presentation at the Modular Home Builder’s Association’s annual meeting.  I proposed some ideas about how to improve the industry.  I focused specifically on the relationship between the builder and manufacturer.

Since I need some extra time this week to catch up with my other responsibilities, I will not be posting to my blog.

Have a great week!

Building in the Winter

Protect the Ground When Building in the Winter

If you are building in the winter months in a region that requires protection against frost and snow, your general contractor should take some steps to reduce the impact of his work. He should blanket the areas he will be excavating before the work begins to minimize frost penetration. This might be done, for example, by covering the ground with hay. The excavated areas should stay blanketed until they are backfilled.

There are several extra steps to take when building in the winter.

There are several extra steps to take when building in the winter.

Keep the Access to Your Property Clear When Building in the Winter

The access to your site must be kept free of snow and ice. Even though bulldozers can move mountains, their tracks will just spin if they attempt to pull any substantial weight on ice. All snow and icy areas, even small light patches, must be plowed and sanded just prior to delivery. If it snows after the foundation is poured but before the home is set, the GC should remove as much of the snow as possible from the basement before the set. This is often easier said than done, however, and sometimes it’s impractical, especially when the slab has not already been poured.

You and your GC will need an agreement about who is responsible for snow plowing, shoveling, and sanding while your home is under construction. Since neither of you will know what the winter will bring in any given year, an allowance, with a reasonable rate per snowfall or per hour, is a fair way to handle it.

If your home will be delivered in the winter, try to have the foundation installed in the fall. The GC should then protect the foundation from the frost.

Take Precautions Pouring the Concrete Floor When Building in the Winter

When building in the winter in a cold climate, the GC should try to pour the floor before the temperature drops below freezing, as long as he can also protect it from the frost. If this cannot be accomplished, and the floor will be poured after the house is set on the foundation, the area must be covered with hay or in some other way protected from freezing immediately after the hole is dug. Any frost that remains after the house is set must be removed by heating the basement before the foundation floor is poured. Otherwise, the floor may crack substantially. If extensive frost or snow must be removed by heating the basement after the house is set, extra caution should be taken to prevent the house from absorbing the moisture.

Get the Heat Going When Building in the Winter

Contractors are less productive when they are cold, and many construction tasks, such as taping and painting drywall, cannot be done until a home is reasonably warm. Consequently, if you are building in the winter, the GC will need to get the heating system up and running quickly. He will be delayed, however, if the heating system is going in the basement and the slab cannot be poured because of frost. The installation will also be delayed if the electrical power is not immediately available. In these circumstances, the GC will need to supply temporary heat, which is more costly and less effective.

If you live in a climate with cold winters, you may want the contractor to add antifreeze to the heat loop. You should do this if you are away from home in the winter or if you have a drive-under garage, since leaving the door open on a cold day can cause the pipes to freeze.

If you are building during the spring, find out whether your community allows heavy equipment to travel on the roads during the spring thaw.

For more about building in the winter, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.