The Home Store's Blog

Tales of a Modular Home Builder


Photos of a Custom Modular Wiltshire T-Cape

Custom Modular Wiltshire T-Cape

Recently we built a custom modular T-Cape for one of our customers.  The plan is the Wiltshire, which is also available as a one-story with a lower pitched roof.

Here is the modular Wiltshire T-Cape elevation:

Here is the modular Wiltshire T-Cape floor plan:

Our website elevation of our custom modular Wiltshire T-Cape.

Our website elevation of our custom modular Wiltshire T-Cape.

Our website floor plan of our custom modular Wiltshire T-Cape.

Our website floor plan of our custom modular Wiltshire T-Cape.

The standard modular Wiltshire T-Cape has 1,900 square feet, three bedrooms, and two baths on the first floor.

Click here to see several photos of our custom modular Wiltshire T-Cape.

As the photos show, the three front facing gables along with the center A-dormer add character and charm to the exterior of the home.  The entry porch is practical yet ornamental.  The floor plan is set up for easy entertaining.  The kitchen, which opens to a large dining room and gorgeous living room, features a gourmet chef’s granite center island along with plentiful cabinets.  The distinctive hardwood floors and Italian tile add beauty throughout the home.  The master bedroom suite is well-equipped with dual lavatories, an oversized shower, and a generous walk in closet.  The other two bedrooms are comfortably sized, while the laundry room provides ample and attractive cabinetry.  The unfinished second floor offers abundant additional room for future expansion, such as for another bedroom or two, a home office, playroom, or storage.

For more information about modular home plans, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Construction Insurance for Building a Modular Home

Why You Need Construction Insurance

Here’s a risky way to save money building a modular home.  Select a modular dealer and contractors who are not properly insured.

Imagine that a neighbor’s child is seriously hurt when he falls into your cellar hole before your modules are set on the foundation. Imagine that one of the trucks delivering your modules strikes your neighbor’s car causing serious damage.  What if the crane company drops one of your modules rendering it unusable? What if a member of the set crew is seriously injured or killed when he falls from your roof?  Or what if the plumber fails to securely connect a pipe, which causes severe water damage before the leak is discovered?

Accidents and mistakes can happen when building a home, regardless of the type of construction. Since the right insurance can mitigate the damages, you need to ensure you’re thoroughly covered.

Require Everyone to Obtain Construction Insurance

This is best done by requiring everyone involved in building your home to have insurance. (Here’s a previous blog that elaborates on the insurance you need.) Making this a requirement won’t prevent disagreements about who is responsible for coverage, but it will increase the likelihood that one or more of the insurers will take on this responsibility, which is a lot better than you being saddled with the liability.

Don't forget to obtain proof from everyone working on your modular home that they have proper construction insurance.

Don’t forget to obtain proof from everyone working on your modular home that they have proper construction insurance.

Verify Construction Insurance Coverage

Making insurance a requirement, however, isn’t enough. You need to verify that each party has a current policy with sufficient coverage. To do this you need to insist on receiving a “certificate of insurance” directly from each party’s insurance agent. Getting a copy of the certificate directly from the insurance agent will protect you against being duped by a dealer or contractor whose policy has run out, since it is not difficult for someone to doctor a photocopy of an expired certificate.  You might be surprised how often this happens, mostly because builder insurance is expensive. There will be no sympathy from the insurance company, however, if you file a claim against a policy that was not renewed. After receiving the certificates, you should ask your own agent to review the coverage. They should be able to determine if the coverage includes sufficient liability insurance and workers compensation insurance.

Secure Your Own Construction Insurance

Since you need to have coverage from everyone working directly on your project, you also need to follow the same procedure with any subcontractors you directly hire. In addition, you should obtain either a “builder’s risk” policy or its equivalent for yourself, since this will provide better coverage against theft and vandalism than an ordinary homeowner’s policy.

For more information about modular home construction insurance during its construction, see  Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, Selecting a General Contractor, and Financing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Free Solar with Your Modular Home

Get a Free Solar System with Your Modular Home

The Home Store has partnered with SolarCity to include solar power with its modular homes – at no extra cost to you. Our homes, which already are very energy efficient, will now generate electricity to help you save money and protect the environment.

To make this happen, SolarCity and The Home Store will help you design your home so it’s “solar ready” and then install the solar system so it’s functioning optimally.  This is your chance to save for years to come.

Electrical Rates Locked In for 20 Years

Your solar system from The Home Store will generate its own clean, affordable energy at a lower rate than you’d pay the utility company. In addition to being energy efficient and energy secure, your home will be protected from unpredictable rate hikes. A SolarCity system lets you lock in low, predictable rates no matter how much utility rates rise. Imagine paying $1.11 for a gallon of gas. That’s the price you’d pay if you locked it in 20 years ago! You can’t go back in time, but you can lock in low energy rates until 2035. You can literally watch your savings grow over time.

Green Solar Energy

In addition to the financial advantages you’ll enjoy with your solar system, you’ll also feel pride in knowing you’re helping to protect the environment. Solar power is one of the cleanest sources of energy because it doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases or other pollutants when it’s produced or consumed. Unlike generating electricity from fossil fuels, creating electricity from sunlight slows global warming.

Solar energy is inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels, so it will never run out.  It also provides a measure of energy independence since no one can buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly.

The Home Store's two-story model home with solar panels installed by SolarCity.

The Home Store’s two-story model home with solar panels installed by SolarCity.

Sleek Mounted Solar Panels

One of the reasons The Home Store decided to partner with SolarCity is the attractive look of its solar panels. As you can see in the photo of our sales center’s two-story model home, the solar panels sit low to the roof in a sleek, modern appearance that enhances the curb appeal for savvy, energy conscious buyers.

SolarCity Takes Care of Everything

If you order early enough, your solar system can be installed by the time you move into your new modular home. SolarCity will provide the equipment, permitting, installation, and interconnection, again at no cost to you. They will even cover your system’s insurance. They will also continuously monitor your solar system to ensure everything’s running smoothly and provide limited warranty coverage. In the rare event that problems arise, they will complete the repairs at no added cost.

What You Need to Do

You simply lease the solar system for a low monthly fee that’s less than you would pay the utility company. SolarCity guarantees your solar system will produce as much electricity as they promise or they will pay you the difference. The savings can add up to thousands!

SolarCity Service Area

SolarCity serves almost the entire area where we build modular homes, and they are continually expanding their coverage.

Who Is SolarCity

SolarCity is the largest installer of solar panels in the United States with a 35% national market share.  It has disrupted the century-old energy industry by providing renewable electricity directly to homeowners, businesses and government organizations for less than they spend on utility bills.

Benefits of a SolarCity Installation on Your Home Store Modular Home

  • You start saving on Day 1.
  • No additional cost to lease and no increase in your mortgage amount.
  • Frees up money for other option purchases.
  • Guaranteed low, predictable rate for the next 20 years.
  • Insurance and warranty provided for the 20 years.
  • Lease is transferable to next homebuyer for no additional cost.
  • Reduces dependence on fossil fuels and slows global warming.

 

A Modular Raised Ranch Turnkey

Installing a Foundation for a Modular Raised Ranch

In my last post, I talked about the advantages of a modular raised ranch.  Now I’d like to discuss what your general contractor (GC) needs to do to “button-up” one.

A modular raised ranch with a kneewall, drive under garage, and split level entry that is also recessed.

A modular raised ranch with a kneewall, drive under garage, and split level entry that is also recessed.

Let’s start with what your GC needs to do to create a “split” entry at the front door.  Since this requires that he elevate the main floor above “grade” (ground level) at the front of the home, he will need to install a 4’ tall concrete foundation below grade and a 4’ tall wood framed “kneewall” on top of the concrete.   This will make the total height of the foundation 8’ at the front door.  When the set crew places the modules on top of the 8’ wall, the main floor will be 4’ above grade at the front door.  This will leave the basement floor 4’ below grade and place the entry halfway or split between the main and basement floors.

The split entry at the front entrance of a modular raised ranch places the door between the main floor and basement .

The split entry at the front entrance of a modular raised ranch places the door between the main floor and basement .

The foundation walls for the other three sides of your home will also be 8’ tall from the basement floor to the bottom of the modules.  Depending on the lay of the land, the top of the foundation for each of these walls may be set at grade, 4’ above grade, or elevated a full 8’ above grade.  Any walls 8’ above grade can either be concrete or wood framed.  Either way, they will sit atop a 4’ concrete “frost” wall that will be installed below grade, making these walls 12’ tall.  Since the basement floor is at ground level for these 12’ tall walls, the GC can install full sized windows, which will brighten any rooms finished in the basement.  The GC can also install an exit door, which is why these walls are known as “walkout” walls.  If you build a drive-under garage in your basement, the foundation walls will also be 8’ above grade.

Completing the Split Entry of a Modular Raised Ranch

The completion of the split entry of a modular raised ranch requires a bit of work on-site by the GC. After cutting the temporary rim joist installed by the modular manufacturer to strengthen the home for delivery, the GC must build the entry landing, install the front door, and construct the stairs up to the first floor and down to the basement. The walls framed on each side of the stairs, combined with a door at the bottom, will close off the first floor and stairway from the basement. This step is required by the building code, unless you immediately finish the basement. You will have to instruct the GC whether you want him to finish the split stairwell with a railing or half wall. If you select a railing on the first floor overlooking the foyer and the manufacturer does not install it, the GC will have to do so.

The electrician must wire the foyer light so it can be turned on from the top of the stairs, the front door, and the bottom of the stairs. He should wire the front-door light to be turned on from the top of the stairs and the front door. The modular manufacturer should wire the home to facilitate the electrician’s work with both lights. The electrician should also add a receptacle at the landing, and the HVAC contractor will need to bring some heat to the foyer.

Completing the Exterior of a Modular Raised Ranch

On the exterior of the home, the GC will need to install the siding on the kneewalls and walkout walls.  If you cantilever the top modules over the basement, the GC must insulate and cover the exposed area under the overhang. Non-perforated vinyl soffit can be used as the cover.

For more information about building a modular raised ranch, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Advantages of a Modular Raised Ranch

My First Home – A Raised Ranch

My wife and I bought our first home a year before I learned about modular homes and became a builder.  It was a raised ranch built in the 1960’s.  It had everything we needed: three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the main floor and a drive-under garage, family room, and third bathroom in the basement.  It also had a lovely yard framed by an attractive stone retaining wall.

Like any raised ranch, our home was a one-story built with a split-level entry on top of a raised foundation. The entry was “split” in that it was built halfway between the first floor and the basement.  A platform at the front door connected two sets of stairs, one going up to the first floor and one going down to the basement.

A raised ranch with a drive-under garage and finished basement.

A modular raised ranch with a drive-under garage and finished basement.

To make the bi-level design work, the foundation was elevated 5’ above the finished grade at the front of the home.  The back of our raised ranch had a wood framed walkout with a slider and some full sized windows.

Why You Might Want a Modular Raised Ranch

There are several reasons why you might want to build a modular raised ranch.  Elevating the foundation out of the ground can solve problems caused by a high water table.   It is often easier to minimize excavation costs on a sloped property by building a raised ranch.  Also, if the property has sufficient slope, the low side of the basement can be used for a drive-under garage, which is considerably less expensive to build than an attached or detached garage.

A typical raised ranch floor plan with a split level entry at the front door.

A typical modular raised ranch floor plan with a split level entry at the front door.

In addition, a raised ranch, like a Cape Cod design with an unfinished second story, offers you a chance to affordably expand your living space.  The raised foundation allows you to finish the basement with larger windows.  In addition to providing good natural light, the larger windows allow you to build bedrooms in the basement while meeting the building code requirement for egress.

In designing a raised ranch, you will need to decide whether you want the front of the house flush with the front of the foundation or cantilevered over the top of the foundation. A cantilevered home, which is often preferred for its look, will have a foundation that is a foot or two narrower than the main floor, which means it provides less usable space in the basement.  You will also have to decide if you want the front entry to be flush with the front of the house or recessed.  An advantage to a recessed entry, in addition to its appearance, is that it provides some overhead protection from the weather for anyone entering the front door.

A raised ranch with a cantilevered front, recessed entry, and finished basement.

A modular raised ranch with a cantilevered front, recessed entry, and finished basement.

When thinking about the basement floor plan of your raised ranch, pay attention to where the split-level stairs are located. This is particularly important if you are building a drive-under garage, since the stairs should not intrude into the garage.

Modular Split Level Homes

“Split-Levels” are usually T-shaped ranches that are composed of a ranch on one leg of the T and a raised ranch on the other leg to create a tri-level design. They offer some of the advantages of a raised ranch, although they do not work well on a flat lot with a high water table unless the ranch wing of the house is built on a crawl space. As with a raised ranch, split levels can also be built with either a flush or a cantilevered front and a flush or a recessed entry.  And they can often accommodate a drive-under garage.

A modular split level design with a drive under garage and finished basement. The left wing is a raised ranch, while the right wing is a ranch.

A modular split level design with a drive under garage and finished basement. The left wing is a raised ranch, while the right wing is a ranch.

For more information about building a modular raised ranch, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Nominal Sizes: When Is a Two-by-Four Not 2 by 4

Nominal Lumber Sizes

A two-by-six is not a 2 x 6 when it’s construction lumber.

The framing materials we use for the walls and ceilings of our modular homes are mostly two-by-sixes, two-by-tens, and two-by-fours.  You might assume, as I did when I first started selling modular homes, that these designations refer to the actual dimensional sizes of the lumber.  But a two-by-six is not 2” x 6”.  It’s actually 1 ½” x 5 ½”.  In fact, the 1 ½” dimension can be as little as 1 3’8” or as much as 1 5/8” and the 5 ½” dimension can be as little as 5 3’8” or as much as 5 5/8”.

Why Is Lumber Labeled with Nominal Sizes

Lumber sizes for residential construction are designated by the "nominal" values assigned to each size.

Lumber sizes for residential construction are designated by the “nominal” values assigned to each size.

In residential construction in the United States the framing materials are designated with a “nominal” value, which approximates its size.  For example, a 2 x 10, which is close to 2” x 10” but actually 1 ½” x 9 ½”, is given the name “two-by-ten”.  This makes sense when you understand a little history.

In the past, the nominal dimensions given to the lumber were the sizes of green lumber before it was dried and planed smooth.  This process shrunk the lumber by about ½” in each dimension.  The lumber sold today for residential construction is already dried and planed.  But it’s still sold in the historical sizes with each size retaining its nominal name.  That’s why your modular home will built with “two-by-sixes”, “two-by-tens”, and “two-by-fours”.

Nominal Sizes of Modular Floor Plans

Nominal values also play a role in designating the width of modular home floor plans.  For example, a “twenty-eight x forty-four” home is actually 27’6” x 44’.  In this case, the width is rounded up by 6”.

For more information about nominal lumber size, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Exclude Oral Representations

Oral Representations Often Lead to Disagreements

Now that Daylight Saving Time has arrived and spring is two weeks away, many customers are ready to start building their home.  Other customers are getting ready to select their modular builder.  With interest rates predicted to rise by June and housing starts to increase to their highest level in several years, getting started soon is a wise move.  Here is some advice about ensuring that your modular home contract includes what you expect.

Experienced modular builders have lots of stories to tell about the types of problems that cause disagreements with their homebuyers.  One type of problem involves misunderstandings about items that were never discussed or documented because one party just assumed what the other party intended.  Another type of problem involves misunderstandings about things that were discussed but not included in the builder’s contract.  It might surprise you that more frustration, anger, and stress are generated by issues that were actually discussed – but not documented in writing – than by those that were not discussed.

These situations typically involve complaints by the homebuyers such as, “I told you I wanted raised panel maple kitchen cabinets and not picture frame maple cabinets.”  The builder might come back with, “Don’t you remember, we did talk about your preference for raised panel maple cabinets, but the additional cost put you over your budget.”  The problem is that the modular builder and homebuyers had talked about this on two occasions, going back and forth about which would be included, but the final contract just said “maple kitchen cabinets” and now both parties remember the discussion differently.

Your contract with a modular home builder should exclude oral representations and instead require that all details be documented in writing.

Your contract with a modular home builder should exclude oral representations and instead require that all details be documented in writing.

The Cost of Relying on Oral Representations

The cost difference between the picture frame and raised panel maple cabinets would be substantial enough on its own.  But usually this misunderstanding doesn’t get discovered until the cabinets are already purchased and at least partially installed.  It will cost either the homebuyer or builder (or both) a bit of money to make the change.  The alternative is no better.  If the homebuyers accept the picture frame cabinets, they will likely be unhappy with their modular builder and forever disappointed in their kitchen.  The relationship between the two parties will now be fractured by distrust, which will make it more likely that small disagreements will become antagonistic.

Agree to Make Oral Representations Null and Void

The last thing you want to do is to rely on your modular builder’s or your own memory of what you’re getting.  That’s why it is better for modular builders to include a clause in their contract that states that “It is mutually agreed that any oral representation made by either party prior to the signing of this agreement is null and void.”  This clause serves to limit and place boundaries around the scope of either party’s representations and warranties.   Even if an item is discussed and agreed to verbally, it has no legal validity unless it’s documented in the contract.

Replace Oral Representations with Detailed Written Representations

My suggestion is that you share responsibility with your modular builder for documenting all the details by taking notes during your meetings.  You should be concerned if your builder is not also taking notes.  If you then compare your notes with the builder’s contract, you are more likely to avoid contentious and costly disagreements.

For more information about oral representations in your contract with your modular home builder, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer and Selecting a General Contractor in in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Contract

Six Clauses in Your Modular Home Contract

Three years ago I outlined what should be included in your Modular Home Contract.  I recommend that you take a look at that post before you read today’s entry.

Here are six clauses you may see in your modular home contract.  Their purpose is to document standard construction industry practices that you, as the Homeowner, might not know.  When put in writing, they help eliminate potential areas of disagreement between you and your modular builder.

Modular Home Contract:  Changes, Deviations, or Omissions

This clause states that you agree to accept the minor deviations that sometimes incur in construction as long as the work is substantially the same as described in the contract and within accepted industry tolerance.  Many builders don’t include this clause because the types of changes covered are usually so minor that you are unlikely to notice them.  The reason this clause is sometimes included is that a few homebuyers have been known to get very upset when there is a change of ¼” in the size of a bedroom.

The builder may also include a similar clause that refers specifically to materials and products.  Building code requirements, product availability, and design improvements may compel the builder to substitute material similar in pattern, design and quality to that listed in the plans and specifications.  When possible, the builder should consult the customer when this occurs.

Have an attorney review the legalese of your modular home contract.

Have an attorney review the legalese of your modular home contract.

Modular Home Contract:  Access to Your Property

As the Homeowner, you will at all times have access to your property and the right to inspect the work.  However, if you enter the property or invite others to enter the property during the course of construction, you all do so at your own risk.

Although your access to the property is ensured, this clause points out that you cannot interfere with the work or the modular builder, his employees, or trade contractors.  In addition, you will need to communicate directly with the supervisor assigned to your project rather than other employees or contractors on the site.

Modular Home Contract:  Work Performed by the Homeowners and Their Trade Contractors

This clause speaks to your responsibilities when you perform some of the work or directly hire contractors other than your builder to complete some of the work.  In that case, you are responsible for ensuring that you and your contractors have liability and workers compensation insurance.  You will also be responsible for coordinating this work to avoid disrupting or interfering with the work being done by the builder’s team.  Needless to say, you are responsible for the quality of this work as well as whether it complies with the building code.  In addition, you will need to take care of any warranty work.

Modular Home Contract:  Unused Materials

Builders often have unused materials after they complete their work.  Sometimes this is intended, since it’s easier to return the excess than to leave the job in the middle of the work to fetch what’s missing.  Keep in mind that you have only paid for the materials your builder has used.  This clause states that the builder owns these unused materials.  However, most builders will leave you some extra siding, shingles, paint, as well as some other materials, if they have them.

Modular Home Contract:  Signage and Marketing

Most modular builders will want permission to display a sign on your site until their work is completed.  They will also want permission to invite their prospective customers to walk through your home while it is under construction.  This clause will allow the builder to do these things, but it should also state that prospective customers visit at their own risk.

Modular Home Contract:  Building Code Compliance

Your modular dealer is responsible for ordering the home so that it complies with the state building code current at the time your agreement is written.  Modular manufacturers are required to build their homes in compliance with the code in effect at the time they build your home.  This clause states that when changes happen to the state code, you are responsible for the additional material, labor, services, and other expenses required to comply with the changes.  It also states that you are responsible for the costs associated with complying with local building codes when these codes exceed the state code.

For more information about modular home contracts, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer and Selecting a General Contractor in my book The Modular Home.

Radiant Floor Heat

My Introduction to Radiant Floor Heat

Twenty years ago I visited another modular builder’s residence on a cold February day. It was a nicely appointed cape cod with a front-to-back family room on one side and a complimentary garage flanking the other side. When I entered the family room I was immediately struck by how comfortable I felt. At first I thought it was the number and style of windows that looked out onto a peaceful snow covered patio.  Then I thought it was the decor, which was richly traditional. The builder’s wife, who was giving me a tour, smiled and said, “You look confused, and I bet I know why.  Your feet are warm.” I undoubtedly looked even more confused until she explained that the tile floor had radiant floor heat.

Forced Air Heat vs. Radiant Floor Heat

Have you wondered why you sometimes (maybe always) feel cold even though the thermostat for your forced hot air heating system is set to 72 degrees? It’s not you! It’s because the warm air rises to the ceiling and falls back down as cool air. Your toes become cold why your head stays warm. This effect is amplified by the on and off cycling of the system, which warms you quickly but then chills your bones when the air stops pumping through the ducts.

With radiant floor heat, on the other hand, the heated floor transmits its warmth to the surrounding objects. You remain comfortably warm because the coldest air is at the ceiling rather than your feet, and the floor and everything it touches remains at a constant temperature. By warming you from your feet up, radiant floor heat keeps you feeling toasty at a lower temperature.

Radiant floor heating systems can heat an entire home or individual rooms. Bathrooms, kitchens, and mudrooms are popular candidates for this enhanced comfort. When installed in selected rooms, the temperature is controlled with individual thermostats. The remaining rooms are heated with a conventional system.

Two Types of Radiant Floor Heat

An example of how the tubes are laid out for hydronic radiant floor heat .

An example of how the tubes are laid out for hydronic radiant floor heat.

Materials for electrical radiant floor heat.

Materials for electrical radiant floor heat.

There are two basic types of radiant floor heat: hydronic and electric resistance. Hydronic systems pump heated fluid through small tubes under the finished flooring. The fluid is usually a mix of water and anti-freeze, such as propylene glycol  The heat source is a boiler, water heater, or heat pump, with the heat transferred by the recirculation of the fluid between the floor and the heat source.

Electric resistance systems work with electric wires set underneath the floor. They function much like the wires in an electric blanket. Because they use fewer components and are easier to install, they are less expensive to set up than hydronic systems for single rooms. However, they are more costly to operate.

Installation of Radiant Floor Heat

Both types of radiant floor heating systems can be set in a concrete, mortar, or gypsum bed, placed under the floor covering, or attached directly to a wood sub floor. The tubing for radiant floor heat can be installed in specially made plywood with precut channels, which enables you to install carpeting and wood flooring directly over the plywood. Ceramic tile floors should be cast in a mortar bed or on a cement backer board, while vinyl flooring needs to be placed on an underlayment.

Finished Flooring over Radiant Floor Heat

You can use most any type of finished flooring over either type of radiant floor heating system, although some materials work better than others. Tile, stone, and concrete transfer and hold heat best. Solid wood floors will shrink and expand because of the heat, but the new “engineered wood” floors hold up better. If you install vinyl or laminated flooring, make sure they can withstand the heat. Keep in mind that carpets will reduce the heat flow, as they will act as insulation.

Advantages of Radiant Floor Heat

Radiant floor heat has a few notable advantages over conventional systems in addition to superior comfort.  Many people like the fact that they’re hidden and silent. If you’ve ever lived with banging radiators or whistling registers, you’ll appreciate radiant floor heat. Anyone with allergies will value them because there is no dust- or allergen-blowing ductwork. And for those who want to increase the energy efficiency of their home, radiant floor heating systems are an efficient way to heat, increasing comfort as they reduce energy costs.

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

One-Story vs Two-Story Homes

The Advantages of One-Story vs Two-Story Homes

There are a variety of ways to compare the advantages of a one-story vs two-story modular home.  In part your choice will depend on your personal taste as well as your local real estate market.  But you will likely also consider the distinct advantages of each.  Here’s a list of the advantages most often mentioned by my customers.

One-Story Benefits

  • More living space
    • You don’t need to use square footage for a staircase to the second floor, although you will need one to the basement
    • You might need fewer bathrooms
  • More attic space for storage
  • More basement space for storage
  • More convenience
    • You don’t need to run up and down stairs to cook, clean, keep an eye on your children, do the laundry, or get a snack
  • Safer for younger children and easier for older/mobility challenged individuals
    • You can “age in place” more easily and affordably
The Home Store's Sugarloaf 5 one-story T-Ranch at it's model home center.

The Home Store’s Sugarloaf 5 one-story T-Ranch at it’s model home center.

  • Easier to evacuate in case of a fire
  • Less noise transmission, since sound does not travel through the walls of multiple rooms on the same floor as well as it travels between floors
    • TV or stereo on either floor
    • Foot traffic on the second floor
    • Stair traffic
  • Easier – and cheaper – to heat and cool.
    • More consistent temperature zones, since all rooms flow into each other
    • Trees can provide more shade
    • Second story rooms easier to heat, since heat rises

 Two-Story Benefits

  • Greater separation of public and private spaces
    • More privacy for second story bedrooms, which is especially valued by parents and older children
  • Bigger yard
  • Can build a bigger home on a smaller lot
  • Easier to deliver modules down narrow streets and onto a small, tight lot, since each module can be half the length to create the same square footage as needed for a one-story
  • Safer to open second story windows at night
  • Smaller roof to maintain
  • More expansive views from second-story
  • Good exercise using the stairs everyday
  • Better for the environment, since less land is disturbed during construction
The Home Store's Whately 1 two-story at it's model home center.

The Home Store’s Whately 1 two-story at it’s model home center.

For more information about the benefits of building a one-story vs two-story home, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Checklists

There are many things to learn the first time you build a modular home.  But if you’re like most homebuyers, you won’t get the full benefit of what you learn, since you’ll likely only build one home.

But you can benefit from what I’ve learned over twenty-eight years building more than 1,200 homes.  To start with you can read my book, The Modular Home, which gathers all this information in one place.

Use these modular home checklists to guide you through the process of building a modular home.

Use these modular home checklists to guide you through the process of building a modular home.

Take Advantage of My Experience by Using My Modular Home Checklists

Of course, it’s hard to use a book efficiently the first time you use the information.  That’s why I’ve created several checklists that cover the most important steps.  Below is a link to each of the checklists.  There’s also a link to this list on the home page of The Home Store’s website.  I hope you find these modular home checklists helpful.

  1. Ensure You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home
  2. Selecting a Modular Home Dealer
  3. Your Modular Home Dealer Customer References
  4. Selecting a Modular Home General Contractor
  5. Your Modular Home General Contractor References
  6. What to Include in Your Modular Home Legalese
  7. Selecting the Right Modular Home Plan
  8. What You Should Ask Modular Home General Contractors
  9. Reviewing Your Modular Home Floor Plans
  10. Reviewing Your Modular Home Elevation Plans
  11. Modular Additions
  12. Building a Universal Design Modular Home
  13. What Your Modular Manufacturer Needs from Your Contractor
  14. How to Air Seal a Modular Home
  15. Making an Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot
  16. Your Municipal Water and Sewer Connections
  17. Reviewing Your Modular Construction Drawings
  18. Potential Permits and Supporting Documents
  19. Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks
  20. Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks
  21. Omitting Materials from the Modular Manufacturer

For more information about all the topics covered in the checklists, see my book The Modular Home.

Modular Addition Checklist

Planning for Your Modular Addition

When planning for your modular addition your general contractor will have to examine several details about your current home and property.  The list is surprisingly long.  But if your GC ignores some of the details, you’ll be disappointed with the result and have to pay your GC to make the necessary corrections.

Below is a list of construction details your GC needs to consider when developing the scope of work, specifications, and pricing for your modular addition.  It’s best if your GC has experience with additions as well as renovation work, since almost all additions require some refurbishing of the existing structure.

Make sure your general contractor attends to all the details when determining what he must do to build your modular addition.

Make sure your general contractor attends to all the details when determining what he must do to build your modular addition.

Existing House

  • Style
  • Approximate age
  • Length and width
  • Height of first floor from ground
  • Height of eave from ground
  • Asbestos or lead paint – where

Property

  • Trees or brush need to be cut or moved – where
  • Landscaping will need to be redone – where
  • Driveway needs to be relocated or refinished – where
  • Sidewalk needs to be relocated or refinished – where
  • Crane can be located to set modules – where

Existing Foundation

  • Block, stone, or poured
  • Crawl or full
  • Wall height and thickness
  • Work required to shore up walls
  • Modular addition’s foundation can be connected to existing foundation – how connected
  • Modular addition’s foundation cannot be connected to existing foundation – how formed
  • Concrete for new foundation needs to be pumped – distance

Existing Siding

  • Material
  • Profile
  • Color
  • Siding needs to be removed and/or replaced – where and how matched

Existing Roofing

  • Truss or rafter framing
  • Pitch
  • Soffit width
  • Gable overhang size
  • Soffit width
  • Fascia height
  • Shingle type
  • Shingle color
  • Shingles need to be removed and/or replaced – where and how matched

Existing Electrical System

  • Service amperage
  • Overhead or underground
  • Meter location
  • Meter needs to be moved – where
  • Panel location
  • Panel needs to be moved – where
  • Panel disconnect needed
  • Smoke detectors in existing house – hardwired or battery
  • Existing smoke detectors connection to addition – how

Existing Heating System

  • System can produce enough BTUs to heat addition – type, fuel, location, vent method, and how connect
  • Modular addition needs new heating system – type, fuel, location, and vent method

Existing Domestic Hot Water System

  • System can produce enough hot water for addition – type, fuel, location, vent method, and how connect
  • Modular addition needs new hot water system – type, fuel, location, and vent method

Existing Water Supply

  • Well or town water
  • Sufficient water pressure
  • If well – size of pump and tank
  • If town water – size of service entering existing house
  • Entrance into existing house – where
  • Entrance needs to be moved – where
  • Connection to modular addition – how

Existing Waste System

  • Septic or town sewer
  • Height below top of foundation
  • If septic – system can meet demand from addition
  • If septic – system needs to be modified or replaced – where on property
  • Entrance into existing house – where
  • Entrance needs to be moved – where
  • Connection to modular addition – how

Connection from Modular Addition into Existing House

  • Location
  • Change existing windows to doors or existing doors to windows – where
  • Close-off existing windows/doors – where
  • Cut through existing wall – where and material
  • Move electric wires and/or meter – where
  • Move heating units – where
  • Move plumbing pipes – where
  • Install headers – where
  • Firestop required – specify

Draw a Site Plan Showing the Existing Roof

Include all information above plus existing locations and size of hose bibbs, GFIs, chimneys, roof vents, fireplaces, windows, doors, and any other relevant items.  Show where the crane will be located during set.

Draw the Basement Plan of the Existing Home

Include all information about water, sewer, heating system, hot water, basement stairs, windows, and any other relevant items.

Draw the 1st Floor Plan of the Existing Home

Include all information of first floor layout, locations of smoke detectors, location of entrance to modular addition, and any other relevant items.

Draw the 2nd Floor Plan of the Existing Home

Include all information of second floor layout, locations of smoke detectors, location of entrance to modular addition if it impacts on second floor, and any other relevant items.

For more information about building a modular addition, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

Building A New Home Is Best For Accessibility

Why Building a New Home Is Better Than Remodeling When You Need Accessibility

What should you do if you need an accessible home?  Should you remodel your current home, buy a more accessible used home, or build a fully accessible new one?

Since there are very few truly accessible used homes, let’s compare remodeling your existing home with building a new one.  Since I believe building new is almost always better than remodeling, I will outline the advantages of building over remodeling.  Of course, if you don’t have the resources and flexibility to build a new home, remodeling will be your only viable alternative.

No Demolition and Shoring Up Expenses

You will not waste money demolishing or shoring up your new home.

Remodeling your existing home to make it accessible can often be surprisingly expensive. You will undoubtedly anticipate some of the costs for adding new features, but you may not plan sufficiently for the cost of the other work required to remodel. Most importantly, you must add the cost of the destruction (taking apart and removing what you no longer want) to the cost of construction (building in the new features). In addition, you must add the cost of shoring up the existing structure of your home so that the new construction can be completed. For example, in addition to tearing down old walls and ripping out old plumbing and electrical, you might need to add structural supports in the ceiling and basement before you can begin. Otherwise, your home will not be structurally sound.

The task of removing walls and shoring up the structure is usually a Pandora’s Box for the remodeler. Often the remodeler can’t know what problems and expenses he is going to run into until he actually starts the demolition. If you ask him to give you a fixed price for the entire project in advance, he will usually build a significant cushion into his price.  If you agree to pay him for “time and materials”, and he uncovers a number of problems that require additional work, he will hit you with a change order that will create cost-overruns for you.  That’s why remodeling often goes significantly over budget.

Remodeling requires the de-struction of your existing home as well as the con-struction of it's new features, which makes remodeling expensive and subject to more cost overruns than building a new home.

Remodeling requires the de-struction of your existing home as well as the con-struction of it’s new features, which makes remodeling expensive and subject to more cost overruns than building a new home.

Greater Equity and Resale Value

Your new home is likely to provide you with greater market value and equity than a remodeled home.

Since the demolition and shoring up your home will not increase its value as much as it costs (only the new construction will), the total cost of the remodeling will often be considerably greater than the value added to your home.  Since much of the money you will spend on remodeling will be lost, your bank’s appraiser will be unlikely to justify a loan for the full cost of remodeling unless you already have a lot of equity in your home or a large down payment.  And should you decide to sell your home, you will likely lose some of the money you spent remodeling it.

Full Accessibility

Since every room in your new home can be designed to be accessible and located where you want it, you will need to make fewer compromises to get the features and functions you want.

Because the remodeler will have to work with your existing structure, he might not be able change the home sufficiently to give you enough of what you need. For example, the remodeler might not be able to locate the accessible bathroom where it would most benefit you.

Efficient Use of Space

Your new home will provide you with the rooms you need without wasting space.

When remodeling your home, you will often have to give up some existing rooms so that the needed features and functional space can be added. For example, one of your existing bedrooms might have to be donated to the remodeling cause so that your hallways, doors, and bathrooms can be widened. When the work is done, you may feel that you have lost valuable space.

Attractive and Functional Landscaping

The site of your new home will be graded and landscaped in ways that are esthetically pleasing as well as usable.

When remodeling your home, you will sometimes have to settle for site work and landscaping that is less attractive. With your foundation, driveway, and walkways already in place, the remodeler is limited in how he can make your site more accessible without detracting from its appearance (often with long ramps) and adding considerably to the cost.

Lower Architect Fees, Custom Design

Whether you wish to customize a builder’s standard plan or design a completely new custom plan, a modular home builder’s fees will be substantially less than those required for a sizable remodeling project.

When remodeling your home for accessibility, you will often are best served by hiring an experienced architect to design a remodeling plan.

Home and Lot Matched in Size

You will be able to match a building lot of appropriate size with a new home that is as big as you need and your budget allows.

When remodeling, your design choices will be limited by the size of your home and your lot. If your home is too small, and your lot does not allow for easy expansion, which can happen in city lots, your design options will be limited.

Right Sized Home

When building a new home of your choice, you will end up with a home that is neither too big nor too small.

If your existing home is already bigger than you need, your remodeled home will almost certainly be too big.  If your existing home is not too big before remodeling, but the remodeler is forced to add rooms in order to meet your needs, your remodeled home may become too big. For example, if you have all of the bedrooms that you need, but they are all on the second floor and you need a first floor master bedroom suite, you will be forced to build an extra bedroom.

Lower Energy Costs

Your new home will be considerably more energy efficient than your remodeled home.

Your remodeled home will usually have higher energy costs. Older homes were not built as energy efficient as new homes are today. Often the budget for remodeling won’t allow for improving the energy efficiency, since to insulate all of the walls and replace all of the windows can be expensive. In addition, older homes have very high amounts of air infiltration (leaks around the windows, doors, and electrical receptacles), and air infiltration is the number one cause of heat loss, even after insulation has been added and windows replaced.

Brand New Fixtures, Fully Featured

With your new home, everything will be brand new with the features you desire.

With older homes, your remodeling budget will require you to keep certain things you would prefer to replace. For example, although you might like to replace your fifteen year old appliances, the cost of the remodeling will probably prevent you from replacing them. In addition, your budget will often prevent you from affordably adding features that you would desire. For example, if you want to add central air conditioning, but you have hot water baseboard heat, you will need to add the duct work in addition to the air conditioning compressor, which will add substantially to the total cost.

Lower Maintenance Costs, Extended Warranty

Because your new home will come with new materials, it will require minimal maintenance. Furthermore, all the parts will be protected by a warranty. In fact, your entire modular home will come with a ten year structural warranty.

Even after your older home is remodeled, it will have higher maintenance costs. All areas and components of your home that are not completely replaced will continue to bear the effects of wear and tear. In addition, the only items that will have a warranty will be the ones installed by the remodeler.

For more information about building a fully accessible Universally Designed modular home, see Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.  For more information about building an accessible modular in-law addition, also known as an Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO), see Building a Modular Addition also in my book.

Pouring a Concrete Foundation in the Winter

Homebuyers are often concerned about having their concrete foundation poured in the winter.  They fear the cold will damage the concrete.  If they fall behind schedule with their modular planning and design, and this makes it impossible for their contractor to pour the foundation before winter, they tell him to delay the start until spring.  Of course that’s when lots of people want their home built.  This is one reason why spring projects often take longer than late summer and fall projects.

You Can Safely Pour a Concrete Foundation in the Winter

Actually there are safe, effective ways to pour a concrete foundation in cold weather.  They all begin with protecting the ground beneath the foundation from frost, snow, and ice.  This is done before winter begins by covering the ground with hay and covering the hay with tarps or plastic sheets.

The next steps are done by the concrete and foundation companies.  Their responsibility is to prepare the concrete foundation so it’s suitable for your site’s weather conditions, primarily cold temperatures.  They accomplish this by raising the temperature of the water and adding more cement to the mix.  They also control the amount of air entrapped and entrained in the concrete.  In addition, they add accelerators to speed up the curing process.

After the concrete foundation is poured, the chemical reaction created by the accelerant generates heat in the concrete.  The heat helps the concrete to cure before it freezes.  But this only works if the heat is retained.  This is done, first, by leaving the wood cement forms in place for several days; they can be removed the next day during warmer temperatures.  In addition, the cement and forms are covered with insulating blankets, which also reduce moisture loss.  Finally, if the temperature is too cold, a heater and enclosure are used to maintain temperatures above freezing.

Knowing that you can safely pour a cement foundation in the winter rather than waiting for spring allows you to take advantage of what is usually a slower time for your builder.  This in turn enables you to move into your new home in the spring.

Stick building in the winter subjects a home to ice and snow.

Stick building in the winter subjects a home to ice and snow.

Build a Modular Home to Protect Your Home from Inclement Weather

Building in the winter is a particularly viable option when building a modular home, since the modules are built in a climate controlled factory.  When the modules arrive on site and are placed on the foundation, they are already “closed in” from the inclement winter weather.  So while you can safely pour a concrete foundation in the winter, the only way to build your home protected from the snow, ice, and rain is to build a modular home.

Building in the winter is a particularly viable option when building a modular home, since the modules are built in a climate controlled factory.

Building in the winter is a particularly viable option when building a modular home, since the modules are built in a climate controlled factory.

For more information about pouring a concrete foundation in cold temperatures, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Electrical Outlets for the Holidays

Electrical Outlets for Your Holiday Decorations

Now that the holiday season is upon us I’m reminded of one of our homebuyers who added electrical outlets under every window so she could display her Christmas candle lights without extension cords.  She also put two electrical outlets in the stairwell to the second floor so she could string a lighted garland along the railing.  And of course she included some extra electrical outlets on the outside of her home for lighting up Santa’s sleigh and reindeer.  Recalling my homebuyer’s foresight got me thinking about how important it is for homebuyers to think about how they’ll use their home before finalizing their modular home electrical plan.

Today’s modular homes come with many more electrical outlets than older homes, since the building code requires them to be spaced close together for safety reasons.  But this doesn’t mean you’ll have enough electrical outlets.  Nor does it mean they’ll be located where you need them.

Electrical Outlets for Special Purposes

Make sure you have electrical outlets where you need them!

Make sure you have electrical outlets where you need them!

If you’re a craft person, for example, you may want extra electrical outlets in your special room.  You may also want to raise some outlets a couple of feet for your convenience.  The same suggestions apply to an office.  You’ll want to make sure you have enough electrical outlets for your computer, printer, copier, shredder, charger, etc.  Adding electrical outlets in a garage that will do double duty as a work area is also a smart move.

If your living room or family room furniture will not be placed along a wall, you’ll want to include some floor outlets to power the lamps you locate away from the walls. This is especially true with today’s open floor plans, since they provide fewer opportunities to mount outlets on walls.  If you’re using window air conditioners, it might help to locate electrical outlets below the window.  If you enjoy barbecues and lawn parties, you should include extra electrical outlets on the exterior of your home.

Before approving your modular home for construction, give some thought to whether you should include additional electrical outlets in other places for other purposes.  Take advantage of the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive to have the manufacturer add them when it builds your modular home.

For more information about planning your electrical layout, see Designing a Modular Home and Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.

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.