Tales of a Modular Home Builder
This is a short but very important blog, especially in the minds of those who work on your modular home. Actually, it should be quite important to you as well.
A Portable Toilet is More than a Convenience
Like everyone else, contractors are most productive when they can conveniently use a bathroom. If they have to make a trip to the gas station or a restaurant, it costs time; and if they do not make the trip, they may be tempted to relieve themselves on your property. Eliminate this problem by renting a portable toilet until the plumbing is hooked up in your home. Then give the workers permission to use your bathrooms.
Don’t Wait To Place a Portable Toilet on Your Property
Your general contractor shouldn’t wait until after the set to put a portable toilet on your property. Unless it will impede the movement of the crane and modules, the contractor should have it in place for set day. Not only will your general contractor and the set and crane crews benefit, so will your friends and family.
For more information about having a portable toilet on site, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home and Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.
Two weeks ago I wrote about how modular homes stand up to severe weather, such as a tornado or hurricane. In the past I described how one of our modules suffered only minimal damage when it fell off a trailer while we were setting the home. I’d like to mention another example of the superior strength of modular homes.
In 1990 we brought a two-story modular home – the Whately 1 – from New York to Massachusetts where we erected it at the annual Springfield home show sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association of Home Builders. Over 90,000 people visited the model. After the show, we disassembled the modules and delivered them to our model home center where they were re-assembled. Three years later we disassembled the modules yet again and moved them to a customer’s property where we reassembled them.
All together the four modules were each moved three times, assembled three times, and disassembled twice. Each time they were assembled or disassembled they were lifted by a crane, which means they were picked up with a couple of thin straps five times.
If you’ve never seen a modular set, it is amazing how well the modules fare when they are lifted by the crane from the delivery carrier to the foundation. This is especially true when you consider that each module weighs several tons, which makes the stress on the framing quite substantial. Yet there was only minimal damage when the four modules of our old model home were craned into place for the last time. If a conventionally built home were lifted with a couple of thin straps even once, it would suffer substantial damage.
I will add one more observation. As strong as modular homes were in 1990, todays modular homes are even stronger. Food for thought!
The Right Modular Home Floor Plan Sometimes Doesn’t Come with the Right Modular Home Elevation
A couple of months ago I discussed the importance of a modular home elevation drawing. See here and here. One thing I emphasized is that home plans on the internet almost always show a dressed up home. But this doesn’t mean they’re adorned in the way you’d prefer. It also doesn’t mean that the ones with the right floor plan layout have the look you want. For example, they may have fancy siding, a taller roof, and a reverse gable. But the one thing they don’t have is your front porch.
The good news is that you can add a front porch to virtually any modular home plan just as you can add a garage to any plan. In addition, you can dress up your home with circle top windows, an ornate front door, decorative moldings, a hip roof, reverse gables, gable returns, A-Dormers, scalloped siding, cultured stone siding, a chimney, and a lot more. Most modular home elevations will display some of these features. But none of them may have the right combination of features matched to the right floor plan layout. So you and your dealer will need to add the modular home elevation features you favor to the floor plan you select.
Examples of How to Dress Up a Modular Home Elevation
Here are six examples of how you can start with a relatively simple modular home elevation and embellish it:
The modular home elevation of the Crookston one-story plan on the right adds a garage and front porch.
The modular home elevation of the Barclay cape cod plan on the right adds a larger front porch that also serves as a dormer, a stone facade, and a combination of vertical and horizontal siding..
The modular home elevation of the Bellmeade two-story plan on the right adds a hip roof, three A-dormers, a brick chimney, a more formal front porch, and brick siding.
The modular home elevation of the Glamorgan one-story plan on the right adds a taller roof and a larger garage with a reverse gable and entry doors on the side.
The modular home elevation of the Tiffany cape cod plan on the right adds a front porch, a partial brick facade, and decorative moldings.
The modular home elevation of the Gordon one-story plan on the right adds a front porch, a taller roof with an A-dormer, a partial stone facade, vertical siding with a scalloped accent, and a circle top window.
Have Your Modular Home Dealer Customize the Modular Home Elevation to Your Liking
As I mentioned in my other two posts (see above), take a second look at some desirable floor plans that you might otherwise reject – because they’re matched with unacceptable elevations. A practical way to do this when you are looking at modular home plans is to cover up the exterior elevation plans with a piece of paper. Otherwise you will find your eyes continually drawn to the elevation plans as you turn the pages. Once you select some floor plan layouts that you like, have your dealer show you how he can create some modular home elevations that please you.
Since we’re entering “hurricane season”, I thought you might want to see a couple of videos about how two of our homes fared against a violent tornado with 160 MPH winds: Part 1 shows how the modular homes were much more durable than the stick framed homes when struck head-on by the tornado. Part 2 includes interviews with the homeowners.
Here explains why modular homes are so durable.
Here explains why modular homes are stronger than conventional, stick built homes. Keep in mind that this was written by the National Association of Home Builders, whose members are almost entirely stick builders.
Why Tear Down Your Home
Are you considering replacing your existing home with a new modular home? You have lots of company. Many of us are happy with our neighborhood, local schools, and commute to work. We’re also attached to our property, often because we like its size and views. If only our homes were big enough for our families. If only they had layouts that worked for how we live. If only they had modern features and better energy efficiency. If only we could fix our problems with some reasonable and affordable remodeling.
But what if remodeling is not viable? What if you’d prefer a new home? If so, you’ll likely consider purchasing a building lot – if not in your neighborhood, at least in your town. But what if your town is well established with a home already built on virtually every lot? You might then consider “tearing down” your home and replacing it with a brand new modular home.
Can You Tear Down Your Home
Before you contact a modular builder, you should learn what your town’s zoning, planning, and building departments allow. Their regulations are partly in place to protect the existing character of your town and neighborhood. They dictate whether and how you can tear down your existing home. They also determine what you can build as a replacement. This usually includes the size, footprint, square footage, height, and style of your home.
If your home is in a historic preservation district, you may be prohibited from tearing down your home, or at least required to adhere to the architectural standards of your neighborhood. In fact, your abutting neighbors will likely have some input into what you can build. It’s often best to speak directly to them in advance of pushing ahead. If your property is part of a subdivision that is governed by a homeowners association, make sure it’s bylaws do not prevent your home from being torn down.
You should also check with your gas, electric, and water utilities to learn how you can disconnect these from your home. You should consult with your fire department to see what they need. You should expect your town to require an inspection for toxic materials, such as asbestos or an old diesel tank. And you should speak with your board of health, if you have a septic system, to see what’s needed to comply with its regulations.
If you skip these steps, and assume you can tear down your home, you may waste a lot of time designing a home you cannot build.
The Cost to Tear Down Your Home
Be prepared to pay between $5,000 and $25,000 to demolish your existing home, haul the materials away, and cover the disposal fees. You’ll pay even more if your home has asbestos or other toxic materials. You’ll also likely need to pay for a demolition permit.
How to Finance the Tear Down and Replacement of Your Home
If you are financing your project, you must qualify for a construction loan and mortgage in terms of income, debt, and credit. (Check out my blogs that explain what you need to know about financing a modular home.) In addition, there are a couple of financial considerations that are unique to demolishing and replacing your existing home. Take these seriously, since they’ve tripped up many customers in the past.
Unless you own your home outright, you cannot tear it down without first paying off the existing mortgage or obtaining written permission from your current lender. However, your lender will not grant permission if the loan balance is more than the value of the land, since the land will be the only equity left after the demolition. Should you tear down your home without paying off your loan or obtaining permission, your lender will invoke the default clause in your mortgage, which will create some serious legal headaches for you.
If you have an existing mortgage, you will need a loan that covers the balance owed on your existing home, the demolition, and the construction of your new home. A consideration for your lender is whether you will have sufficient equity in your property after the demolition and repayment of your current loan balance. The equity is needed to serve as a down payment on your new loan. If the outstanding balance is substantial, however, you may not have enough equity, unless you have another source of funds
A second consideration for your lender is whether the value of your finished home will be sufficient to support the total of your new mortgage. The lender needs to be confident that if you default on your loan, they can recover the balance by selling your property. They will determine the value of your new home by obtaining a professional real estate appraisal.
I’m a member of the baby boom generation. Like most people in this demographic, I’m not as nimble as I once was. Even so, I get around well “for my age”, although I do have the help of a new left hip. I exercise regularly and don’t need the assistance of a cane, walker, or wheelchair. I’m proud to say that I can still climb stairs as fast as most 30 year olds. But this won’t always be so, and it’s important that I recognize that, especially when my wife and I build our next home.
In my experience as a modular home builder, however, many people underestimate the inevitable effects of aging when they design their home. It’s not because they fail to think about it. Nor because we fail to bring it up when discussing their selections. In fact, our T-Ranch model home displays several Universal Design features that should be considered by anyone who wants their home to be user friendly as they age. But most people have a budget and when forced to make a choice between a feature that will benefit them in the distant future or an amenity they really want now . . . . Well you know how that goes.
The most vivid example for me occurred not long after we built our T-Ranch model home. Two sisters in their 70’s decided to build a custom one-story that contained many of the Universal Design options in our model. However, they didn’t choose to eliminate the stairs to their front or back door. They said they were in good health and able to get around on their own. I pointed out that it was easier to create a level entrance without ramps if we did this while building their home. This is always true, but it’s particularly true on a property that’s very sloped, which was true of their lot. The stumbling block was the extra fill required to build a “bridge” to one of her exterior doors.
There were two reasons they decided against this. One was because the fill would cost a few thousand dollars, which they could only afford by giving up the hardwood floor in the dining room and living room. In addition, they didn’t like how the property would look with the extra fill.
Sadly, one of the sisters had a serious stroke two years after they moved into their home. Although she survived, she could no longer move about without a wheelchair. Since there was no level entrance, the sisters had a ramp built to their back door. It was quite sizeable – and by their own admission unattractive – because the door was five feet above the finished grade. But it was the only practical choice at that point.
When I tell this story, most people are surprised the sisters made the choice they did. But I’ve found that many people make these kinds of choices because of how strongly they want their dream home to include all of their desired amenities.
Ultimately it’s your choice what you build. But give serious thought to building a home that meets your family’s needs now and into the future. Design it so it allows you to age in place without forcing you to make expensive renovations, move, or radically alter your lifestyle when your abilities start to slip. It’s certainly something my wife and I will do.
Advantages of Second Story Modular Additions
If you are building a second story modular addition, you are most likely doing it to create more living space rather than a separate living unit. The general contractor will turn your one-story into a two-story by removing the roof from your home and immediately setting the new modular second story with its own built-in roof on top.
The speed of modular construction is a tremendous benefit when building a second story addition, since the addition can be set in place within hours after the roof is removed from your existing home. Once the modular addition is in place, the inside of your home is protected from a sudden storm. A site builder cannot realistically protect your home as quickly. Another advantage is that the second story can be finished faster. This means your family can use the upstairs more quickly, even if it must wait to enjoy the downstairs until the remodeling is completed.
Requirements for Second Story Modular Additions
There are two conditions that must be met before you can build a second story modular addition. First, the exterior dimensions of the existing home must be compatible with one of the modular manufacturer’s production sizes. If your home is too wide, a modular will not easily work. If your home has multiple bump-outs, a modular might work, but it may be impractical and expensive. A home can be up to 3-feet narrower than a module, however, and adding a wider second floor can create an attractive, cantilevered garrison colonial look.
The second condition is having an existing home and foundation that are structurally capable of carrying the additional weight, which is substantial. You will need to hire a structural engineer to make this determination. He may give you specific instructions on fortifying the structure or the foundation, which might be unacceptable or too expensive. If you decide to carry out his instructions, the GC will complete them as part of his remodeling. Before the engineer completes his final written report, he will need to see plans of exactly what you are building and receive detailed information from the manufacturer.
Design Issues for Second Story Modular Additions
When designing an addition, you must decide where the stairs to the second floor will be located. You must also determine a location for a chase from the basement to the second floor to carry the electrical wires, HVAC supply and return ducts or pipes, and plumbing pipes for second-floor bathrooms. If the GC is connecting to a forced-air system in the basement, the chase must be larger, since the ducts will take up more space than hot-water lines.
The design of the second story elevation must be coordinated with the first-story elevation. The window locations on the second story should be arranged in a pleasing fashion. This decision should be made early in the design process, since the location of the interior partition walls on the second story must be coordinated with the window locations (you cannot put a wall in the middle of a window). In addition, the window style and sizes should be matched as closely as possible to the existing home.
The exterior elevation of all four sides of the finished home must take into consideration any first-story bump-outs or structures. For example, the location of an existing bay window, porch, sunroom, portico, recessed entry, or garage can pose special design challenges. The second story must be planned so that it does not affect either the function or aesthetic appeal of these structures. In some cases, it might be necessary to remove a part of the bump-out or attached structure, such as a garage roof, before installing the second story. If the modular second story will be cantilevered, the overhang can pose additional problems with a first-floor bump-out, such as a bay window.
The exterior siding on the second story must fit with the siding on the first story. Otherwise, the siding on the first story will have to be replaced. If you currently have wood siding, you might need to repaint or restain it to create a color match. Similar coordination issues arise for shutters and other exterior trim details.
If you have a chimney on your existing one-story home, you will need to make it taller to reach above the roof of the second floor. In addition, all trees overhanging the first story will need to be removed.
Material Disposal and Second Story Modular Additions
The actual removal of the existing roof as well as any other materials you are replacing in your existing home, such as the siding or windows, will be a task unto itself. The cost of disposing of these materials will be appreciable.
Most importantly, when you are done building your second story modular addition, it will almost feel like you have just built a brand new home.
Have a Great and Safe July 4th Holiday Weekend
The Two Uses of Attached Modular Additions
Attached modular additions are sometimes built to create a separate, additional living unit and sometimes to create more living space. Most zoning boards consider any addition with a separate kitchen to constitute a separate living unit, which requires that the wall between the two units must serve as a “fire stop.” The easiest way to accomplish this is to have the modular manufacturer build a fire-rated wall on that side of the addition.
Zoning and Attached Modular Additions
To qualify as an addition, your community’s zoning regulations will require that it be connected to your home. Detached additions are almost always disallowed. You can connect the two by attaching the addition directly to your home or by joining the addition and your home to another room in between, such as a small site-built mudroom or large, modular great room.
Locating Attached Modular Additions
Your property’s topography may limit where you can build an attached addition. If one side of your lot is wetlands or contains a septic system or municipal sewer pipe, you might not be able to build on that side. You will have the same problem, although to a lesser extent, if one side of your land has a steep slope or an outcropping of rock. Although you will want to locate the addition so that the floor plans of your home and addition work well together, you may want to consider an alternative if the preferred location would incur substantial additional expenses.
Roof Design of Attached Modular Additions
In designing a modular addition, the dealer and GC should make sure that the intersecting roofs shed water and snow properly. This is particularly important when the addition is being built in areas with the potential for heavy winter snow, because the roof of the addition needs to be attached to the existing home so that the two can carry the load together. Depending on how and where the modular addition will be attached, the manufacturer may ask you to hire a structural engineer to determine what needs to be done to make the two structures work together. The engineer may require the GC to beef up the existing roof to carry the additional load.
Matching Openings Between an Existing Home and Attached Modular Additions
Before your modular addition is built, the GC must measure exactly where the openings into your existing home are located. The modular dealer will then use that information to line up the connecting openings in your addition.
Scope of Work for Attached Modular Additions
If you are attaching a modular addition directly to the existing home, the GC will need to remove the siding on the existing home’s wall. Any windows or doors on that wall will also need to be removed, and the resulting holes will need to be closed off and finished so they match the home. No matter how well the addition is set alongside the existing home, there are bound to be small gaps between the two. The GC will need to tie the two buildings together on the inside and outside to hide any gaps. Next week I’ll discuss the second-story modular additions.