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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Building in the Winter

Protect the Ground When Building in the Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Precautions Pouring the Concrete Floor When Building in the Winter

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

Get the Heat Going When Building in the Winter

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

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

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

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

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Trash Removal

Trash Removal after Set Day

After the set, the site will have piles of plastic wrap that were removed from the modules.  The quantity of material almost always surprises customers and GCs without modular experience. The GC should dispose of all the material left over from the set immediately after it is completed.

In addition to the pile of trash created on set day, the button-up phase and construction of site-built structures will generate trash daily. Therefore, it is usually best if the GC uses a large dumpster to dispose of the trash.  If the site does not have room for a dumpster on set day, the GC can have one delivered the following day.

The best option for managing trash removal on the site is to use a dumpster.
The best option for managing trash removal on the site is to use a dumpster.

The GC may decide instead to use a truck or van to carry the waste from the site. In that case, he should provide a container or at least designate a location for everyone to place their trash. This can work as long as the GC regularly removes the trash; if he does not, your new neighbors may find trash being blown into their yards. You would probably prefer to get to know them under different circumstances.

Trash Removal when Packing to Move    

As you pack your belongings while preparing to move, you will undoubtedly generate a lot of trash. Resist the urge to use your GC’s dumpster. Even though you are paying for it, the GC needs all the room he can get for the construction debris. In addition, if your contribution fills the dumpster prematurely, you may receive a bill for an additional dumpster, which will cost a lot more than the extra time it would have taken you to use the town’s disposal services.

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

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Portable Toilet

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.

A portable toilet on site is not a luxury, but a necessity for everyone who works on your modular home.
A portable toilet on site is not a luxury, but a necessity for everyone who works on your modular home.

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.

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Modular Home Delivery Challenges

Modular Home Delivery Challenges         

A road sign indicating a winding road ahead for the next 5 miles
The dealer should confirm the modular home delivery route.

Although most building sites can take delivery of a modular home, there are some locations that require enough extra site work or a redesign of the house plan into smaller modules that building a modular home is not practical. Narrow approaching roads with hairpin turns, lots on the side of steep hills, and very narrow properties can pose challenges. The only way to know if a building lot can comfortably receive a modular home delivery is to have a modular dealer visit it.

But sometimes that’s not enough.  A few years ago we delivered a two-story home to an “easy” lot.  It was flat, wide, and deep with no trees to obstruct either the delivery or set.  The roads to the property were also straight and wide enough. Or at least they were when we completed our inspection of the route.

A week before delivery we were informed by the customer that our planned route had been closed by the town for six weeks to complete some emergency work to the sewer and water pipes. We immediately revisited the site and searched for an alternative route.  Fortunately there was one option, but unfortunately it required us to cross a very old, narrow wooden bridge that wasn’t rated to carry the weight of the modules.

Modular Home Delivery Backup Routes

We ultimately decided to use a very large crane to lift each module plus its carrier from one side of the bridge to the other. Ever since then we’ve always made sure to look for a back-up route to the property. However, we’ve not always been able to find a viable alternative.  Usually there is more than one route for a car, but the alternatives aren’t always wide or straight enough to handle the size of the modules.  Whenever we have any concern about the primary or backup routes, we talk to the town public works department to make sure they aren’t planning to close the road around the time of the scheduled delivery.

For more information about the modular home delivery, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Good Cheap or Fast

If you’re like me when shopping for a big item – such as a car, TV, or house – you want the best combination of quality, delivery time, and price. Too bad it’s impossible to maximize all three at the same time, especially when building a home. A builder can build your home with good quality and service. He can also build it fast. And he can even build it cheap. But he can only do 2 of the 3. You’ll have to choose which two are most important to you. Here’s why!

Fast and Cheap

If you want your builder to build your home fast and cheap, his quality and service won’t be as good.  First, he can’t deliver good quality without receiving enough money to pay for the better materials.  Second, he can’t deliver good quality or service without enough money to pay himself as well as his employees and subcontractors for the “extra” time required to properly plan his work and complete his tasks with better craftsmanship.

Fast and Good

Your builder can also build your home fast and with good quality and service.  But he won’t build it as inexpensively as he could, since he’ll need to apply more resources to the project – all at the same time.  Unfortunately this is not the most efficient way to build a home.  Also, it might require overtime pay for his employees.  In addition, your builder will need to convince his other customers to accept delays on their projects, which might cost him some financial concessions.  Worse, if he makes his other customers unhappy, it might cost him his reputation.

Good and Cheap

Your builder can also build your home cheap (“affordable”) and with good quality and service.  But it’s going to take him longer because the only way he can keep his price down is to give priority to his other customers who are not getting your steep discount.  So he’ll squeeze you in as time allows.

You Choose: Good Cheap or Fast

When building a home, your builder can only give you two of these three: Good Cheap or Fast.
When building a home, your builder can only give you two of these three: Good Cheap or Fast.

Which two are most important to you?  If you talk to people who’ve built a home in the past, they’ll say you get what you pay for.  They’ll also mention that if you get it wrong, you’ll regret it for many years to come.  After all, you’re more likely to forget how fast and cheap your home was built than how well it was built.

By the way, if you Google “Good Cheap or Fast”, you’ll find many articles about how this point applies across a wide range of industries.  You can make tradeoffs between good cheap and fast to give you some of each.  But t you can’t have it all.

For more information about deciding between building a home Good Cheap or Fast see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, Selecting a General Contractor, and Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

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Preconstruction Tasks and Your Construction Schedule

The previous two posts listed the tasks that must be completed before your modular home can be delivered and set on its foundation. This post will discuss how long it takes to complete all of these preconstruction tasks.

How Preconstruction Tasks Affect Your Move-In Date

Most people building a new home are prepared for the construction to take longer than planned. They have heard that subcontractors, inclement weather, utility companies, and inspection officials all contribute to delays. Few people, however, anticipate how long it takes to complete those tasks that must be done before they begin construction. Consequently, they budget too little time for these preconstruction tasks and then try to compensate by skipping some tasks and rushing through others. When this strategy fails, they miss their desired move-in date and pay for it with stress with their family, conflict with their dealer and GC, and cost overruns with their budget.

How Long It Takes to Complete Preconstruction Tasks

It can take you as little as five weeks or as much as a year or more to complete all of the preconstruction tasks listed in the previous two blog posts. But all of them must be done before your modular home is delivered and set on its foundation. Your responsibilities can take as little as one day, if you order a standard modular plan with no changes, select only standard features, agree all decisions are final, have cash to pay for everything, have a GC lined up and ready to go, and have a building permit in hand or don’t need one. If this is true for you, you will be an exception.

More likely, you will want to customize your modular and GC drawings and specifications, require some time to consider your decisions, and need to wait for the lender to approve your loan and the building department to issue your permit. You may even want to revise your drawings and specifications two or more times. Consequently, you will likely need several weeks before you are done with your preconstruction responsibilities.

Even if you are able to make final decisions about your drawings and specifications in one week, the manufacturer cannot build your home, and you do not want the manufacturer to build your home, until you have obtained a building permit and secured financing. These preconstruction tasks can take a couple of months. Closing on a construction loan often takes six to eight weeks, completing the preliminary steps required to apply for a building permit can sometimes take several weeks, and receiving a building permit after submitting the application can take up to 30 days. One of the most important variables affecting whether you will be done on time is how quickly you begin your efforts. If you wait two weeks, you will not be able to make up the time by asking your dealer, GC, lender, or building department to work faster.

Other Preconstruction Tasks

The start of your schedule will also be extended if you have not completed all of the following preconstruction tasks before you order your home, if you need them done:

  • Secured a building lot or will purchase one immediately
  • Surveyed your building lot
  • Resolved any deed and zoning issues with your building lot
  • Resolved any wetland issues with your building lot
  • Obtained a valid perc test and at least applied for a engineered septic design
  • Selected a GC and/or subcontractors
A for sale sign on an undeveloped building lot
Finding the right building lot can take more time than you expect.

Once you complete your preconstruction responsibilities, the manufacturer will need a minimum of five weeks to complete its tasks. The manufacturer typically requires at least three weeks to complete your production drawings and order your materials, one week to build your home, and one week to get it ready for shipment – for a total of five weeks from the date you are ready. It does not matter whether you complete your responsibilities in one day or one year, the typical manufacturer still needs a minimum of five weeks. Furthermore, if you select materials that need to be “special ordered” or are “back-ordered”, the manufacturer will need even more time. And if the manufacturer has strong sales, its backlog of orders can add several weeks to its schedule and your delivery date.

For a detailed schedule of when all of your preconstruction tasks must be completed as well as each player’s responsibility for completing each of these tasks, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

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Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks

Your Preconstruction Permit and General Contracting Tasks

This post is a continuation of my last one, since it also focuses on the “preconstruction tasks” that need to be completed before your home can be delivered and set on its foundation.  This post focuses on your building permit and general contracting tasks.

A general contractor talking to the electrician.
A general contractor talking to the electrician.

Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks

  • Sign a contract with the GC or separate contracts with the subcontractors
  • Submit the septic design for approval to the board of health
  • Order the land boundary stakes for the property
  • Inform the GC of any easements or deed restrictions that apply to the property
  • Review any zoning regulations that apply to the property with the building inspector
  • Ask the building inspector if he enforces any special local building codes
  • Determine the cost of all permit fees that apply to the property
  • Give the building permit application to the GC to fill out
  • Ask the GC where he wants to locate the electrical panel box on the modular home
  • Ask the GC to help design the second story floor plan for the unfinished cape or attic
  • Ask the GC to specify the matching materials he needs to complete the site-built structures
  • Ask the GC to specify the rough openings he wants for the modular home
  • Ask the GC to specify the site-installed flooring details for the modular home
  • Receive the GC’s first draft of the preliminary plans and specifications
  • Get back the completed permit application from the GC
  • Obtain the necessary signatures on the building permit application
  • Have the surveyor complete the boundary stakes on the property
  • Receive the septic design approval from the board of health
  • Meet with the GC to revise the GC plans and specifications
  • Receive the GC’s second draft of the plans and specifications
  • Meet with the GC to sign off on the plans and specifications
  • Ensure the GC drills the well
  • Authorize the GC to draw the permit plans
  • Pay the GC the balance of the required deposit
  • Receive the dealer’s GC permit plans
  • Submit the well water test results to the board of health for approval
  • Apply for the building permit
  • Receive the building permit
  • Authorize the GC to begin his work
  • Meet with the GC, his excavator, and the dealer on the site
  • Ensure the GC begins the site work and prepares the site for delivery and set
  • Schedule the surveyor to complete the as-built plan
  • Schedule a bulldozer and/or tow-truck
  • Ensure the GC installs the foundation
  • Locate a staging area to store modules
  • Obtain the as-built plan and get a copy to the bank or town
  • Ensure the GC completes his site and foundation preparation
  • Ensure the GC brings the necessary heavy equipment to both the delivery and set
  • Pay the GC for his excavation and foundation work

For a detailed schedule of when each of your permit and general contracting tasks must be completed as well as each player’s responsibility for completing each of these tasks, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

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Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks

Your Preconstruction Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks

This post will focus on the modular dealer and financing tasks you must complete before you home is delivered to your property.

Building your home on schedule takes every bit as much planning as building it on budget. In fact, if you put a lot of effort into planning both, you are likely to find that keeping on schedule is considerably harder than staying on budget. That is because you can determine what you will get and how much you will spend before construction begins, and almost all – but not all – of the required decisions for building a modular home are reasonably predictable and within your control. This is not true for scheduling, since there are so many other players involved who will not always bend to your will, including the surveyor, engineer, utility company, building inspector, modular home dealer, modular manufacturer, and modular general contractor. You may even find that your own personal and family obligations become an obstacle to maintaining your schedule.

There are two very separable timelines when building a modular home. The first – the “preconstruction tasks” – includes all of the tasks you and your lender, modular dealer, modular manufacturer, and modular general contractor need to complete before your home is set. You are primarily responsible for making final decisions about your modular and general contracting drawings and specifications and for completing those tasks related to obtaining a building permit and financing. The second timeline involves those tasks the GC needs to complete after your house is set. This post and the next two will focus on the “preconstruction tasks” that must be completed before your home can be delivered and set on its foundation.

Female Lender and Couple Discussing Modular Home Payment Terms
If you are using a lender to pay for any part of your modular home, apply for financing as soon as you have enough information to do so

Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks

  • Sign a contract with the modular dealer
  • Apply for financing (if you are using a lender)
  • Receive the dealer’s first draft of the modular preliminary plans and specifications
  • Meet with the dealer to revise the modular plans and specifications
  • Specify where the GC wants to locate the electrical meter on the modular home
  • Design the second story floor plan for the unfinished cape or attic
  • Tell the dealer what special building codes are enforced by the building department
  • Tell the dealer what matching materials the GC needs to complete the site-built structures
  • Tell the dealer what rough openings the GC wants framed in the modular home
  • Tell the dealer what site-installed flooring and baseboard specifications the GC wants for the modular home
  • Receive the dealer’s second draft of the modular preliminary plans and specifications
  • Meet with the dealer to sign off on the plans and specifications
  • Authorize the dealer to complete the modular permit plans
  • Pay the dealer the balance of the required deposit
  • Receive the dealer’s modular permit plans
  • Deliver a copy of the bank’s commitment letter to the dealer
  • Deliver a copy of the building permit to the dealer
  • Deliver the bank’s assignment of funds letter to the dealer
  • Authorize the dealer to build the modular home
  • Send the dealer a certificate of insurance
  • Pay the dealer the modular balance due in full
  • Remain present during the delivery and set
  • Complete a walk-through inspection for warranty work and material shortages

For a detailed schedule of when each of your modular dealer and financing tasks must be completed, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home. The chapter identifies all of the players, the tasks they must complete, and the sequence in which the tasks should be done. It also explains your responsibility for completing each of the tasks

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Construction Schedule Delays

There are many types of construction schedule delays that can cause misunderstandings and ill feelings between a customer and their general contractor (GC). Here are five of them.

Construction Schedule Delays:  Situation 1

The GC does not initiate any work on your home the first seven to ten days after the set. You might conclude that the GC has dropped the ball and the entire project will be delayed. The GC, however, might be completing a few other homes that were started before yours. Completing the other homes first will keep him from having to jump back and forth between several homes at the same time. Once the GC starts work on your home, he will be able to make a concerted effort to complete it on schedule.

Construction Schedule Delays:  Situation 2

The GC gets ahead of schedule on one or two construction tasks. You might conclude that the entire project will be completed ahead of schedule. But there will likely be delays before your home is completed. Although it would be great if the GC completed your home early, it is more realistic for you to expect him to complete it on schedule.

Construction Schedule Delays:  Situation 3

The GC falls behind on one or more construction tasks. You might conclude that the completion date will not be met, but the GC’s targeted completion date allows for some delays.

Construction Schedule Delays:  Situation 4

With three weeks left to the projected completion date, the GC appears to have only two weeks of work remaining. You might think that the entire project will be completed ahead of schedule. There are multiple small details, however, including inspections and punch lists, that must be completed during the last couple of weeks of the project, and the crews needed to complete these tasks may not be scheduled for another week. If the project is not completed early, you may feel the GC mismanaged the end of the project. The reality is he is right on schedule.

Construction Schedule Delays:  Situation 5

With two weeks to go, the GC appears to have three-weeks worth of work remaining to be done. You might feel that it is impossible to complete the work by the targeted completion date. For the past few weeks, however, the GC has focused on completing a few other homes that were started before yours. Once he turns his focus back on your home, he will be able to make an all-out effort to complete it on schedule.

The point of these examples is make you aware that things are not always as they seem when it comes to progress on production schedules.  Whenever you have concerns, the best thing to do is talk directly with your GC while keeping an open mind to his explanation.

For more information about construction schedule delays, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Start Now to Move into Your Home by Summer or Fall

If you’re thinking about moving into your new home before the end of the year, you’ll need to make an appointment with us in the next couple of weeks.  This will enable us to put together the details for your home design, preferred specifications, and pricing.  This will in turn allow you to decide whether we can help you.

It Takes 24 to 42 Weeks from Start to Move-in

You might think that starting in February is too early.  But if you consider how long each step takes – from the start of shopping to the day your home is ready for your occupancy, you’ll discover that you can only meet your goal if you start immediately.

Below is the number of weeks each step takes most customers.  Note that each step must be completed before you can complete the next one.  This is important because you can’t speed up the process nor make up for lost time by doing several steps at the same time:

2 to 6 Weeks       Finalize your design, material selections, and pricing

1 to 2 Weeks       Decide whether we can help you

2 to 4 Weeks       Receive state approved building plans

2 to 4 Weeks       Obtain required permits

4 to 6 Weeks       Close on the construction loan (assuming you need financing)

5 to 8 Weeks       Authorize the modular factory to build and deliver your home

8 to 12 Weeks     Complete the on-site construction

Adding up the time it takes to complete all the steps, you need 24 to 42 weeks from the day you first meet with us to the day you move-in with your family.  This translates into 6 to 10 months.  If you start in February, the earliest you’re likely to enjoy your new home is August. If you take 8 months, which is much more likely than 6, you’ll take occupancy in October.  And if you take 10 months, you’ll be lucky to celebrate the holidays in your new home.

Waiting Can Cause You to Make Critical Mistakes

There’s another very important reason you should start now.  You won’t have to rush through any of the steps to keep on schedule.  If you wait several weeks, you’ll either have to hurry through the steps – especially your design, selections, and pricing – or delay your move-in date.  But when you try to shorten some of the steps, you’re prone to make mistakes, which you’ll later come to regret.

Here’s yet another critical reason to start now.  You’ll be able to take advantage of the historically low interest rates.  This will save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the typical 30 year loan.

We Can Help You without Any Cost or Obligation

The Home Store can help you get started without without any cost or obligation. Our salesperson will generate a quotation for the plan of your choice using our Modular Estimate (60 pages of detail) and Contractor Estimate (20 – 50 pages of detail). Please click on the links to see some sample pages from each form.

With these estimates, you won’t be left guessing what you’re getting or what you’re paying. If you then decide to build your new home with us, we will finalize the design, specification, and pricing steps over the next month or two so that you can build your home on your schedule.

Please call us with any questions or to set up an appointment.

For more information about why you should start shopping now if you want to move into your new home by summer, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule, Selecting a Modular Home Dealer , Selecting a General Contractor, and Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Building A Modular Home Addition Is a Great Time to Remodel

Remodel the Inside of Your Existing Home When Building a Modular Home Addition

A contractor painting a remodeled area of an existing home that has added a modular home addition
Building a modular home addition is a great time to remodel

To make the floor plan of your current home flow nicely into your modular home addition, you may need to do some remodeling. If you add a second-story modular home addition, you will certainly need to build a set of stairs to the second floor. But you may also want to rearrange your current floor plan. You might remodel your home to update some features; kitchen and bathroom renovations are particularly popular choices. Or you might remodel to improve the layout. When building a second-story modular home addition, for example, you might accomplish this by making two of the existing bedrooms into a great room or by carving out a bigger kitchen and formal dining room. When building an attached modular home addition that contains a new master-bedroom suite, kitchen, and formal dining room, you might make the old country kitchen into a breakfast nook and mudroom.

Dress Up the Front of Your Existing Home When Building a Modular Home Addition

You may want to use the modular home addition as an occasion to dress up the outside of your home. In fact, you might not have a choice, since the siding, shingles, or windows may need to be replaced to match the addition. Replacing or refinishing all of these materials in your existing home can be expensive. On the other hand, it might be the perfect time to do so if they are worn out.

Add a Deck or a Porch When Building a Modular Home Addition

Building a modular home addition is often the perfect time to add the deck or porch you have always wanted. It is usually more affordable to do these small projects while a general contractor is already completing the other work at your home. Your lender may also be willing to increase your mortgage by the relatively modest amount needed to take on these projects.

Remodeling Can Be Expensive, Even When Building a Modular Home Addition

Remodeling, however, can be expensive, and the true cost is often hard to pin down in an older home until the work has begun. If you are having a GC do some remodeling, you will want to understand what he is assuming responsibility for doing and what he is excluding from his contract. You will definitely want to set aside a good-sized contingency fund.

For more information about modular additions and remodeling, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

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Special Permits and Documents Needed for a Building Permit

Below is a detailed list of the kind of permits and supporting documents that might be required by the building department in your community in order to obtain a building permit. When one of these is required, it usually needs to be obtained before you can apply for the building permit.  That’s why your modular general contractor should determine which ones are needed as soon as you’ve decided to build. Your GC should also determine what actions will be needed and how much lead time will be required for each permit and supporting document, and then act accordingly.

An example of the first two pages of a building permits application
Click Here to See an Example of a Building Permits Application.

In addition, you and GC need to agree who will pay for each of the permits and fees required to build your home. The cost for permits, utility fees, engineering and survey work, and related items varies widely from town to town, utility company to utility company, and engineer to engineer. For example, a building permit can range in price from a hundred to a few thousand dollars, and utility hookups can range from no cost to several thousand dollars. Since you are ultimately responsible for the costs, whether you pay for them directly or through your modular general contractor, determine the amounts for each item as soon as possible, budget accordingly, and agree in writing with your modular general contractor which of you will be making the payments.

Potential Permits and Supporting Documents

  • State and local environmental-commission’s approval: This is particularly important if the property contains wetlands or protected dunes in coastal areas
  • Tree-removal permit: If the land is on a state road, federal highway, or designated a scenic route, you might need permission from a regulatory agency
  • Utility permit for temporarily taking down high-voltage power lines
  • Demolition permit: May be required to demolish any existing structures, and another permit may be required to dispose of the materials
  • Hazardous waste permit: Required to dispose of hazardous materials
  • Well permit: if a septic system is needed, its design might need to be approved before a well permit is issued
  • Potable water test: the well water might need to pass a safety test before a building permit is issued
  • Municipal-water entrance permit: This can be as costly as drilling a well, and the fee does not include the cost for digging the trench or installing the underground pipe
  • Septic design approval: having the design completed by a licensed sanitarian or engineer and approved by the local board of health can sometimes take several weeks
  • Municipal-sewer entrance permit: This can be as costly as a septic system, and the fee does not include the cost for digging the trench or installing the underground pipe
  • Driveway curb-cut permit: In most areas this is routine, as long as safety is not an issue, but if the land is on a state road or a designated scenic route, you might need to apply to another agency
  • Street-excavation permit: If the road must be excavated to bring public utilities to the site, permission must be obtained from the town or state, depending on who is responsible for maintaining the road
  • Traffic-safety permit: If the road must be excavated or if traffic will be obstructed, the town or state may require special signage or a police officer to maintain traffic control
  • Fire-marshal approval: Required for smoke detectors, oil furnaces, fireplaces, and woodstoves
  • Building permit for additional structures: Required for all structures that will be built on site, such as a garage, porch, deck, mudroom, or finished attic
  • Structural engineering design and plan: May be required when an {I}-beam is being used in the basement to support the home instead of lally columns
  • Oil permit: May be required when installing oil heat, along with a final inspection to obtain a certificate of occupancy
  • Gas permit: Required when natural or propane gas will be used for the heating system, an appliance, or a fireplace
  • Fuel-storage permit: Required when the heating system requires oil or gas storage

For more information about your building permit and all additional permits and fees that might be required to build your modular home,  see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home and Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

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Scheduling Electrical Power to Your Home

Several of my customers over the years have suffered through lengthy delays trying to complete the turnkey on their home due to problems scheduling electrical power to their site. For the most part, these customers were acting as their own general contractor or had hired an independent GC. But my company has also experienced these delays in scheduling electrical power when serving as the GC.

Scheduling Electrical Power to Your Home

After scheduling electrical power, a utility work climbs an electrical pole
If your modular home will be located a substantial distance from the power lines, do not delay in scheduling electrical power. It will likely take one to three months lead time to have additional electrical poles or a new transformer installed

The delays in scheduling electrical power usually happened because the utility company needed additional electrical poles or a new transformer, which typically required one to three months lead time. The delays in scheduling electrical power were sometimes compounded because the approval of the poles required a public hearing, which itself took a month or more from scheduling to approval.  On a couple of occasions when things were particularly busy, the overall delay in scheduling electrical power was over four months.  In these cases, the GC completed as much of the work as he could.  But he was then stopped in his tracks for a couple of months, which delayed the customer’s move in by the same amount.

In other cases a delay in scheduling electrical power was used by the GC has a reasonable excuse for postponing the start of the work. As the GC pointed out to the customer, the subcontractors need electricity to operate their power tools. Although the subs could use a portable generator temporarily, this would be an inefficient and expensive way to operate.

These delays in scheduling electrical power can be minimized, however, if your GC asks the electrician to contact the utility company several weeks before your home is delivered. If the electrician discovers that you need additional poles, you can have him file an immediate request to avoid substantial delays. Another option for minimizing the impact of delays in scheduling electrical power, when possible, is to ask the electrician to set up a temporary service to your home.

Scheduling Electrical Power Weeks Before Beginning Construction

The most important thing you can do to avoid delays in scheduling electrical power to your site is to ask the electrician to request service to your home several weeks before the modules are to arrive. At the very least, you and your GC will know what to expect and can plan accordingly.

For more information about scheduling electrical power, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home and Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Contracting Responsibilities

The GC has many difficult and time-consuming modular home contracting responsibilities. Some of these are obvious, but many are not.

Some of the More Important Modular Home Contracting Responsibilities

  • Obtain competitive bids
  • Help determine the scope of work
  • Help determine the building specifications
  • Select subcontractor candidates for each area of construction
  • Review written proposals for each subcontractor candidate
  • Select each subcontractor and sign a contract detailing the scope of work, building specifications, and price
  • Create and manage the schedule for materials and subcontractors, including the sequence of each subcontractor to maximize productivity and reduce conflict
  • Ensure the job is ready for each subcontractor before instructing him to begin
  • Revise the schedule weekly to adjust for inevitable delays, such as weather, inspectors, and illness
  • Ensure that work is done to accepted industry standards as well as to the customer’s satisfaction by completing on-site inspections
  • Ensure that any warranty problems that occur after the job is done and after each subcontractor is paid are taken care of to the customer’s satisfaction
The GC's modular home contracting responsibilities before the home is delivered and set
The GC’s modular home contracting responsibilities before the home is delivered and set

As you can see, the general contractor (GC) has a critical list of responsibilities and duties. That’s why I strongly recommend that you hire a professional, experienced GC. He (or she) is able to call upon a number of subcontractors to obtain competitive bids for each construction task. He is able to get them to perform in a timely fashion, which is no small task in the building trades. He can command a fair price and a timely response because they depend on the work he provides. He knows which subcontractors to avoid because of a history of poor workmanship, unreliability, and unethical pricing. When problems occur, as they do on every job, a professional GC solves them quickly. Better yet, he anticipates problems as a matter of course and heads them off before they become a threat.

The GC's modular home contracting responsibilities after the home is delivered and set
The GC’s modular home contracting responsibilities after the home is delivered and set

Having an experienced GC on your side is also helpful when navigating the approval and permit steps that must be completed prior to beginning construction of a new home.  A licensed GC knows the building codes. This is important not just because following them is the law, but because they protect your health and safety. A GC who has experience with modular home contracting responsibilities will have the necessary insurance to protect against something going wrong on the building site. This includes an accident causing a serious personal injury or significant property damage to your home. This insurance is very important in limiting your potential liability as the homeowner.

You may save a little money up front by hiring a GC without professional experience, but you could lose the savings and your sanity once the work begins.

For more information about modular home contracting responsibilities, see Selecting a General Contractor and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Delivery and Set

When I first starting selling modular homes I had a difficult time convincing customers to bring the right equipment to their modular home delivery and set unless the need was completely obvious, which it often is not. That changed after one nearly disastrous incident.

A Lesson about the Importance of the Modular Home Delivery and Set

My customers were building a two-story home made up of four modules shipped on four carriers. I asked them to have their excavator assist the delivery crew on delivery day, and they complied. It turned out that the bulldozer was not needed because the ground was dry and firm. This enabled us to position two of the modules next to the foundation and crane on the property with the other two modules stored in a staging area over night. I reminded my customers that they needed to keep the bulldozer on site for the next day’s set, but they said they didn’t think it was necessary. I pointed out that if it rained that night, we almost certainly would have a problem. My customers responded that it would cost them $500 for the second day, and they thought it was a waste of money. When it began raining that night, I called them at home to again ask them to supply a bulldozer. They refused.

A caterpillar loader ready to help with the modular home delivery and set
Make sure your GC provides the proper equipment for your modular home delivery and set

The set started off well. We got the first module onto the foundation quickly. While we were setting the second, we delivered the third to the site. But the transporters could not get enough traction on the wet ground to move the modules close enough to the foundation no matter what we tried. My customers called their excavator, who arrived two and one-half hours later. While we were waiting, a thunderstorm hit hard. My set crew climbed on the roof, in spite of the lightning, and tried to cover the two modules with tarps. They did OK, but while trying to position the tarp, one of the crew slipped and pushed his foot and part of the tarp through kitchen ceiling.Allof the water that had pooled on the tarp while it was being installed poured onto a row of cabinets. Fortunately, none of my crew was hurt and the damage was repaired. But that experience taught me that I had to explain to my customers all of the things that can go wrong if they do not provide the proper equipment for their modular home delivery and set. It also taught me to delay the start of a set if the equipment is not on site.

Help Your Dealer Protect Your Home During the Modular Home Delivery and Set

When your dealer tells you to provide equipment for your modular home delivery and set day, remember that he isn’t just protecting his interests; he is also protecting your house.

For more information about the modular home delivery and Set, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Are You Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home

It takes most customers awhile to shop for a new home. When they’re finally ready to build, the last thing they want is to be slowed down by some unanticipated steps. Unfortunately, that’s what usually happens. Most customers are surprised by these delays because they haven’t given enough thought to what they need to do be ready willing and able to build a modular home.

Are You Be Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home on Schedule

Personal Situation

  • Start a new job
  • Get married
  • Welcome a new baby
  • Say goodbye to your oldest child
  • Receive an inheritance
  • Receive an insurance settlement
  • Close on the sale of your house or have no house to sell
A "sold" home sign indicating that the seller is almost ready willing and able to build a modular home
If you own an existing home, you will likely need to sell it before you are ready willing and able to build a modular home

Selections

  • Home style
  • Home specifications
  • Modular dealer
  • Scope of on-site contracting work
  • General contractor

Building Lot

  • Purchase or receive as gift
  • Survey
  • Subdivide

Town Approvals

  • Zoning board
  • Planning board
  • Wetlands
  • Septic design
  • Building Permit

Financing

  • Lender financing or a sufficient source of private funds
  • Acceptable debt
  • Acceptable credit
  • Cash to cover
    • Mortgage down payment
    • Bank and legal fees
    • Carrying costs during construction
    • Dealer deposit requirements
    • GC deposit requirements

Some of the steps might only add a day or two, but others can delay you months from being ready willing and able to build a modular home. The sooner you identify where you stand with each, the sooner you’ll be able to form a realistic schedule and begin working on overcoming any obstacles.

Don’t Wait Until You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home before Signing with the Dealer

One final word. Even if you’re facing delays, I recommend that you sign a contract with the dealer and contractor as soon as you’ve made your selection. Otherwise, you may unwittingly create even more delays. To protect yourself, make sure your contracts include the contingencies mentioned in my 12/7/11 blog, “What You Need from Your Dealer – Part 1, Legalese”.

For a more detailed answer to the question, are you ready willing and able to build a modular home, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

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