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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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Modular Home Insurance During Construction

Modular Home Insurance                                               

When building a modular home you need insurance coverage for five parts of the project:

  • The delivery of the modules
  • The set of the modules on your foundation
  • The work done to your land before and after the modular delivery (tree clearing, excavation, foundation, etc.)
  • The work done to complete the “button-up”  of your modules after the set
  • The completed home after you receive a certificate of occupancy from the building department

Most of this coverage should come from the companies that are completing each step.  The delivery and set  of the modules, including the crane, should be insured by the modular manufacturer and/or modular dealer.  To ensure your modular home insurance is in place, you need to ask each modular dealer you are considering to have their insurance company mail you an insurance binder.  It is best to receive it directly from the insurance company, since it is fairly easy to fake the forms. Make sure the coverage includes sufficient liability insurance and workers’ compensation; ask your insurance agent for the recommended amounts. This will limit your potential liability if the dealer or one of his subcontractors is not fully insured and something goes wrong during the set, such as an accident causing a serious personal injury or significant property damage to your home.

You need to follow the same procedure with your general contractor (GC) and any subcontractors you directly hire to complete the work to your property and the button-up of the modules. Secure a certificate of insurance from each of your contractor candidates before making your final selection.  Ask your own agent to review the coverage.

You should also insist that your contracts with your modular dealer and contractors state what modular home insurance coverage each of you is obligated to provide. You should accept responsibility for obtaining a builder’s risk policy or its equivalent. The contractors should accept responsibility for providing general liability insurance and, if they have employees, workers’ compensation.

Modular Home Insurance with a Builder’s Risk Policy

The advantage of a builder’s risk policy over a typical homeowner’s policy for your own modular home insurance is that it automatically provides coverage for theft of building materials and supplies as well as vandalism. You should direct your insurance agent to provide this additional coverage even if you opt for a homeowner’s policy. Since your personal circumstances may differ and your agent may offer other alternatives, consult with your agent.

Modular Home Insurance and Lender Financing

If you are paying for the modules with funds from a lender, which means you are paying by the assignment-of-funds method, your lender will require you to have your modular home insurance in place when you close on the loan. If you are financing your home with your own funds, have coverage in place before your GC begins any work.

If your lender is paying for the modules after the set, the dealer’s insurance should be responsible while the modules are parked on your property before the set, since you will not yet own them. If the dealer does not provide coverage, you should direct your insurance agent to provide it. If you are using private funds to pay for the modules upon delivery, your insurance should provide coverage when the modules are parked on your property, since you will already own the units. You should verify this. Your insurance is less likely to provide coverage when the modules are stored away from your property in a staging area. If you cannot obtain coverage for your situation, ask the dealer for help.

Instruct your insurance company to mail or fax your modular dealer a certificate of your modular home insurance a few weeks before the scheduled delivery. This proves that you have the necessary coverage. The effective date should be set at least 48 hours before the scheduled delivery date and remain in place for at least a week. The certificate should state, “[Dealer’s company name] is loss payee as interest may arise.” The certificate protects the dealer and manufacturer should your modules suffer damage after they are set on the foundation but before your lender pays the dealer. This might happen, for example, if lightning were to strike the modules the first night of a two-day set. Should this unlikely event occur, the certificate ensures that your insurance company would compensate the dealer so he can pay the manufacturer. Once the dealer is paid for the house, he no longer has any insurable interest, so your insurance coverage reverts to you and your lender. The manufacturer’s insurance should cover the modules while they are being delivered to the site. The dealer’s and crane company’s insurance should cover the modules while they are being lifted onto the foundation.

Modular Home Insurance for Personal Property During Under Construction

Do not move any of your belongings into your home before your GC finishes his work without his permission. If the GC agrees, he will ask you to use those rooms he has finished. If you intend to store your things in the basement, he must have already completed all of his work there. Since you are responsible for theft or damage, ask your insurance agent about your coverage.

Modular Home Insurance Costs Less

Modular home insurance during construction will save money compared to insuring a site-built home due to the shorter construction time. The shorter construction period also lessens your exposure to the typical risks that attend construction sites, such as vandalism and the pilferage of construction materials. Vandalism is further curtailed because the modules can be secured more rapidly than a site-built home. The ability to quickly secure the modules also makes it more difficult for someone to steal construction materials. Pilferage is further reduced because of the size of the modules; you cannot walk off with a module in the way you can carry away a few boards of lumber. Completing the home more quickly also reduces your biggest financial risk, that of a personal injury to a contractor working on the job or a neighborhood child playing around the home after hours.

For more information about modular home 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.

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Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations for a Modular Home

Homeowners have a few warranty service obligations of their own that must be taken seriously, especially those relating to normal maintenance and care. A good overview of the homeowner’s responsibilities can be found in a booklet by the National Association of Home Builders titled, “Home Maintenance Made Easy.”

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Notify Responsible Party

One responsibility often ignored by homeowners is the obligation to contact the appropriate party in a timely fashion when a warranty service situation is discovered. Even a simple warranty issue can become serious and require an expensive fix when you delay reporting it. For example, if your front door leaks a little water every time it rains because the threshold needs to be adjusted, the finished flooring and framing can quickly become damaged.

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Maintenance and Care

Modular homes are strong, but they are not indestructible. Expect your home to show signs of normal wear and tear over time, and accept responsibility for fixing the inevitable results.

You will want to restore your home to as-new-as-possible condition after the first heating season, since most of the settling and drying of wood will have occurred by that point. In a typical home, completing this tune-up usually takes a day or two by someone who has carpentry, drywall, and painting skills. Some of these normal changes will reappear in subsequent years, but they should be less noticeable and easier to repair.

If your modular dealer was also your GC, it is reasonable to expect him to correct these problems before your warranty expires. It is less clear, however, who should make these corrections when the dealer and GC are separate companies. Some of the drywall and moldings will have been installed by the manufacturer, and some by the GC. You could insist that each correct what they built, but this assumes that all changes in a particular area of your home are due to the company that completed the work in the area, which is not always the case. If your home has excessive drywall cracks in a few different areas, for example, they could have been caused by the way the manufacturer built your home or by the way the GC leveled the sill plate. If there is a lot of shrinkage of the wood moldings and floors installed by the manufacturer, it could have been due to the materials used by the manufacturer or to excess moisture that entered the home during the button-up. The best course in this situation is to contract with your GC to complete all of the tune-up, regardless of who built the different parts of your home.

Your GC may balk at taking on this responsibility. Since he did not build the modules, he might fear that he is exposing himself to too big a risk. In addition, if he has no prior modular experience, he may feel unable to predict the amount of time required for the tune-up. A fair way to handle this is to agree to pay him for his actual time and materials. An alternative would be to take on the work yourself, if you have the skills.

When completing the tune-up, the GC should retape any cracks in the drywall or the tape covering the drywall. He might be tempted to cover them with compound or caulk to save time and money, but the cracks will reappear if he does. On the other hand, fine cracks in the mud covering the drywall tape can be filled with a high-quality, paintable caulk. Small, open miter joints or other small gaps between pieces of wood can be filled with wood filler or caulk; larger gaps should be corrected by removing and reinstalling the wood. Popped drywall fasteners should be driven further into the framing, when possible. Otherwise, additional fasteners should be used. A small gap between a wall and a kitchen or bath countertop should be filled with caulk.

After these corrections are completed, the reworked areas can be touched-up, ideally with paint or stain left over from the original button-up. If the GC has to buy new paint or stain, he may not be able to obtain an exact color match with the previous application.

Although you do not need to, you might want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before  painting the walls and ceilings with custom colors. If you do not wait, you should save some matching paint to complete the tune-up. However, you may still need to paint an entire wall or ceiling in a room when you do the tune-up to avoid shadows caused by slight variations in color.

You might also want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before wallpapering or stenciling. Regardless of when you apply it, you will be responsible for repairing any damage to the wallpaper due to settling or drying.

For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Warranty Service Disagreements

In my last blog I discussed warranty service expectations, inspections, and procedures.  In this blog I will discuss what happens if you disagree with your dealer or GC about whether something in your home is defective, damaged, or poorly installed.

Building Codes and Warranty Service

When a warranty service problem involves a building-code violation, the burden will usually be on the manufacturer, dealer, or GC to correct the problem. Installing the wrong type of smoke detector is something the dealer, through his manufacturer, must correct. Using undersized framing for your site-built garage or deck is the kind of mistake the GC must correct. The dealer is not, however, automatically responsible for meeting specifications that exceed the state building code. For example, if your local building inspector insists that an air-infiltration barrier must be installed under your siding, but this is not the required by the state building code, your dealer would be accountable only if he had accepted responsibility for verifying whether any special codes were being enforced in your community. If you agreed to assume this responsibility but failed to obtain the correct information, than you would be responsible for the additional material and labor, including, in this case, the cost for removing and reinstalling whatever siding was already installed by the manufacturer.

Contractor Scope of Work and Warranty Service

The GC is not responsible when the scope of work for a task was not included in his original contract with you. For example, the fact that you need a set of stairs from the door to the backyard does not obligate the GC to provide them if you excluded them so you could build a deck in the future. Nor is the GC responsible for providing clean backfill to place around the foundation if the building inspector declares that the soil that was removed from the cellar hole cannot be used as backfill. If the GC uses the fill before the building inspector instructs him not to, the GC will be responsible for removing it, since he is obligated to know the building code. You will still be responsible, however, for paying for the replacement fill as well as for removing the rejected fill, if it needs to be taken from your site, since you needed this to be done regardless of the GC’s mistake.

Quality Guidelines for Warranty Service

Cosmetic issues are often sources of warranty service disagreements. A customer should receive the degree of finish they selected and paid for, but this is often different from what they may have seen in a model home. One way to handle disputes of this kind is to have your contract include a set of quality guidelines for materials and workmanship that can be used to help settle differences. Keep in mind, however, that guidelines and standards spell out the minimum acceptable workmanship and product performance. Your personal standards will likely exceed these standards in some areas.

Warranty Service and What Is “Good Enough”?

One perspective taken by guidelines for materials and workmanship is that it is neither realistic nor fair to expect a modular dealer or general contractor to remove blemishes that are not readily visible or noticeable, and can only be seen in unusual light or from very close range. Finished drywall, especially, will almost always show minor blemishes in the right light and from the right angle. For a customer to insist that such small items be addressed under warranty is to create a potentially antagonistic relationship. The customer wants their dealer and GC to take seriously those things that are most important to them. They do not want to create an atmosphere in which the dealer or GC feels compelled to deny assistance by appealing to some technicality in a set of guidelines that relieves them of responsibility. In other words, if the customer can exercise some flexibility over defining what’s “good enough,” they should expect the dealer and GC to adopt a similar attitude. You could ask your dealer to replace a pine bifold closet door with a small dent on the inside, which can only be seen when the closet is open. If you do so, however, do not be surprised if he tries to hide behind a technicality for some other item that’s important to you.

For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Warranty Service

Modular Home Warranty Service Expectations                                           

When you buy a modular home, you expect it to arrive without mistakes, defects, or damaged materials. If you discover any, you expect the manufacturer to repair or replace them. You also expect the manufacturer to provide this warranty service at no cost to you. Manufacturers usually understand these expectations, but they have a few of their own. They will accept responsibility for problems found when your home arrives, but they expect your dealer, as well as you and your general contractor (GC), to accept responsibility for any damages incurred after that. This seems fair, and in principle it is. When you purchase your home from a dealer who completes the GC work, your warranty service expectations are likely to be met. When the dealer and GC are separate companies, however, the situation can trigger contention and distrust.

Modular Home Manufacturer’s Quality Inspections

A modular home is typically built with most of its interior complete. Walls, cabinets, tubs, doors, moldings, and electrical outlets are almost always installed at the factory. All of these products can be damaged accidentally, and this can happen as easily at the factory as at your site. Your home will be thoroughly inspected before it leaves the factory. The manufacturer will try to repair or replace any defective or damaged goods before shipping the home. When that is not possible without causing a delay, the manufacturer will document the problem, make plans to fix it at your site, and inform the dealer so that you are not surprised. Either way, the inspection enables the manufacturer to document any warranty problems with your home.The inspection, however, does not preclude disagreements between the manufacturer, dealer, and GC. If you discover any damage to your home after it is delivered and set, it could have been caused by the manufacturer even though it is not listed on the inspection report. But it could also have been caused by someone on your site.

The manufacturer could have missed an item, or an employee could have caused the damage and failed to report it. The same damage, however, could have been caused by one of the GC’s subcontractors, who may or may not have been aware of it. You or a friend could have unknowingly caused the damage.

Modular Home Warranty Service Procedures

A warranty service inspection checklist
The modular home dealer and general contractor will complete a warranty service inspection with the customer after the set.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that there are occasional disagreements over who is responsible for damages. The modular industry has developed a procedure for handling these warranty service situations. Modular manufacturers attempt to minimize these misunderstandings by requiring their dealers to identify and report in writing any warranty service issues right after the set. You can expect your dealer to insist that you complete a warranty service inspection, and sign the resulting written report. If the GC is separate from your dealer, ask him to sign the warranty service report along with you. You should receive a copy of the warranty service report that is also signed by the dealer.

The exact time allowed for the inspection varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some giving the dealer 24 hours after the set and others allowing him a few days for some items and a few weeks for others. Items that are easily damaged on site, such as installed vinyl floors and carpeting, are less likely to be covered beyond a few days unless there are extenuating circumstances. This warranty service procedure allows the manufacturer to limit its responsibility to preexisting conditions. Consequently, if you find a damaged item after the reporting period expires, the manufacturer will assume that the damage was caused by someone on your site, and will not accept responsibility for correcting it.

Since the set-day activities can cause accidental damage to a home, some manufacturers require the dealer to complete the warranty service inspection as soon as the modules are delivered. This is common with manufacturers who ask their dealers to select an independent set crew. Since the dealer selects the crew, the manufacturer wants the dealer to assume responsibility for any set-day damages. The manufacturer secures this accountability by having the dealer complete its warranty service inspection before the set. While this may seem reasonable, a delivery day inspection is unfair to the dealer and the customer. It is impractical to complete an accurate inspection on delivery day, given the poor lighting available in each plastic-wrapped module. It is also difficult to inspect a module when it is stuffed with ship-loose materials. Waiting until after the modules are set allows for a more accurate inspection. If at all possible, resist a delivery-day inspection.

In my next blog I will discuss disagreements about warranty service coverage.

For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Mapping Your Home’s Exterior Elevation to Your Topography

Three Types of Exterior Elevation Detail

I mentioned in my last post that before you authorize the modular dealer to build your home you need to see a complete exterior elevation plan that shows what your home will look like, taking into account your property’s slopes and contours after your GC completes his button-up work and site-built structures. To provide this plan, someone must integrate three types of detail. The first shows how the home will look after the GC completes his button-up work.  The purpose of this detail is to show what the modular manufacturer is building. It assumes the GC is not building any other structures on site and that your property is perfectly flat. The second type of detail adds all of the GC’s site-built structures, such as a garage, porch or deck, along with any extra finishes he’s applying to the home. The third level of detail depicts how the property’s grades and landscaping will integrate with the first two levels to more accurately depict what will be built.

The Topography Detail for a Complete Exterior Elevation

Few builders, modular or stick, provide the third set of details, those that capture the property’s topography. This is not important if the land is perfectly flat. It is important, however, when the exterior elevation plans depict the home on a flat lot but the property actually slopes front to back or side to side. For instance, if the finished grade varies more than a couple of feet around your home, more of the foundation will be exposed at the low points. Once you see an accurate plan showing a large section of the foundation above the finished grade on one side, you may want to consider replacing that section with wood-framed kneewalls or walk-out walls. This may in turn lead you to relocate the furnace and water heater to maximize the benefits that the added windows will provide. To accomplish this, you may have to modify the house plan to move the chimney closer to the new furnace location. If you do not discover this situation until after the excavation work has begun, it may be too late to change the house plan and relocate the chimney, which could mean that the furnace is stuck in the middle of what could have been a very useful and affordable basement family room or office.

The topography of your land may influence the design and cost of your home.  For example, a sloped property lends itself to a walk-out basement.  You will need an exterior elevation that shows the topography to see how best to do this.
The topography of your land may influence the design and cost of your home. For example, a sloped property lends itself to a walk-out basement. You will need an exterior elevation that shows the topography to see how best to do this.

An accurate exterior elevation plan may also make you aware that the slope in your backyard is so steep it will require a few additional steps to the rear porch. You may prefer to avoid a long set of stairs. Learning of this potential situation in advance will allow you to eliminate the problem by purchasing additional fill for the low spot. Since the fill will cost a bit of money, however, you may not be able to afford it unless you omit something from your modular contract, which you will only be able to do if you make the decision when you review the exterior elevation plans. Waiting until the GC begins the excavation will be too late, since you will have already signed-off on the plans and specifications. Another situation that is often revealed by an exterior elevation plan with topographical detail is when there needs to be a step down or up between parts of your home. For example, you might need three steps to enter the home from the garage because of a gentle slope across the front of the property. One way to avoid the steps is to build a retaining wall on the side of the garage so that additional fill can raise the garage floor without the threat of erosion. You will want to know about this condition while you are still in the planning stages so that you can budget the additional funds required.

Planning Issues Revealed by a Complete Exterior Elevation

As these examples illustrate, the natural contours of your land can significantly affect how you build your home. The more you know before construction begins, the more options you can consider and factor into your design and budget. Consequently, ask the dealer to show the property’s topography when he draws your home and site-built structures. Your GC or a surveyor, however, will need to provide the dealer with this information. The most accurate topographical detail comes from using a transit or its equivalent. The GC may suggest that he can come close enough by walking the property, but line-of-site judgments made with the naked eye are often inaccurate, especially when a property is heavily wooded or covered with thick vegetation. The only way to accurately determine the topography is for someone to take detailed site measurements with the appropriate equipment. You will have to pay for this service, but unless your property is perfectly flat, it will be worth the expense. Keep in mind that even if you receive exterior elevation plans that conform to your property’s grades, they may not represent exactly how your home will sit on the lot after it is built. That’s because the actual finished grade will depend on how deep the foundation is installed, which will partly depend on the soil and groundwater conditions discovered after the basement hole is dug. Groundwater and ledge can require the house to be raised substantially higher than what was drawn on the proposed exterior elevation plan. The finished grade will also depend on how much fill, if any, is brought to or removed from the site to compensate for these conditions. Unless you dig some test holes on the property before finalizing the decisions on your home, you will not be able to anticipate and plan for these exterior elevation changes. Only after your property is finish-graded and landscaped will you truly see what it is going to look like. For more information about how to get an accurate exterior elevation of how your home will look when finished, 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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Seeing the Exterior Elevation You’re Getting

Getting the Exterior Elevation You Want            

Last week I pointed out that the marketing literature for most house plans displays a dressed-up exterior elevation. This is significant because the ornate features shown are not usually included in the standard base price for the plans. Many a customer has assumed they were getting everything they saw in the literature drawing, only to find out when the house was built that they were getting a simpler, less adorned version.

I suggested last week that there are two ways to make sure you are getting what you want.  The first is to look closely at the specifications listed in the modular builder’s estimate, and the second is to have the builder provide you with a drawing of the exterior elevation showing exactly what you’re getting.

Three Levels of Exterior Elevation

There are three levels of detail that must be included if you are to get an exact drawing of what your finished home will look like:  the manufacturer must draw what you are ordering, not a generic drawing; the dealer or general contractor must add the site-built structures; and someone must map both of these onto the slopes and contours of your property.   I’ll discuss the first two requirements today and the third in my next post.

The marketing literature for this T-Ranch plan shows the following options: a 12/12 cape roof, one A-Dormer with a hip roof, a reverse gable, gable returns, vinyl clapboard and scalloped siding, cultured stone siding, a front porch, an upgrade front door, and window moldings around the attic window.
The marketing literature for this T-Ranch plan shows the following options: a 12/12 cape roof, one A-Dormer with a hip roof, a reverse gable, gable returns, vinyl clapboard and scalloped siding, cultured stone siding, a front porch, an upgrade front door, and window moldings around the attic window. Your modular dealer and general contractor needs to include whichever options you select in their exterior elevation drawings, since these show what you will get.

Exterior Elevation of the Modules

All modular manufacturers will provide an elevation plan of your home, but not all of them will draw the exact home you are building. They may instead give you a generic plan showing the home without any of the custom touches you’ve added. For example, they may not show the additional windows and sidelights at the front door you selected, and they may leave out the reverse gable you specified for the roof above your front door.

You should not settle for a generic elevation. Ask your modular dealer to provide you with an elevation plan of what you have ordered from the manufacturer before you authorize him to build it. If his manufacturer will not provide the plan and he is unable to create it himself, ask him to have it drawn by someone else. Even if you have to pay extra for an accurate plan, you need to see it. Little things like the spacing of the windows can matter a lot, especially when you have taken a standard plan and lengthen the plan, added windows, or simply moved some windows within a room to accommodate furniture. In addition, if you are dressing up a plan’s no-frills standard look, you will want to see if your vision holds up to your own scrutiny.

Exterior Elevation of Site Built Structures

Asking the dealer to provide plan-specific elevation drawings will not be sufficient when you are having additional structures such as a garage, deck, or porch built on site. Unless your elevation plans include all site-built structures, you will not be able to review what your home will look like.

However, you might not get the needed assistance from your dealer if he is not serving as your GC. Your dealer may feel that since he is not completing the GC work, he does not know what the GC is planning to do. He may point out that the regulations governing modular construction in your state do not allow the manufacturer to include any of these site-built structures in its permit plans. He may correctly insist that state and local officials only allow the manufacturer to draw what it is building. While this is true, some dealers and manufacturers will help you by creating a separate set of plans that show the GC’s work. Before completing the drawings, they will ask you and your GC to provide the details, insist that you take responsibility for their accuracy, and charge you an additional fee for the assistance. You should make this investment.

Exterior Elevation of Modules and Site Built Structures

An alternative to having the dealer complete the elevation plans is to ask your GC to complete his own set of plans. The advantage to this approach is that he will know exactly what he is building. The disadvantage is that you will now have two sets of incomplete plans, one of your modular home and one of your GC-built structures. The only way they will appear on the same page is if the GC recreates the modular plans or another person integrates the details into a third set of plans, an impractical and wasteful step. This is why it is better to pay the dealer to provide a complete set of plans.

Remember, you need your modular dealer and general contractor to include whichever options you select in their exterior elevation drawings, since these, not their marketing literature, show what you will get.

For more information about how to an accurate exterior elevation of how your home will look when finished, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home

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The Exterior Elevation You See May Not Be What You Get

The Exterior Elevation You See

House plans on the internet almost always show a dressed up home.  This is true whether the plans are offered by a builder or manufacturer (modular, stick, panelized, or log) or a company that just sells plans.  They all want to present an attractive façade because they know that your first response to a plan is likely to be based on its exterior elevation, not its floor plan.

This one-story home shows an exterior elevation with several optional features: cultured stone siding, a 12/12 roof with 2 reverse gables and gable returns, a garage with two bumpouts and a reverse gable, two circle top windows, an ornate front door, decorative moldings, and a rear chimney.
This one-story home shows an exterior elevation with several optional features: cultured stone siding, a 12/12 roof with 2 reverse gables and gable returns, a garage with two bumpouts and a reverse gable, two circle top windows, an ornate front door, decorative moldings, and a rear chimney.

There are many types of optional features that can be used to turn a plain appearance into an ornate one.  This often includes, for example, garages, porches, decks, taller roofs, dormers, return gables, decorative moldings, specialty windows, fancy front doors, and chimneys.

Getting the Exterior Elevation You Want

Embellishing the exterior elevation of a plan is reasonable as long as the modular builder makes clear what they are including in their price.   Sometimes this information doesn’t come out until you’ve received a detailed written estimate.  It won’t even come out then if the estimate only lists what is included and not what’s excluded.

There are two ways to make sure you are getting what you want.  The first is to look closely at the modular builder’s estimate, and then have the builder add the missing information.  The second is to have the builder provide you with a drawing of the exterior elevation showing exactly what you’re getting.

The Exterior Elevation Is Independent of the Floor Plan

When looking through a plan book, do not be misled by the pairing of floor plans and exterior elevation plans into thinking that you cannot make adjustments. In fact, each floor plan can have a multitude of exterior looks, and each exterior look can be applied to many different floor plans. For example, all homes can have a garage and porch, even if the artist has not included them in the drawing. Likewise, you can adjust the slope of the roof, add dormers and decorative gables, and opt for oversized roof overhangs if you choose, regardless of what you see in the drawing.

Remembering that each plan can have a simple, unadorned look and a complex, ornate look, as well as many looks in between, will free you up to consider some interesting floor plans that have been paired with what are unattractive elevation plans to your eye. It will also motivate you to take a second look at some desirable elevation plans that are matched with unworkable plans. A practical way to do this when you are looking at floor 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.

For more information about ensuring the exterior elevation of your home will be just the way you want it, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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Minimizing Appraisal Problems

Appraisal Problems with New Construction         

Over the last few years, obtaining financing has been one of the most difficult problems for builders and customers. Not only have many banks been unwilling to lend, their appraisals for new construction have fallen so much that willing and qualified buyers have been unable to get sufficient financing.

The market is now greatly improved and continuing to get stronger.  More and more banks are willing to lend. But appraisals for new construction can still be a problem. The reason is that the sale price for a “comparable” existing home is often considerably less than the cost of building a new one.

Three Reasons Why There Are Still Appraisal Problems

There are three reasons why new homes cost more than existing homes. Land prices have remained steady in most places because land is a scarce commodity. As Mark Twain pointed out, they don’t make it any more. The percentage drop in the cost of construction labor, where it’s happened, isn’t anywhere near as great as the percentage drop in the price of existing homes. Few construction workers will accept a 40% pay cut. What has been especially surprising, even to seasoned builders, is the sharp spike in material costs. The increase has been fueled by an uptick in remodeling and commercial construction.  The three of these factors keep the cost for new construction higher than for existing homes.

Appraisals for new construction are based on comparing the proposed new home to recently sold homes similar in size and features. Since most sales are from existing stock, appraisals for new homes are often less than the cost to build them. This often prevents banks from lending the full amount needed by the buyer. Unless the buyer has sufficient cash to offset this shortfall, they can’t get a loan for the amount they need to build their home.

Minimize Appraisal Problems by Selecting Optional Features with High Value

Real estate appaisal
Minimize appraisal problems by selecting specifications that add the same or greater value than they cost.

So what can you do about this? It always helps to select optional specifications that add the same value as they cost. It helps even more if you choose features that add more value than they cost. Enlarging a modular home, for example, will almost always add more value than it costs, since factory assembly lines are very efficient. On the flip side, removing something that costs more than it adds in value will also bring the cost more in line with the appraisal. For example, replacing fiber cement siding with vinyl siding will substantially reduce the discrepancy between cost and appraisal. The appraised value of vinyl and fiber cement is comparable in most communities even though fiber cement costs much more. Similar results can be achieved by selecting vinyl windows instead of wood windows or by eliminating cathedral ceilings.

Minimize Appraisal Problems by Adding Other Work with High Value

Adding something you might not need, or didn’t want until the future, can sometimes increase the appraised value more than it costs. For example, if you select a cape design with one or two bedrooms on the first floor and an unfinished second floor, finishing a bedroom or two on the second floor might boost your appraisal substantially more than it costs. Of course this assumes you can afford the additional construction. Building your garage now rather than in the future might stretch your budge more than you prefer, but it may also be the only way to eliminate your appraisal shortfall.

For more information about minimizing appraisal problems, see Modular Home Specifications and Features 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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Matching Siding and Shingles on Your Site-Built Structures

Matching Siding and Shingles from the Modular Manufacturer

Recently, we built a large T-Cape with an oversized site-built garage and front porch.  As we usually do, we asked the modular manufacturer to ship matching siding and shingles for the garage and porch.  However, they suggested that we buy the materials locally because the weight of the long modules combined with the weight of the extra siding and shingles was more than they recommended.  We were fine with this because we knew that local vendors carried the same brand of siding and shingles.

Matching Siding and Shingles from the Local Vendor

Although we were able to buy the materials locally, we discovered after shingling half the garage that the shingle color didn’t match what was installed on the home.  It turned out that the modular manufacturer was buying shingles made in one of the factories owned by the shingle manufacture while our local suppliers were buying the “same” brand and color made in another of the their factories.  Unfortunately, the shingles from the two factories were noticeably different in color.

The colors of the siding and shingles on the garage match the colors of the materials on the home.
Matching the color of the siding and shingles on a garage with the home sometimes require you to purchase the materials from the modular manufacturer.

The situation became more complicated when we learned that there were no suppliers within 250 miles who carried shingles made from the same factory used by our modular manufacturer.  Fortunately, the shingle manufacturer helped us out by shipping matching shingles to one of the local suppliers.

To be fair, this problem is not typical.  Usually you can buy materials locally that match those installed by the modular manufacturer.  Even so, I recommend that you ask your dealer if he’s confident you can buy matching materials locally.

Matching Siding and Shingles for Two Years Later

There is one situation in which I more strongly recommend that you buy matching siding and shingles from the modular manufacturer.  That’s when you are delaying construction of a garage, porch, or other structure that will use these materials, and this delay is likely to be a couple of years.  Otherwise you might be unable to purchase matching materials because the manufacturer of the materials has discontinued making them.

On the other hand, it’s true that two years later your “matching” materials won’t exactly match those already installed on your home.  The sun’s ultraviolet light will have faded some of the color.  But at least you’ll have a closer match.

For more information about selecting matching modular materials, see 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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New Home Appliances

New Home Appliances: Getting Them Right

In a previous blog I pointed out that modular homes force you to make decisions before you build your home.  This preliminary planning makes you far less susceptible to costly and unbudgeted change orders, something that tarnishes many stick built projects.  But this doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself in trouble with poor planning when designing a modular home.  In fact, this is happening more frequently with new home appliances, such as refrigerators, ovens, cooktops, dishwashers, microwaves, trash compactors, washing machines, and cloth dryers.

New Home Appliances: Size and Installation Requirements

Appliances have always come in a variety of sizes.  But today the range of options is far greater because manufacturers are coming up with more ways to improve their products, and some changes increase the size of the appliances.  It’s not unusual to find new home appliances that are wider, longer, deeper, and taller.  All of these changes require a larger space than in years past.  Your responsibility is to make sure your home is built to accommodate the size of your appliances.

Some of the new home appliances you will need for your modular home.
It’s best if you shop for your new home appliances before approving your modular plans.

You can safely assume that your modular manufacturer will provide enough room for “standard” sized appliances.  They will also enlarge the space to fit your new home appliances regardless of the size as long as you give them the dimensions.  But a non-standard size may require you to change other things in your home.  For example, you many need to enlarge a closet to fit your washer and dryer.  Or you may need to enlarge one kitchen cabinet to fit a cooktop, and shrink an abutting cabinet to retain your kitchen layout.   However, if you don’t give the modular dealer and manufacturer the complete information for your appliances, and you sign off on their plans with dimensions that won’t work with your appliances, you must make the required changes at your own expense.

One option, which I recommend, is to shop for your new home appliances before you sign off on the modular manufacturer’s plans.  This will allow you to determine the size and installation requirements, including electrical power and gas hook-ups, for appliances you are likely to purchase.  Alternatively, you can do what many customers do, which is to allow the modular manufacturer to provide the standard space and hook-ups.  As long as you buy new home appliances that work with these standards, you’re good to go.  Of course this will limit your appliance selections.

New Home Appliances: Other Considerations                                             

When planning for your washer and dryer, keep in mind that bifold doors do not open the full width of the opening.  If you will be using a front loading washer, make sure there is enough space in front.  Since you will want to vent your dryer to the outside, think about its location and whether your dryer can handle the distance.  Should you decide to purchase your own range hood and it’s designed to vent to the outside, make sure your kitchen layout allows for this.  The same goes for a down draft range or cooktop.

For more information about new home appliances, see Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.

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Give Your Subcontractors the Correct Modular Plans

This is a story about the first time one of my customers made a big mistake when acting as their own general contractor.  They forgot to give one of their subs the factory’s updated and approved modular plans.  Although this happened 27 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday – mostly because of how cleverly it was solved, and not by me.

Starting with Modular Plans Drawn by the Customer

Warren and Debbie had just sold their existing home.  Warren’s father had gifted them a building lot in a local town with a very good school system.  Before they started shopping for a modular home dealer, they designed a custom 28’ x 38’ two-story.   Their modular plans were very straightforward.  Warren had done a lot of research on modular construction and knew about having a “marriage wall” where the modules joined front to back.  His modular plans had no bumpouts, not even for a fireplace chase, so his home was a true rectangle.

After they selected my company, we spent the next two months working with the factory to get the modular plans just the way they wanted them.  Since modular factories typically build their 28’ wide plans 27’6 for delivery purposes, the factory had adjusted the modular plans a couple of inches here and there.  Warren and Debbie also made several relatively minor tweaks to the plans.

The Customers’ Responsibility for Getting the General Contractor the Correct Modular Plans

When they were happy with the final modular plans, and had closed on their construction loan, they applied for their building permit and updated their subcontractors about the likely arrival of the modules.  These tasks were their responsibility because they had decided to act as their own general contractor.  They were on a tight budget and wanted to save the 15% to 20% a GC would add to the subcontractors’ charges.  Fortunately their families knew several local subs.

As soon as they received their permit, they authorized me to place their home in the factory’s production schedule.  They also asked their excavator to begin the site work, including digging the hole for the foundation.  As soon as the excavator began his work, they scheduled the foundation to be poured – first the footings then the walls.

The final factory approved modular plans for the foundation.
The customer is responsible for giving the subcontractors the final factory modular plans and instructing them to discard the previous copies they’ve received

When I called Warren to ask how his subs were doing, he said everything was going well.  He was especially pleased with the foundation because it was a perfect 28’ x 38’.  I paused and asked if he didn’t actually mean it was a perfect 27’6 x 38’.  I heard a gasp followed by silence.   He said, “Oh no!  I never gave my foundation guy the factory’s foundation drawing, and I completely spaced out on the change to the width.”  I asked him how the sub knew what to pour.  Warren explained that he started shopping for subs before the factory had drawn its modular plans, so he had given the foundation sub his original 28’ x 38’ plans.

If You Can’t Fix It, Feature It

Fortunately Debbie came up with a great solution.  As they often say in construction, “if you can’t fix it, feature it”.  She had wanted a large deck off the back of the house and now she was going to get it – one that was 38’ long and ran across the entire back of her home.  Since the foundation wall had been poured 10” thick, the modules would sit on the inner half of the rear wall and the deck would rest on the outer half.  The local inspector also required some structural support just inside the foundation wall (lally columns spaced 8’ apart, etc.)  Once the deck was built, the foundation looked as if it was intentionally poured to support it.

My Advice

One lesson I learned from this experience is to remind those customers who are hiring their own subs to give the subs a copy of the final factory modular plans.  In addition, I tell my customers to instruct their subs to discard the previous copies they’ve received.  I usually take this one step further and recommend that my customers get the old modular plans back from their subs so they don’t mistakenly use them.  If you’re going to serve as your own GC, you’ll want to remember all three steps of this advice.

For more information about ensuring that your subcontractors use the correct modular plans, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home and Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home

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Preparing for a Modular Delivery and Set

The GC’s Responsibilities for Preparing for Delivery and Set

The GC is responsible for preparing your site for the delivery and set of the modules. More specifically, he is responsible for preparing both the access leading to the lot and foundation, and the area where the crane and modules must be located during the set. If the area is flat, with good soil conditions and relatively wide, straight roads, this responsibility may be without challenges. On the other hand, problems can arise on what appears to be an easy site. Bad weather, poor soil, loose fill, a utility pole in an inconvenient place, a septic system located where the crane needs to go, a customer’s refusal to cut a favored tree or remove an old stone wall; these are the kinds of things that can turn a site into a logistical challenge, or even a logistical nightmare.

When the manufacturer’s delivery time from its factory to the site is more than a couple of hours, it will deliver the modules at least one day before the scheduled set. In such a situation, the GC should try to create sufficient space on the site to store all of the carriers overnight. Since the most efficient way to set a home on the foundation is to place the crane in front of the house with one carrier on each side of the crane, the preferred storage plan is to create a space wide enough for the carriers to be delivered directly to these positions. Unfortunately, the combination of lot size and configuration, topography, soil conditions, foundation size, and the number and size of the modules can sometimes make it impossible to place all of the modules in the right place while preserving room for the crane to set up.

Need for Staging Areas

When the modules cannot be properly placed, one or more of the carriers have to be delivered to a temporary storage location, which may be at another location on your site or at a nearby parking lot or open field. The carriers will then be moved to their proper positions next to the foundation on set day. Although the GC is responsible for preparing the site to facilitate these efforts, he is not responsible for things beyond his control, such as a heavy rainstorm that washes out the driveway. Nor should you expect him to pay for the required repair.

Risk of Delivery and Set Delays

If the GC does not prepare the site in a satisfactory manner, and this causes the delivery and set operations to be delayed, you and the GC will be liable for the additional costs incurred. The drivers and escorts that deliver the carriers will budget enough time to drive directly to the site or wherever you designate. They will expect to maneuver the carriers into place with reasonable effort, and then leave. They will not expect to spend hours waiting for trees to be cut, fill to be delivered, or a bulldozer to arrive. If any of these are required, the delivery company will charge the modular dealer, who will in turn bill you, for the additional time. The crane company will charge the dealer by the hour, with a minimum fee. The longer the set takes, the more the meter runs. The crew that completes the various set activities will also charge the dealer for any lost time caused by the delays, and the dealer will pass this additional expense on to you. If the delays were caused by the GC’s poor site preparation, it fair for you to submit the invoices from the delivery, crane, and set companies to the GC for reimbursement.

Many sets take a full day, and some take two or more days. One of the most important responsibilities of the set crew is to protect the home from weather damage as quickly as possible. If the site is not prepared, and the set is subsequently delayed by several hours, the set crew may not be able to complete enough of the set to give your home the protection it will need should it rain over night. If the delay happens before the first module is set, the set crew and modular dealer can cancel the set and reschedule it for the next available day. But if some of the modules are already set on the foundation, with the protective coverings removed, the set cannot easily be stopped and the crew may not be able to take the required steps to protect the home until the cause of the delay is removed. If this delay takes a few hours, the home will be exposed to the elements longer than it needed to be.

In this example about the logistics of a delivery and set, the delivery crew needs to move a long module onto the property. To do so requires the transporter to cross into the ditch and the neighbor's property on the opposite side of the street. It also requires the group of trees next to the end of the driveway to be taken down.
In this example about the logistics of a delivery and set, the delivery crew needs to move a long module onto the property. To do so requires the transporter to cross into the ditch and the neighbor’s property on the opposite side of the street. It also requires the group of trees next to the end of the driveway to be taken down.

Create a Written Delivery and Set Plan

General contractors, excavators, and customers consistently underestimate the difficulties involved in preparing a site. Their misjudgments come at great expense and aggravation to the dealer and, ultimately, the customer. The best way to avoid a disagreement between your dealer and the GC, if they are not the same company, is to have them meet on your site before any work begins to jointly develop a plan. The dealer should put the plan in writing so that both parties have written documentation. The plan should indicate what the excavator needs to do to properly prepare the site as well as where the dealer intends to place the carriers and crane. If a problem develops on the delivery or set because the plan was poorly conceived, although executed correctly by the GC, the dealer will be responsible for any additional costs. When the excavator is about halfway done with his preset work, the dealer should again meet with the GC to review and, if necessary, update the plan; the best thought-out excavation plans do not always work as well on land as they do on paper. If the dealer has any lingering concerns, he should return for a third visit just before the excavator is ready to leave the site. Either way, the dealer should visit the site for a final pre-set inspection after the GC reports it is prepared.

For more information about the delivery and set of a modular home, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home, Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, and 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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