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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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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Advantages of a Modular Raised Ranch

My First Home – A Raised Ranch

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

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

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

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

Why You Might Want a Modular Raised Ranch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modular Split Level Homes

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

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

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

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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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Radiant Floor Heat

My Introduction to Radiant Floor Heat

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

Forced Air Heat vs. Radiant Floor Heat

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

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

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

Two Types of Radiant Floor Heat

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

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

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

Installation of Radiant Floor Heat

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

Finished Flooring over Radiant Floor Heat

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

Advantages of Radiant Floor Heat

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

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

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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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Modular Addition Checklist

Planning for Your Modular Addition

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

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

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

Existing House

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

Property

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

Existing Foundation

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

Existing Siding

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

Existing Roofing

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

Existing Electrical System

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

Existing Heating System

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

Existing Domestic Hot Water System

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

Existing Water Supply

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

Existing Waste System

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

Connection from Modular Addition into Existing House

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

Draw a Site Plan Showing the Existing Roof

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

Draw the Basement Plan of the Existing Home

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

Draw the 1st Floor Plan of the Existing Home

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

Draw the 2nd Floor Plan of the Existing Home

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

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

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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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Rain Gutters Will Protect Your Modular Home

Purpose of Rain Gutters        

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

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

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

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

Rain Gutter Material

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

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

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

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

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

Seamless vs. Sectional Rain Gutters

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

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

Rain Gutter Maintenance and Repair

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

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

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

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Metal Roofs for Modular Homes

Metal Roofs Are Attractive

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

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

Metal Roofs Are Durable

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

This is an example of metal roofs with vertical panels.
This is an example of metal roofs with vertical panels.

Metal Roofs Are Green

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

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

Metal Roofs Are Energy Efficient

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

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

Five Myths about Metal Roofs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ductless Mini-Split Heating and Cooling Systems

Mini-Split Heat Pumps

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

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

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

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

How Ductless Mini-Split Heating Systems Work

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

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

Advantages of Mini-Split Systems

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

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

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

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

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

Disadvantages of Mini-Split Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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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Modular Home Safety Tips

Modular Home Safety Tips

For the sake of everyone – family, friends, neighbors, and visitors – please observe these four modular home safety tips

Modular Home Safety Tips for Set day

A modular home set should be an exciting event. The last thing you want is for someone to be seriously hurt. With a crane that can weigh up to 150 tons, swinging a long boom and cable strapped to a module weighing 8 to 20 tons, there is a potential for injury. Friends, family, and other spectators should be kept away from the set crew and crane.

Modular Home Safety Tips for Immediately after the Set

The general contractor (GC) must do everything he can to ensure that the house is safe as soon as possible after the set. To protect against accidental falls, the GC should build a set of temporary steps to one of the doors, which will be used by the homeowners, contractors, suppliers, and inspectors until the GC builds finished stairs later. The GC should barricade or sheath over the rough opening framed in the floor for the basement stairs. If the home has a balcony overlooking a vaulted or cathedral area, the GC should install a temporary barricade or railing system to prevent someone from tumbling over the edge. A temporary cover should be secured to the top of the basement bulkhead. After the set, the site will have some materials that contain strips of wood with nails or staples.  These should be picked up and placed with the trash.

Modular Home Safety Tips for Alcohol and Drugs

The GC should have a zero-tolerance policy regarding alcohol or drugs on the job site.
No alcohol or drugs on the job site.

The GC should have a zero-tolerance policy regarding alcohol or drugs on the job site. The homeowners can support the GC in this regard by not bringing any alcohol to the site for the GC’s employees or subcontractors. If the homeowners supply alcohol, They could be liable for any resulting injuries that occurred on the job site.

Modular Home Safety Tips for Underground Utilities

Before digging, the GC should contact the appropriate authorities to determine if your property contains underground utilities (gas, electric, water, sewer, phone, or cable). If it does, he needs to have their locations marked so that they will not be disturbed during construction. And if you received instructions from a local, state, or federal board that governs wetland protection, the GC must follow the instructions exactly as written. For more about modular home safety tips, 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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Second Story Modular Additions

Advantages of Second Story Modular Additions

If you are building a second story modular addition, you are most likely doing it to create more living space rather than a separate living unit. The general contractor will turn your one-story into a two-story by removing the roof from your home and immediately setting the new modular second story with its own built-in roof on top.

The speed of modular construction is a tremendous benefit when building a second story addition, since the addition can be set in place within hours after the roof is removed from your existing home. Once the modular addition is in place, the inside of your home is protected from a sudden storm. A site builder cannot realistically protect your home as quickly. Another advantage is that the second story can be finished faster. This means your family can use the upstairs more quickly, even if it must wait to enjoy the downstairs until the remodeling is completed.

Requirements for Second Story Modular Additions

There are two conditions that must be met before you can build a second story modular addition. First, the exterior dimensions of the existing home must be compatible with one of the modular manufacturer’s production sizes. If your home is too wide, a modular will not easily work. If your home has multiple bump-outs, a modular might work, but it may be impractical and expensive. A home can be up to 3-feet narrower than a module, however, and adding a wider second floor can create an attractive, cantilevered garrison colonial look.

The second condition is having an existing home and foundation that are structurally capable of carrying the additional weight, which is substantial. You will need to hire a structural engineer to make this determination. He may give you specific instructions on fortifying the structure or the foundation, which might be unacceptable or too expensive. If you decide to carry out his instructions, the GC will complete them as part of his remodeling. Before the engineer completes his final written report, he will need to see plans of exactly what you are building and receive detailed information from the manufacturer.

Design Issues for Second Story Modular Additions

When designing an addition, you must decide where the stairs to the second floor will be located. You must also determine a location for a chase from the basement to the second floor to carry the electrical wires, HVAC supply and return ducts or pipes, and plumbing pipes for second-floor bathrooms. If the GC is connecting to a forced-air system in the basement, the chase must be larger, since the ducts will take up more space than hot-water lines.

Second Story modular additions can make ranches look like brand new homes.
Second Story modular additions can make ranches look like brand new homes.

The design of the second story elevation must be coordinated with the first-story elevation. The window locations on the second story should be arranged in a pleasing fashion. This decision should be made early in the design process, since the location of the interior partition walls on the second story must be coordinated with the window locations (you cannot put a wall in the middle of a window). In addition, the window style and sizes should be matched as closely as possible to the existing home.

The exterior elevation of all four sides of the finished home must take into consideration any first-story bump-outs or structures. For example, the location of an existing bay window, porch, sunroom, portico, recessed entry, or garage can pose special design challenges. The second story must be planned so that it does not affect either the function or aesthetic appeal of these structures. In some cases, it might be necessary to remove a part of the bump-out or attached structure, such as a garage roof, before installing the second story. If the modular second story will be cantilevered, the overhang can pose additional problems with a first-floor bump-out, such as a bay window.

The exterior siding on the second story must fit with the siding on the first story. Otherwise, the siding on the first story will have to be replaced. If you currently have wood siding, you might need to repaint or restain it to create a color match. Similar coordination issues arise for shutters and other exterior trim details.

If you have a chimney on your existing one-story home, you will need to make it taller to reach above the roof of the second floor. In addition, all trees overhanging the first story will need to be removed.

Material Disposal and Second Story Modular Additions

The actual removal of the existing roof as well as any other materials you are replacing in your existing home, such as the siding or windows, will be a task unto itself. The cost of disposing of these materials will be appreciable.

Most importantly, when you are done building your second story modular addition, it will almost feel like you have just built a brand new home.

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

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Modular Home Additions and General Contracting

Modular Home Additions Need a General Contractor

When building a modular home, it is recommended that you hire a general contractor (GC) with modular-construction experience. In some respects, this advice is even more important when building modular home additions. There are usually a number of surprises when building an addition, regardless of the type of construction. Most of them derive from the fact that you are connecting a new structure to an existing structure that was not specifically designed to accept it. Surprises are typically more frequent and complex with an older existing home. Construction surprises almost always cost money and time, and they can cause personal stress, especially if you remain in your home throughout the project. The best way to manage the challenges of building an addition is to have a professional GC directing the activities.

The Scope of Work for Modular Home Additions

If you are able to build a modular home addition, you will need to work with each of your dealer candidates to determine a floor plan, specifications, and price. The steps will be essentially the same as for building a single-family modular home, except that you will probably need at least one of the dealers to help you create a custom plan. Although most manufacturers build additions, few offer standard plans that were created specifically for this purpose. Many standard modular house plans, however, can do double duty as modular home additions. For example, small ranches can serve as in-law apartments, and the second story of an appropriately sized two-story can work as a second-story addition.

I recommend that you provide prospective dealers with photographs and approximate measurements of the inside and outside of your home. This will help them create a design that meets your needs and fits your existing home. When you sense that a particular dealer can help you, invite him to see your home and take his own measurements.

Take similar steps with your GC candidates. Once you have confidence in a candidate, invite him to visit your home to make sure he can do what you and your dealer are proposing; he should also take his own measurements. He can then finalize what he needs to do to build the addition and present you with a price for his services. Add his price to your dealer’s price and decide if the project can meet your budget.

The GC tasks for modular home additions will be similar to those in building a new modular home. These tasks include completing the site work, foundation, plumbing, electrical, heating, and interior and exterior carpentry. The GC will need to build any site-built structures you need, such as a deck. He will also be responsible for completing some construction tasks that are unique to building an addition, which will be discussed in the following sections.

Septic System and Sewer Hookup

If your existing home has a septic system, you must obtain approval from the local board of health to use your current system with your modular home addition. The determining factors usually are whether your new combined home will have more bedrooms than your existing home and if the septic system was designed to accommodate them. Without the approval, you will not receive a building permit to go forward. The board might give its approval only if you first enlarge or replace the existing system. Even if the system is adequate as is, connecting to it can create some additional expenses. For example, if your addition has a new bathroom and its waste pipe is below the line connecting to the septic or sewer system, you will need a pump.

Excavation

You should expect that part of your lawn and landscaping will be disturbed by the excavation work. You can preserve some of your shrubbery by relocating it before the construction begins. If you have a paved driveway, it might suffer some damage as well.

Utility Wires and Antenna

If any utility wires are in the way, the GC should arrange for their temporary relocation before work begins. Since utility companies often require a few weeks’ notice, this must be scheduled in advance. In addition, other items attached to your home that may affect the construction of the modular home addition, such as a TV antenna, will be need to be taken down before work is begun and then reinstalled after the addition is complete.

When building modular home additions the electrician can use the existing electrical meter or add a second meter when connecting the addition to the electrical service.
When building modular home additions the electrician can use the existing electrical meter or add a second meter when connecting the addition to the electrical service.

Electrical Work

The electrical service to your home might need to be upgraded, especially if you have an older home with a 60- or 100-amp service. The location of the electrical panel box will influence the amount of work the GC needs to do to connect to the modular home addition. If it is on the opposite side of the home, it will cost more to make the connection. To be safe, the GC should instruct the modular manufacturer to make each electrical run long enough to reach the panel box. Another option is to use a junction box or subpanel. If you are building the modular home addition as a separate apartment, you may want to install a separate electrical service, so that the occupants will receive their own electrical bills. The electrician can do this by installing a dual-meter socket.

When building modular home additions the general contractor should connect the smoke detectors in the addition to the smoke detectors in the existing home.
When building modular home additions the general contractor should connect the smoke detectors in the addition to the smoke detectors in the existing home.

Smoke Detectors

The building inspector or fire marshal might require you to upgrade your exisiting home’s smoke detectors. You should do this even if it is not required. Have the GC outfit your existing home with hard-wired detectors, if it does not already have them. Instruct your modular dealer to coil an extra wire in the basement that connects to the smoke detectors in the addition. The electrician can then pull the wire into the existing home to connect the smoke detectors in the existing home to those in the addition. When the two systems are interconnected, a fire in any part of the home will trigger the alarm in all parts, which is exactly what you would want.

Heating and Air Conditioning

If the GC intends to tie the modular home addition into your current HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), your boiler or furnace might need to be upgraded to take on the additional demand. You might be able to do this affordably if the heating system is slightly oversized and retains some untapped heating capacity; it is not unusual for contractors to provide more capacity than is actually needed. Otherwise, you will have to consider an entirely new heating unit.

This same point holds for central air conditioning. You will only be able to tie into the existing compressor if it has sufficient capacity.

You can avoid the expense of replacing the heating system by using electric-baseboard heat in the addition. Putting electric heat in a second-story addition for a home with hot-water or warm-air heat on the first story might even save you money. Since the second story is likely to be made up of bedrooms, you can take advantage of the fact that the temperature in each room can be controlled separately with electric heat. However, if you have central air conditioning on the first floor, you will likely want to extend the ducts into the addition.

Electric heat can also work well with a small in-law apartment; its small size will keep the heating cost low. If you have a separate electric meter for the apartment, you and the occupants will be able to identify the exact usage.

Another option is to install a separate boiler, furnace, or compressor for the addition. You may want to consider this alternative when your current heating and cooling systems are on the opposite side of the home from the addition and the GC believes the distance will cause too much heat and cooling loss between the unit and addition.

Water Heater

You will have similar issues with supplying hot water to the modular home addition as you will have with the heat and air conditioning. Unless you have excess capacity in your current system or want to upgrade, you will need to add a separate water heater for the addition.

Next week I’ll discuss attached modular home additions.

For more information about building modular home additions, see Building a Modular Addition 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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