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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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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Attached Modular Additions

The Two Uses of Attached Modular Additions

Attached modular additions are sometimes built to create a separate, additional living unit and sometimes to create more living space. Most zoning boards consider any addition with a separate kitchen to constitute a separate living unit, which requires that the wall between the two units must serve as a “fire stop.” The easiest way to accomplish this is to have the modular manufacturer build a fire-rated wall on that side of the addition.

Zoning and Attached Modular Additions

To qualify as an addition, your community’s zoning regulations will require that it be connected to your home. Detached additions are almost always disallowed. You can connect the two by attaching the addition directly to your home or by joining the addition and your home to another room in between, such as a small site-built mudroom or large, modular great room.

Locating Attached Modular Additions

Your property’s topography may limit where you can build an attached addition. If one side of your lot is wetlands or contains a septic system or municipal sewer pipe, you might not be able to build on that side. You will have the same problem, although to a lesser extent, if one side of your land has a steep slope or an outcropping of rock. Although you will want to locate the addition so that the floor plans of your home and addition work well together, you may want to consider an alternative if the preferred location would incur substantial additional expenses.

The modular manufacturer will want to take into account whether the proposed addition will impose structural loads on the existing house or whether the existing house will impose structural loads on the proposed addition.
The modular manufacturer will want to take into account whether the proposed attached modular addition will impose structural loads on the existing house or whether the existing house will impose structural loads on the proposed addition.

Roof Design of Attached Modular Additions

In designing a modular addition, the dealer and GC should make sure that the intersecting roofs shed water and snow properly. This is particularly important when the addition is being built in areas with the potential for heavy winter snow, because the roof of the addition needs to be attached to the existing home so that the two can carry the load together. Depending on how and where the modular addition will be attached, the manufacturer may ask you to hire a structural engineer to determine what needs to be done to make the two structures work together. The engineer may require the GC to beef up the existing roof to carry the additional load.

The windows on the left side of the living room and family room in the existing home will have to be removed, and a new opening will need to be added in the living room to receive the door to the addition’s kitchen. The two left side windows on the second floor on the existing home will also need to be moved if the roof pitch on the addition is steep.
The windows on the left side of the living room and family room in the existing home will have to be removed, and a new opening will need to be added in the living room to receive the door to the attached modular addition’s kitchen. The two left side windows on the second floor on the existing home will also need to be moved if the roof pitch on the addition is steep.

Matching Openings Between an Existing Home and Attached Modular Additions

Before your modular addition is built, the GC must measure exactly where the openings into your existing home are located. The modular dealer will then use that information to line up the connecting openings in your addition.

Scope of Work for Attached Modular Additions

If you are attaching a modular addition directly to the existing home, the GC will need to remove the siding on the existing home’s wall. Any windows or doors on that wall will also need to be removed, and the resulting holes will need to be closed off and finished so they match the home. No matter how well the addition is set alongside the existing home, there are bound to be small gaps between the two. The GC will need to tie the two buildings together on the inside and outside to hide any gaps. Next week I’ll discuss the second-story modular additions.

For more information about building 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 Additions

Modular construction is a great way to build an addition. You get the quality and price advantage that modular homes are known for along with faster build time. Speed is particularly beneficial when building an addition, since the construction will temporarily disrupt your family’s life, especially if you remain in your home while the work is being done.

Modular Additions:  Attached and Second Story                                     

Modular additions come in two types. The most popular type is attached to the side of a home to create either a separate living unit, such as an in-law apartment, or additional rooms, such as a new kitchen, dining room, and great room. Some customers build an in-law apartment at the same time that they build a new modular home. The second type of modular addition is set on top of a one-story home to make it into a two-story.

An ECHO modular in-law addition added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch
An ECHO modular in-law addition has been added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch

Modular Additions:  Ensuring You Can Build

Before you spend too much time considering an addition, find out whether or not you can build one, and what will be required if you can. There are any number of issues that can prevent you from going forward. Not surprisingly, several of the issues that affect your ability to build an addition are the same as those that can restrict what you can do with a particular building lot.

Modular Additions:  Covenants, Deed Restrictions, and Easements

When building an addition, you will be compelled to abide by any covenants and deed restrictions that apply to your property. Almost all subdivisions have covenants limiting what you can build, and a previous owner of the property might have placed a restriction on what you can do. Although covenants and deed restrictions do not usually address additions, the only way to know for sure is to check. You will also be prevented from building an addition on any part of your property where someone has an easement or right of way, unless you negotiate new terms that are recorded on your deed.

It's impossible to tell from this photo that this was a ranch made into a two-story with a second-story modular addition.
It’s impossible to tell from this photo that this was a ranch made into a two-story with a second-story modular addition.

Modular Additions:  Zoning Regulations

Local zoning requirements may affect several things you might want to do with your home. Setback regulations will prevent you from building an addition too close to abutting properties or the street, which could force you to build the addition on the side of your home that is less practical and affordable. If your property does not have a current survey, or if the boundary stakes are not in place, you may need to hire a surveyor before you can convince the building department that your addition complies with the setback requirements. It is unlikely the setback requirements will have much bearing on your plans if you are building a second-story addition.

Most communities have specific zoning regulations governing if and when you can add a second living unit to your home, such as an in-law apartment. Some require a special permit or a zoning variance for any two-family unit, regardless of use or size, while others provide an exception for an in-law apartment. Still other communities allow you to build only two attached single-family units on larger lots than are required for a single-family home. Zoning regulations can dictate how large a home you can build. Some communities restrict how tall the roof can be.

Modular Additions:  Building Codes

Some building codes require anyone constructing an addition to upgrade their existing home to current building-code standards. For example, the building inspector might stipulate that you outfit your existing home with approved smoke detectors that connect to those installed in the addition.

Modular Additions:  Module Access

In order to build a modular addition, the transporters, crane, and set crew must be able to set up in the proper location on your property. Even if your original home is modular, and access was not a problem when you built it, it is possible that you could run into a problem with the addition.

Modular Additions:  Financing and Appraisal

Before entering into a contract to build an addition, determine how you will pay for it. If you intend to use a lender to finance the construction, you may have a choice of either an equity or a construction loan. To use an equity loan, you must have sufficient equity in your home, since the lender will only allow you to borrow against that equity. An appraiser hired by your lender will determine the amount of equity in your home. If you owe money on your home but the mortgage is small, the appraisal is less likely to matter, since the lender will have sufficient collateral even with a low appraisal.

If you have little equity in your home, and need a construction loan, the lender may require a down payment. It will also want an appraisal of your home that includes the proposed addition. Before you spend too much time exploring construction costs, speak with a couple of lenders to see what they can do for you.

When Modular Additions Are Not the Best Choice

There are times when it does not make good financial sense to build a modular addition. In general, it only makes economic sense to build a modular structure if the modules are reasonably sized and have some value-added features. A one-room addition, such as a great room measuring 20 feet by 27 feet 6 inches, does not meet these criteria. A small multi-room apartment, however, with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living room, such as a 22-foot by 24-foot in-law addition, does; for example see our Harmony 1, 2, and 3 in-law addition plans. As these examples show, size is not the only relevant factor. The great room is bigger than the in-law apartment, but it is full of empty space. This kind of structure is better built by a conventional stick builder.

Next week I’ll discuss the general contracting work required for modular additions.

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

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Modular Plans – Exterior and Interior Dimensions

There are a few things you should know about reading and interpreting modular plans from dealers and manufacturers. In this blog I’ll discuss the exterior dimensions, interior dimensions, and square footage of modular plans. Keep in mind that these points apply equally to the house plans marketed by stick, log, and panelized builders.

Modular Plans – Exterior Dimensions          

Modular plans typically list the exterior length and width as well as square footage of the home. The dimensions are almost always rounded-off, especially the widths. It is very common, for example, to list modular plans that are 27’ 6” wide as 28’. When modular plans are not an exact rectangle, manufacturers usually indicate the maximum width and length of the structures as if the modular plans were a true rectangle. For example, when a modular plan includes a 13′ wide bedroom that projects out from a section of a 28′ wide home, the manufacturer may list the width as 41′ even though the plan is only that wide where the bedroom is located.  See the attached plan.

The main section of the home is 28' wide. But the third Bedroom, Foyer, and Covered Porch add another 13' to the width in the middle of the plan. A manufacturer might list the width of this plan as 41', but keep in mind that it is only 41' in the middle.
Here’s an example of what you need to know about the exterior dimensions of modular plans.  The main section of this plan is 28′ wide. But the third Bedroom, Foyer, and Covered Porch add another 13′ to the width in the middle of the plan. A manufacturer might list the width of this plan as 41′, but keep in mind that it is only 41′ in the middle.

Modular Plans – Interior Dimensions           

The interior dimensions of modular plans are always less than the exterior dimensions because of the thickness of the walls. To calculate the usable space you have to take these exterior dimensions into account. A room that is contained entirely within a 13’ 9” wide module will have an interior dimension of 13’ if the exterior wall is 6” thick and the marriage wall (where the modules join) is 3” thick. A great room that is created across two modules that are both 13’ 9” wide will have 26’ 6” of interior space because both 3” marriage walls will be eliminated.

Modular plans typically label the dimensions of irregular shaped rooms the same way they label the exterior dimensions of non-rectangular plans. They use the maximum width and length of the rooms as if they were true rectangles. This tends to exaggerate the size of rooms with jogged entries or closets that jut out from a wall.

Bedroom 3 is a true rectangle that is listed as 12' 10" deep. Bedroom 2 is also labeled as 12' 10" deep. But it is not a true rectangle and it is only 12' 10" deep when you count the space in front of the entry door. The actual useable depth is about 9' 6".
Here’s an example of what you need to know about the interior dimensions of modular plans. Bedroom 3 in this plan is a true rectangle that is listed as 12′ 10″ deep. Bedroom 2 is also labeled as 12′ 10″ deep. But it is not a true rectangle and it is only 12′ 10″ deep when you count the space in front of the entry door. The actual useable depth is about 9′ 6″.

Modular Plans – Square Feet               

Many manufacturers use rounded-off dimensions to calculate the square footage of their modular plans. This will slightly inflate the size of these designs. However, modular manufacturers give accurate dimensions when they complete the drawings they use to build a modular plan.

Modular Plans – Verify What You’re Getting            

The marketing literature for modular plans offered by manufacturers and dealers are is helpful when starting your search for house plans. But given the conventions for labeling dimensions and square footage, you need to take extra care to ensure you know what you’ll actually be getting before you authorize your home to be built.

For more information about calculating the exterior and interior dimensions of modular plans, see Designing a Modular Home and Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.

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Modular Home Designs

Most modular home designs are one, two, or three modules deep and one or two modules high. A few companies build homes three modules high, although they require special approvals from the customer’s state to ensure they comply with the building code. Most homes are two modules wide, with typical widths of approximately 24 feet, 26 feet, 27 feet 6 inches, and 31 feet 6 inches. Three module wide homes typically range from 36’ to 47’ 3”.  The usual practice is to place modules side by side, with the long sides parallel to the road. Some designs, especially when built on narrow lots, turn the modules perpendicular to the road. Modules can also be turned perpendicular to each other to create T-, L-, or H-shaped houses, which is one of many techniques the modular industry has employed to shed its image of making boring boxes.

Here are some of the more typical configurations of modules that create various exterior and interior modular home designs.
There is a surprising number of ways that basic modules can be combined to create various exterior and interior modular home designs. Here are some of the more typical configurations.

Modular Home Designs – Minimum Size

Modular manufacturers will build homes only if they can sell them for a competitive price and still make a profit. The minimum order they will take is a function of the amount of labor and materials required to build the home. Too little labor and materials will make a home uneconomical to build at the factory. This means that small additions usually will not work financially, and neither will larger additions that are essentially empty boxes. For example, a 16 foot by 27’6” foot great room addition is usually too small and devoid of value-added work to make economic sense. On the other hand, a 24-foot by 24-foot in-law addition with a kitchen and bathroom can work nicely.

 

A single room, like a great room, does not have enough labor and materials to be an economical modular home design, while a small in-law apartment does.
With little labor and materials required, the great room (top) is not an economical modular home design for a modular manufacturer to build. The small in-law apartment (bottom) is, since it requires more labor and materials.

Modular Home Designs – Adding Length

Adding length to a modular home is always easy to do from the manufacturer’s point of view, as long as it stays within the maximum production and delivery dimensions. This is also true about adding bump-outs to the end of a module, such as a walkout bay. Making a plan of a given size bigger by adding to the length of the modules is one of the best values in the entire construction industry.

Modular Home Designs – Adding Width

Increasing the size of a particular plan by widening the modules is also a very good bargain. The cost per square foot is often a little more for adding width than length, because the floor system sometimes needs to be beefed up; for example, from 2 x 8 floor joists for a 24-foot-wide home to 2 x 10s for a home with a width of 27 feet 6 inches. Widening a module, like lengthening a home, will always add more equity to a home than it costs.

Modular Home Designs – Adding a Bumpout

Adding a “bump-out”, such as the walk-out bay, to a long wall on a module that is already at its maximum width is more involved than adding one to the end of a module. The manufacturer must either build the bump-out as a separate miniature module or ship the necessary materials to the general contractor.

Modular home designs can be enhanced by adding a walk-out bay. If the bay is added on the end of a module, it can be built and delivered by the manufacturer on one carrier. But if the bay is added on the side of a module, it cannot, since the module would be too wide to ship.
Modular home designs can be enhanced by adding a walk-out bay. If the bay is added on the end of a module, it can be built and delivered by the manufacturer on one carrier. But if the bay is added on the side of a module, it cannot, since the module would be too wide to ship.

Modular Home Designs – Using a Saddle or Cricket

Attaching one or more additional modules perpendicular to the long side, as discussed above can also enlarge a standard plan. This will require that a “saddle” or “cricket” be built to join the roofs.

One way to add flair to modular home designs - while enlarging them at the same time - is to turn one or more modules perpendicular to the others and build a saddle to join the roofs.
One way to add flair to modular home designs – while enlarging them at the same time – is to turn one or more modules perpendicular to the others and build a saddle to join the roofs.

Modular Home Designs – Adding a Second Living Unit

Another way to enlarge a home is to attach a separate living unit to the home, such as you might do to create an in-law addition or a two-family unit. The second unit can be designed with either a custom or standard plan.

Modular Home Designs – Additional Delivery Fees

When enlarging a given plan, make sure that any additional delivery fees are included in writing. Increasing the width up to 27 feet 6 inches should incur a relatively small fee. The fee for widening a home to 31 feet 6 inches, however, will be more substantial. Adding length to a home will sometimes require additional delivery carriers, which also can add significantly to the cost. This will happen when the original length of the house calls for delivering two modules on one carrier but the new, longer plan requires delivering the two modules on two carriers. Consequently, the new design will require an additional carrier for each pair of modules. For example, if a manufacturer’s maximum length for shipping two modules on a carrier is 30 feet per module, it can deliver a two-module-wide 28-foot-long in-law apartment on one carrier. However, if the apartment is lengthened by 4 feet, making each module 32-feet long, an additional carrier will be needed. When the original plan is a 28-foot-long two-story that is being lengthened to 32 feet, two additional carriers will be needed.

Additional carriers will also be required whenever lengthening a home makes the modules too long for the manufacturer and general contractor to deliver to a site. For example, a narrow road to the site may make it impossible to for a longer carrier to negotiate the turns. The only solution, other than keeping the home at its original length, might be to have the manufacturer divide each longer module into two shorter modules. The manufacturer will charge more to do this, but it may be the best way to get the home you want.

Modular Home Designs – Additional Option Costs

Enlarging a home will also increase the cost of any options that are affected by the increase. For example, upgrading to a premium siding will cost more when a home is made wider or longer, since more area needs to be covered. Other optional features will only increase in price if a particular room increases in size. For example, a dining room wood floor will only cost more when a home is lengthened if some of the additional length is put into that room. Increasing the size of a particular room can also force you to add windows or doors to meet the building code, which requires a minimum amount of “light and vent” for each room.

For more information about modular home designs, see Designing a Modular Home and Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.

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Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) – A Temporary Modular In-Law Addition

Are you considering having your parents move in with family? If so, are you considering building an “in-law” addition to your home to provide them (and you) with a private space? Perhaps you are even considering making it a temporary addition, which can be removed when you no longer need it. Unfortunately, you probably will need to build your addition as a permanent structure, since very communities allow truly temporary additions. It’s not been for lack of trying, however. Here’s a little history.

Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO)

It started with the fact that families are sometimes prevented by local zoning regulations from building an in-law addition in single-family neighborhoods. There are several reasons why communities pass regulations that exclude such in-law apartments. The two most common are to preserve property values and safeguard neighborhoods from transient residents. In the early 1980s, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) proposed a zoning solution that would respect these concerns yet allow families to build an apartment for their elderly parents. The proposal became known as the Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity program (ECHO).

An ECHO modular in-law addition added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch
An ECHO modular in-law addition has been added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch

The core idea of the ECHO program was to allow a family to build an in-law apartment on their property as long as they agreed to remove it once their parents moved on. After the temporary addition was removed, the property would be restored to a single-family residence, bringing it into compliance with the community’s zoning restrictions. To make this possible, the temporary addition would either have to be discarded or relocated. Virtually all advocates of the program recognized that a modular home would make it possible to relocate and reuse the apartment each time the occupants vacated it.

In theory, the ECHO program worked on multiple levels. Many families who want to help care for their elderly parents are not looking to create a permanent in-law apartment. They do not want to maintain it or pay the additional taxes, they are not interested in becoming landlords after their parents no longer live there, and they would like to reclaim that part of their yard that has been taken over by the apartment. On the other hand, they do not want to dispose of an in-law apartment that is in usable shape. They would prefer to recoup some of their investment by perhaps passing the apartment on to another family who needed it.

Unfortunately, the ECHO program has yet to take hold. The necessary zoning regulations have not passed. Fortunately, many communities already have zoning regulations that allow for a permanent in-law addition. And they also allow for these structures to be dismantled in the future, as long as you obtain a permit and comply with the regulations. The one caveat, however, is that you must build the temporary addition as if you intend to keep it as a permanent apartment. This means it must comply with all building codes that apply to a new residential home.

Temporary Modular Addition

An advantage to using a modular home for a temporary in-law addition is that it can be disassembled into a few intact sections that can be easily relocated. This is seldom a viable option for a stick-framed addition. The disassembly of a modular temporary addition requires that the general contractor (GC) carry out the same steps he executed to button-up an addition, but in reverse. This should take considerably less time and cost considerably less money than the assembly. The GC would likely need to do the following:

(   )  Disconnect the plumbing, electrical, and heating systems

(   )  Remove the siding where necessary

(   )  Separate the modules at the marriage wall, inside and outside

(   )  Lower the roof on each module

(   )  Lift the modules off the foundation with a crane and crew

(   )  Place the modules on rented transporters that have all of the necessary permits

(   )  Deliver the modules to their next home

(   )  Restore the property to its original condition, including removing the foundation

The disassembly of the temporary modular addition will render some of the materials unusable for the next owner. Some of the shingles will need to be replaced, for example, as will some plumbing and heating components installed in the basement. If you are buying your modular addition directly from a modular manufacturer, consider buying extra materials so the next owner will have matching replacements when it comes time for them to reassemble the addition.

For more information about Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO) Temporary Modular In-Law Additions, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

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Building A Modular Home Addition Is a Great Time to Remodel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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