Recently we built a custom modular T-Cape for one of our customers. The plan is the Wiltshire, which is also available as a one-story with a lower pitched roof.
Here is the modular Wiltshire T-Cape elevation:
Here is the modular Wiltshire T-Cape floor plan:
The standard modular Wiltshire T-Cape has 1,900 square feet, three bedrooms, and two baths on the first floor.
Click here to see several photos of our custom modular Wiltshire T-Cape.
As the photos show, the three front facing gables along with the center A-dormer add character and charm to the exterior of the home. The entry porch is practical yet ornamental. The floor plan is set up for easy entertaining. The kitchen, which opens to a large dining room and gorgeous living room, features a gourmet chef’s granite center island along with plentiful cabinets. The distinctive hardwood floors and Italian tile add beauty throughout the home. The master bedroom suite is well-equipped with dual lavatories, an oversized shower, and a generous walk in closet. The other two bedrooms are comfortably sized, while the laundry room provides ample and attractive cabinetry. The unfinished second floor offers abundant additional room for future expansion, such as for another bedroom or two, a home office, playroom, or storage.
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.
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.
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.
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 two-by-six is not a 2 x 6 when it’s construction lumber.
The framing materials we use for the walls and ceilings of our modular homes are mostly two-by-sixes, two-by-tens, and two-by-fours. You might assume, as I did when I first started selling modular homes, that these designations refer to the actual dimensional sizes of the lumber. But a two-by-six is not 2” x 6”. It’s actually 1 ½” x 5 ½”. In fact, the 1 ½” dimension can be as little as 1 3’8” or as much as 1 5/8” and the 5 ½” dimension can be as little as 5 3’8” or as much as 5 5/8”.
Why Is Lumber Labeled with Nominal Sizes
In residential construction in the United States the framing materials are designated with a “nominal” value, which approximates its size. For example, a 2 x 10, which is close to 2” x 10” but actually 1 ½” x 9 ½”, is given the name “two-by-ten”. This makes sense when you understand a little history.
In the past, the nominal dimensions given to the lumber were the sizes of green lumber before it was dried and planed smooth. This process shrunk the lumber by about ½” in each dimension. The lumber sold today for residential construction is already dried and planed. But it’s still sold in the historical sizes with each size retaining its nominal name. That’s why your modular home will built with “two-by-sixes”, “two-by-tens”, and “two-by-fours”.
Nominal Sizes of Modular Floor Plans
Nominal values also play a role in designating the width of modular home floor plans. For example, a “twenty-eight x forty-four” home is actually 27’6” x 44’. In this case, the width is rounded up by 6”.
There are a variety of ways to compare the advantages of a one-story vs two-story modular home. In part your choice will depend on your personal taste as well as your local real estate market. But you will likely also consider the distinct advantages of each. Here’s a list of the advantages most often mentioned by my customers.
More living space
You don’t need to use square footage for a staircase to the second floor, although you will need one to the basement
You might need fewer bathrooms
More attic space for storage
More basement space for storage
You don’t need to run up and down stairs to cook, clean, keep an eye on your children, do the laundry, or get a snack
Safer for younger children and easier for older/mobility challenged individuals
You can “age in place” more easily and affordably
Easier to evacuate in case of a fire
Less noise transmission, since sound does not travel through the walls of multiple rooms on the same floor as well as it travels between floors
TV or stereo on either floor
Foot traffic on the second floor
Easier – and cheaper – to heat and cool.
More consistent temperature zones, since all rooms flow into each other
Trees can provide more shade
Second story rooms easier to heat, since heat rises
Greater separation of public and private spaces
More privacy for second story bedrooms, which is especially valued by parents and older children
Can build a bigger home on a smaller lot
Easier to deliver modules down narrow streets and onto a small, tight lot, since each module can be half the length to create the same square footage as needed for a one-story
Safer to open second story windows at night
Smaller roof to maintain
More expansive views from second-story
Good exercise using the stairs everyday
Better for the environment, since less land is disturbed during construction
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.
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.
Why Building a New Home Is Better Than Remodeling When You Need Accessibility
What should you do if you need an accessible home? Should you remodel your current home, buy a more accessible used home, or build a fully accessible new one?
Since there are very few truly accessible used homes, let’s compare remodeling your existing home with building a new one. Since I believe building new is almost always better than remodeling, I will outline the advantages of building over remodeling. Of course, if you don’t have the resources and flexibility to build a new home, remodeling will be your only viable alternative.
No Demolition and Shoring Up Expenses
You will not waste money demolishing or shoring up your new home.
Remodeling your existing home to make it accessible can often be surprisingly expensive. You will undoubtedly anticipate some of the costs for adding new features, but you may not plan sufficiently for the cost of the other work required to remodel. Most importantly, you must add the cost of the destruction (taking apart and removing what you no longer want) to the cost of construction (building in the new features). In addition, you must add the cost of shoring up the existing structure of your home so that the new construction can be completed. For example, in addition to tearing down old walls and ripping out old plumbing and electrical, you might need to add structural supports in the ceiling and basement before you can begin. Otherwise, your home will not be structurally sound.
The task of removing walls and shoring up the structure is usually a Pandora’s Box for the remodeler. Often the remodeler can’t know what problems and expenses he is going to run into until he actually starts the demolition. If you ask him to give you a fixed price for the entire project in advance, he will usually build a significant cushion into his price. If you agree to pay him for “time and materials”, and he uncovers a number of problems that require additional work, he will hit you with a change order that will create cost-overruns for you. That’s why remodeling often goes significantly over budget.
Greater Equity and Resale Value
Your new home is likely to provide you with greater market value and equity than a remodeled home.
Since the demolition and shoring up your home will not increase its value as much as it costs (only the new construction will), the total cost of the remodeling will often be considerably greater than the value added to your home. Since much of the money you will spend on remodeling will be lost, your bank’s appraiser will be unlikely to justify a loan for the full cost of remodeling unless you already have a lot of equity in your home or a large down payment. And should you decide to sell your home, you will likely lose some of the money you spent remodeling it.
Since every room in your new home can be designed to be accessible and located where you want it, you will need to make fewer compromises to get the features and functions you want.
Because the remodeler will have to work with your existing structure, he might not be able change the home sufficiently to give you enough of what you need. For example, the remodeler might not be able to locate the accessible bathroom where it would most benefit you.
Efficient Use of Space
Your new home will provide you with the rooms you need without wasting space.
When remodeling your home, you will often have to give up some existing rooms so that the needed features and functional space can be added. For example, one of your existing bedrooms might have to be donated to the remodeling cause so that your hallways, doors, and bathrooms can be widened. When the work is done, you may feel that you have lost valuable space.
Attractive and Functional Landscaping
The site of your new home will be graded and landscaped in ways that are esthetically pleasing as well as usable.
When remodeling your home, you will sometimes have to settle for site work and landscaping that is less attractive. With your foundation, driveway, and walkways already in place, the remodeler is limited in how he can make your site more accessible without detracting from its appearance (often with long ramps) and adding considerably to the cost.
Lower Architect Fees, Custom Design
Whether you wish to customize a builder’s standard plan or design a completely new custom plan, a modular home builder’s fees will be substantially less than those required for a sizable remodeling project.
When remodeling your home for accessibility, you will often are best served by hiring an experienced architect to design a remodeling plan.
Home and Lot Matched in Size
You will be able to match a building lot of appropriate size with a new home that is as big as you need and your budget allows.
When remodeling, your design choices will be limited by the size of your home and your lot. If your home is too small, and your lot does not allow for easy expansion, which can happen in city lots, your design options will be limited.
Right Sized Home
When building a new home of your choice, you will end up with a home that is neither too big nor too small.
If your existing home is already bigger than you need, your remodeled home will almost certainly be too big. If your existing home is not too big before remodeling, but the remodeler is forced to add rooms in order to meet your needs, your remodeled home may become too big. For example, if you have all of the bedrooms that you need, but they are all on the second floor and you need a first floor master bedroom suite, you will be forced to build an extra bedroom.
Lower Energy Costs
Your new home will be considerably more energy efficient than your remodeled home.
Your remodeled home will usually have higher energy costs. Older homes were not built as energy efficient as new homes are today. Often the budget for remodeling won’t allow for improving the energy efficiency, since to insulate all of the walls and replace all of the windows can be expensive. In addition, older homes have very high amounts of air infiltration (leaks around the windows, doors, and electrical receptacles), and air infiltration is the number one cause of heat loss, even after insulation has been added and windows replaced.
Brand New Fixtures, Fully Featured
With your new home, everything will be brand new with the features you desire.
With older homes, your remodeling budget will require you to keep certain things you would prefer to replace. For example, although you might like to replace your fifteen year old appliances, the cost of the remodeling will probably prevent you from replacing them. In addition, your budget will often prevent you from affordably adding features that you would desire. For example, if you want to add central air conditioning, but you have hot water baseboard heat, you will need to add the duct work in addition to the air conditioning compressor, which will add substantially to the total cost.
Lower Maintenance Costs, Extended Warranty
Because your new home will come with new materials, it will require minimal maintenance. Furthermore, all the parts will be protected by a warranty. In fact, your entire modular home will come with a ten year structural warranty.
Even after your older home is remodeled, it will have higher maintenance costs. All areas and components of your home that are not completely replaced will continue to bear the effects of wear and tear. In addition, the only items that will have a warranty will be the ones installed by the remodeler.
Now that the holiday season is upon us I’m reminded of one of our homebuyers who added electrical outlets under every window so she could display her Christmas candle lights without extension cords. She also put two electrical outlets in the stairwell to the second floor so she could string a lighted garland along the railing. And of course she included some extra electrical outlets on the outside of her home for lighting up Santa’s sleigh and reindeer. Recalling my homebuyer’s foresight got me thinking about how important it is for homebuyers to think about how they’ll use their home before finalizing their modular home electrical plan.
Today’s modular homes come with many more electrical outlets than older homes, since the building code requires them to be spaced close together for safety reasons. But this doesn’t mean you’ll have enough electrical outlets. Nor does it mean they’ll be located where you need them.
Electrical Outlets for Special Purposes
If you’re a craft person, for example, you may want extra electrical outlets in your special room. You may also want to raise some outlets a couple of feet for your convenience. The same suggestions apply to an office. You’ll want to make sure you have enough electrical outlets for your computer, printer, copier, shredder, charger, etc. Adding electrical outlets in a garage that will do double duty as a work area is also a smart move.
If your living room or family room furniture will not be placed along a wall, you’ll want to include some floor outlets to power the lamps you locate away from the walls. This is especially true with today’s open floor plans, since they provide fewer opportunities to mount outlets on walls. If you’re using window air conditioners, it might help to locate electrical outlets below the window. If you enjoy barbecues and lawn parties, you should include extra electrical outlets on the exterior of your home.
Before approving your modular home for construction, give some thought to whether you should include additional electrical outlets in other places for other purposes. Take advantage of the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive to have the manufacturer add them when it builds your modular home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Right Modular Home Floor Plan Sometimes Doesn’t Come with the Right Modular Home Elevation
A couple of months ago I discussed the importance of a modular home elevation drawing. Seehere and here. One thing I emphasized is that home plans on the internet almost always show a dressed up home. But this doesn’t mean they’re adorned in the way you’d prefer. It also doesn’t mean that the ones with the right floor plan layout have the look you want. For example, they may have fancy siding, a taller roof, and a reverse gable. But the one thing they don’t have is your front porch.
The good news is that you can add a front porch to virtually any modular home plan just as you can add a garage to any plan. In addition, you can dress up your home with circle top windows, an ornate front door, decorative moldings, a hip roof, reverse gables, gable returns, A-Dormers, scalloped siding, cultured stone siding, a chimney, and a lot more. Most modular home elevations will display some of these features. But none of them may have the right combination of features matched to the right floor plan layout. So you and your dealer will need to add the modular home elevation features you favor to the floor plan you select.
Examples of How to Dress Up a Modular Home Elevation
Here are six examples of how you can start with a relatively simple modular home elevation and embellish it:
The modular home elevation of the Crookston one-story plan on the right adds a garage and front porch.
The modular home elevation of the Barclay cape cod plan on the right adds a larger front porch that also serves as a dormer, a stone facade, and a combination of vertical and horizontal siding..
The modular home elevation of the Bellmeade two-story plan on the right adds a hip roof, three A-dormers, a brick chimney, a more formal front porch, and brick siding.
The modular home elevation of the Glamorganone-story plan on the right adds a taller roof and a larger garage with a reverse gable and entry doors on the side.
The modular home elevation of the Tiffany cape cod plan on the right adds a front porch, a partial brick facade, and decorative moldings.
The modular home elevation of the Gordonone-story plan on the right adds a front porch, a taller roof with an A-dormer, a partial stone facade, vertical siding with a scalloped accent, and a circle top window.
Have Your Modular Home Dealer Customize the Modular Home Elevation to Your Liking
As I mentioned in my other two posts (see above), take a second look at some desirable floor plans that you might otherwise reject – because they’re matched with unacceptable elevations. A practical way to do this when you are looking at modular home plans is to cover up the exterior elevation plans with a piece of paper. Otherwise you will find your eyes continually drawn to the elevation plans as you turn the pages. Once you select some floor plan layouts that you like, have your dealer show you how he can create some modular home elevations that please you.
I’m a member of the baby boom generation. Like most people in this demographic, I’m not as nimble as I once was. Even so, I get around well “for my age”, although I do have the help of a new left hip. I exercise regularly and don’t need the assistance of a cane, walker, or wheelchair. I’m proud to say that I can still climb stairs as fast as most 30 year olds. But this won’t always be so, and it’s important that I recognize that, especially when my wife and I build our next home.
In my experience as a modular home builder, however, many people underestimate the inevitable effects of aging when they design their home. It’s not because they fail to think about it. Nor because we fail to bring it up when discussing their selections. In fact, our T-Ranch model home displays several Universal Design features that should be considered by anyone who wants their home to be user friendly as they age. But most people have a budget and when forced to make a choice between a feature that will benefit them in the distant future or an amenity they really want now . . . . Well you know how that goes.
The most vivid example for me occurred not long after we built our T-Ranch model home. Two sisters in their 70’s decided to build a custom one-story that contained many of the Universal Design options in our model. However, they didn’t choose to eliminate the stairs to their front or back door. They said they were in good health and able to get around on their own. I pointed out that it was easier to create a level entrance without ramps if we did this while building their home. This is always true, but it’s particularly true on a property that’s very sloped, which was true of their lot. The stumbling block was the extra fill required to build a “bridge” to one of her exterior doors.
There were two reasons they decided against this. One was because the fill would cost a few thousand dollars, which they could only afford by giving up the hardwood floor in the dining room and living room. In addition, they didn’t like how the property would look with the extra fill.
Sadly, one of the sisters had a serious stroke two years after they moved into their home. Although she survived, she could no longer move about without a wheelchair. Since there was no level entrance, the sisters had a ramp built to their back door. It was quite sizeable – and by their own admission unattractive – because the door was five feet above the finished grade. But it was the only practical choice at that point.
When I tell this story, most people are surprised the sisters made the choice they did. But I’ve found that many people make these kinds of choices because of how strongly they want their dream home to include all of their desired amenities.
Ultimately it’s your choice what you build. But give serious thought to building a home that meets your family’s needs now and into the future. Design it so it allows you to age in place without forcing you to make expensive renovations, move, or radically alter your lifestyle when your abilities start to slip. It’s certainly something my wife and I will do.
If you are building a second story modular addition, you are most likely doing it to create more living space rather than a separate living unit. The general contractor will turn your one-story into a two-story by removing the roof from your home and immediately setting the new modular second story with its own built-in roof on top.
The speed of modular construction is a tremendous benefit when building a second story addition, since the addition can be set in place within hours after the roof is removed from your existing home. Once the modular addition is in place, the inside of your home is protected from a sudden storm. A site builder cannot realistically protect your home as quickly. Another advantage is that the second story can be finished faster. This means your family can use the upstairs more quickly, even if it must wait to enjoy the downstairs until the remodeling is completed.
Requirements for Second Story Modular Additions
There are two conditions that must be met before you can build a second story modular addition. First, the exterior dimensions of the existing home must be compatible with one of the modular manufacturer’s production sizes. If your home is too wide, a modular will not easily work. If your home has multiple bump-outs, a modular might work, but it may be impractical and expensive. A home can be up to 3-feet narrower than a module, however, and adding a wider second floor can create an attractive, cantilevered garrison colonial look.
The second condition is having an existing home and foundation that are structurally capable of carrying the additional weight, which is substantial. You will need to hire a structural engineer to make this determination. He may give you specific instructions on fortifying the structure or the foundation, which might be unacceptable or too expensive. If you decide to carry out his instructions, the GC will complete them as part of his remodeling. Before the engineer completes his final written report, he will need to see plans of exactly what you are building and receive detailed information from the manufacturer.
Design Issues for Second Story Modular Additions
When designing an addition, you must decide where the stairs to the second floor will be located. You must also determine a location for a chase from the basement to the second floor to carry the electrical wires, HVAC supply and return ducts or pipes, and plumbing pipes for second-floor bathrooms. If the GC is connecting to a forced-air system in the basement, the chase must be larger, since the ducts will take up more space than hot-water lines.
The design of the second story elevation must be coordinated with the first-story elevation. The window locations on the second story should be arranged in a pleasing fashion. This decision should be made early in the design process, since the location of the interior partition walls on the second story must be coordinated with the window locations (you cannot put a wall in the middle of a window). In addition, the window style and sizes should be matched as closely as possible to the existing home.
The exterior elevation of all four sides of the finished home must take into consideration any first-story bump-outs or structures. For example, the location of an existing bay window, porch, sunroom, portico, recessed entry, or garage can pose special design challenges. The second story must be planned so that it does not affect either the function or aesthetic appeal of these structures. In some cases, it might be necessary to remove a part of the bump-out or attached structure, such as a garage roof, before installing the second story. If the modular second story will be cantilevered, the overhang can pose additional problems with a first-floor bump-out, such as a bay window.
The exterior siding on the second story must fit with the siding on the first story. Otherwise, the siding on the first story will have to be replaced. If you currently have wood siding, you might need to repaint or restain it to create a color match. Similar coordination issues arise for shutters and other exterior trim details.
If you have a chimney on your existing one-story home, you will need to make it taller to reach above the roof of the second floor. In addition, all trees overhanging the first story will need to be removed.
Material Disposal and Second Story Modular Additions
The actual removal of the existing roof as well as any other materials you are replacing in your existing home, such as the siding or windows, will be a task unto itself. The cost of disposing of these materials will be appreciable.
Most importantly, when you are done building your second story modular addition, it will almost feel like you have just built a brand new home.
Attached modular additions are sometimes built to create a separate, additional living unit and sometimes to create more living space. Most zoning boards consider any addition with a separate kitchen to constitute a separate living unit, which requires that the wall between the two units must serve as a “fire stop.” The easiest way to accomplish this is to have the modular manufacturer build a fire-rated wall on that side of the addition.
Zoning and Attached Modular Additions
To qualify as an addition, your community’s zoning regulations will require that it be connected to your home. Detached additions are almost always disallowed. You can connect the two by attaching the addition directly to your home or by joining the addition and your home to another room in between, such as a small site-built mudroom or large, modular great room.
Locating Attached Modular Additions
Your property’s topography may limit where you can build an attached addition. If one side of your lot is wetlands or contains a septic system or municipal sewer pipe, you might not be able to build on that side. You will have the same problem, although to a lesser extent, if one side of your land has a steep slope or an outcropping of rock. Although you will want to locate the addition so that the floor plans of your home and addition work well together, you may want to consider an alternative if the preferred location would incur substantial additional expenses.
Roof Design of Attached Modular Additions
In designing a modular addition, the dealer and GC should make sure that the intersecting roofs shed water and snow properly. This is particularly important when the addition is being built in areas with the potential for heavy winter snow, because the roof of the addition needs to be attached to the existing home so that the two can carry the load together. Depending on how and where the modular addition will be attached, the manufacturer may ask you to hire a structural engineer to determine what needs to be done to make the two structures work together. The engineer may require the GC to beef up the existing roof to carry the additional load.
Matching Openings Between an Existing Home and Attached Modular Additions
Before your modular addition is built, the GC must measure exactly where the openings into your existing home are located. The modular dealer will then use that information to line up the connecting openings in your addition.
Scope of Work for Attached Modular Additions
If you are attaching a modular addition directly to the existing home, the GC will need to remove the siding on the existing home’s wall. Any windows or doors on that wall will also need to be removed, and the resulting holes will need to be closed off and finished so they match the home. No matter how well the addition is set alongside the existing home, there are bound to be small gaps between the two. The GC will need to tie the two buildings together on the inside and outside to hide any gaps. Next week I’ll discuss the second-story modular additions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I mentioned in my last post that before you authorize the modular dealer to build your home you need to see a complete exterior elevation plan that shows what your home will look like, taking into account your property’s slopes and contours after your GC completes his button-up work and site-built structures. To provide this plan, someone must integrate three types of detail. The first shows how the home will look after the GC completes his button-up work. The purpose of this detail is to show what the modular manufacturer is building. It assumes the GC is not building any other structures on site and that your property is perfectly flat. The second type of detail adds all of the GC’s site-built structures, such as a garage, porch or deck, along with any extra finishes he’s applying to the home. The third level of detail depicts how the property’s grades and landscaping will integrate with the first two levels to more accurately depict what will be built.
The Topography Detail for a Complete Exterior Elevation
Few builders, modular or stick, provide the third set of details, those that capture the property’s topography. This is not important if the land is perfectly flat. It is important, however, when the exterior elevation plans depict the home on a flat lot but the property actually slopes front to back or side to side. For instance, if the finished grade varies more than a couple of feet around your home, more of the foundation will be exposed at the low points. Once you see an accurate plan showing a large section of the foundation above the finished grade on one side, you may want to consider replacing that section with wood-framed kneewalls or walk-out walls. This may in turn lead you to relocate the furnace and water heater to maximize the benefits that the added windows will provide. To accomplish this, you may have to modify the house plan to move the chimney closer to the new furnace location. If you do not discover this situation until after the excavation work has begun, it may be too late to change the house plan and relocate the chimney, which could mean that the furnace is stuck in the middle of what could have been a very useful and affordable basement family room or office.
An accurate exterior elevation plan may also make you aware that the slope in your backyard is so steep it will require a few additional steps to the rear porch. You may prefer to avoid a long set of stairs. Learning of this potential situation in advance will allow you to eliminate the problem by purchasing additional fill for the low spot. Since the fill will cost a bit of money, however, you may not be able to afford it unless you omit something from your modular contract, which you will only be able to do if you make the decision when you review the exterior elevation plans. Waiting until the GC begins the excavation will be too late, since you will have already signed-off on the plans and specifications. Another situation that is often revealed by an exterior elevation plan with topographical detail is when there needs to be a step down or up between parts of your home. For example, you might need three steps to enter the home from the garage because of a gentle slope across the front of the property. One way to avoid the steps is to build a retaining wall on the side of the garage so that additional fill can raise the garage floor without the threat of erosion. You will want to know about this condition while you are still in the planning stages so that you can budget the additional funds required.
Planning Issues Revealed by a Complete Exterior Elevation
As these examples illustrate, the natural contours of your land can significantly affect how you build your home. The more you know before construction begins, the more options you can consider and factor into your design and budget. Consequently, ask the dealer to show the property’s topography when he draws your home and site-built structures. Your GC or a surveyor, however, will need to provide the dealer with this information. The most accurate topographical detail comes from using a transit or its equivalent. The GC may suggest that he can come close enough by walking the property, but line-of-site judgments made with the naked eye are often inaccurate, especially when a property is heavily wooded or covered with thick vegetation. The only way to accurately determine the topography is for someone to take detailed site measurements with the appropriate equipment. You will have to pay for this service, but unless your property is perfectly flat, it will be worth the expense. Keep in mind that even if you receive exterior elevation plans that conform to your property’s grades, they may not represent exactly how your home will sit on the lot after it is built. That’s because the actual finished grade will depend on how deep the foundation is installed, which will partly depend on the soil and groundwater conditions discovered after the basement hole is dug. Groundwater and ledge can require the house to be raised substantially higher than what was drawn on the proposed exterior elevation plan. The finished grade will also depend on how much fill, if any, is brought to or removed from the site to compensate for these conditions. Unless you dig some test holes on the property before finalizing the decisions on your home, you will not be able to anticipate and plan for these exterior elevation changes. Only after your property is finish-graded and landscaped will you truly see what it is going to look like. For more information about how to get an accurate exterior elevation of how your home will look when finished, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
Last week I pointed out that the marketing literature for most house plans displays a dressed-up exterior elevation. This is significant because the ornate features shown are not usually included in the standard base price for the plans. Many a customer has assumed they were getting everything they saw in the literature drawing, only to find out when the house was built that they were getting a simpler, less adorned version.
I suggested last week that there are two ways to make sure you are getting what you want. The first is to look closely at the specifications listed in the modular builder’s estimate, and the second is to have the builder provide you with a drawing of the exterior elevation showing exactly what you’re getting.
Three Levels of Exterior Elevation
There are three levels of detail that must be included if you are to get an exact drawing of what your finished home will look like: the manufacturer must draw what you are ordering, not a generic drawing; the dealer or general contractor must add the site-built structures; and someone must map both of these onto the slopes and contours of your property. I’ll discuss the first two requirements today and the third in my next post.
Exterior Elevation of the Modules
All modular manufacturers will provide an elevation plan of your home, but not all of them will draw the exact home you are building. They may instead give you a generic plan showing the home without any of the custom touches you’ve added. For example, they may not show the additional windows and sidelights at the front door you selected, and they may leave out the reverse gable you specified for the roof above your front door.
You should not settle for a generic elevation. Ask your modular dealer to provide you with an elevation plan of what you have ordered from the manufacturer before you authorize him to build it. If his manufacturer will not provide the plan and he is unable to create it himself, ask him to have it drawn by someone else. Even if you have to pay extra for an accurate plan, you need to see it. Little things like the spacing of the windows can matter a lot, especially when you have taken a standard plan and lengthen the plan, added windows, or simply moved some windows within a room to accommodate furniture. In addition, if you are dressing up a plan’s no-frills standard look, you will want to see if your vision holds up to your own scrutiny.
Exterior Elevation of Site Built Structures
Asking the dealer to provide plan-specific elevation drawings will not be sufficient when you are having additional structures such as a garage, deck, or porch built on site. Unless your elevation plans include all site-built structures, you will not be able to review what your home will look like.
However, you might not get the needed assistance from your dealer if he is not serving as your GC. Your dealer may feel that since he is not completing the GC work, he does not know what the GC is planning to do. He may point out that the regulations governing modular construction in your state do not allow the manufacturer to include any of these site-built structures in its permit plans. He may correctly insist that state and local officials only allow the manufacturer to draw what it is building. While this is true, some dealers and manufacturers will help you by creating a separate set of plans that show the GC’s work. Before completing the drawings, they will ask you and your GC to provide the details, insist that you take responsibility for their accuracy, and charge you an additional fee for the assistance. You should make this investment.
Exterior Elevation of Modules and Site Built Structures
An alternative to having the dealer complete the elevation plans is to ask your GC to complete his own set of plans. The advantage to this approach is that he will know exactly what he is building. The disadvantage is that you will now have two sets of incomplete plans, one of your modular home and one of your GC-built structures. The only way they will appear on the same page is if the GC recreates the modular plans or another person integrates the details into a third set of plans, an impractical and wasteful step. This is why it is better to pay the dealer to provide a complete set of plans.
Remember, you need your modular dealer and general contractor to include whichever options you select in their exterior elevation drawings, since these, not their marketing literature, show what you will get.
House plans on the internet almost always show a dressed up home. This is true whether the plans are offered by a builder or manufacturer (modular, stick, panelized, or log) or a company that just sells plans. They all want to present an attractive façade because they know that your first response to a plan is likely to be based on its exterior elevation, not its floor plan.
There are many types of optional features that can be used to turn a plain appearance into an ornate one. This often includes, for example, garages, porches, decks, taller roofs, dormers, return gables, decorative moldings, specialty windows, fancy front doors, and chimneys.
Getting the Exterior Elevation You Want
Embellishing the exterior elevation of a plan is reasonable as long as the modular builder makes clear what they are including in their price. Sometimes this information doesn’t come out until you’ve received a detailed written estimate. It won’t even come out then if the estimate only lists what is included and not what’s excluded.
There are two ways to make sure you are getting what you want. The first is to look closely at the modular builder’s estimate, and then have the builder add the missing information. The second is to have the builder provide you with a drawing of the exterior elevation showing exactly what you’re getting.
The Exterior Elevation Is Independent of the Floor Plan
When looking through a plan book, do not be misled by the pairing of floor plans and exterior elevation plans into thinking that you cannot make adjustments. In fact, each floor plan can have a multitude of exterior looks, and each exterior look can be applied to many different floor plans. For example, all homes can have a garage and porch, even if the artist has not included them in the drawing. Likewise, you can adjust the slope of the roof, add dormers and decorative gables, and opt for oversized roof overhangs if you choose, regardless of what you see in the drawing.
Remembering that each plan can have a simple, unadorned look and a complex, ornate look, as well as many looks in between, will free you up to consider some interesting floor plans that have been paired with what are unattractive elevation plans to your eye. It will also motivate you to take a second look at some desirable elevation plans that are matched with unworkable plans. A practical way to do this when you are looking at floor plans is to cover up the exterior elevation plans with a piece of paper. Otherwise you will find your eyes continually drawn to the elevation plans as you turn the pages.
Over the last few years, obtaining financing has been one of the most difficult problems for builders and customers. Not only have many banks been unwilling to lend, their appraisals for new construction have fallen so much that willing and qualified buyers have been unable to get sufficient financing.
The market is now greatly improved and continuing to get stronger. More and more banks are willing to lend. But appraisals for new construction can still be a problem. The reason is that the sale price for a “comparable” existing home is often considerably less than the cost of building a new one.
Three Reasons Why There Are Still Appraisal Problems
There are three reasons why new homes cost more than existing homes. Land prices have remained steady in most places because land is a scarce commodity. As Mark Twain pointed out, they don’t make it any more. The percentage drop in the cost of construction labor, where it’s happened, isn’t anywhere near as great as the percentage drop in the price of existing homes. Few construction workers will accept a 40% pay cut. What has been especially surprising, even to seasoned builders, is the sharp spike in material costs. The increase has been fueled by an uptick in remodeling and commercial construction. The three of these factors keep the cost for new construction higher than for existing homes.
Appraisals for new construction are based on comparing the proposed new home to recently sold homes similar in size and features. Since most sales are from existing stock, appraisals for new homes are often less than the cost to build them. This often prevents banks from lending the full amount needed by the buyer. Unless the buyer has sufficient cash to offset this shortfall, they can’t get a loan for the amount they need to build their home.
Minimize Appraisal Problems by Selecting Optional Features with High Value
So what can you do about this? It always helps to select optional specifications that add the same value as they cost. It helps even more if you choose features that add more value than they cost. Enlarging a modular home, for example, will almost always add more value than it costs, since factory assembly lines are very efficient. On the flip side, removing something that costs more than it adds in value will also bring the cost more in line with the appraisal. For example, replacing fiber cement siding with vinyl siding will substantially reduce the discrepancy between cost and appraisal. The appraised value of vinyl and fiber cement is comparable in most communities even though fiber cement costs much more. Similar results can be achieved by selecting vinyl windows instead of wood windows or by eliminating cathedral ceilings.
Minimize Appraisal Problems by Adding Other Work with High Value
Adding something you might not need, or didn’t want until the future, can sometimes increase the appraised value more than it costs. For example, if you select a cape design with one or two bedrooms on the first floor and an unfinished second floor, finishing a bedroom or two on the second floor might boost your appraisal substantially more than it costs. Of course this assumes you can afford the additional construction. Building your garage now rather than in the future might stretch your budge more than you prefer, but it may also be the only way to eliminate your appraisal shortfall.
Matching Siding and Shingles from the Modular Manufacturer
Recently, we built a large T-Cape with an oversized site-built garage and front porch. As we usually do, we asked the modular manufacturer to ship matching siding and shingles for the garage and porch. However, they suggested that we buy the materials locally because the weight of the long modules combined with the weight of the extra siding and shingles was more than they recommended. We were fine with this because we knew that local vendors carried the same brand of siding and shingles.
Matching Siding and Shingles from the Local Vendor
Although we were able to buy the materials locally, we discovered after shingling half the garage that the shingle color didn’t match what was installed on the home. It turned out that the modular manufacturer was buying shingles made in one of the factories owned by the shingle manufacture while our local suppliers were buying the “same” brand and color made in another of the their factories. Unfortunately, the shingles from the two factories were noticeably different in color.
The situation became more complicated when we learned that there were no suppliers within 250 miles who carried shingles made from the same factory used by our modular manufacturer. Fortunately, the shingle manufacturer helped us out by shipping matching shingles to one of the local suppliers.
To be fair, this problem is not typical. Usually you can buy materials locally that match those installed by the modular manufacturer. Even so, I recommend that you ask your dealer if he’s confident you can buy matching materials locally.
Matching Siding and Shingles for Two Years Later
There is one situation in which I more strongly recommend that you buy matching siding and shingles from the modular manufacturer. That’s when you are delaying construction of a garage, porch, or other structure that will use these materials, and this delay is likely to be a couple of years. Otherwise you might be unable to purchase matching materials because the manufacturer of the materials has discontinued making them.
On the other hand, it’s true that two years later your “matching” materials won’t exactly match those already installed on your home. The sun’s ultraviolet light will have faded some of the color. But at least you’ll have a closer match.
Here’s some advice that’s obvious, but not always followed. If you’re building a home to share with a spouse or partner, make sure both of you are OK with the final decisions.
You might think there’s nothing wrong with one person making all the decisions as long as both of you are comfortable with this arrangement. I agree. But the other person still needs to approve your final decisions to make sure you didn’t choose something they dislike.
When Building a Modular Home, It Is Especially Important that Both of You Approve the Final Decisions
This is particularly important with modular homes, since the factory will build your home to whatever design and specifications you sign for when you authorize its construction. This means you need to be sure your spouse or partner feels good about your final decisions. Otherwise . . . well, let me share a story about a happily married couple.
When Ed and Heidi first came to our model home center, Ed let us know that if they were to select us, his wife would pick the house plan and specifications and control the purse strings. He said he was too busy with work to be involved. Besides he would be happy with whatever his wife decided. That was fine with us, but we couldn’t help wonder how Heidi would handle this responsibility without help, since she already had three children under seven with a fourth on the way.
To Heidi’s credit, once she decided to build with us she quickly finalized the plan and just as quickly selected the materials and colors. She then signed off on her final decisions.
A month before the baby was due we delivered their home. Ed didn’t attend the modular set, but Heidi was there with her parents and a couple of friends, who helped with the children. Ed came that evening and was quite pleased with the house. At least he was until he realized Heidi had decided to have their general contractor install forced hot air heat and air conditioning. Ed had wanted the factory to install hot water baseboards. Moreover, he disliked air conditioning. The next day his opening line to my service manager was, “I am not sure who I should be mad at, you or my wife!”. It never occurred to him that he should be mad at himself!
It’s Always Less Expensive to Get the Final Decisions Right the First Time
We explained to Ed and Heidi that they could still add hot water baseboards to each room. But this would cost them quite a bit more than if the units had been installed at the factory. In the end, they decided to live with the forced hot air heat. However, the last we heard, they still hadn’t installed air conditioning.
It’s perfectly OK to allow your spouse or partner to make all the final decisions. But regardless of how busy you are, or how happy you are letting your spouse or partner do the heavy lifting, both of you should review the final decisions before authorizing your home to be built.
In a previous blog I pointed out that modular homes force you to make decisions before you build your home. This preliminary planning makes you far less susceptible to costly and unbudgeted change orders, something that tarnishes many stick built projects. But this doesn’t mean you can’t get yourself in trouble with poor planning when designing a modular home. In fact, this is happening more frequently with new home appliances, such as refrigerators, ovens, cooktops, dishwashers, microwaves, trash compactors, washing machines, and cloth dryers.
New Home Appliances: Size and Installation Requirements
Appliances have always come in a variety of sizes. But today the range of options is far greater because manufacturers are coming up with more ways to improve their products, and some changes increase the size of the appliances. It’s not unusual to find new home appliances that are wider, longer, deeper, and taller. All of these changes require a larger space than in years past. Your responsibility is to make sure your home is built to accommodate the size of your appliances.
You can safely assume that your modular manufacturer will provide enough room for “standard” sized appliances. They will also enlarge the space to fit your new home appliances regardless of the size as long as you give them the dimensions. But a non-standard size may require you to change other things in your home. For example, you many need to enlarge a closet to fit your washer and dryer. Or you may need to enlarge one kitchen cabinet to fit a cooktop, and shrink an abutting cabinet to retain your kitchen layout. However, if you don’t give the modular dealer and manufacturer the complete information for your appliances, and you sign off on their plans with dimensions that won’t work with your appliances, you must make the required changes at your own expense.
One option, which I recommend, is to shop for your new home appliances before you sign off on the modular manufacturer’s plans. This will allow you to determine the size and installation requirements, including electrical power and gas hook-ups, for appliances you are likely to purchase. Alternatively, you can do what many customers do, which is to allow the modular manufacturer to provide the standard space and hook-ups. As long as you buy new home appliances that work with these standards, you’re good to go. Of course this will limit your appliance selections.
New Home Appliances: Other Considerations
When planning for your washer and dryer, keep in mind that bifold doors do not open the full width of the opening. If you will be using a front loading washer, make sure there is enough space in front. Since you will want to vent your dryer to the outside, think about its location and whether your dryer can handle the distance. Should you decide to purchase your own range hood and it’s designed to vent to the outside, make sure your kitchen layout allows for this. The same goes for a down draft range or cooktop.