Nominal Sizes: When Is a Two-by-Four Not 2 by 4

Nominal Lumber Sizes

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

Lumber sizes for residential construction are designated by the "nominal" values assigned to each size.
Lumber sizes for residential construction are designated by the “nominal” values assigned to each size.

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”.

For more information about nominal lumber size, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

New Home Appliances

New Home Appliances: Getting Them Right

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

New Home Appliances: Size and Installation Requirements

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

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

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

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

New Home Appliances: Other Considerations                                             

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

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

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.

Expect Moisture Condensation in Your New Home

Over the years we’ve received a few calls each winter from customers who’ve built a new modular home with us. One reason for their calls was the “ice dams” that had formed on the eave edge of their roofs. I’ll discuss this condition in a later post.  The other reason they called was concern about the moisture condensation on the inside of some of their windows.

Moisture Condensation: The First Heating Season

Moisture condensation often forms on the inside of windows and doors in new homes because of the drying out of the lumber and concrete foundation.
Moisture condensation often forms on the inside of windows and doors in new homes during the first heating season because of the drying out of the lumber and concrete foundation as well as by your daily cooking, bathing, drying clothes, and breathing.

Moisture condensation happens quite frequently at the beginning of a new home’s first heating season. This is true regardless of the type of wood frame construction. As much as a ton of moisture (yes, 2,000 pounds!!!) can be released by the lumber, concrete foundation, and drywall as they dry out. The condensation can appear as fog on the windows and can even freeze on the glass. Moisture condensation is most likely to appear on windows, rather than walls, because glass surfaces have the lowest temperature of any interior surface in a home. When the warm, moist air comes in contact with the cooler glass, the moisture condenses. The same action occurs on the outside of a glass of iced tea in the summer and on the bathroom mirrors and walls after you take a hot shower. If condensation occurs in your new home, you will need to provide ventilation to dissipate the moisture. Turning on the kitchen and bathroom ventilation fans each day or briefly opening a few windows, especially during the first heating season, should take care of the problem.

Moisture Condensation: Daily Living

Moisture condensation can also build up in a home after the first year because of normal living. If the problem continues, you should remind everyone in the family to use the bathroom ventilation fan when they are bathing and the range hood fan when they are cooking. Today’s tight homes are more prone to retain moisture from cooking, bathing, drying clothes, operating humidifiers, heating with fossil fuels, and breathing. Proper ventilation, however, will maintain the right amount of moisture in your home to balance comfort and safety. If an abnormally wet situation exists, use a dehumidifier. Otherwise, problems may result, such as peeling paint, rotting wood, buckling floors, insulation deterioration, mold and mildew, and even moisture spots on walls and ceilings. Remember, you are responsible for any problems caused by improper ventilation.

Moisture Condensation: Exterior Causes

Excessive moisture condensation can also be caused by conditions outside of the home itself, such as high winds during heavy rainfall or a snowstorm. Dampness in the basement, caused by poor exterior grading, a high water table, or other site conditions can also lead to moisture problems in the home. Again, if an abnormally wet situation exists, use a dehumidifier.

For more information about moisture condensation in your modular home, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Financing – Important Information

This is part three of a three part blog that explains what you need to know about your modular home financing. In my last post I explained the significance of the final modular home payment and option of paying either COD or by an assignment of funds agreement. In this post I add more details.

Modular Home Financing: Whose Name Should Be on the Check

Some lenders insist on making the final modular home payment in the name of the customer even though it’s owed to the dealer or manufacturer. Others allow the name of the modular dealer or manufacturer to accompany the customer’s name. When the modular home payment is in the customer’s name, either alone or along with the dealer’s or manufacturer’s name, the customer must endorse the check before the dealer or manufacturer can cash or deposit it. Modular home dealers and manufacturers almost never accept a check in the customer’s name alone for an assignment-of-funds payment, and only some dealers and manufacturers will accept a joint check. The reason is that when the customer’s name is on the check, the customer unilaterally gets to decide if and when the dealer and manufacturer are paid, which defeats the purpose of the assignment. Given that the modules will already be on the foundation when the check is handed over, the dealer and manufacturer do not want to allow the customer to have this much control. Accordingly, most modular dealers and manufacturers insist that the assignment-of-funds letter state that the check will be issued in their names only.

If your dealer insists on receiving the modular home payment only in their or their manufacturer’s name, bring this to the attention of lenders before applying for financing. The best way to ensure that a lender and dealer can work with each other’s policies is to ask the dealer to give you a sample of an acceptable assignment-of-funds letter before you select a lender. You can then ask each lender to approve the letter. If a lender asks for some modifications to the dealer’s letter or proposes their own letter, and the dealer is not agreeable, you will probably need to find a different lender or dealer.

There are a lot of modular home financing details to attend to with your lender. For example, who gets paid, when you pay, uncooperative lenders, disbursement schedules, personal funds, additional COD deposits, etc.
There are a lot of modular home financing details to attend to with your lender. For example, who gets paid, when you pay, disbursement schedules, personal funds, additional COD deposits, etc.

Modular Home Financing: What if Your Lender Won’t Make a COD Payment

If your modular home dealer and their manufacturer require a COD payment and you are unable to find a local lender to assist you, your dealer is likely to know which lenders will comply with this requirement. To avoid a misunderstanding, you and your dealer should ask the lender to write a letter committing to pay for the balance owed on delivery.

Modular Home Financing: Are You Vulnerable after You Pay for the Modules

You might wonder whether paying the modular dealer and manufacturer in full on delivery or immediately after the set compromises your leverage should you subsequently find something wrong with your home. You certainly do lose leverage. This is exactly why you should shop very carefully for a dealer and not just buy from whoever is the least expensive. Just as you should never buy a car from a dealer who has a reputation of not providing good warranty service, you should never buy a modular home from a dealer who you are not confident will honor their warranty obligations. Regardless of when you pay a dealer, your warranty is only as good as the dealer’s integrity and competence.

Modular Home Financing: Why the Disbursement Schedule Is Important

In addition to verifying that a lender will meet your dealer’s modular home payment terms, you also need to ensure that it will agree to an acceptable disbursement schedule. This schedule states how much money will be disbursed at each phase of the construction process. Most of the details are worked out by the customer and their GC, since the general contractor will require several separate disbursements, but the customer and dealer are responsible for ensuring that the schedule disburses the full amount at the correct time for the modules.

A lender may agree to an assignment-of-funds procedure but then offer a disbursement schedule that fails to allocate sufficient funds to pay the balance due on the modules. Since the dealer is unlikely to agree to a partial modular home payment, you need to inform prospective lenders about the dealer’s payment requirement before selecting one. If a lender’s schedule does not provide you with sufficient funds at the right time, and you call this to the loan officer’s attention before you sign the loan agreement, a lender will usually adjust the schedule to accommodate your needs. After you sign the paperwork, however, a lender will usually resist changing the schedule, which will likely force you to find a new lender.

Modular Home Financing: Why Using a Lender Takes More Time

Keep in mind that it will take longer to receive your home if you use a construction loan because the modular manufacturer will wait for the lender to write its assignment-of-funds letter before putting your home into the production schedule. And the lender will probably wait to write the letter until you have closed on the loan, which likely cannot happen until you have a building permit. As you approach the closing on your loan, do everything you can to prepare your lender to write the letter immediately after the closing.

A couple of weeks before the delivery and set of your modular home, ask the lender to schedule its representative to inspect and approve the modules and disburse the balance due. The inspection and modular home payment will be required by the lender whether the payment terms are COD or assignment of funds.

Modular Home Financing: Why You Might Need to Pay COD When Using Private Funds

When you use a private source of funds to pay for some part of the balance due on a modular home, the dealer and their modular manufacturer are likely to require you to pay for the modules when they are delivered. A COD modular home payment will need to be made with a bank or certified check made payable to the dealer or manufacturer, as instructed by the dealer. Needless to say, you will not be obligated to pay for the modules if the dealer and manufacturer built you the wrong home, a situation that is very unlikely if you select a reputable dealer.

Modular Home Financing: Why an Additional Deposit May Be Needed If You Are Using Private Funds

If you are paying COD, your dealer may require an additional deposit for each module before they will schedule your home to be built. These additional funds will serve as insurance for the dealer should you fail to pay when the modules are delivered. The dealer will use the additional deposit to defray the expenses they will incur if they have to return the modules to his manufacturer or sell them to another customer at a discount.

For more information about modular home financing, see Financing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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