Modular Home Delivery Challenges

Modular Home Delivery Challenges         

A road sign indicating a winding road ahead for the next 5 miles
The dealer should confirm the modular home delivery route.

Although most building sites can take delivery of a modular home, there are some locations that require enough extra site work or a redesign of the house plan into smaller modules that building a modular home is not practical. Narrow approaching roads with hairpin turns, lots on the side of steep hills, and very narrow properties can pose challenges. The only way to know if a building lot can comfortably receive a modular home delivery is to have a modular dealer visit it.

But sometimes that’s not enough.  A few years ago we delivered a two-story home to an “easy” lot.  It was flat, wide, and deep with no trees to obstruct either the delivery or set.  The roads to the property were also straight and wide enough. Or at least they were when we completed our inspection of the route.

A week before delivery we were informed by the customer that our planned route had been closed by the town for six weeks to complete some emergency work to the sewer and water pipes. We immediately revisited the site and searched for an alternative route.  Fortunately there was one option, but unfortunately it required us to cross a very old, narrow wooden bridge that wasn’t rated to carry the weight of the modules.

Modular Home Delivery Backup Routes

We ultimately decided to use a very large crane to lift each module plus its carrier from one side of the bridge to the other. Ever since then we’ve always made sure to look for a back-up route to the property. However, we’ve not always been able to find a viable alternative.  Usually there is more than one route for a car, but the alternatives aren’t always wide or straight enough to handle the size of the modules.  Whenever we have any concern about the primary or backup routes, we talk to the town public works department to make sure they aren’t planning to close the road around the time of the scheduled delivery.

For more information about the modular home delivery, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Preparing for a Modular Delivery and Set

The GC’s Responsibilities for Preparing for Delivery and Set

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

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

Need for Staging Areas

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

Risk of Delivery and Set Delays

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

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

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

Create a Written Delivery and Set Plan

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

For more information about the delivery and set of a modular home, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home, Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

When a Building Permit Is Not a Building Permit

Recently I took some continuing education courses to renew my Construction Supervisor license for Massachusetts. One of the courses discussed the requirements for contracts between builders and customers. The instructor, who was an attorney, told a story about a builder who had – and then lost – a building permit. I’m very glad this has never happened to any of my customers, and I hope it doesn’t happen to you.

The Building Permit that Wasn’t

The builder sought the attorney’s help after he was denied a building permit for a property he had purchased.  In fact, the building inspector had already issued the builder a permit, but the zoning board required the building inspector to revoke it.  To make matters much worse for the builder, he had already installed a foundation and framed much of the structure – it was a stick built home.

An example of the first two pages of a building permits application
Click Here to See an Example of a Building Permit Application.

The attorney learned that the builder seemingly had done nothing wrong.  He had submitted a complete permit application along with the other required paperwork.  The building inspector reviewed the application and issued the permit.  The builder began work immediately.  But after installing the foundation and framing the exterior of the home, an abutter contacted the town and said the builder’s property was not a legal building lot.  The abutter reminded the town that 20 or 30 years earlier another builder tried to get a permit and was turned down.

The problem was that the lot didn’t have the minimum square footage required by the town’s zoning regulations.  It was about 10 square feet short.  Apparently, the building inspector didn’t notice this when he “reviewed” the application.  (The builder foolishly didn’t verify the claim by the seller of the property that it was a legal building lot.)  After confirming that the abutter was correct, the building inspector was forced, by law, to revoke the permit.

No Solution for the Disappearing Building Permit

The builder attempted to buy the 10 square feet from the abutter, who had plenty to spare.  But the abutter didn’t want a house on the property, not even when the builder offered a very generous payment.  The builder then applied for a variance with the town.  But the zoning board shot down the variance.  Some disagreements between the building inspector and zoning board likely contributed to the ruling.  In the end the builder had to take down the framing and remove the foundation at his own expense.

No Recourse for the Revoked Building Permit

It might surprise you – it certainly surprised me – that the builder did not have grounds to sue the building inspector or anyone else in the town for mistakenly issuing the building permit.  The builder also couldn’t go back to the seller of the property because he had purchased the land for cash without the aid of an attorney and without a written agreement that represented the property as a legal building lot.

The attorney concluded that if you are buying a property, always use an attorney and have them confirm in writing that the property is a legal building lot.  Also, make sure you discuss with the attorney what you need to do to secure a legal building permit.  If a problem emerges later, you will at least have recourse with your attorney.

Exploratory Surgery for Your Building Lot

Building Lot Surprises

The cost to complete the site work on your building lot can escalate substantially if your land hides surprises below the surface. For example, high ground water, ledge, and clay will require additional labor and materials when your general contractor installs your foundation. Ideally you and your GC will know whether any of these conditions exist on your property before he completes his contracting estimate. Otherwise he will exclude these conditions from his contract, since he needs to protect himself from these surprises as much as you do. Unfortunately your GC’s exclusions will leave you vulnerable to significant cost overruns.

A completed perc test will provide your GC with some information about these underground conditions.  But this information is only available if your property requires a septic system.  The experience of those who’ve built on neighboring lots can also give your GC a better idea of what he’ll find when he begins his excavation.  However, subsoil conditions can be quite different on abutting building lots.

Have your general contractor to dig several holes on your building lot to learn whether the subsoil conditions will threaten your budget.
Have your general contractor dig several holes on your building lot to learn whether the subsoil conditions will threaten your budget.

Building Lot Test Holes

What can you do if you don’t have any information about the underground conditions on your building lot and you want to know more before you move forward with your new home?  You can instruct your GC to dig some test holes where he is likely to work when building your home, such as where he will install the foundation, sewer line, or underground utilities.  Although the GC cannot determine from a couple of test holes what he will find in other areas of your building lot, he can reduce the chances that you will run into expensive surprises. When the test is completed, the GC can fill the holes to eliminate a safety problem.

Building Lot Insurance Policy

Exploratory digging can also be a valuable insurance policy if you have not yet purchased a building lot.  If the exploration reveals unexpected expenses that compromise your budget, you can renegotiate the price or buy another building lot.  If you still want the land, and cannot negotiate a better price, at least you can plan a more realistic budget for the entire project and avoid cost overruns.

Since you will need the seller’s permission to complete the test holes, include an inspection clause in your offer to purchase allowing you to have the building lot inspected by someone of your choosing and granting you permission to complete some exploratory digging.  Although you will likely be responsible for the cost of digging, which requires the use of a backhoe and will cost a few hundred dollars, the peace of mind will be worth the expense.

For more information about subsoil conditions on your building lot, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Municipal Water and Sewer Connections

Customers often underestimate what is involved in municipal water and sewer connections. When the hookups are in a new subdivision, the task is usually easy and uninvolved. But if you are connecting to services that have been in place for many years, you could run into any of the following situations:

Factors that Affect the Cost of Municipal Water and Sewer Connections

An excavator digging below the sidewalk to access the municipal water and sewer connections
Do not underestimate the cost of municipal water and sewer connections
  • The location of the main municipal water and sewer connections provided by the town is incorrect, and the excavator digs in the wrong place
  • The main lines are adjacent to a more shallow utility, such as underground electric or gas, or to a surface improvement that prohibits the use of an open trench, requiring the trench to be shored up
  • The main municipal water and sewer connections are in poor working condition and additional work is required to use them
  • The length of the trench and the connecting pipe is substantial
  • The depth of the main municipal water and sewer connections is greater than 7 feet, which could require the trench walls to be reinforced with steel plates to protect against the danger that they will collapse while the crew is installing the pipes
  • Ledge and high groundwater are discovered during the digging
  • The municipal water and sewer connections cannot be made on the property, and instead require cutting into the road, which will have to be patched, and which could require hiring a police officer to direct traffic
  • The sewer line is higher than the height of the waste line from your home, which will force you to pay for a pump
  • The water line has low pressure at your property, compelling you to get a storage tank and pump

Each of these municipal water and sewer connections complications can add substantially to your costs and bust your budget. To keep them from being “surprises” you would be wise to research these possibilities before you begin construction.

For more information about municipal water and sewer connections, see Finding and Preparing a Building Lot for a Modular Home and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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