Installing a Foundation for a Modular Raised Ranch
In my last post, I talked about the advantages of a modular raised ranch. Now I’d like to discuss what your general contractor (GC) needs to do to “button-up” one.
Let’s start with what your GC needs to do to create a “split” entry at the front door. Since this requires that he elevate the main floor above “grade” (ground level) at the front of the home, he will need to install a 4’ tall concrete foundation below grade and a 4’ tall wood framed “kneewall” on top of the concrete. This will make the total height of the foundation 8’ at the front door. When the set crew places the modules on top of the 8’ wall, the main floor will be 4’ above grade at the front door. This will leave the basement floor 4’ below grade and place the entry halfway or split between the main and basement floors.
The foundation walls for the other three sides of your home will also be 8’ tall from the basement floor to the bottom of the modules. Depending on the lay of the land, the top of the foundation for each of these walls may be set at grade, 4’ above grade, or elevated a full 8’ above grade. Any walls 8’ above grade can either be concrete or wood framed. Either way, they will sit atop a 4’ concrete “frost” wall that will be installed below grade, making these walls 12’ tall. Since the basement floor is at ground level for these 12’ tall walls, the GC can install full sized windows, which will brighten any rooms finished in the basement. The GC can also install an exit door, which is why these walls are known as “walkout” walls. If you build a drive-under garage in your basement, the foundation walls will also be 8’ above grade.
Completing the Split Entry of a Modular Raised Ranch
The completion of the split entry of a modular raised ranch requires a bit of work on-site by the GC. After cutting the temporary rim joist installed by the modular manufacturer to strengthen the home for delivery, the GC must build the entry landing, install the front door, and construct the stairs up to the first floor and down to the basement. The walls framed on each side of the stairs, combined with a door at the bottom, will close off the first floor and stairway from the basement. This step is required by the building code, unless you immediately finish the basement. You will have to instruct the GC whether you want him to finish the split stairwell with a railing or half wall. If you select a railing on the first floor overlooking the foyer and the manufacturer does not install it, the GC will have to do so.
The electrician must wire the foyer light so it can be turned on from the top of the stairs, the front door, and the bottom of the stairs. He should wire the front-door light to be turned on from the top of the stairs and the front door. The modular manufacturer should wire the home to facilitate the electrician’s work with both lights. The electrician should also add a receptacle at the landing, and the HVAC contractor will need to bring some heat to the foyer.
Completing the Exterior of a Modular Raised Ranch
On the exterior of the home, the GC will need to install the siding on the kneewalls and walkout walls. If you cantilever the top modules over the basement, the GC must insulate and cover the exposed area under the overhang. Non-perforated vinyl soffit can be used as the cover.
For more information about building a modular raised ranch, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
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.
- Ensure You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home
- Selecting a Modular Home Dealer
- Your Modular Home Dealer Customer References
- Selecting a Modular Home General Contractor
- Your Modular Home General Contractor References
- What to Include in Your Modular Home Legalese
- Selecting the Right Modular Home Plan
- What You Should Ask Modular Home General Contractors
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Floor Plans
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Elevation Plans
- Modular Additions
- Building a Universal Design Modular Home
- What Your Modular Manufacturer Needs from Your Contractor
- How to Air Seal a Modular Home
- Making an Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot
- Your Municipal Water and Sewer Connections
- Reviewing Your Modular Construction Drawings
- Potential Permits and Supporting Documents
- Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks
- Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks
- Omitting Materials from the Modular Manufacturer
For more information about all the topics covered in the checklists, see my book The Modular Home.
Homebuyers are often concerned about having their concrete foundation poured in the winter. They fear the cold will damage the concrete. If they fall behind schedule with their modular planning and design, and this makes it impossible for their contractor to pour the foundation before winter, they tell him to delay the start until spring. Of course that’s when lots of people want their home built. This is one reason why spring projects often take longer than late summer and fall projects.
You Can Safely Pour a Concrete Foundation in the Winter
Actually there are safe, effective ways to pour a concrete foundation in cold weather. They all begin with protecting the ground beneath the foundation from frost, snow, and ice. This is done before winter begins by covering the ground with hay and covering the hay with tarps or plastic sheets.
The next steps are done by the concrete and foundation companies. Their responsibility is to prepare the concrete foundation so it’s suitable for your site’s weather conditions, primarily cold temperatures. They accomplish this by raising the temperature of the water and adding more cement to the mix. They also control the amount of air entrapped and entrained in the concrete. In addition, they add accelerators to speed up the curing process.
After the concrete foundation is poured, the chemical reaction created by the accelerant generates heat in the concrete. The heat helps the concrete to cure before it freezes. But this only works if the heat is retained. This is done, first, by leaving the wood cement forms in place for several days; they can be removed the next day during warmer temperatures. In addition, the cement and forms are covered with insulating blankets, which also reduce moisture loss. Finally, if the temperature is too cold, a heater and enclosure are used to maintain temperatures above freezing.
Knowing that you can safely pour a cement foundation in the winter rather than waiting for spring allows you to take advantage of what is usually a slower time for your builder. This in turn enables you to move into your new home in the spring.
Build a Modular Home to Protect Your Home from Inclement Weather
Building in the winter is a particularly viable option when building a modular home, since the modules are built in a climate controlled factory. When the modules arrive on site and are placed on the foundation, they are already “closed in” from the inclement winter weather. So while you can safely pour a concrete foundation in the winter, the only way to build your home protected from the snow, ice, and rain is to build a modular home.
For more information about pouring a concrete foundation in cold temperatures, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
Building a Modular Home: The Timeline
The amount of time it takes to build a modular home depends on a variety of factors in your decision-making process. Have you thought about exactly what you want in your modular home plans? Are you ready to meet with a modular home builder? Do you consider the start date to be when you sit down with a modular home builder to complete an estimate or when you order a home? Is the home “built” when the factory delivers it or when the general contracting work is completed? Are you ready to move forward now or are just now beginning your shopping? Will your home be small or big? Will it be a standard or customized design? Will it have mostly standard features or lots of upgrades?
Your timeline for building a modular home can be outlined eight steps as seen below.
(1) How long does it take to build a modular home?
Assuming that you are ready to meet with a modular home builder to complete an estimate, it will take 1-12 weeks to plan and finally order your new home. It will take longer if you haven’t figured out the exact modular home floor plan and specifications.
(2) How long after you order your home until you receive the first set of preliminary plans?
About 1 to 3 weeks. If the modular home builder and modular manufacturer are not too busy and if your modular home plans are simple with no custom details or special engineering it will be faster. It will not take long if you mostly select standard specifications and published factory options.
(3) How long after you receive your first set of preliminary plans until you receive a revised set of preliminary plans that incorporate your changes?
1 to 3 weeks.
It will go faster if you select mostly standard specifications and published factory options.
It will go faster if the modular home builder and modular manufacturer are not too busy and your plans are simple with few changes.
It will take longer if you take more than a week approving your preliminary plans.
(4) How long after you receive your second set of preliminary plans until you receive your permit plans?
About 3 to 15 weeks. It will go faster if your modular home plans are simple with only a few changes, if you select mostly standard specifications and published factory options, and if the modular home builder, modular manufacturer, and third party inspection company are not too busy.
It will take longer if you take more than a week approving your second set of preliminary plans of if you require a third or fourth draft of plans.
(5) How long after you receive your permit plans until your building permit is issued and loan closed?
About 1 to 6 weeks. It will go faster if your town’s building department is not too busy and if you’ve applied for your loan several weeks earlier.
It will take longer if your lender requires a building permit, since the closing cannot happen until after the permit is obtained.
(6) How long after you receive your building permit and close on your loan until you authorize us in writing to have the manufacturer begin construction?
1 week or less. It can go as fast or slow as you wish it to go.
(7) How long after you authorize us to instruct the manufacturer to build your home until the delivery and set of your home is completed?
6 to 18 weeks. It will go faster if there are no special order materials with long lead times.
It will take longer if the modular manufacturer has a production backlog.
(8) How long after your home is delivered and set until you receive your certificate of occupancy and can move in?
About 6 to 25 weeks. It will go faster if your modular home is smaller, with few site-built structures and little on-site customization. It will also go faster if the modular home builder is not too busy.
It will take longer if there are unforeseen delays due to bad weather, utility company and building inspector schedules, material backorders, changes in the scope of work requested by you, etc.
It will also take longer when the turnkey is substantially more involved than the “typical” project. This happens, for example, when the modular home is bigger and/or it requires more button-up work, as is true of a chalet cape and a six module two-story or when all of the finished flooring – for example, hardwood, tile, and laminate flooring – is done on site. Additional time is also needed when the GC has to build one or more structures on site, such as mudroom and family room. The completion time will also lengthen if the GC has to finish a basement or the second story of a cape.
This gives a total range of 20 to 83 weeks.
Our experience is that most homebuyers take between 26 and 40 weeks (6 to 9 months) to complete all of the steps required to build a modular home. Most homebuyers lead lives that are so busy that they don’t have the time (or energy) to go faster.
What should you take from this?
There are many more things that will slow you down than will help you go faster when building a modular home. If you hope to move in to your modular home soon, I strongly advise that you begin working on the first step now. Planning and figuring out exactly what you want to include in your modular home plans is key to expediting the building process.
Protect the Ground When Building in the Winter
If you are building in the winter months in a region that requires protection against frost and snow, your general contractor should take some steps to reduce the impact of his work. He should blanket the areas he will be excavating before the work begins to minimize frost penetration. This might be done, for example, by covering the ground with hay. The excavated areas should stay blanketed until they are backfilled.
Keep the Access to Your Property Clear When Building in the Winter
The access to your site must be kept free of snow and ice. Even though bulldozers can move mountains, their tracks will just spin if they attempt to pull any substantial weight on ice. All snow and icy areas, even small light patches, must be plowed and sanded just prior to delivery. If it snows after the foundation is poured but before the home is set, the GC should remove as much of the snow as possible from the basement before the set. This is often easier said than done, however, and sometimes it’s impractical, especially when the slab has not already been poured.
You and your GC will need an agreement about who is responsible for snow plowing, shoveling, and sanding while your home is under construction. Since neither of you will know what the winter will bring in any given year, an allowance, with a reasonable rate per snowfall or per hour, is a fair way to handle it.
If your home will be delivered in the winter, try to have the foundation installed in the fall. The GC should then protect the foundation from the frost.
Take Precautions Pouring the Concrete Floor When Building in the Winter
When building in the winter in a cold climate, the GC should try to pour the floor before the temperature drops below freezing, as long as he can also protect it from the frost. If this cannot be accomplished, and the floor will be poured after the house is set on the foundation, the area must be covered with hay or in some other way protected from freezing immediately after the hole is dug. Any frost that remains after the house is set must be removed by heating the basement before the foundation floor is poured. Otherwise, the floor may crack substantially. If extensive frost or snow must be removed by heating the basement after the house is set, extra caution should be taken to prevent the house from absorbing the moisture.
Get the Heat Going When Building in the Winter
Contractors are less productive when they are cold, and many construction tasks, such as taping and painting drywall, cannot be done until a home is reasonably warm. Consequently, if you are building in the winter, the GC will need to get the heating system up and running quickly. He will be delayed, however, if the heating system is going in the basement and the slab cannot be poured because of frost. The installation will also be delayed if the electrical power is not immediately available. In these circumstances, the GC will need to supply temporary heat, which is more costly and less effective.
If you live in a climate with cold winters, you may want the contractor to add antifreeze to the heat loop. You should do this if you are away from home in the winter or if you have a drive-under garage, since leaving the door open on a cold day can cause the pipes to freeze.
If you are building during the spring, find out whether your community allows heavy equipment to travel on the roads during the spring thaw.
For more about building in the winter, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.