Modular Home Button-up Procedures

Some customers hire a general contractor who is unfamiliar with the correct modular home button-up procedures. Other customers take on the challenge themselves with even less experience, since they’ve never built any kind of home before.

What Can Happen When Your Contractors Don’t Know the Correct Modular Home Button-Up Procedures

One of my customers, who hired an independent GC, called me four years after he moved into his home. He’d found a bulging drywall seam in the vaulted foyer of his two-story modular home. A carpenter friend of his had already fixed the seam three years in a row, but it had reappeared that winter. He wanted to know what was wrong with his home.

Cross section detail showing the modular home button-up procedures for joining the two floors of a vaulted foyer
Illustration A shows the modular home button-up procedures for joining the two stories of a vaulted foyer when the second-story floor joists sit directly on the first-story ceiling joists. Illustration B shows the modular home button-up procedures when the floor joists are spaced several inches above the ceiling joists.

When we removed the drywall at our inspection, we found a ¼” gap between the framing of the first-story ceiling and the second-story floor. The GC had failed to put any shims into the gap. This meant there was nothing to stop the modules from moving up and down in the winter when the heat was drying the framing out or in the summer when the humidity was causing the framing to expand. Since my customer completed his previous repairs to the foyer in the summer when the wood had already expanded, it was not surprising that the problem reoccurred in the winter when the materials were shrinking. As the second-story floor pressed down on the first-story ceiling, it buckled the band of drywall. Drywall is too brittle to resist that kind of compression. We explained to the customer what the correct procedure was and even helped him complete some of the work. When I spoke to him the following spring, he was very happy to report that the problem had not reappeared.

If you hire an independent GC without prior modular experience, make sure he is learns the correct modular home button-up procedures. Your dealer should be able to help with his education.

For more information about modular home button-up procedures, see Selecting a General Contractor and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Scheduling Delays

Planning a realistic schedule and then maintaining it is one of the most challenging aspects of building a new home. There are just too many steps involving too many people with too little control over what they need to do. Every builder has scores of stories about construction delays. Because I’m no exception, I will post several stories about the causes of delays. But in my first post I want to talk about everyone’s tendency to believe in the “accordion solution” to modular home scheduling delays.

The Appeal of the “Accordion Solution” to Modular Home Scheduling Delays

One of my very first sales was to customers who were in a huge rush. This was one reason they wanted a modular home, since modulars are faster to build. We verbally agreed to a time line that included reasonable milestones for each of us. The most critical milestones for my customers involved making final decisions on their house plans and building specifications. This proved quite difficult for them.

A young man playing an accordion
There’s no accordion solution to modular home scheduling delays

Every time my customers requested another revision to their plans or needed another quotation for a different special order product, I informed them that we were falling behind schedule. They nodded in understanding. What I didn’t do was specify how much we were falling behind. I assumed they would recognize that since each revision of the plans always added ten days (sending it to the factory, waiting for the factory to draw it, getting it back to my customers, and waiting for them to review the changes) and each special material quote consistently added another four days, that they could do the math as easily as we did. I was sadly mistaken.

This is when I first recognized the allure of the accordion solution to modular home scheduling delays.  Over time I’ve come to appreciate that this “solution” is shared by most of our customers. The accordion solution assumes that a delay to a schedule milestone doesn’t add time to the end of the schedule. Instead the entire schedule gets compressed just like an accordion. The miraculous, expected outcome is that the milestones that follow will happen as previously scheduled – without any delays.

If you think about this, it really doesn’t make sense. But who am I to criticize, since I’ve found myself using the same accordion logic with my subcontractors and material suppliers. “What do you mean you can’t make up the week we lost due to the snow storm?” “I know it took me an extra week to make a selection, but I still need those cabinets on the date we first discussed.”  It’s just human nature for us to want what we want when we want it.

Modular Home Scheduling Delays Are Inevitable Because Stuff Happens

Do yourself, your modular dealer, and your general contractor a favor and work with them to set a realistic schedule. More importantly – given that “stuff happens” – be honest to yourself about the effect of delays on the initial schedule. Even more importantly, try to take the inevitable changes with patience and acceptance. Getting upset at your dealer, general contractor, family, or yourself won’t undo the delays any more than playing the accordion.

For more information about modular home scheduling delays, see Building a Modular Home on Schedule in my book The Modular Home.

Keep Your Modular Home General Contractor Informed

Many customers forget to inform their modular home general contractor (GC) of important changes to their specifications and plans. A few expensive examples from my experience include adding a walk-out bay that required a full foundation; moving the fireplace or a slider to where the bulkhead was going; or reversing the orientation of the house. Serious and costly mistakes are more likely to occur with changes made later in the process. It is easy to let down your guard while catching your breath.

Forgetting to Inform Your Modular Home General Contractor of Changes

Modular general contractor turnkey tasks before home is delivered
Modular general contractor turnkey tasks before home is delivered

One of my customers forgot to tell their modular home general contractor that they reversed the house plan so that left was right and right was left. They had a good reason for the reversal, since they wanted the living area to receive sunlight rather than the garage. But they had not yet made that decision when they gave their three GC candidates copies of their proposed plans. Their selection of a GC was then delayed six months by several time-consuming problems with getting a building permit.

When their modular home general contractor was given the revised plans, he asked the customers if the plans had changed much. The customers said they had changed the kitchen around, but that was about it, completely forgetting they once had drawn the plan with the opposite orientation.

Modular general contractor turnkey tasks after home is set
Modular general contractor turnkey tasks after home is set

You would think that the GC would have looked at the plans for himself. But here’s what happened. He told his project supervisor to schedule the excavation and foundation subcontractors; they had been awarded the job many months earlier. He then went on vacation the week the work was done. The two subcontractors showed up with the old copies of the drawings they had received when bidding for the work; the GC’s supervisor showed up with none. The foundation was poured, incorrectly, with the foundation for the garage on the left rather than the right, and the foundation for the chimney and walkout bay on the right rather than the left. The lally-column pads were also spaced incorrectly. My customers discovered the mistake when they visited the site while the foundation was being backfilled. The GC blamed the customers for not telling him about the reversal, and the customers blamed the GC for not looking at the revised plans. In the end, the GC relented, as he should have. But for the remainder of the project they both suffered through a very trying relationship.

Give the Modular Home General Contractor Final Plans and Specifications

It is critical that you provide your modular home general contractor with any changes to your modular plans and specifications. Better yet, provide him with a copy of the final draft of your modular plans and specifications, and have a meeting with the GC to review them.

For more information about why you should keep your modular home general contractor informed, see Selecting a General Contractor and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Hiring Family or Friends as Your Modular Home Contractor

A modular home contractor looking at a recently set home
It’s risky to hire family or friends as you modular home contractor

Hiring family or friends to act as your modular home contractor or one of your subcontractors can create problems unless you spell out their responsibilities clearly in advance. Make sure you have a written agreement that explains the scope of work, specifications, and price in detail. Also, ensure that they will schedule their work in a time fashion.

Hiring Family as Your Modular Home Contractor – Part 1

One of my customers, who acted quite competently as his own modular home contractor, hired his brother to complete the electrical work on his Two-Story home. My customer did a commendable job getting all of the subcontractors to show up on time, and except for one subcontractor, would likely have finished the work ahead of schedule. But this one subcontractor (yes, his brother the electrician) did not complete his work until many weeks after the others had completed theirs. The electrician told his brother that since he was doing him a favor by taking the job, he should understand that he needed to finish his other, “real” work first. He figured that his brother would understand the significant delay, since “after all, we’re family.”

Hiring Friends as Your Modular Home Contractor

Another of my customers, a single man, hired two friends to complete all of the interior and exterior carpentry button-up on his Cape Cod modular home. Although the friends were professional carpenters, they had no experience with modular construction and did not know all that needed to be done. My customer told his friends what he thought needed to be done, but somehow the friends got it wrong. Maybe my customer, who was also new to modular construction, did not understand the scope of work, or maybe he explained it poorly, or maybe the friends thought they knew what was needed and so did not really listen. Since the three of them were friends, they did not think it was necessary to put their agreement in writing. Once the friends discovered that they had more to do than they anticipated, they told my customer that they would not be able to complete all of the work they originally planned to do for the price they quoted. They had not budgeted the extra time or materials, and they already had given my customer a great price. My customer felt this was unfair. He had taken his friends’ word that the job would be complete and had not included additional money in his budget. The friends, however, felt that their original agreement was based on a misrepresentation by my customer of what was required. In the end, my customer borrowed money from his parents and paid his friends to complete the work. I have no idea how their personal relationships faired after the house was built.

Hiring Family as Your Modular Home Contractor – Part 2

Yet another customer, who used my company to serve as the modular home contractor to build her T-Ranch home, hired her brother-in-law to complete the plumbing and heating systems. In hopes of saving money, she hired him on an hourly basis (“time plus materials”). Her brother-in-law did a fine job, from everything I could see. I later found out that she paid more than I would have charged her. I suspect her brother-in-law’s inexperience with modular homes caused him to be less proficient with the work, which caused him to take longer than would a subcontractor with modular experience. The brother-in-law then charged my customer for his “extra” hours.

For more information about hiring family or friends as your modular home contractors, see Selecting a General Contractor in my book The Modular Home.

© The Home Store, Inc., 2021