Metal Roofs for Modular Homes

Metal Roofs Are Attractive

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.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shingles or slate.
This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shingles or slate.

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.

This is an example of metal roofs with vertical panels.
This is an example of metal roofs with vertical panels.

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.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shakes.
This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble shakes.

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.

This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble tiles.
This is an example of how metal roofs can resemble tiles.

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.
For more information about heating and cooling systems, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Ductless Mini-Split Heating and Cooling Systems

Mini-Split Heat Pumps

I’d like to mention an option for heating and cooling a modular home.  It’s a ductless, mini-split heat pump.  The technology is not new, but it has improved so much that I’ve recently taken a closer look at it, and I like what I see.

Why Today’s Mini-Split Heating and Cooling Systems are Better

In the past, heat pumps did not work well in the northeast because of the cold winters.  But heat pump technology has improved so much that these mini-split delivery systems can take care of your heating needs on all but the coldest winter days.  They also can keep you cool in summer.
Mini-split systems have also become more viable because today’s building code makes their job easier.  The “thermal envelope” of all homes built today is so energy efficient that heating and cooling systems have to work less to maintain a home’s temperature, even in more extreme temperatures.  Given that modular homes are especially well insulated and air sealed, they make it even easier to take advantage of mini-split systems.

How Ductless Mini-Split Heating Systems Work

Like central forced air systems, mini-split systems place the compressor and condenser outside the home. But they don’t need a single air handler in the basement or attic to distribute the conditioned air through a network of ducts.  Instead they use thin tubing that pumps refrigerant from the outside unit directly to a single wall mounted unit in each room.

Ductless mini-split heating and cooling systems place the compressor and condenser outside the home.
Ductless mini-split heating and cooling systems place the compressor and condenser outside the home.

Advantages of Mini-Split Systems

The use of individual units for each room allows flexibility in where the heating and cooling can be delivered.  Since one outdoor unit can be connected to as many as four indoor units, you can control the heating and cooling in several zones or rooms independently of each other.
Mini-split systems are less expensive than gas or oil central air systems when you factor in the cost to install insulated and well-sealed ductwork that meets the current energy code.  They also offer higher efficiency (up to 27.1 SEER).  Not only is the core technology of mini-split systems more energy efficient, but it also avoids the energy losses associated with the ductwork of conventional HVAC systems, even ones insulated to current energy codes.

The bedroom air handler for this mini-split system is hung above the painting on the wall.
The bedroom air handler for this mini-split system is hung above the painting on the wall.

Another advantage to mini-split systems is that they offer greater interior design flexibility.  You don’t need to enlarge walls or lose headroom in your basement or floor space in your attic to accommodate the ductwork.  The indoor air handlers can be hung on a wall or mounted on the ceiling.  Many systems include a remote control to adjust the system when it’s positioned on a wall or ceiling.
A ductless system is a great solution for building an addition to a home.  You get both heating and cooling for a reasonable price and you don’t need to hook-up to the existing system, which may not be sized for the additional load.

Disadvantages of Mini-Split Systems

There are a couple of disadvantages to mini-split systems.  One, of course, is that they can’t keep your home warm when it is bitterly cold, say below 10 degrees.  You will need a supplemental heating system for those days.  Electric resistance heat is a low cost solution.  Also, keep in mind that heat pumps are not able to bring a cold house up to temperature quickly.

The air handler in the living room for this mini-split heating and cooling system is hung on the wall.
The air handler in the living room for this mini-split heating and cooling system is hung on the wall.

Another disadvantage is that the indoor air handlers of a mini-split system are not silent, since they blow air through a grill.  But they also aren’t loud.  If you are particularly sensitive to a low level whoosh, find someone with an installed system so you can hear it for yourself.
Finally, take a close look at the photo posted here and make sure you’re comfortable with the appearance of the air handlers.  After all, you will likely have one in every room.
Weighing the advantages against the disadvantages, I think the mini-split systems are an excellent option.
For more information about heating and cooling systems, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
 
 

How to Dress Up a Modular Home Elevation Drawing

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.  See here 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:
Compare the standard modular home elevation of the Crookston one-story plan on the left with the dressed up version of the same plan on the right.
The modular home elevation of the Crookston one-story plan on the right adds a garage and front porch.
Compare the standard modular home elevation of the Barclay cape cod plan on the left with the dressed up version of the same plan on the right.
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..
Compare the standard modular home elevation of the Bellmeade two-story plan on the left with the dressed up version of the same plan on the right.
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.
Compare the standard modular home elevation of the Glamorgan one-story plan on the left with the dressed up version of the same plan on the right.
The modular home elevation of the Glamorgan one-story plan on the right adds a taller roof and a larger garage with a reverse gable and entry doors on the side.
Compare the standard modular home elevation of the Tiffany cape cod plan on the left with the dressed up version of the same plan on the right.
The modular home elevation of the Tiffany cape cod plan on the right adds a front porch, a partial brick facade, and decorative moldings.
Compare the standard modular home elevation of the Gordon one-story plan on the left with the dressed up version of the same plan on the right.
The modular home elevation of the Gordon one-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.
For more information about ensuring that your modular home elevation will be just the way you want it, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

A Modular Home that Allows You to Age in Place

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.

Our T-Ranch model home built to Universal Design specifications. This is one of our most popular homes.
Our T-Ranch model home built to Universal Design specifications. This is one of our most popular homes.

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.
Adding a bridge can create a level entry without having to build a ramp. The moat keeps the dirt away from the front of the house and allows the water to drain away.
Adding a bridge can create a level entry without having to build a ramp. The moat keeps the dirt away from the front of the house and allows the water to drain away.

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.
For more information about selecting specifications that will meet your family’s needs now and in the future, see Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.

Mapping Your Home’s Exterior Elevation to Your Topography

Three Types of Exterior Elevation Detail

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.

The topography of your land may influence the design and cost of your home.  For example, a sloped property lends itself to a walk-out basement.  You will need an exterior elevation that shows the topography to see how best to do this.
The topography of your land may influence the design and cost of your home. For example, a sloped property lends itself to a walk-out basement. You will need an exterior elevation that shows the topography to see how best to do this.

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.