Here’s a risky way to save money building a modular home. Select a modular dealer and contractors who are not properly insured.
Imagine that a neighbor’s child is seriously hurt when he falls into your cellar hole before your modules are set on the foundation. Imagine that one of the trucks delivering your modules strikes your neighbor’s car causing serious damage. What if the crane company drops one of your modules rendering it unusable? What if a member of the set crew is seriously injured or killed when he falls from your roof? Or what if the plumber fails to securely connect a pipe, which causes severe water damage before the leak is discovered?
Accidents and mistakes can happen when building a home, regardless of the type of construction. Since the right insurance can mitigate the damages, you need to ensure you’re thoroughly covered.
Require Everyone to Obtain Construction Insurance
This is best done by requiring everyone involved in building your home to have insurance. (Here’s a previous blog that elaborates on the insurance you need.) Making this a requirement won’t prevent disagreements about who is responsible for coverage, but it will increase the likelihood that one or more of the insurers will take on this responsibility, which is a lot better than you being saddled with the liability.
Verify Construction Insurance Coverage
Making insurance a requirement, however, isn’t enough. You need to verify that each party has a current policy with sufficient coverage. To do this you need to insist on receiving a “certificate of insurance” directly from each party’s insurance agent. Getting a copy of the certificate directly from the insurance agent will protect you against being duped by a dealer or contractor whose policy has run out, since it is not difficult for someone to doctor a photocopy of an expired certificate. You might be surprised how often this happens, mostly because builder insurance is expensive. There will be no sympathy from the insurance company, however, if you file a claim against a policy that was not renewed. After receiving the certificates, you should ask your own agent to review the coverage. They should be able to determine if the coverage includes sufficient liability insurance and workers compensation insurance.
Secure Your Own Construction Insurance
Since you need to have coverage from everyone working directly on your project, you also need to follow the same procedure with any subcontractors you directly hire. In addition, you should obtain either a “builder’s risk” policy or its equivalent for yourself, since this will provide better coverage against theft and vandalism than an ordinary homeowner’s policy.
The Home Store has partnered with SolarCity to include solar power with its modular homes – at no extra cost to you. Our homes, which already are very energy efficient, will now generate electricity to help you save money and protect the environment.
To make this happen, SolarCity and The Home Store will help you design your home so it’s “solar ready” and then install the solar system so it’s functioning optimally. This is your chance to save for years to come.
Electrical Rates Locked In for 20 Years
Your solar system from The Home Store will generate its own clean, affordable energy at a lower rate than you’d pay the utility company. In addition to being energy efficient and energy secure, your home will be protected from unpredictable rate hikes. A SolarCity system lets you lock in low, predictable rates no matter how much utility rates rise. Imagine paying $1.11 for a gallon of gas. That’s the price you’d pay if you locked it in 20 years ago! You can’t go back in time, but you can lock in low energy rates until 2035. You can literally watch your savings grow over time.
Green Solar Energy
In addition to the financial advantages you’ll enjoy with your solar system, you’ll also feel pride in knowing you’re helping to protect the environment. Solar power is one of the cleanest sources of energy because it doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases or other pollutants when it’s produced or consumed. Unlike generating electricity from fossil fuels, creating electricity from sunlight slows global warming.
Solar energy is inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels, so it will never run out. It also provides a measure of energy independence since no one can buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly.
Sleek Mounted Solar Panels
One of the reasons The Home Store decided to partner with SolarCity is the attractive look of its solar panels. As you can see in the photo of our sales center’s two-story model home, the solar panels sit low to the roof in a sleek, modern appearance that enhances the curb appeal for savvy, energy conscious buyers.
SolarCity Takes Care of Everything
If you order early enough, your solar system can be installed by the time you move into your new modular home. SolarCity will provide the equipment, permitting, installation, and interconnection, again at no cost to you. They will even cover your system’s insurance. They will also continuously monitor your solar system to ensure everything’s running smoothly and provide limited warranty coverage. In the rare event that problems arise, they will complete the repairs at no added cost.
What You Need to Do
You simply lease the solar system for a low monthly fee that’s less than you would pay the utility company. SolarCity guarantees your solar system will produce as much electricity as they promise or they will pay you the difference. The savings can add up to thousands!
SolarCity Service Area
SolarCity serves almost the entire area where we build modular homes, and they are continually expanding their coverage.
Who Is SolarCity
SolarCity is the largest installer of solar panels in the United States with a 35% national market share. It has disrupted the century-old energy industry by providing renewable electricity directly to homeowners, businesses and government organizations for less than they spend on utility bills.
Benefits of a SolarCity Installation on Your Home Store Modular Home
You start saving on Day 1.
No additional cost to lease and no increase in your mortgage amount.
Frees up money for other option purchases.
Guaranteed low, predictable rate for the next 20 years.
Insurance and warranty provided for the 20 years.
Lease is transferable to next homebuyer for no additional cost.
Reduces dependence on fossil fuels and slows global warming.
Now that Daylight Saving Time has arrived and spring is two weeks away, many customers are ready to start building their home. Other customers are getting ready to select their modular builder. With interest rates predicted to rise by June and housing starts to increase to their highest level in several years, getting started soon is a wise move. Here is some advice about ensuring that your modular home contract includes what you expect.
Experienced modular builders have lots of stories to tell about the types of problems that cause disagreements with their homebuyers. One type of problem involves misunderstandings about items that were never discussed or documented because one party just assumed what the other party intended. Another type of problem involves misunderstandings about things that were discussed but not included in the builder’s contract. It might surprise you that more frustration, anger, and stress are generated by issues that were actually discussed – but not documented in writing – than by those that were not discussed.
These situations typically involve complaints by the homebuyers such as, “I told you I wanted raised panel maple kitchen cabinets and not picture frame maple cabinets.” The builder might come back with, “Don’t you remember, we did talk about your preference for raised panel maple cabinets, but the additional cost put you over your budget.” The problem is that the modular builder and homebuyers had talked about this on two occasions, going back and forth about which would be included, but the final contract just said “maple kitchen cabinets” and now both parties remember the discussion differently.
The Cost of Relying on Oral Representations
The cost difference between the picture frame and raised panel maple cabinets would be substantial enough on its own. But usually this misunderstanding doesn’t get discovered until the cabinets are already purchased and at least partially installed. It will cost either the homebuyer or builder (or both) a bit of money to make the change. The alternative is no better. If the homebuyers accept the picture frame cabinets, they will likely be unhappy with their modular builder and forever disappointed in their kitchen. The relationship between the two parties will now be fractured by distrust, which will make it more likely that small disagreements will become antagonistic.
Agree to Make Oral Representations Null and Void
The last thing you want to do is to rely on your modular builder’s or your own memory of what you’re getting. That’s why it is better for modular builders to include a clause in their contract that states that “It is mutually agreed that any oral representation made by either party prior to the signing of this agreement is null and void.” This clause serves to limit and place boundaries around the scope of either party’s representations and warranties. Even if an item is discussed and agreed to verbally, it has no legal validity unless it’s documented in the contract.
Replace Oral Representations with Detailed Written Representations
My suggestion is that you share responsibility with your modular builder for documenting all the details by taking notes during your meetings. You should be concerned if your builder is not also taking notes. If you then compare your notes with the builder’s contract, you are more likely to avoid contentious and costly disagreements.
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.
Many people think the main purpose of rain gutters is to protect the side of their home. Actually its to protect their home’s foundation by channeling water away from the foundation. Otherwise water running directly off the roof will dig a ditch along the sides of the foundation, and as the water soaks into the ground, some of the water will work its way through the foundation. If you choose not to install gutters, the excavator must take extra care to grade your property so all sides slope away from your modular home. Keep in mind that this solution isn’t as effective as installing rain gutters.
It’s also true that gutters are helpful with protecting the exterior of your modular home from back-splash stain and rot. In addition, they help shield your landscaping and reduce ground erosion. Most importantly, gutters shield windows and doors from water infiltration as well as family and guests from being soaked while entering your home. Gutters are especially helpful for preventing leaks around the thresholds of exterior doors during heavy storms. Without gutters, the exterior doors will be pounded with rain falling off the roof as well as from the sky. In such circumstances, the doors will be prone to leak.
In fact, the reason I decided to write about rain gutters is that two of the problems we’ve had from time-to-time have been with homes that did not have gutters because the homeowners wanted to save money. For sure, gutters are costly. But homes without them are much more likely to have a leaky exterior door or a damp basement or both. Since such leaks are not due to a defect in the exterior doors or foundation, they’re not a warranty claim.
Rain Gutter Material
Gutters are available in four materials: vinyl, steel, aluminum, and copper. Each material has its pros and cons for your home.
Vinyl gutters are lightweight, the easiest to install for do-it-yourselfers, and the least expensive. They come in a variety of colors, and since their color is part of the material, they hold it well. Another advantage of vinyl gutters is that they won’t chip, dent, or corrode. However, they can become brittle in extreme cold.
Steel gutters are the sturdiest, which enables them to support ladders and falling branches without damage. On the other hand they require the most maintenance and can rust if water doesn’t drain properly.
Aluminum gutters are very popular because they won’t rust. However, they can dent and bend from too much weight, powerful winds, or falling debris. This is most likely to happen if the gutters are fabricated out of secondary aluminum, which is made mostly of recycled materials, rather than primary aluminum, which is of a higher quality and thicker.
Copper gutters are usually reserved for classic restorations. They’re very attractive, durable, never rust, and never need painting. During their 75+ year life-time they will oxidize to an attractive green. On the other hand, copper gutters are the most expensive, which also makes them a target for thieves.
Seamless vs. Sectional Rain Gutters
There are two types of gutters, sectional and seamless. Sectional gutters are built out of pre-cut pieces that are joined and fastened together as they are installed. Seamless gutters are created on site using single lengths of gutter that are as long as can be functionally installed. This eliminates the number of joints that need to be fastened together, usually only at inside and outside corners and downspouts. Since gutters most frequently fail at the joints and seams, seamless gutters virtually eliminate this problem
Rain Gutter Maintenance and Repair
Gutters must be maintained regularly to remove leaves and other debris, since these materials will back up the flow of water. When this happens the gutters will no longer protect the house. In fact, the overflow can damage the roof and encourage the formation of more ice dams than if you didn’t have gutters. An option is to use “gutter guards”, which are designed to keep debris out but allow water to enter. Although these reduce the need for frequent cleaning, it’s still wise to inspect your gutters regularly.
You should also regularly examine whether your gutters are fully attached to your house. Gutters can pull away from the roof over time due to the weight of snow, ice, branches, and small animals. Checking for holes and leaks where gutter sections connect is another homeowner responsibility for maintaining well-functioning gutters.
Wood and pellet stoves are sometimes said to dry out a home too much and especially cause problems in new homes. That’s why we instruct our customers to delay using a wood or pellet stove until the second heating season. But the claim that wood and pellet stoves dry out a new home is both true and misleading.
What’s true is that wood and pellet combustion sends warm moist air from inside to outside the home through the flue. This causes “replacement air” to enter the home from the outside. In cold winter weather, this air is drier than the inside air. However, today’s wood and pellet stoves don’t draw in more outside air than oil or gas boilers and furnaces. So they don’t dry out a home more than a conventional heating system.
However, many people crank up the temperature of wood and pellet stoves much higher than hot water baseboard or warm air. I’m someone who really appreciates the warmth of a hot wood stove after coming in from a cold day. But it’s this high temperature that causes the wood and other materials in a new home to dry much more rapidly than a conventional heating system. And it’s this excessive, rapid drying that causes an undue number of drywall cracks and nail pops as well as more warping, cupping, and shrinking of wood and other materials.
Warranty Coverage When Wood and Pellet Stoves Are Used
As a new homeowner, you need to know that this situation is not covered by the warranty of the modular manufacturer, dealer, or general contractor. Wood floor vendors also don’t warranty against the excessive gaps between boards or splits in the boards that often result from the use of wood and pellet stoves. This means that if you decide to use a wood or pellet stove during your first heating system, you will have to assume responsibility for any loss or damage caused by the excessive heat conditions. On the other hand, waiting just one year before using these products at very high temperatures will help permit the wood and other materials in your home to dry slowly and normally.
Homeowners have a few warranty service obligations of their own that must be taken seriously, especially those relating to normal maintenance and care. A good overview of the homeowner’s responsibilities can be found in a booklet by the National Association of Home Builders titled, “Home Maintenance Made Easy.”
Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Notify Responsible Party
One responsibility often ignored by homeowners is the obligation to contact the appropriate party in a timely fashion when a warranty service situation is discovered. Even a simple warranty issue can become serious and require an expensive fix when you delay reporting it. For example, if your front door leaks a little water every time it rains because the threshold needs to be adjusted, the finished flooring and framing can quickly become damaged.
Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Maintenance and Care
Modular homes are strong, but they are not indestructible. Expect your home to show signs of normal wear and tear over time, and accept responsibility for fixing the inevitable results.
You will want to restore your home to as-new-as-possible condition after the first heating season, since most of the settling and drying of wood will have occurred by that point. In a typical home, completing this tune-up usually takes a day or two by someone who has carpentry, drywall, and painting skills. Some of these normal changes will reappear in subsequent years, but they should be less noticeable and easier to repair.
If your modular dealer was also your GC, it is reasonable to expect him to correct these problems before your warranty expires. It is less clear, however, who should make these corrections when the dealer and GC are separate companies. Some of the drywall and moldings will have been installed by the manufacturer, and some by the GC. You could insist that each correct what they built, but this assumes that all changes in a particular area of your home are due to the company that completed the work in the area, which is not always the case. If your home has excessive drywall cracks in a few different areas, for example, they could have been caused by the way the manufacturer built your home or by the way the GC leveled the sill plate. If there is a lot of shrinkage of the wood moldings and floors installed by the manufacturer, it could have been due to the materials used by the manufacturer or to excess moisture that entered the home during the button-up. The best course in this situation is to contract with your GC to complete all of the tune-up, regardless of who built the different parts of your home.
Your GC may balk at taking on this responsibility. Since he did not build the modules, he might fear that he is exposing himself to too big a risk. In addition, if he has no prior modular experience, he may feel unable to predict the amount of time required for the tune-up. A fair way to handle this is to agree to pay him for his actual time and materials. An alternative would be to take on the work yourself, if you have the skills.
When completing the tune-up, the GC should retape any cracks in the drywall or the tape covering the drywall. He might be tempted to cover them with compound or caulk to save time and money, but the cracks will reappear if he does. On the other hand, fine cracks in the mud covering the drywall tape can be filled with a high-quality, paintable caulk. Small, open miter joints or other small gaps between pieces of wood can be filled with wood filler or caulk; larger gaps should be corrected by removing and reinstalling the wood. Popped drywall fasteners should be driven further into the framing, when possible. Otherwise, additional fasteners should be used. A small gap between a wall and a kitchen or bath countertop should be filled with caulk.
After these corrections are completed, the reworked areas can be touched-up, ideally with paint or stain left over from the original button-up. If the GC has to buy new paint or stain, he may not be able to obtain an exact color match with the previous application.
Although you do not need to, you might want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before painting the walls and ceilings with custom colors. If you do not wait, you should save some matching paint to complete the tune-up. However, you may still need to paint an entire wall or ceiling in a room when you do the tune-up to avoid shadows caused by slight variations in color.
You might also want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before wallpapering or stenciling. Regardless of when you apply it, you will be responsible for repairing any damage to the wallpaper due to settling or drying.
In my last blog I discussed warranty service expectations, inspections, and procedures. In this blog I will discuss what happens if you disagree with your dealer or GC about whether something in your home is defective, damaged, or poorly installed.
Building Codes and Warranty Service
When a warranty service problem involves a building-code violation, the burden will usually be on the manufacturer, dealer, or GC to correct the problem. Installing the wrong type of smoke detector is something the dealer, through his manufacturer, must correct. Using undersized framing for your site-built garage or deck is the kind of mistake the GC must correct. The dealer is not, however, automatically responsible for meeting specifications that exceed the state building code. For example, if your local building inspector insists that an air-infiltration barrier must be installed under your siding, but this is not the required by the state building code, your dealer would be accountable only if he had accepted responsibility for verifying whether any special codes were being enforced in your community. If you agreed to assume this responsibility but failed to obtain the correct information, than you would be responsible for the additional material and labor, including, in this case, the cost for removing and reinstalling whatever siding was already installed by the manufacturer.
Contractor Scope of Work and Warranty Service
The GC is not responsible when the scope of work for a task was not included in his original contract with you. For example, the fact that you need a set of stairs from the door to the backyard does not obligate the GC to provide them if you excluded them so you could build a deck in the future. Nor is the GC responsible for providing clean backfill to place around the foundation if the building inspector declares that the soil that was removed from the cellar hole cannot be used as backfill. If the GC uses the fill before the building inspector instructs him not to, the GC will be responsible for removing it, since he is obligated to know the building code. You will still be responsible, however, for paying for the replacement fill as well as for removing the rejected fill, if it needs to be taken from your site, since you needed this to be done regardless of the GC’s mistake.
Quality Guidelines for Warranty Service
Cosmetic issues are often sources of warranty service disagreements. A customer should receive the degree of finish they selected and paid for, but this is often different from what they may have seen in a model home. One way to handle disputes of this kind is to have your contract include a set of quality guidelines for materials and workmanship that can be used to help settle differences. Keep in mind, however, that guidelines and standards spell out the minimum acceptable workmanship and product performance. Your personal standards will likely exceed these standards in some areas.
Warranty Service and What Is “Good Enough”?
One perspective taken by guidelines for materials and workmanship is that it is neither realistic nor fair to expect a modular dealer or general contractor to remove blemishes that are not readily visible or noticeable, and can only be seen in unusual light or from very close range. Finished drywall, especially, will almost always show minor blemishes in the right light and from the right angle. For a customer to insist that such small items be addressed under warranty is to create a potentially antagonistic relationship. The customer wants their dealer and GC to take seriously those things that are most important to them. They do not want to create an atmosphere in which the dealer or GC feels compelled to deny assistance by appealing to some technicality in a set of guidelines that relieves them of responsibility. In other words, if the customer can exercise some flexibility over defining what’s “good enough,” they should expect the dealer and GC to adopt a similar attitude. You could ask your dealer to replace a pine bifold closet door with a small dent on the inside, which can only be seen when the closet is open. If you do so, however, do not be surprised if he tries to hide behind a technicality for some other item that’s important to you.
When you buy a modular home, you expect it to arrive without mistakes, defects, or damaged materials. If you discover any, you expect the manufacturer to repair or replace them. You also expect the manufacturer to provide this warranty service at no cost to you. Manufacturers usually understand these expectations, but they have a few of their own. They will accept responsibility for problems found when your home arrives, but they expect your dealer, as well as you and your general contractor (GC), to accept responsibility for any damages incurred after that. This seems fair, and in principle it is. When you purchase your home from a dealer who completes the GC work, your warranty service expectations are likely to be met. When the dealer and GC are separate companies, however, the situation can trigger contention and distrust.
Modular Home Manufacturer’s Quality Inspections
A modular home is typically built with most of its interior complete. Walls, cabinets, tubs, doors, moldings, and electrical outlets are almost always installed at the factory. All of these products can be damaged accidentally, and this can happen as easily at the factory as at your site. Your home will be thoroughly inspected before it leaves the factory. The manufacturer will try to repair or replace any defective or damaged goods before shipping the home. When that is not possible without causing a delay, the manufacturer will document the problem, make plans to fix it at your site, and inform the dealer so that you are not surprised. Either way, the inspection enables the manufacturer to document any warranty problems with your home.The inspection, however, does not preclude disagreements between the manufacturer, dealer, and GC. If you discover any damage to your home after it is delivered and set, it could have been caused by the manufacturer even though it is not listed on the inspection report. But it could also have been caused by someone on your site.
The manufacturer could have missed an item, or an employee could have caused the damage and failed to report it. The same damage, however, could have been caused by one of the GC’s subcontractors, who may or may not have been aware of it. You or a friend could have unknowingly caused the damage.
Modular Home Warranty Service Procedures
Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that there are occasional disagreements over who is responsible for damages. The modular industry has developed a procedure for handling these warranty service situations. Modular manufacturers attempt to minimize these misunderstandings by requiring their dealers to identify and report in writing any warranty service issues right after the set. You can expect your dealer to insist that you complete a warranty service inspection, and sign the resulting written report. If the GC is separate from your dealer, ask him to sign the warranty service report along with you. You should receive a copy of the warranty service report that is also signed by the dealer.
The exact time allowed for the inspection varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some giving the dealer 24 hours after the set and others allowing him a few days for some items and a few weeks for others. Items that are easily damaged on site, such as installed vinyl floors and carpeting, are less likely to be covered beyond a few days unless there are extenuating circumstances. This warranty service procedure allows the manufacturer to limit its responsibility to preexisting conditions. Consequently, if you find a damaged item after the reporting period expires, the manufacturer will assume that the damage was caused by someone on your site, and will not accept responsibility for correcting it.
Since the set-day activities can cause accidental damage to a home, some manufacturers require the dealer to complete the warranty service inspection as soon as the modules are delivered. This is common with manufacturers who ask their dealers to select an independent set crew. Since the dealer selects the crew, the manufacturer wants the dealer to assume responsibility for any set-day damages. The manufacturer secures this accountability by having the dealer complete its warranty service inspection before the set. While this may seem reasonable, a delivery day inspection is unfair to the dealer and the customer. It is impractical to complete an accurate inspection on delivery day, given the poor lighting available in each plastic-wrapped module. It is also difficult to inspect a module when it is stuffed with ship-loose materials. Waiting until after the modules are set allows for a more accurate inspection. If at all possible, resist a delivery-day inspection.
In my next blog I will discuss disagreements about warranty service coverage.
Ice dams at the edge of the roof can be quite destructive to your home. Removing them before they do damage is very important. But preventing them should be your first priority.
What Causes Ice Dams
Ice dams form when the snow above the eave melts along the surface of the shingles and runs down the roof. This happens when the attic temperature is above freezing. The water freezes at the bottom of the roof because the eave, which extends beyond the home’s exterior wall, is below freezing. Over time the ice builds up and forms a dam.
The reason ice dams often form after a heavy snow is because the snow acts as an insulator, trapping whatever heat enters the attic. The situation is made worse when storms are followed by extremely cold weather with bright sunny skies. The solar melt starts the water flowing but the cold freezes it in place. A series of freeze-thaw cycles further complicates matters. The result is dams on the gutters and icicles everywhere.
Ice Dams Can Cause Serious Damage
Ice damns can create a lot of havoc with your home because the melting water can backup above the eave and flow under the shingles and into your house. Your modular home will come with a water proof membrane under the shingles at the eaves, but when the conditions become extreme the dams reach higher up the roof than is covered by the membrane. The leaking water can damage insulation, drywall, paint, and framing. It can also fuel the growth of mold.
There are two ways to handle an ice dam: manage it at the eave, where the freezing occurs, or deal with it in the attic where the melting starts.
Handling Ice Dams at the Eave
One way to take care of the eave is to install heat tape. Electricity running through the tape warms the eave enough to reduce ice accumulation. It helps if you install the tape before the first snow storm. Otherwise you will need to first remove the snow.
Another way to handle ice at the eave is to use a snow rake. It helps if you keep up with this throughout the winter. But don’t use a shovel, ice pick, hatchet, hammer, chisel, chainsaw, etc. They will almost certainly damage your shingles. Moreover, they can endanger your health. Salt will melt the ice, but it will also damage your landscaping.
Preventing Ice Dams in the Attic
A better way to deal with ice damns is to stop them before they start, which requires you to reduce the temperature in your attic so the snow doesn’t melt on top of the shingles. The most important step you can take to control the attic temperature is to ensure the attic air is circulated with the outside air. The ventilation is typically done by bringing in the cooler outside air through a soffit and venting the warmer attic air out through a ridge vent. The system will only work as designed if baffles are in place at the lower side of the roof. Otherwise the attic floor insulation will block the air flow from the soffit into the attic.
Ventilation and Ice Dams
Even if you have a good ventilation system, heat can build up if too much of it escapes into the attic from the home. This can happen when there is insufficient insulation in the attic floor or if the insulation is poorly installed. Air infiltration from the story below into the attic can be a significant source of unwanted attic heat. Inadequately insulated attic duct work is major culprit. So are uninsulated folding attic stairs and recessed can lights installed in the ceiling of the story below. The same holds for bathroom fans that vent improperly into the attic.
Modular Homes and Ice Dams
With a modular home, most of problems that cause ice dams are the responsibility of the general contractor. For example, here is information about sealing a modular home against air infiltration. If an ice dam forms on your home, ask your general contractor to help you determine the cause. But don’t wait to remove the dam. The damage could be more expensive to fix than remedying the cause.
I’ve written in the past why it’s important to air seal your modular home. It’s because air infiltration in the gaps where modules are joined can cause a great deal of heat loss. If you want an energy efficient modular home, you need to air seal these gaps.
The modular manufacturer can control air infiltration within each of the modules, but when the modules are placed side by side or stacked on top of each other, significant gaps are created. It is just not possible to bring two modules together tightly when a cable is wrapped around each one while being lifted onto the foundation. In addition, even when the framing of one module is tightly butted up against the framing of another module, it is not possible to make the joint airtight.
What Can Happen When You Don’t Air Seal Your Modular Home
One of my first customers, Jim, hired a general contractor who didn’t take this seriously. Jim’s home was a raised ranch with a drive under garage. It was a good sized home, 28’ x 60’.
When Jim called me, it was after three winters of substantially higher heating bills than he expected. His first comment was, “You said my home would be energy efficient. But my heating bills are almost as high as for my previous home.”
When we visited his home to complete an inspection, we expected to find that his contractors had not insulated the basement walls, as Jim and I had discussed while planning his home. We also thought his contractors might have failed to put the attic insulation back in their bays after completing the button-up work. Plumbers, heating contractors, and electricians often pull out some of the attic insulation so they can do their work. Sometimes they forget to put it back, and the general contractor forgets to make sure they do.
But that’s not what we discovered. So we performed a “smoke test” to see where air might be leaking. What we found was that the joint where the front and back modules met in the basement and in the attic had not been air sealed by Jim’s contractors. This gap at the “marriage wall” was creating a “chimney” effect, which was allowing the air to flow – and heat to escape – up through the middle of the house all winter long. Although this was seriously compromising the energy efficiency of Jim’s home, we only needed a couple of hours to seal the marriage wall.
As we agreed, Jim called me after his next heating system. He happily reported that his heating bill was substantially lower.
Have Your General Contractor Air Seal Your Modular Home
Ever since this experience, we’ve made sure to emphasize to our customers and their general contractors that they are responsible for completing the air seal where the modules join. But we still find that some GC’s fail to do this task. I strongly suggest that you ensure that your GC does.
Responsibility for hiring the modular home set crew and crane should always be left to the modular dealer or manufacturer. A customer should refuse to hire the modular home set crew and crane, even if a dealer promises it will save substantial money.
Why You Should Never Hire the Modular Home Set Crew or Crane
The set procedures require a great deal of specialized knowledge, skill, and teamwork that a modular set crew acquires only through training, supervision, and experience.
Because of the size and cost of the modular units, as well as the risks associated with the modular home set procedure, whoever sets a home has substantial liability.
If a modular home set is done poorly, the general contractor’s job will be made substantially more difficult and the quality of the finished home may suffer as a result.
If someone on the modular home set crew is injured, the person or company that hired the crew could be held liable.
Why Would a Dealer Want You to Hire the Modular Home Set Crew and Crane
The goal of a dealer who asks the customer to hire the crane and the modular home set crew is to hold the customer responsible for any problems with how the house goes together. Since he neither built nor set the home, the dealer can disclaim responsibility for any problems. It is best to avoid dealers who operate this way.
Selecting a Modular Dealer and Modular Manufacturer
Shopping for modular dealers also means shopping for modular manufacturers. To make the right decision, you need to evaluate both the dealers’ services and the manufacturers’ homes. Even when a dealer and manufacturer are the same company (that is, when the modular manufacturer sells its homes through a company-owned retail center), you will want to evaluate the manufacturer’s services separately from its homes.
Most modular manufacturers, however, sell their homes through independent dealers. In this situation, it can sometimes be difficult for a customer to judge where the contributions and responsibilities of one end, and those of the other begin. Visiting model homes and talking with past customers will help, but your actual experience of the modular manufacturer’s attributes will be largely filtered through the dealer.
Underestimating the Importance of Modular Manufacturers
In fact, customers seldom discover the true differences between modular manufacturers. For example, quality differences are sometimes difficult to identify when comparing dressed up model homes, which misleads many customers into thinking most manufacturers offer equal quality. Customers also have a difficult time sorting out whether price differences for a similar plan are due to the dealers’ retail prices or manufacturers’ wholesale prices. In addition, it often appears to customers as if different modular manufacturers are willing and able to build similar plans. Since most dealers work with their manufacturer to help their customers build any of the standard modular sizes and designs typical of the industry, it appears to customers as if what really matters when designing a home is how much design assistance the dealer provides. This overall experience leads many customers to conclude that the most important factors when shopping for a modular home have to do with the dealers’ services. Consequently, it is common for customers to feel they are buying a home from a dealer without regard to his manufacturer’s abilities. The personal contact provided by dealers reinforces this perception, making modular dealers the face of the industry.
Overestimating the Importance of Modular Dealers
Realizing that most customers attach greater importance to the role of the modular dealer than to the modular manufacturer, many dealers feel comfortable selling more than one manufacturer’s homes, and some even change manufacturers every year or two. They realize that most customers are buying a home from them because of the personal support and services they provide rather than because of the product quality and services offered by a particular manufacturer. Conventional builders feel the same. They know customers buy their homes not because they use a particular brand of window or cabinet or because they buy from a certain supplier. Customers purchase their homes because they provide superior craftsmanship and services for a fair price or because they offer a superior location.
There are exceptions to this categorization, and they almost always involve modular manufacturers who have been able to build an identifiable brand name for themselves. This tends to occur most often in communities close to the manufacturer’s factory. It is also enhanced when top-quality modular dealers forge long-standing relationships with a manufacturer. In these situations, the modular manufacturer’s reputation grows along with the dealer’s. The power of a dealer, however, is particularly evident when the dealer breaks this bond and selects another manufacturer, causing the manufacturer to adopt a new dealer. In this case, new customers are more likely to follow the established dealer (and his new modular manufacturer) than the old manufacturer (and its new dealer). This reinforces the feeling of many dealers that they are more important than the manufacturer.
The fact that customers and dealers sometimes depreciate the contribution of modular manufacturers does not mean this is the wise thing to do. A smart customer will want to consider the real differences between manufacturers in specifications, craftsmanship, and warranty service. It is not that the manufacturers’ contributions are more important than their dealers’. It is just that you need to get the best that you can afford from both. You can only do this if you know what each is responsible for contributing.
The Relationship between Modular Manufacturers and Modular Dealers
Customers are most likely to receive the best that a modular manufacturer has to offer when the manufacturer has a committed relationship with its dealer. That is why most modular dealers form a close affiliation with one or two companies. They may change modular manufacturers every few years for one reason or another, but they prefer to do business with the same company or two because it affords them and their customers several advantages. Other dealers choose not to form an alliance with any particular manufacturers. Instead, they switch from manufacturer to manufacturer every time they sell a home, selecting whichever manufacturer is willing to give them the biggest discount for the home. Sometimes they will pass along the savings to you; sometimes they will keep it for themselves. Either way, this dealer strategy can cause problems.
If a modular dealer is loyal to a modular manufacturer, the manufacturer is going to go out of its way for the dealer and his customers when there is a warranty-service need. It is not that a manufacturer who sells one home a year to a dealer will ignore its warranty obligations. But it will not assume the financial burden of correcting a problem unless it is convinced of its responsibility, especially if it heavily discounted the house to get the dealer’s sale. This may seem unfair, but manufacturers give preferential treatment to their most loyal customers in every industry.
Modular dealers often need the assistance of their modular manufacturer’s engineering and sales departments. This is particularly true when a customer wants to build a custom design or select some nonstandard features. Manufacturers may not always be able to do what the dealer and customer ask, but they will make an extra effort to help a loyal dealer. Sometimes this extra consideration is a big reason customers are able to get the house of their dreams.
It is a challenge for anyone, not just a novice customer, to master all of the details (such as floor plans, standard features, optional selections, and prices) for one modular manufacturer. It is impossible to master them for several manufacturers at the same time. Each manufacturer will provide the dealer with its basic building specifications, but there will always be many details that are not contained in their lists. Dealers only learn of them by working closely with a manufacturer over a period of time.
When a dealer works with a new or little-used modular manufacturer, he does not always know what he is selling, since he does not always know what specifications are included in a given package. Likewise, the modular manufacturer may not know what the dealer thinks he is buying. Modular manufacturers and dealers learn a lot about each other’s expectations and preferences through each new home they sell. Many dealers have their own standards that they expect the manufacturer to meet, but there is little opportunity for this information to be shared when a dealer jumps from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, when a dealer orders a 9-in-12 roof, he might assume that he will receive storage trusses, which will give his customer usable attic space. Consequently, he may include it in his contract with the customer. When it comes time to order the home with a new modular manufacturer, however, the dealer may not think it necessary to inform the manufacturer of this specification, since it was standard with his previous manufacturer. The fact that the dealer will be obligated to remedy his mistake will not make it any better for the customer.
Your first heating season will remove much excess moisture from the wood and concrete in your new home. In the following years, your home will undergo an annual cycle of moderate expansion and contraction as the moisture content throughout your home increases and decreases across the seasons. This will be especially true if your home is located in a climate that experiences a lot of variation in temperature and humidity throughout the year – as is true of the northeast United States. The wood framing, doors, trim, and floors will shrink under conditions of low humidity (most often the winter) and expand under conditions of high humidity (most often the summer). This may cause wood fittings, such as at miter joints at the corners of windows and doors, to temporarily tighten or loosen. Usually, these conditions will return to normal when the humidity returns to normal.
Avoid Excessive Heat During the First Year
During the first year, use of a fireplace or a coal, pellet, wood, or other such stove at very high temperatures can lead to excessively fast drying. This can cause an unusual number of drywall cracks and nail pops as well as excessive warping, cupping, and shrinking of wood and other materials. The modular manufacturer, modular dealer, and general contractor cannot be responsible for any damage caused by these excessive heat conditions. Waiting a year before using these products at very high temperatures will help permit the wood and other materials in your home to dry slowly and normally.
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 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.
One of the most important steps that a general contractor can take to make a modular home energy efficient is to air seal the gaps between modules. The manufacturer can control air infiltration within each of the modules, but when the modules are placed side by side or stacked on top of each other, significant gaps are created. It is just not possible to bring two modules together tightly when a cable is wrapped around each one while being lifted into place. In addition, even when the framing of one module is tightly butted up against the framing of another module, it is not possible to make the joint airtight. Very few set crews completely seal these gaps, so the GC should assume the job.
How to Properly Air Seal a Modular Home
A modular home that is properly air sealed is significantly more energy efficient than a typical site-built home. When a modular home is poorly sealed, however, it will leak more than a site-built home. The GC should make every effort to seal the following:
The basement and attic marriage wall
The interior marriage wall wherever there is a passageway, door, or clear-span opening
The exterior marriage wall along the gable ends
The exterior band between floors on two-story homes
The exterior sill plate where the first-story modules sit on top of the foundation
On the interior, the best way to air seal large gaps is with expandable foam. On the exterior there is a special technique that should be used before the GC completes the siding. Most manufacturers hold back a small piece of the exterior sheathing where two or more modules join. The GC must insert a piece of sheathing that bridges the space between the adjoining modules. The sheathing connects the modules structurally and creates a flat surface for the siding. By itself, however, the sheathing does not do a good job of reducing air infiltration, even when combined with the sill seal installed between modules by most set crews. But if the GC applies two beads of caulk to the back of the sheathing before nailing it to the modules, this will create what in effect is a gasket seal. The GC can then finish by caulking the outside edges of the installed sheathing to close the remaining gaps.
The GC should carry out a similar procedure where the bottom of the first-story modules joins the sill plate and where the top of the modular wall connects to the roof overhang at the eave. He should also foam seal the gable-end triangle sections under the roof; he might first need to brace the sections from inside the attic. Completing all of these steps will create a significantly more energy-efficient and comfortable home, for a negligible cost.
When I first starting selling modular homes I had a difficult time convincing customers to bring the right equipment to their modular home delivery and set unless the need was completely obvious, which it often is not. That changed after one nearly disastrous incident.
A Lesson about the Importance of the Modular Home Delivery and Set
My customers were building a two-story home made up of four modules shipped on four carriers. I asked them to have their excavator assist the delivery crew on delivery day, and they complied. It turned out that the bulldozer was not needed because the ground was dry and firm. This enabled us to position two of the modules next to the foundation and crane on the property with the other two modules stored in a staging area over night. I reminded my customers that they needed to keep the bulldozer on site for the next day’s set, but they said they didn’t think it was necessary. I pointed out that if it rained that night, we almost certainly would have a problem. My customers responded that it would cost them $500 for the second day, and they thought it was a waste of money. When it began raining that night, I called them at home to again ask them to supply a bulldozer. They refused.
The set started off well. We got the first module onto the foundation quickly. While we were setting the second, we delivered the third to the site. But the transporters could not get enough traction on the wet ground to move the modules close enough to the foundation no matter what we tried. My customers called their excavator, who arrived two and one-half hours later. While we were waiting, a thunderstorm hit hard. My set crew climbed on the roof, in spite of the lightning, and tried to cover the two modules with tarps. They did OK, but while trying to position the tarp, one of the crew slipped and pushed his foot and part of the tarp through kitchen ceiling.Allof the water that had pooled on the tarp while it was being installed poured onto a row of cabinets. Fortunately, none of my crew was hurt and the damage was repaired. But that experience taught me that I had to explain to my customers all of the things that can go wrong if they do not provide the proper equipment for their modular home delivery and set. It also taught me to delay the start of a set if the equipment is not on site.
Help Your Dealer Protect Your Home During the Modular Home Delivery and Set
When your dealer tells you to provide equipment for your modular home delivery and set day, remember that he isn’t just protecting his interests; he is also protecting your house.
Sometimes a general contractor with limited modular experience can turn a “couple of hours” fix of some minor modular home warranty work into a “couple of days” project.
Obtain Preapproval for All Modular Home Warranty Work
I had a customer whose master-bedroom ceiling was not level at the marriage wall. My set-day supervisor should have noticed this and told the customer that we would come back to fix it. But he missed it, and my customer, who was acting as his own GC, decided to fix the problem on his own. He ended up tearing down half of the bedroom ceiling before he contacted us for help. The problem, we discovered, was that the ceiling framing on one of the modules was hung up slightly on the other module, preventing the first module from settling all the way down. All that needed to be done was to free up the first module, which we were able to do in two hours. When we finished, the ceiling framing was even, but my customer now had to replace a lot of drywall.
Independent GCs Must Obtain Preapproval for Modular Home Warranty Work from the Dealer
It is very important that your GC understands that they should always obtain preapproval for modular home warranty work from your dealer before they attempt to fix a problem. If they do not obtain proper authorization, both of you are at risk for not being compensated for the GC’s corrective actions.
No sales model is perfect, regardless of who builds it. Even modular home sales models have minor imperfections.
What I Learned about My Modular Home Sales Models
Soon after starting my business, I built a two-story model home with several upscale features. For example, I dressed up the first floor with oak trim and doors, all finished in clear polyurethane, so that my customers could see what this option looked like. The first customer who ordered this upgrade called me soon after we set his home, very upset. He said that some of his oak moldings had a much darker grain pattern than the others, which he felt was not the case in my model home. Without first looking at my model, I went to his house to see what made him unhappy. When I saw the variation for myself, I ordered replacement moldings. Unfortunately, the new moldings came in with as much variation as those installed in his home. Finally, after ordering three sets of replacement moldings, we were able to match all of the moldings in his house almost perfectly. (In retrospect, I cannot believe that my manufacturer provided me with all of these moldings for no additional charge.)
A couple of months later, the manager of a custom woodworking shop visited my model home. I told her about the problem with the oak moldings, and I showed her the rejected moldings. She then walked me through my model home and pointed out that it had the same “problem.” Even more surprising, she said that all of her high-end, custom stick-built customers had the same “problem” when she provided them with naturally finished wood moldings. She added that most customers actually prefer this natural variation.
Notice the Imperfections in Your Dealer’s Modular Home Sales Models
In addition to teaching me about the natural qualities of wood, this experience taught me how easy it is to miss the true appearance of a home’s features. Over the years, I’ve noticed that while most customers do not look closely at our modular home sales models, they put a microscope to their own home. And when they do, they see both real and imagined imperfections that they do not realize are typical of all homes, including their dealer’s modular home sales models. I strongly recommend that you make an effort to notice the imperfections in your dealer’s modular home sales models and expect them in your home.