Modular Homes Stand Up to Severe Weather

Since we’re entering “hurricane  season”, I thought you might want to see a couple of videos about how two of our homes fared against a violent tornado with 160 MPH winds:   Part 1 shows how the modular homes were much more durable than the stick framed homes when struck head-on by the tornado. Part 2 includes interviews with the homeowners.


Modular homes are more durable even when hit by a tornado.
Modular homes are more durable even when hit by a tornado.

Here explains why modular homes are so durable.

Here explains why modular homes are stronger than conventional, stick built homes.  Keep in mind that this was written by the National Association of Home Builders, whose members are almost entirely stick builders.

Modular homes are more durable even when hit by a hurricane.
Modular homes are more durable even when hit by a hurricane.

For more information about the unique durability of modular homes, see Why Build Modular in my book The Modular Home.

Should You Tear Down and Replace Your Home

Why Tear Down Your Home     

Are you considering replacing your existing home with a new modular home?  You have lots of company.  Many of us are happy with our neighborhood, local schools, and commute to work.  We’re also attached to our property, often because we like its size and views.  If only our homes were big enough for our families.  If only they had layouts that worked for how we live.  If only they had modern features and better energy efficiency.  If only we could fix our problems with some reasonable and affordable remodeling.

But what if remodeling is not viable?  What if you’d prefer a new home?  If so, you’ll likely consider purchasing a building lot – if not in your neighborhood, at least in your town.  But what if your town is well established with a home already built on virtually every lot?  You might then consider “tearing down” your home and replacing it with a brand new modular home.

Can You Tear Down Your Home

Before you contact a modular builder, you should learn what your town’s zoning, planning, and building departments allow.  Their regulations are partly in place to protect the existing character of your town and neighborhood.  They dictate whether and how you can tear down your existing home.  They also determine what you can build as a replacement.  This usually includes the size, footprint, square footage, height, and style of your home.

If your home is in a historic preservation district, you may be prohibited from tearing down your home, or at least required to adhere to the architectural standards of your neighborhood.  In fact, your abutting neighbors will likely have some input into what you can build.  It’s often best to speak directly to them in advance of pushing ahead.  If your property is part of a subdivision that is governed by a homeowners association, make sure it’s bylaws do not prevent your home from being torn down.

You should also check with your gas, electric, and water utilities to learn how you can disconnect these from your home.  You should consult with your fire department to see what they need. You should expect your town to require an inspection for toxic materials, such as asbestos or an old diesel tank.  And you should speak with your board of health, if you have a septic system, to see what’s needed to comply with its regulations.

If you skip these steps, and assume you can tear down your home, you may waste a lot of time designing a home you cannot build.

The Cost to Tear Down Your Home

Be prepared to pay between $5,000 and $25,000 to demolish your existing home, haul the materials away, and cover the disposal fees.  You’ll pay even more if your home has asbestos or other toxic materials.  You’ll also likely need to pay for a demolition permit.

How to Finance the Tear Down and Replacement of Your Home

If you are financing your project, you must qualify for a construction loan and mortgage in terms of income, debt, and credit.  (Check out my blogs that explain what you need to know about financing a modular home.)  In addition, there are a couple of financial considerations that are unique to demolishing and replacing your existing home.  Take these seriously, since they’ve tripped up many customers in the past.

Unless you own your home outright, you cannot tear it down without first paying off the existing mortgage or obtaining written permission from your current lender.  However, your lender will not grant permission if the loan balance is more than the value of the land, since the land will be the only equity left after the demolition.  Should you tear down your home without paying off your loan or obtaining permission, your lender will invoke the default clause in your mortgage, which will create some serious legal headaches for you.

If you have an existing mortgage, you will need a loan that covers the balance owed on your existing home, the demolition, and the construction of your new home.  A consideration for your lender is whether you will have sufficient equity in your property after the demolition and repayment of your current loan balance.  The equity is needed to serve as a down payment on your new loan.  If the outstanding balance is substantial, however, you may not have enough equity, unless you have another source of funds

A second consideration for your lender is whether the value of your finished home will be sufficient to support the total of your new mortgage. The lender needs to be confident that if you default on your loan, they can recover the balance by selling your property. They will determine the value of your new home by obtaining a professional real estate appraisal.

For more information about why and how to tear down your home so you can replace it with a new modular home, see Why Build Modular and Financing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Second Story Modular Additions

Unfortunately, we’re not building second-story additions at this time.  These projects take a lot of extra money and time with design, engineering, and construction labor.  Your current home will most likely require structural work to carry the weight of the second story.  More importantly, it will almost certainly need extensive remodeling to make your first floor plan work.  Some customers decide to tear down their current home and replace it with a new two-story once they discover that the cost is often the same as adding a second-story addition.  Other customers, when they have room on their property, build an attached addition.  Still other customers sell their current home and purchase a building lot for a new home.  If a brand-new home or an attached addition interests you, please let us know and we’ll be happy to discuss this possibility with you.

Andy Gianino, President, The Home Store

Advantages of Second Story Modular Additions

If you are building a second story modular addition, you are most likely doing it to create more living space rather than a separate living unit. The general contractor will turn your one-story into a two-story by removing the roof from your home and immediately setting the new modular second story with its own built-in roof on top.

The speed of modular construction is a tremendous benefit when building a second story addition, since the addition can be set in place within hours after the roof is removed from your existing home. Once the modular addition is in place, the inside of your home is protected from a sudden storm. A site builder cannot realistically protect your home as quickly. Another advantage is that the second story can be finished faster. This means your family can use the upstairs more quickly, even if it must wait to enjoy the downstairs until the remodeling is completed.

Requirements for Second Story Modular Additions

There are two conditions that must be met before you can build a second story modular addition. First, the exterior dimensions of the existing home must be compatible with one of the modular manufacturer’s production sizes. If your home is too wide, a modular will not easily work. If your home has multiple bump-outs, a modular might work, but it may be impractical and expensive. A home can be up to 3-feet narrower than a module, however, and adding a wider second floor can create an attractive, cantilevered garrison colonial look.

The second condition is having an existing home and foundation that are structurally capable of carrying the additional weight, which is substantial. You will need to hire a structural engineer to make this determination. He may give you specific instructions on fortifying the structure or the foundation, which might be unacceptable or too expensive. If you decide to carry out his instructions, the GC will complete them as part of his remodeling. Before the engineer completes his final written report, he will need to see plans of exactly what you are building and receive detailed information from the manufacturer.

Design Issues for Second Story Modular Additions

When designing an addition, you must decide where the stairs to the second floor will be located. You must also determine a location for a chase from the basement to the second floor to carry the electrical wires, HVAC supply and return ducts or pipes, and plumbing pipes for second-floor bathrooms. If the GC is connecting to a forced-air system in the basement, the chase must be larger, since the ducts will take up more space than hot-water lines.

Second Story modular additions can make ranches look like brand new homes.
Second Story modular additions can make ranches look like brand new homes.

The design of the second story elevation must be coordinated with the first-story elevation. The window locations on the second story should be arranged in a pleasing fashion. This decision should be made early in the design process, since the location of the interior partition walls on the second story must be coordinated with the window locations (you cannot put a wall in the middle of a window). In addition, the window style and sizes should be matched as closely as possible to the existing home.

The exterior elevation of all four sides of the finished home must take into consideration any first-story bump-outs or structures. For example, the location of an existing bay window, porch, sunroom, portico, recessed entry, or garage can pose special design challenges. The second story must be planned so that it does not affect either the function or aesthetic appeal of these structures. In some cases, it might be necessary to remove a part of the bump-out or attached structure, such as a garage roof, before installing the second story. If the modular second story will be cantilevered, the overhang can pose additional problems with a first-floor bump-out, such as a bay window.

The exterior siding on the second story must fit with the siding on the first story. Otherwise, the siding on the first story will have to be replaced. If you currently have wood siding, you might need to repaint or restain it to create a color match. Similar coordination issues arise for shutters and other exterior trim details.

If you have a chimney on your existing one-story home, you will need to make it taller to reach above the roof of the second floor. In addition, all trees overhanging the first story will need to be removed.

Material Disposal and Second Story Modular Additions

The actual removal of the existing roof as well as any other materials you are replacing in your existing home, such as the siding or windows, will be a task unto itself. The cost of disposing of these materials will be appreciable.

Most importantly, when you are done building your second story modular addition, it will almost feel like you have just built a brand new home.

For more information about building second story modular additions, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

Attached Modular Additions

The Two Uses of Attached Modular Additions

Attached modular additions are sometimes built to create a separate, additional living unit and sometimes to create more living space. Most zoning boards consider any addition with a separate kitchen to constitute a separate living unit, which requires that the wall between the two units must serve as a “fire stop.” The easiest way to accomplish this is to have the modular manufacturer build a fire-rated wall on that side of the addition.

Zoning and Attached Modular Additions

To qualify as an addition, your community’s zoning regulations will require that it be connected to your home. Detached additions are almost always disallowed. You can connect the two by attaching the addition directly to your home or by joining the addition and your home to another room in between, such as a small site-built mudroom or large, modular great room.

Locating Attached Modular Additions

Your property’s topography may limit where you can build an attached addition. If one side of your lot is wetlands or contains a septic system or municipal sewer pipe, you might not be able to build on that side. You will have the same problem, although to a lesser extent, if one side of your land has a steep slope or an outcropping of rock. Although you will want to locate the addition so that the floor plans of your home and addition work well together, you may want to consider an alternative if the preferred location would incur substantial additional expenses.

The modular manufacturer will want to take into account whether the proposed addition will impose structural loads on the existing house or whether the existing house will impose structural loads on the proposed addition.
The modular manufacturer will want to take into account whether the proposed attached modular addition will impose structural loads on the existing house or whether the existing house will impose structural loads on the proposed addition.

Roof Design of Attached Modular Additions

In designing a modular addition, the dealer and GC should make sure that the intersecting roofs shed water and snow properly. This is particularly important when the addition is being built in areas with the potential for heavy winter snow, because the roof of the addition needs to be attached to the existing home so that the two can carry the load together. Depending on how and where the modular addition will be attached, the manufacturer may ask you to hire a structural engineer to determine what needs to be done to make the two structures work together. The engineer may require the GC to beef up the existing roof to carry the additional load.

The windows on the left side of the living room and family room in the existing home will have to be removed, and a new opening will need to be added in the living room to receive the door to the addition’s kitchen. The two left side windows on the second floor on the existing home will also need to be moved if the roof pitch on the addition is steep.
The windows on the left side of the living room and family room in the existing home will have to be removed, and a new opening will need to be added in the living room to receive the door to the attached modular addition’s kitchen. The two left side windows on the second floor on the existing home will also need to be moved if the roof pitch on the addition is steep.

Matching Openings Between an Existing Home and Attached Modular Additions

Before your modular addition is built, the GC must measure exactly where the openings into your existing home are located. The modular dealer will then use that information to line up the connecting openings in your addition.

Scope of Work for Attached Modular Additions

If you are attaching a modular addition directly to the existing home, the GC will need to remove the siding on the existing home’s wall. Any windows or doors on that wall will also need to be removed, and the resulting holes will need to be closed off and finished so they match the home. No matter how well the addition is set alongside the existing home, there are bound to be small gaps between the two. The GC will need to tie the two buildings together on the inside and outside to hide any gaps. Next week I’ll discuss the second-story modular additions.

For more information about building modular additions, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Additions

Modular construction is a great way to build an addition. You get the quality and price advantage that modular homes are known for along with faster build time. Speed is particularly beneficial when building an addition, since the construction will temporarily disrupt your family’s life, especially if you remain in your home while the work is being done.

Modular Additions:  Attached and Second Story                                     

Modular additions come in two types. The most popular type is attached to the side of a home to create either a separate living unit, such as an in-law apartment, or additional rooms, such as a new kitchen, dining room, and great room. Some customers build an in-law apartment at the same time that they build a new modular home. The second type of modular addition is set on top of a one-story home to make it into a two-story.

An ECHO modular in-law addition added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch
An ECHO modular in-law addition has been added to the right side of this modular T-Ranch

Modular Additions:  Ensuring You Can Build

Before you spend too much time considering an addition, find out whether or not you can build one, and what will be required if you can. There are any number of issues that can prevent you from going forward. Not surprisingly, several of the issues that affect your ability to build an addition are the same as those that can restrict what you can do with a particular building lot.

Modular Additions:  Covenants, Deed Restrictions, and Easements

When building an addition, you will be compelled to abide by any covenants and deed restrictions that apply to your property. Almost all subdivisions have covenants limiting what you can build, and a previous owner of the property might have placed a restriction on what you can do. Although covenants and deed restrictions do not usually address additions, the only way to know for sure is to check. You will also be prevented from building an addition on any part of your property where someone has an easement or right of way, unless you negotiate new terms that are recorded on your deed.

It's impossible to tell from this photo that this was a ranch made into a two-story with a second-story modular addition.
It’s impossible to tell from this photo that this was a ranch made into a two-story with a second-story modular addition.

Modular Additions:  Zoning Regulations

Local zoning requirements may affect several things you might want to do with your home. Setback regulations will prevent you from building an addition too close to abutting properties or the street, which could force you to build the addition on the side of your home that is less practical and affordable. If your property does not have a current survey, or if the boundary stakes are not in place, you may need to hire a surveyor before you can convince the building department that your addition complies with the setback requirements. It is unlikely the setback requirements will have much bearing on your plans if you are building a second-story addition.

Most communities have specific zoning regulations governing if and when you can add a second living unit to your home, such as an in-law apartment. Some require a special permit or a zoning variance for any two-family unit, regardless of use or size, while others provide an exception for an in-law apartment. Still other communities allow you to build only two attached single-family units on larger lots than are required for a single-family home. Zoning regulations can dictate how large a home you can build. Some communities restrict how tall the roof can be.

Modular Additions:  Building Codes

Some building codes require anyone constructing an addition to upgrade their existing home to current building-code standards. For example, the building inspector might stipulate that you outfit your existing home with approved smoke detectors that connect to those installed in the addition.

Modular Additions:  Module Access

In order to build a modular addition, the transporters, crane, and set crew must be able to set up in the proper location on your property. Even if your original home is modular, and access was not a problem when you built it, it is possible that you could run into a problem with the addition.

Modular Additions:  Financing and Appraisal

Before entering into a contract to build an addition, determine how you will pay for it. If you intend to use a lender to finance the construction, you may have a choice of either an equity or a construction loan. To use an equity loan, you must have sufficient equity in your home, since the lender will only allow you to borrow against that equity. An appraiser hired by your lender will determine the amount of equity in your home. If you owe money on your home but the mortgage is small, the appraisal is less likely to matter, since the lender will have sufficient collateral even with a low appraisal.

If you have little equity in your home, and need a construction loan, the lender may require a down payment. It will also want an appraisal of your home that includes the proposed addition. Before you spend too much time exploring construction costs, speak with a couple of lenders to see what they can do for you.

When Modular Additions Are Not the Best Choice

There are times when it does not make good financial sense to build a modular addition. In general, it only makes economic sense to build a modular structure if the modules are reasonably sized and have some value-added features. A one-room addition, such as a great room measuring 20 feet by 27 feet 6 inches, does not meet these criteria. A small multi-room apartment, however, with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and living room, such as a 22-foot by 24-foot in-law addition, does; for example see our Harmony 1, 2, and 3 in-law addition plans. As these examples show, size is not the only relevant factor. The great room is bigger than the in-law apartment, but it is full of empty space. This kind of structure is better built by a conventional stick builder.

Next week I’ll discuss the general contracting work required for modular additions.

For more information about building modular additions, see Building a Modular Addition in my book The Modular Home.

© The Home Store, Inc., 2021