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Advantages of a Modular Raised Ranch

My First Home – A Raised Ranch

My wife and I bought our first home a year before I learned about modular homes and became a builder. It was a raised ranch built in the 1960’s. It had everything we needed: three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the main floor and a drive-under garage, family room, and third bathroom in the basement. It also had a lovely yard framed by an attractive stone retaining wall.

What is a Raised Ranch Home?

A raised ranch is a one-story home built with a split-level entry on top of a raised foundation. It consists of two levels separated by stairs. The upper level contains the bedrooms, kitchen, living, and dining rooms. The lower level is a finished basement.

In our home, the entry was “split” in that it was built halfway between the first floor and the basement. A platform at the front door connected two sets of stairs, one going up to the first floor and one going down to the basement.

A raised ranch with a drive-under garage and finished basement.
A modular raised ranch with a drive-under garage and finished basement.

To make the bi-level design work, the foundation was elevated 5’ above the finished grade at the front of the home. The back of our raised ranch had a wood framed walkout with a slider and some full sized windows.

Why You Might Want a Modular Raised Ranch

There are several reasons why you might want to build a modular raised ranch. Elevating the foundation out of the ground can solve problems caused by a high water table. It is often easier to minimize excavation costs on a sloped property by building a raised ranch. Also, if the property has sufficient slope, the low side of the basement can be used for a drive-under garage, which is considerably less expensive to build than an attached or detached garage.

A typical raised ranch floor plan with a split level entry at the front door.
A typical modular raised ranch floor plan with a split level entry at the front door.

In addition, a raised ranch with a Cape Cod design that has an unfinished second story, offers you a chance to affordably expand your living space. The raised foundation allows you to finish the basement with larger windows. In addition to providing good natural light, the larger windows allow you to build bedrooms in the basement while meeting the building code requirement for egress.

In designing modular raised ranch floor plans, you will need to decide whether you want the front of the house flush with the front of the foundation or cantilevered over the top of the foundation. A cantilevered home, which is often preferred for its look, will have a foundation that is a foot or two narrower than the main floor, which means it provides less usable space in the basement. You will also have to decide if you want the front entry to be flush with the front of the house or recessed. An advantage to a recessed entry, in addition to its appearance, is that it provides some overhead protection from the weather for anyone entering the front door.

A raised ranch with a cantilevered front, recessed entry, and finished basement.
A modular raised ranch with a cantilevered front, recessed entry, and finished basement.

When thinking about the basement floor plan of your raised ranch, pay attention to where the split-level stairs are located. This is particularly important if you are building a drive-under garage, since the stairs should not intrude into the garage.

Modular Split Level Homes

“Split-Levels” are usually T-shaped ranches that are composed of a ranch on one leg of the T and a raised ranch on the other leg to create a tri-level design. They offer some of the advantages of a raised ranch, although they do not work well on a flat lot with a high water table unless the ranch wing of the house is built on a crawl space. As with a raised ranch, split levels can also be built with either a flush or a cantilevered front and a flush or a recessed entry. And they can often accommodate a drive-under garage.

A modular split level design with a drive under garage and finished basement. The left wing is a raised ranch, while the right wing is a ranch.
A modular split level design with a drive under garage and finished basement. The left wing is a raised ranch, while the right wing is a ranch.

For more information about building a modular raised ranch, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Nominal Sizes: When Is a Two-by-Four Not 2 by 4

Nominal Lumber Sizes

A two-by-six is not a 2 x 6 when it’s construction lumber.

The framing materials we use for the walls and ceilings of our modular homes are mostly two-by-sixes, two-by-tens, and two-by-fours.  You might assume, as I did when I first started selling modular homes, that these designations refer to the actual dimensional sizes of the lumber.  But a two-by-six is not 2” x 6”.  It’s actually 1 ½” x 5 ½”.  In fact, the 1 ½” dimension can be as little as 1 3’8” or as much as 1 5/8” and the 5 ½” dimension can be as little as 5 3’8” or as much as 5 5/8”.

Why Is Lumber Labeled with Nominal Sizes

Lumber sizes for residential construction are designated by the "nominal" values assigned to each size.
Lumber sizes for residential construction are designated by the “nominal” values assigned to each size.

In residential construction in the United States the framing materials are designated with a “nominal” value, which approximates its size.  For example, a 2 x 10, which is close to 2” x 10” but actually 1 ½” x 9 ½”, is given the name “two-by-ten”.  This makes sense when you understand a little history.

In the past, the nominal dimensions given to the lumber were the sizes of green lumber before it was dried and planed smooth.  This process shrunk the lumber by about ½” in each dimension.  The lumber sold today for residential construction is already dried and planed.  But it’s still sold in the historical sizes with each size retaining its nominal name.  That’s why your modular home will built with “two-by-sixes”, “two-by-tens”, and “two-by-fours”.

Nominal Sizes of Modular Floor Plans

Nominal values also play a role in designating the width of modular home floor plans.  For example, a “twenty-eight x forty-four” home is actually 27’6” x 44’.  In this case, the width is rounded up by 6”.

For more information about nominal lumber size, see Designing a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Exclude Oral Representations

Oral Representations Often Lead to Disagreements

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.

Your contract with a modular home builder should exclude oral representations and instead require that all details be documented in writing.
Your contract with a modular home builder should exclude oral representations and instead require that all details be documented in writing.

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.

For more information about oral representations in your contract with your modular home builder, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer and Selecting a General Contractor in in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Contract

Six Clauses in Your Modular Home Contract

Three years ago I outlined what should be included in your Modular Home Contract.  I recommend that you take a look at that post before you read today’s entry.

Here are six clauses you may see in your modular home contract.  Their purpose is to document standard construction industry practices that you, as the Homeowner, might not know.  When put in writing, they help eliminate potential areas of disagreement between you and your modular builder.

Modular Home Contract:  Changes, Deviations, or Omissions

This clause states that you agree to accept the minor deviations that sometimes incur in construction as long as the work is substantially the same as described in the contract and within accepted industry tolerance.  Many builders don’t include this clause because the types of changes covered are usually so minor that you are unlikely to notice them.  The reason this clause is sometimes included is that a few homebuyers have been known to get very upset when there is a change of ¼” in the size of a bedroom.

The builder may also include a similar clause that refers specifically to materials and products.  Building code requirements, product availability, and design improvements may compel the builder to substitute material similar in pattern, design and quality to that listed in the plans and specifications.  When possible, the builder should consult the customer when this occurs.

Have an attorney review the legalese of your modular home contract.
Have an attorney review the legalese of your modular home contract.

Modular Home Contract:  Access to Your Property

As the Homeowner, you will at all times have access to your property and the right to inspect the work.  However, if you enter the property or invite others to enter the property during the course of construction, you all do so at your own risk.

Although your access to the property is ensured, this clause points out that you cannot interfere with the work or the modular builder, his employees, or trade contractors.  In addition, you will need to communicate directly with the supervisor assigned to your project rather than other employees or contractors on the site.

Modular Home Contract:  Work Performed by the Homeowners and Their Trade Contractors

This clause speaks to your responsibilities when you perform some of the work or directly hire contractors other than your builder to complete some of the work.  In that case, you are responsible for ensuring that you and your contractors have liability and workers compensation insurance.  You will also be responsible for coordinating this work to avoid disrupting or interfering with the work being done by the builder’s team.  Needless to say, you are responsible for the quality of this work as well as whether it complies with the building code.  In addition, you will need to take care of any warranty work.

Modular Home Contract:  Unused Materials

Builders often have unused materials after they complete their work.  Sometimes this is intended, since it’s easier to return the excess than to leave the job in the middle of the work to fetch what’s missing.  Keep in mind that you have only paid for the materials your builder has used.  This clause states that the builder owns these unused materials.  However, most builders will leave you some extra siding, shingles, paint, as well as some other materials, if they have them.

Modular Home Contract:  Signage and Marketing

Most modular builders will want permission to display a sign on your site until their work is completed.  They will also want permission to invite their prospective customers to walk through your home while it is under construction.  This clause will allow the builder to do these things, but it should also state that prospective customers visit at their own risk.

Modular Home Contract:  Building Code Compliance

Your modular dealer is responsible for ordering the home so that it complies with the state building code current at the time your agreement is written.  Modular manufacturers are required to build their homes in compliance with the code in effect at the time they build your home.  This clause states that when changes happen to the state code, you are responsible for the additional material, labor, services, and other expenses required to comply with the changes.  It also states that you are responsible for the costs associated with complying with local building codes when these codes exceed the state code.

For more information about modular home contracts, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer and Selecting a General Contractor in my book The Modular Home.

Radiant Floor Heat

My Introduction to Radiant Floor Heat

Twenty years ago I visited another modular builder’s residence on a cold February day. It was a nicely appointed cape cod with a front-to-back family room on one side and a complimentary garage flanking the other side. When I entered the family room I was immediately struck by how comfortable I felt. At first I thought it was the number and style of windows that looked out onto a peaceful snow covered patio.  Then I thought it was the decor, which was richly traditional. The builder’s wife, who was giving me a tour, smiled and said, “You look confused, and I bet I know why.  Your feet are warm.” I undoubtedly looked even more confused until she explained that the tile floor had radiant floor heat.

Forced Air Heat vs. Radiant Floor Heat

Have you wondered why you sometimes (maybe always) feel cold even though the thermostat for your forced hot air heating system is set to 72 degrees? It’s not you! It’s because the warm air rises to the ceiling and falls back down as cool air. Your toes become cold why your head stays warm. This effect is amplified by the on and off cycling of the system, which warms you quickly but then chills your bones when the air stops pumping through the ducts.

With radiant floor heat, on the other hand, the heated floor transmits its warmth to the surrounding objects. You remain comfortably warm because the coldest air is at the ceiling rather than your feet, and the floor and everything it touches remains at a constant temperature. By warming you from your feet up, radiant floor heat keeps you feeling toasty at a lower temperature.

Radiant floor heating systems can heat an entire home or individual rooms. Bathrooms, kitchens, and mudrooms are popular candidates for this enhanced comfort. When installed in selected rooms, the temperature is controlled with individual thermostats. The remaining rooms are heated with a conventional system.

Two Types of Radiant Floor Heat

An example of how the tubes are laid out for hydronic radiant floor heat .
An example of how the tubes are laid out for hydronic radiant floor heat.
Materials for electrical radiant floor heat.
Materials for electrical radiant floor heat.

There are two basic types of radiant floor heat: hydronic and electric resistance. Hydronic systems pump heated fluid through small tubes under the finished flooring. The fluid is usually a mix of water and anti-freeze, such as propylene glycol  The heat source is a boiler, water heater, or heat pump, with the heat transferred by the recirculation of the fluid between the floor and the heat source.

Electric resistance systems work with electric wires set underneath the floor. They function much like the wires in an electric blanket. Because they use fewer components and are easier to install, they are less expensive to set up than hydronic systems for single rooms. However, they are more costly to operate.

Installation of Radiant Floor Heat

Both types of radiant floor heating systems can be set in a concrete, mortar, or gypsum bed, placed under the floor covering, or attached directly to a wood sub floor. The tubing for radiant floor heat can be installed in specially made plywood with precut channels, which enables you to install carpeting and wood flooring directly over the plywood. Ceramic tile floors should be cast in a mortar bed or on a cement backer board, while vinyl flooring needs to be placed on an underlayment.

Finished Flooring over Radiant Floor Heat

You can use most any type of finished flooring over either type of radiant floor heating system, although some materials work better than others. Tile, stone, and concrete transfer and hold heat best. Solid wood floors will shrink and expand because of the heat, but the new “engineered wood” floors hold up better. If you install vinyl or laminated flooring, make sure they can withstand the heat. Keep in mind that carpets will reduce the heat flow, as they will act as insulation.

Advantages of Radiant Floor Heat

Radiant floor heat has a few notable advantages over conventional systems in addition to superior comfort.  Many people like the fact that they’re hidden and silent. If you’ve ever lived with banging radiators or whistling registers, you’ll appreciate radiant floor heat. Anyone with allergies will value them because there is no dust- or allergen-blowing ductwork. And for those who want to increase the energy efficiency of their home, radiant floor heating systems are an efficient way to heat, increasing comfort as they reduce energy costs.

For more information about installing radiant floor heat, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

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