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.
- Ensure You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home
- Selecting a Modular Home Dealer
- Your Modular Home Dealer Customer References
- Selecting a Modular Home General Contractor
- Your Modular Home General Contractor References
- What to Include in Your Modular Home Legalese
- Selecting the Right Modular Home Plan
- What You Should Ask Modular Home General Contractors
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Floor Plans
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Elevation Plans
- Modular Additions
- Building a Universal Design Modular Home
- What Your Modular Manufacturer Needs from Your Contractor
- How to Air Seal a Modular Home
- Making an Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot
- Your Municipal Water and Sewer Connections
- Reviewing Your Modular Construction Drawings
- Potential Permits and Supporting Documents
- Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks
- Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks
- Omitting Materials from the Modular Manufacturer
For more information about all the topics covered in the checklists, see my book The Modular Home.
Planning for Your Modular Addition
When planning for your modular addition your general contractor will have to examine several details about your current home and property. The list is surprisingly long. But if your GC ignores some of the details, you’ll be disappointed with the result and have to pay your GC to make the necessary corrections.
Below is a list of construction details your GC needs to consider when developing the scope of work, specifications, and pricing for your modular addition. It’s best if your GC has experience with additions as well as renovation work, since almost all additions require some refurbishing of the existing structure.
- Approximate age
- Length and width
- Height of first floor from ground
- Height of eave from ground
- Asbestos or lead paint – where
- Trees or brush need to be cut or moved – where
- Landscaping will need to be redone – where
- Driveway needs to be relocated or refinished – where
- Sidewalk needs to be relocated or refinished – where
- Crane can be located to set modules – where
- Block, stone, or poured
- Crawl or full
- Wall height and thickness
- Work required to shore up walls
- Modular addition’s foundation can be connected to existing foundation – how connected
- Modular addition’s foundation cannot be connected to existing foundation – how formed
- Concrete for new foundation needs to be pumped – distance
- Siding needs to be removed and/or replaced – where and how matched
- Truss or rafter framing
- Soffit width
- Gable overhang size
- Soffit width
- Fascia height
- Shingle type
- Shingle color
- Shingles need to be removed and/or replaced – where and how matched
Existing Electrical System
- Service amperage
- Overhead or underground
- Meter location
- Meter needs to be moved – where
- Panel location
- Panel needs to be moved – where
- Panel disconnect needed
- Smoke detectors in existing house – hardwired or battery
- Existing smoke detectors connection to addition – how
Existing Heating System
- System can produce enough BTUs to heat addition – type, fuel, location, vent method, and how connect
- Modular addition needs new heating system – type, fuel, location, and vent method
Existing Domestic Hot Water System
- System can produce enough hot water for addition – type, fuel, location, vent method, and how connect
- Modular addition needs new hot water system – type, fuel, location, and vent method
Existing Water Supply
- Well or town water
- Sufficient water pressure
- If well – size of pump and tank
- If town water – size of service entering existing house
- Entrance into existing house – where
- Entrance needs to be moved – where
- Connection to modular addition – how
Existing Waste System
- Septic or town sewer
- Height below top of foundation
- If septic – system can meet demand from addition
- If septic – system needs to be modified or replaced – where on property
- Entrance into existing house – where
- Entrance needs to be moved – where
- Connection to modular addition – how
Connection from Modular Addition into Existing House
- Change existing windows to doors or existing doors to windows – where
- Close-off existing windows/doors – where
- Cut through existing wall – where and material
- Move electric wires and/or meter – where
- Move heating units – where
- Move plumbing pipes – where
- Install headers – where
- Firestop required – specify
Draw a Site Plan Showing the Existing Roof
Include all information above plus existing locations and size of hose bibbs, GFIs, chimneys, roof vents, fireplaces, windows, doors, and any other relevant items. Show where the crane will be located during set.
Draw the Basement Plan of the Existing Home
Include all information about water, sewer, heating system, hot water, basement stairs, windows, and any other relevant items.
Draw the 1st Floor Plan of the Existing Home
Include all information of first floor layout, locations of smoke detectors, location of entrance to modular addition, and any other relevant items.
Draw the 2nd Floor Plan of the Existing Home
Include all information of second floor layout, locations of smoke detectors, location of entrance to modular addition if it impacts on second floor, and any other relevant items.
Why Building a New Home Is Better Than Remodeling When You Need Accessibility
What should you do if you need an accessible home? Should you remodel your current home, buy a more accessible used home, or build a fully accessible new one?
Since there are very few truly accessible used homes, let’s compare remodeling your existing home with building a new one. Since I believe building new is almost always better than remodeling, I will outline the advantages of building over remodeling. Of course, if you don’t have the resources and flexibility to build a new home, remodeling will be your only viable alternative.
No Demolition and Shoring Up Expenses
You will not waste money demolishing or shoring up your new home.
Remodeling your existing home to make it accessible can often be surprisingly expensive. You will undoubtedly anticipate some of the costs for adding new features, but you may not plan sufficiently for the cost of the other work required to remodel. Most importantly, you must add the cost of the destruction (taking apart and removing what you no longer want) to the cost of construction (building in the new features). In addition, you must add the cost of shoring up the existing structure of your home so that the new construction can be completed. For example, in addition to tearing down old walls and ripping out old plumbing and electrical, you might need to add structural supports in the ceiling and basement before you can begin. Otherwise, your home will not be structurally sound.
The task of removing walls and shoring up the structure is usually a Pandora’s Box for the remodeler. Often the remodeler can’t know what problems and expenses he is going to run into until he actually starts the demolition. If you ask him to give you a fixed price for the entire project in advance, he will usually build a significant cushion into his price. If you agree to pay him for “time and materials”, and he uncovers a number of problems that require additional work, he will hit you with a change order that will create cost-overruns for you. That’s why remodeling often goes significantly over budget.
Greater Equity and Resale Value
Your new home is likely to provide you with greater market value and equity than a remodeled home.
Since the demolition and shoring up your home will not increase its value as much as it costs (only the new construction will), the total cost of the remodeling will often be considerably greater than the value added to your home. Since much of the money you will spend on remodeling will be lost, your bank’s appraiser will be unlikely to justify a loan for the full cost of remodeling unless you already have a lot of equity in your home or a large down payment. And should you decide to sell your home, you will likely lose some of the money you spent remodeling it.
Since every room in your new home can be designed to be accessible and located where you want it, you will need to make fewer compromises to get the features and functions you want.
Because the remodeler will have to work with your existing structure, he might not be able change the home sufficiently to give you enough of what you need. For example, the remodeler might not be able to locate the accessible bathroom where it would most benefit you.
Efficient Use of Space
Your new home will provide you with the rooms you need without wasting space.
When remodeling your home, you will often have to give up some existing rooms so that the needed features and functional space can be added. For example, one of your existing bedrooms might have to be donated to the remodeling cause so that your hallways, doors, and bathrooms can be widened. When the work is done, you may feel that you have lost valuable space.
Attractive and Functional Landscaping
The site of your new home will be graded and landscaped in ways that are esthetically pleasing as well as usable.
When remodeling your home, you will sometimes have to settle for site work and landscaping that is less attractive. With your foundation, driveway, and walkways already in place, the remodeler is limited in how he can make your site more accessible without detracting from its appearance (often with long ramps) and adding considerably to the cost.
Lower Architect Fees, Custom Design
Whether you wish to customize a builder’s standard plan or design a completely new custom plan, a modular home builder’s fees will be substantially less than those required for a sizable remodeling project.
When remodeling your home for accessibility, you will often are best served by hiring an experienced architect to design a remodeling plan.
Home and Lot Matched in Size
You will be able to match a building lot of appropriate size with a new home that is as big as you need and your budget allows.
When remodeling, your design choices will be limited by the size of your home and your lot. If your home is too small, and your lot does not allow for easy expansion, which can happen in city lots, your design options will be limited.
Right Sized Home
When building a new home of your choice, you will end up with a home that is neither too big nor too small.
If your existing home is already bigger than you need, your remodeled home will almost certainly be too big. If your existing home is not too big before remodeling, but the remodeler is forced to add rooms in order to meet your needs, your remodeled home may become too big. For example, if you have all of the bedrooms that you need, but they are all on the second floor and you need a first floor master bedroom suite, you will be forced to build an extra bedroom.
Lower Energy Costs
Your new home will be considerably more energy efficient than your remodeled home.
Your remodeled home will usually have higher energy costs. Older homes were not built as energy efficient as new homes are today. Often the budget for remodeling won’t allow for improving the energy efficiency, since to insulate all of the walls and replace all of the windows can be expensive. In addition, older homes have very high amounts of air infiltration (leaks around the windows, doors, and electrical receptacles), and air infiltration is the number one cause of heat loss, even after insulation has been added and windows replaced.
Brand New Fixtures, Fully Featured
With your new home, everything will be brand new with the features you desire.
With older homes, your remodeling budget will require you to keep certain things you would prefer to replace. For example, although you might like to replace your fifteen year old appliances, the cost of the remodeling will probably prevent you from replacing them. In addition, your budget will often prevent you from affordably adding features that you would desire. For example, if you want to add central air conditioning, but you have hot water baseboard heat, you will need to add the duct work in addition to the air conditioning compressor, which will add substantially to the total cost.
Lower Maintenance Costs, Extended Warranty
Because your new home will come with new materials, it will require minimal maintenance. Furthermore, all the parts will be protected by a warranty. In fact, your entire modular home will come with a ten year structural warranty.
Even after your older home is remodeled, it will have higher maintenance costs. All areas and components of your home that are not completely replaced will continue to bear the effects of wear and tear. In addition, the only items that will have a warranty will be the ones installed by the remodeler.
For more information about building a fully accessible Universally Designed modular home, see Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home. For more information about building an accessible modular in-law addition, also known as an Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO), see Building a Modular Addition also in my book.
Homebuyers are often concerned about having their concrete foundation poured in the winter. They fear the cold will damage the concrete. If they fall behind schedule with their modular planning and design, and this makes it impossible for their contractor to pour the foundation before winter, they tell him to delay the start until spring. Of course that’s when lots of people want their home built. This is one reason why spring projects often take longer than late summer and fall projects.
You Can Safely Pour a Concrete Foundation in the Winter
Actually there are safe, effective ways to pour a concrete foundation in cold weather. They all begin with protecting the ground beneath the foundation from frost, snow, and ice. This is done before winter begins by covering the ground with hay and covering the hay with tarps or plastic sheets.
The next steps are done by the concrete and foundation companies. Their responsibility is to prepare the concrete foundation so it’s suitable for your site’s weather conditions, primarily cold temperatures. They accomplish this by raising the temperature of the water and adding more cement to the mix. They also control the amount of air entrapped and entrained in the concrete. In addition, they add accelerators to speed up the curing process.
After the concrete foundation is poured, the chemical reaction created by the accelerant generates heat in the concrete. The heat helps the concrete to cure before it freezes. But this only works if the heat is retained. This is done, first, by leaving the wood cement forms in place for several days; they can be removed the next day during warmer temperatures. In addition, the cement and forms are covered with insulating blankets, which also reduce moisture loss. Finally, if the temperature is too cold, a heater and enclosure are used to maintain temperatures above freezing.
Knowing that you can safely pour a cement foundation in the winter rather than waiting for spring allows you to take advantage of what is usually a slower time for your builder. This in turn enables you to move into your new home in the spring.
Build a Modular Home to Protect Your Home from Inclement Weather
Building in the winter is a particularly viable option when building a modular home, since the modules are built in a climate controlled factory. When the modules arrive on site and are placed on the foundation, they are already “closed in” from the inclement winter weather. So while you can safely pour a concrete foundation in the winter, the only way to build your home protected from the snow, ice, and rain is to build a modular home.
For more information about pouring a concrete foundation in cold temperatures, see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
Electrical Outlets for Your Holiday Decorations
Now that the holiday season is upon us I’m reminded of one of our homebuyers who added electrical outlets under every window so she could display her Christmas candle lights without extension cords. She also put two electrical outlets in the stairwell to the second floor so she could string a lighted garland along the railing. And of course she included some extra electrical outlets on the outside of her home for lighting up Santa’s sleigh and reindeer. Recalling my homebuyer’s foresight got me thinking about how important it is for homebuyers to think about how they’ll use their home before finalizing their modular home electrical plan.
Today’s modular homes come with many more electrical outlets than older homes, since the building code requires them to be spaced close together for safety reasons. But this doesn’t mean you’ll have enough electrical outlets. Nor does it mean they’ll be located where you need them.
Electrical Outlets for Special Purposes
If you’re a craft person, for example, you may want extra electrical outlets in your special room. You may also want to raise some outlets a couple of feet for your convenience. The same suggestions apply to an office. You’ll want to make sure you have enough electrical outlets for your computer, printer, copier, shredder, charger, etc. Adding electrical outlets in a garage that will do double duty as a work area is also a smart move.
If your living room or family room furniture will not be placed along a wall, you’ll want to include some floor outlets to power the lamps you locate away from the walls. This is especially true with today’s open floor plans, since they provide fewer opportunities to mount outlets on walls. If you’re using window air conditioners, it might help to locate electrical outlets below the window. If you enjoy barbecues and lawn parties, you should include extra electrical outlets on the exterior of your home.
Before approving your modular home for construction, give some thought to whether you should include additional electrical outlets in other places for other purposes. Take advantage of the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive to have the manufacturer add them when it builds your modular home.