How to Train Your Code Official

The one thing that all manufactured home installers and retailers have in common, is that they are all impacted by the state or local building code officials and their approach to manufactured housing. Whether a code official oversteps his authority by requiring unnecessary code provisions, minimizes his role by simply issuing permits and occupancy certificates without any oversight, or if they don’t issue building permits for manufactured homes at all, our work is impacted and far too often, negatively.

Code officials that do not understand the manufactured housing program, ultimately add unnecessary costs to the home and limits our ability to provide high quality, durable, safe and affordable housing.

Today, I want to talk a little about what installers and retailers can do to educate code officials and as a result, better position the manufactured housing industry for the future.

The first thing to remember is that the vast majority of code officials receive no formal training in regards to the manufactured housing program(s). Except for the few states that specifically require code officials to receive training on manufactured homes, very few code officials understand manufactured homes. The industry does a poor job explaining how the manufactured housing program works on behalf of the state/local code enforcers. As a result, we are left with a patchwork of requirements which often result in inferior installations, and also undermine the overall affordability of manufactured housing.

To compound matters, installers, retailers, and manufacturers are reluctant to have business-like discussions with code enforcers and as a result, nothing changes. The industry folks I talk with generally adopt one of two extremes when it comes to this relationship (neither of which is correct). Either they object to the code official simply entering a manufactured home, or they are of the opinion that it is easier, cheaper, or faster to just do everything the building code official asks.  No matter which approach you take, it ultimately supports the notion that either we have something to hide, or that the construction and/or installation of manufactured homes is substandard and needs the code enforcer to improve on the homes design.

Here are a few things that installers and retailers must do to start to get code enforcers to view manufactured housing for what it is: sophisticated, code compliant, safe, high quality, durable and yet affordable housing.

Stop using the term “mobile home”. If it was built before June, 1976, fine, call it a “mobile home”. But today we produce and install “manufactured homes” and the differences are significant. If you want state and local code officials and the home buying public to think that the industry of today is producing and installing the same product that we did over 40+ years ago, then keep using outdated terms. But if we ever have hopes of getting people to understand that the manufactured home of today compares favorably to every other housing product on the market, then we must use proper terminology. 

Accept that you as the installer are the primary source of information for the code official. If you start to improve the building permit application process, you can begin to drive your code official to better understand our program. For example:

  • Provide a copy of your installer license with every installation. The code official is the first line of defense in stopping unlicensed installers. Presenting your license with every permit application, supports the notion that only trained professionals should be installing manufactured homes.      
  • Provide DAPIA approved details (from the installation manuals) to the code official to used to conduct the inspections.  Single page, unapproved pier (or footer) prints do not illustrate that the real installation drawings and details have already been reviewed and approved. Far too many code officials don’t understand that the plan review has already been performed for them!
  • On the other extreme, it seems that too many people just give the code official the entire installation manual and expect them to make sense of it. We should organize the DAPIA approved designs needed for the installation so that they are easily followed. Utilizing a cover sheet is one way to do that. This not only educates the code officials, it is a great tool for installers as well. Click here for a sample that you can use: MH Building Permit Coversheet
  • Be present at the inspections. There is no better time to provide training than this. Bring the DAPIA approved designs (and maybe your copy of the Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standards) with you and whenever a question is asked, refer to the designs or standards.

 At this point, I know many of you are thinking that you would rather not make waves, and that the code official won’t listen, and a ton of other reasons as to why you prefer the status quo. But, like it or not, the industry is changing and what worked for us in 1976 is not going to work tomorrow.

I was encouraged to learn folks from HUD and SEBA are speaking at a national meeting of code officials in September to discuss installation.  I have been conducting code official training for the past several years, and I can tell you, they are receptive to the message when we present it properly.

Bottom line is that either we start driving the state/local code officials to understand and respect our program, or manufactured housing will go the way of typewriters, telephone booths, and record albums.

 

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The Housing Shortage in Nebraska & the Role of Manufactured Housing

Friends,

The article Why Nebraska Has An Amazing Jobs Market But Nobody Is Moving There was published in the WASHINGTON POST last night, and is worth a look (click on the highlighted text above).

Ultimately, it makes us look at the cost of installation as impacting affordability.

I think you will find it interesting.

Let’s Talk About Bottom Board

I know that all too often we take for granted the importance of that black, plastic-like material that stretches under the floor of manufactured homes. Some folks, (and the manufacturer’s installation instructions), call it bottom board. Others call it “underbelly” or “belly board” or some other name, but for today, lets just call it “bottom board”.

Obviously the bottom board is needed to secure and protect the floor insulation, and keep critters out of the floor cavity. But that is only half of the story.

I am certain that you have had your customers ask you why the holes cut in the floor decking for drain lines are often over cut. Why does the factory cut 2 ½” holes for a 2” pipe? What about the big hole for the bathtub “P” trap? We all have seen homeowners stuff insulation around these pipes in an effort to reduce heat loss. But is this necessary?  Not really!

Leaking “P” trap was fixed, but the installer failed to replace the insulation and repair the bottom board!

If you look under the floor decking, you will see cables, drain lines, water supply lines and most likely, un-insulated metal heat ducts. These un-insulated heat ducts keep the entire floor system warm in the winter, and prevent the water pipes from freezing. Since the floor cavity is in a sense “conditioned space” those holes in the floor decking are not a path of heat loss or air infiltration. So, what keeps the outside, unconditioned air from getting inside of the floor cavity? The Bottom Board!!

Water lines in the floor. Be sure to replace the insulation and access panels to keep from freezing!

The bottom board acts as the pressure envelope, which is the primary air barrier to limit air leakage. With that in mind, we should start thinking about the bottom board as less of a part of the transportation system, and more of a thermal component which is critical to the overall performance of the manufactured home’s energy efficiency!

The red line represents the pressure envelope that is intended to contain the conditioned air inside the home.

Consider the impact of every hole, slice, cut, tear or missing access panel of the bottom board.  They all allow unconditioned air to enter the floor cavity. This unconditioned air can cause significant damage to the home. In summer months, it can cause condensation to form on the heat ducts, and promote the growth of mold and mildew. In the winter, it can cause higher heating bills, and could impact consumer comfort.

The manufacturer’s installation instructions all require the installer to “Repair and Seal Bottom Board”.  For new homes, make sure you inspect the bottom board upon delivery, and report any holes, tears or road damage to the manufacturer. If you need to make any repairs, follow the information in the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Replace missing, wet, damaged or dirty insulation. Allowing wet insulation to dry out does not make it as good as new, it must be replaced. Just be sure to maintain the same R value as was originally installed in the floor.

Tape over lag bolts with an approved bottom board tape.

Make certain that the material you use to make any repairs or patches are appropriate for the job. I know a lot of installers use “Flex-Mend” with great success, and it is approved for this application.  If the area to repair is too large, use staples and a backer board of ¼” plywood or similar materials.  On multi-section homes, you should tape over the lags used to secure the floors together.

Be sure to clean the surfaces where the patch is to be applied. The HUD Code clearly states that any patches must be just as durable as the original bottom board material, see 24 CFR 3280.305(g)(6). Duct tape is not approved for bottom board repairs!

Duct Tape is not an approved material for repairing bottom board.

 

If you are a professional installer that is using the Complete Installation Checklist for every home you install, you already know that there is a line item for bottom board holes and tears.

I hope that installers, retailers,  community owners, and consumers are on the lookout for cable television, telephone, or satellite dish service technicians that have no respect for the importance of the bottom board under our homes. Their all too common practice of slicing open the bottom board to fish their cables and wires, must stop!

Bottom Board cut in two places for fishing cables.

Finally, many savvy industry professionals are now performing annual service inspections on their customer’s homes. For those of you that provide this service, make sure bottom board repair/patching is on your inspection checklist. If you don’t offer annual service inspections, maybe you should. It can be a money maker for you, and a money saver for your customers.