A Few Basics of the Federal Program that Manufactured Home Professionals Should Know, Part 1

When I was in junior high school, we conducted an experiment to see how a particular statement could get twisted as it was passed along from person to person. After being whispered across the classroom, the information had very little resemblance to the original statement. We immediately learned not to trust everything that you hear.

I think the same thing happens in the manufactured housing industry. Often what we learn about the manufactured housing program gets passed down to us from our supervisors, colleagues, regulators and others. And just like that experiment in school, the facts often get twisted if not completely forgotten.

With this in mind, I think we should take a look at a few of the provisions in the manufactured housing law and regulations, that well intended professionals have a responsibility to know.

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One of the things I share in all of my training classes is that every new manufactured home MUST comply with all applicable standards; without exception! However, sometimes folks in our industry will enter into a contract or waiver with the consumer, attempting to create an exception to the program requirements (See Who Really Owns the Tires & Axles? for an example). If this is you, check out the following section of the Manufactured Housing Construction & Safety Standards Act.

§5421. Prohibition on waiver of rights.
The rights afforded manufactured home purchasers under this chapter may not be waived, and any provision of a contract or agreement entered into after August 22, 1974, to the contrary shall be void.

That seems pretty clear to me, a new manufactured home must fully meet the code and program requirements, without exception. Even if a consumer signs a waiver, the federal law renders that waiver void!

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A few times I have encountered folks attempting to create a loophole in the program by misconstruing the definition of “purchaser”. Their thinking is that they could buy a new manufactured home from a manufacturer or retailer, becoming the first purchaser and re-sell the home to the consumer, thereby ending the protections of the manufactured housing program to the consumer. Well, take a look at the definition of “Purchaser” in the Manufactured Home Procedural & Enforcement Regulation 24 CFR 3282.7(aa).

Purchaser means the first person purchasing a manufactured home in good faith for purposes other than resale.

If your purpose is to re-sell the home, you are not the purchaser.

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If you still say that you are in the “mobile home” business, as opposed to the “manufactured home” business, I’ll guess that you still wear leisure suits, listen to ABBA, and drive a Ford Pinto. There hasn’t been a “mobile home” produced since June 15, 1976. Except for modular homes (constructed to a state adopted building code), any single-family home built in a factory in the past 43 years is a “Manufactured Home”. Check out 24 CR 3282.8(a)

Using outdated or misleading terms to the purchaser can have unintended consequences. Better get with the times and use the correct terminology!

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Have you ever been told that a local building code official is not permitted inside a manufactured home? I have heard that claim for years, and it is not true! What the regulations actually say is that a building code official may not inspect a new manufactured home for compliance with the HUD Code. Basically, the code official should trust that the inspection process in the factory was sufficient (see 24 CFR 3282.11(b) of the regulations for more detail).

However, a code official entering the home is not a problem. I contend that a code official should enter every home to check the data plate information. And since the HUD Code doesn’t address certain construction standards that many other residential building codes require, the local code inspector is within his rights to look for items like carbon monoxide alarms, or baluster spacing (if the home has railings installed inside the home) to name a  few.

I have always advocated that every manufactured home professional should have their own copy of the Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standards. Without a copy of the HUD code, you will never be able to determine if the code official has exceeded his local or state authority and started to tread on the federal program.

CLICK HERE to access the HUD Manufactured Housing web site to download a copy of the HUD as well as the federal law and regulations!

It might be a good idea to explore more of these type of issues in future posts. Please keep in mind, these posts are my personal opinion, and are not to be construed as anything more.

Who is Responsible for Drywall Cracks?

If you have been installing or selling manufactured homes for any length of time, you have likely had to deal with problems with the drywall in the home. We all have seen manufactured homes with loose wall panels, cracked ceilings, popped nails, broken mud joints and the like. No doubt you have been told by the manufacturer’s service department that they are not responsible for drywall, leaving it for you to repair. Maybe the manufacturer had you sign a written agreement that absolved them from the responsibility for drywall problems. Maybe you were told that drywall cracks are not covered by the warranty. Often, transportation is blamed as opposed to the manufacturing process.

But should installers and retailers assume the responsibility for drywall problems? Well, let me give you my take on the issue.

Obviously, improper site grading or a poorly constructed foundation can lead to issues with the drywall. And any problems that are the result of improper installation should be the responsibility of the installer.

But if the installation is correct, the manufacturer should get involved. And the first thing the manufacturer should do is to  determine if the drywall failure is strictly cosmetic or if it represents a code related issue. Without getting too deep into the details, here are a few code requirements that depend on proper drywall application.

In many manufactured homes (especially single section homes), the drywall on the ceiling is called upon to help the home safely  distribute the wind loads. Also, the ceiling board provides fire protection in terms of meeting prescribed flame spread limitations. It also provides both a thermal and vapor barrier. These are all code related requirements.

Structural failure of a ceiling panel

What about the drywall on the walls of the home? On the sidewalls, the wall board is often called upon to add rigidity and strength. Often the end walls and certain interior partition walls are designed as shear walls. These shear walls use the drywall panels to prevent the wall framing from racking, which allows them to transfer wind forces into the floor system of the home. Just like the ceiling, the drywall on the walls also meet flame spread requirements and keep the conditioned air inside the home where is belongs. These issues are much more than cosmetic.

So what is a cosmetic issue as opposed to a structural, code related issue? A hairline crack in the joint compound at a panel seam is unsightly, but generally not a structural issue. However an irregular shaped crack above a door or window, panels that have pulled loose from the roof trusses or wall studs, or any fracture in the actual paper covering of the drywall would indicate a potential failure to meet the code, and should be forwarded to the manufacturer.

This crack could indicates the wall panel may be damaged.

By now you are likely thinking, what about transportation? The Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standard has already addressed this issue:

3280.903   General requirements for designing the structure to withstand transportation shock and vibration.

(a) The cumulative effect of highway transportation shock and vibration upon a manufactured home structure may result in incremental degradation of its designed performance in terms of providing a safe, healthy and durable dwelling. Therefore, the manufactured home shall be designed, in terms its structural, plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, to fully withstand such transportation forces during its intended life. (See §§3280.303(c) and 3280.305(a)).

So, if the drywall cannot survive being trucked from the factory to the job site, maybe the home was incapable of withstanding these transportation forces. The manufacturer should want to look into this to be sure that they are meeting the code. Bottom line, the next time you receive a new home and the drywall is broken, cracked or loose, be sure to document the condition and forward it to the manufacturer. And don’t be so quick to accept responsibility for problems that might not be yours!