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!

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