What I Learned at the Louisville Manufactured Housing Show

Ever since I started my career in the manufactured housing industry, I have heard about the big manufactured housing show held in Louisville Kentucky each January. Last week, at the invitation of my friends at the Michigan Manufactured Housing Association, I finally got to see it for myself.

I must admit, it was quite impressive. There were almost 60 homes (both modular and manufactured) on display, and plenty of venders to keep me supplied in pens and key chains for years to come.

Photo courtesy of The Louisville Show

 

The big surprise was how many folks approached me to talk about problems with installation. Specifically, problems with their local code officials. If you have followed this blog over the past 3 years, you know that I have written on this topic several times. But attending the show, and hearing from so many people with similar stories about code enforcement, I knew we should talk about it once more. Here is a sampling of what installers, community owners and retailers were talking about:

  • Code officials requiring vertical tie downs for manufactured homes in Wind Zone 1.
  • Local requirement to add smoke alarms to the home.
  • Code officials requiring licensed plumbers to perform all plumbing tests, and the assembly of the shipped loose drain lines.
  • Requiring blower door testing to every manufactured home.
  • Code officials that refuse to sign off on required forms (namely HUD 309) for fear of being penalized.

While individually, these issues might not seem like much, collectively they illustrate that 44 years after the manufactured housing program began, we have done a terrible job educating the code enforcement community on manufactured housing.

So, what can we do about it? Plenty!

First, we need to start involving the industry leaders (trade association and manufacturers) when these issues come up. All too often, installers and retailers are quick to do whatever the local code official asks, just to pacify him or her. In other words, we go along just to get along. This needs to stop. With the support and involvement of the folks at the top, we should be looking at ways to educate and win over the local code officials.

Next, we need support from HUD. As you all know, fewer and fewer states are participating in the manufactured housing programs along with HUD. Too many of the ones that are participating have drifted very far away from the program principals. Whenever given the opportunity, we need to encourage HUD be more visible with every state government. Not just with the people who run the programs, but rather with those who establish the policies…such as the Governors and Cabinet Secretaries. Additionally, we need to encourage HUD to start assuring that all states are held to the same expectation. Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats!

Also, we need to continue to become the experts on manufactured housing. By now you all should have a copy of the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards, and if you don’t have a copy, Click Here. Next, you need to actually read it! Become the expert that the code officials can come to whenever they have a question!

The same is true with the home installation instructions. Read them! When you find things that seem odd, talk to the factory QC department and engineers (not sales or service staff). Maybe they can be changed or better explained!

Know the importance of the building permit application process. Organize your documents with a Manufactured Housing Building Permit Coversheet (click on the link).  Forget the single page pier print, and start submitting (and following) DAPIA approved details to support everything you do to assure a properly installed home.

Finish the whole process off by keeping good records and completing the Installation checklist. Here is one I created should you want to use it:  Expanded Manufactured Housing Installers Checklist PDF!

Maybe I will see you at the show next year!

The HIGHS and lows of 2019!

As we start a new year, I thought I would look back and assemble a list of some of the manufactured housing installation highs and lows from 2019.

Let’s start with the HIGHS:

  1. Installer record keeping is catching on! I visited with quite a few installers last year and was pleasantly surprised to see how many of them met me at the job site with a job folder in hand! It was no surprise that the installations done by these professional installers were some of the best I have ever seen in over 30 years of inspecting installation!
  2. Improved skirting application. Thankfully, I ran across only a few installations where the vinyl skirting was fastened directly through the bottom course of vinyl siding. Several installers were attaching 2 x 4’s to the bottom of the home to attach the skirting, others used Skirt Back’r (Tiedown Engineering) or something similar. Add that to the homes where the manufacturer provided a double starter strip, or extended the wall sheathing below the siding, and it is pretty clear that we are getting better at skirting attachment.

    Consider flashing to prevent water from seeping behind skirting channel.

I need to add a note of caution when talking about skirting attachment. Be sure you don’t create an area where water can seep behind the skirting channel, especially if the manufacturer extends the wall sheathing below the siding. In that case, you should consider installing some flashing to keep water from getting into the joint.

  1. Improved Site grading. More installers are bringing a couple lifts of fill dirt to the job sites to better groom the site for proper drainage.

    A couple lifts of fill dirt is often needed to grade a site!

  2. New resources are starting to emerge. Such as the construction blog and quarterly newsletter from Clayton  Click here to visit their site. And as we discussed last week, the availability of several installation manuals on-line is also a big step forward!

The LOWS:

  1. The Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee met twice in 2019 (in April and in October). This generally would be a good thing, except the committee membership still does not include installers. This committee is responsible for the development of the vast majority of the current installation program requirements and now they are again looking at additional changes to the installation process. The failure of installer representation is completely illogical. As I like to say, if you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu! And installers are still not at the table!

Should you want to express your thoughts to the Consensus Committee, you can email HUD at: mhcc@hud.gov or the contractor that administers the operation of the committee at: mhcc@homeinnovation.com

If you would like to learn more about the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee, check out their information on the HUD website: Click here for HUD MHCC

 

  1. The loss of states participating in the manufactured housing program should be seen as a huge warning sign for the industry. In the past year, New Jersey completely ended their relationship with the manufactured housing program and Pennsylvania dropped their installation program. In addition, far too many of the remaining states have drifted very far away from the basic program principals. The lack of strong and informed state participation undermines the sustainability of the overall program. The manufactured housing program does not exist because of written laws or regulations, but rather because of a federal-state-local government partnership that understands, respects and defends the manufactured housing program. This partnership makes these laws and regulations come to life.
  2. The continued stubbornness of the industry. There are still too many installers that operate under the “we have always done it that way” mentallity. Far too many industry professionals continue to use negative terminology, such as “mobile homes” and even “trailers”. All too often we are reluctant to have a business-like discussion with our building code officials because they might get mad. Keep in mind, just like swimming, if we don’t keep moving forward, we will eventually sink!
  3. The service side of our industry remains focused on fixing problems, as opposed to preventing them from ever occurring. Before patching cracked drywall, adjusting cabinets or counters, or resetting windows or doors, service technicians should be called on to identify the source of the problem. Rarely do factories provide meaningful feedback regarding improper installation, and as a result, we miss out on opportunities to improve.

 

Moving into this next decade, I believe that there is a lot of potential for the manufactured housing industry. Potential to increase our share of the housing market, potential for installers to improve their bottom line, potential to become the housing solution for a country that is desperate for high quality, yet affordable housing. But…if we don’t expect more from our industry partners and ourselves, this potential will never be realized. So, let start by building on our “Highs” and working to eliminate our “Lows”.