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!

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.

Education of Code Officials!

Whether we like it or not, state or local building code enforcement impacts every home we install. Sometimes it takes a big issue to make us feel the impact. For example, when HUD cracked down on attaching garages on manufactured homes, a lot of folks were upset and there was a lot of finger pointing trying to place the blame. The installers, community owners, retailers, and manufacturers that got caught up in the crack-down were potentially subject to penalties that could have cost them their livelihood. But from the very start, the local building code officials who permitted (and in many cases still do permit) garage attachment without giving a second thought, were in the best position to question or even stop this practice.

I recall a very heated exchange with a code official and trying to get him to understand that even though the manufactured home was exempt from the state building code, unauthorized alterations and additions to a manufactured home (especially ones as significant as attaching a garage) are not exempt. He maintained the position that he had no authority over anything regarding manufactured homes beyond issuing building permits.

Even today I still run across far too many code officials that believe that just entering a manufactured home exceeds their authority.

A local building code official taking the opposite approach can be just as problematic. A code official that imposes his own requirements with no regard for the manufacturers installation instructions can cause huge problems. Folks may think that as long you don’t “make him mad” that is all well and good. That is until a new sheriff comes to town and puts a stop to everything!  How do you convince the local code official that his long-held approach to anchoring, foundations, utility testing (just to name a few) not only violates the building code, but can actually harm the overall performance and durability of the home?

And there are still places areas in the country without any code enforcement. The problem with no code enforcement is that your competition will continue cutting corners and costs through non-compliant installations, additions, and so on. Nobody wants to lose sales to shoddy installation, but concrete costs money!

If you are in one of the 14 states where HUD oversees the installation of new manufactured homes, your relationship with the local code will take on more importance. You’ll likely struggle to explain to the code official the differences between new and relocated manufactured homes. You may be hard pressed to find a local code official that is willing to sign off on HUD forms. And most importantly, you can only hope that your code official accepts the same installation methods as the professional engineer, DAPIA, or whomever else you hire to sign the HUD form. How do satisfy them all! Next will come someone to monitor the installation! Fingers crossed!

So, what should we do? Is this a legitimate problem that we should start discussing, or do we let sleeping dogs lie??

I contend that if we can get all the local building code enforcers on the same page, here is what we can expect in return:

  • A level (ok…a slightly more level) playing field. It is hard to compete when you are digging footings to frost depth and your competition is barely removing the top soil! But if the code official knows the installation standard, and that he has the authority to oversee the foundation construction, it won’t take too long until the “dirt sets” are a thing of the past
  • Better installations and reduced liability. If we can get code officials to expect the proper documents to properly install the home, instead of just the “pier print”, then as installers we will not only be forced to improve our record keeping (which is the most important thing an installer can do to reduce liability), but also improve the overall installation.
  • Predictable costs and expectations. Just think how much more efficient we could be if you could install every home the same, regardless of which township, county, borough, or burg the home was being sited. It is extremely frustrating to hear how this township requires anchors be wet set in the concrete footings and that township requires insulated drain lines. There should be very minimal variations as a result of local code influence. But until such time as the code officials are taught that there is a comprehensive installation design to be followed for each and every installation, we will be at the whim of each and every code official
  • Greater market share. Did you ever ask an auto mechanic for advice before buying a car? Or ask a bartender for recommendations on a good drink. If you don’t think home buyers ask code officials about which housing product to buy, you are mistaken. If a code official knew that there are mechanisms to address problems, there are instructions and checklists that will assure proper installations, and when properly installed a manufactured home will deliver, safe, durable, high quality affordable housing, just think how many new customers we will find

Ok, I think I made my point. It is time to start educating code officials on the proper handling of manufactured housing. Let make it happen!

Working With Code Officials-Part 1

Every time I thought about posting on the topic of working with code officials, I would get bogged down in the sheer number of issues that need to be discussed. Is the code official allowed inside the home? What can they inspect? Why is code enforcement so inconsistent? Why are we afraid of upsetting the code official? Shouldn’t the code officials know installation better than me?

There is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding, misinformation, failed communication, and worst of all, mistrust between the code enforcers and our industry.  With all of that in mind, I felt the best approach was to start with a series of short posts that hopefully will all come together and make sense.

So, to quote the Wizard of Oz, it is best to start at the beginning. For manufactured housing the beginning starts at PREEMPTION. If you are not familiar with this term, this is your lucky day!

The word “preemption” simply means that one thing takes the place of another. Think about how a breaking news story “preempts” your favorite TV show! So, the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards (HUD Code) takes the place of (preempts) the state and local building code.

 

So, what do you think this means to the code official?  Basically, he is being asked to issue a building permit for a manufactured home without doing the things he would normally do for any other house. But the typical code official has a lot of questions. Has anyone properly reviewed the building plans? Has anyone conducted any inspections during the construction process? Is this HUD code any good? Has anyone done the things he would have done if the home was being built on site?

The code official needs education! However, we do a very poor job explaining the manufactured housing program and how manufactured homes are likely more highly scrutinized and inspected than any conventional constructed home. Because of the strength of manufactured housing program, the code officials can have confidence in homes we install.

A Manufactured home has earned the right of preemption from local building code!

Not taking full advantage of the preemptive nature of the HUD Code adds unnecessary costs to the installation of the home and does nothing to improve the image of manufactured housing industry.  If we earn the confidence of the local code enforcers, we will earn the confidence of the home buying public. And it all starts with knowing how to answer all of the code official’s questions. Explain how the plans were reviewed and stamped as proof of compliance. Explain the in-plant inspection processes, and the accountability that is in place to assure that the manufactured house is not just affordable, but safe, durable and high quality. Explain to the code officials that the manufactured housing program works on behalf of the building code official.

We need all code officials to understand that they don’t need to worry about the rough framing, plumbing, electrical and other construction inspections. All of these inspections were already conducted on their behalf.  While they can’t review all of the building plans, the plans were reviewed on their behalf. If something were to go wrong, there are mechanisms in place to get things corrected.  As a result, the code official can have confidence in every new manufactured home that comes into their town. The problem is that a lot of code officials don’t know how the program works! They need training, and the installers are in the best position to start training them!

Here are just a few of the things to consider:

·         Installers must know the installation manual! Stop saying “we always did it that way” and start following the manual, making positive changes to our installation procedures.

·         Get involved with the building permit application process. Submit details, designs or instructions that have been plan reviewed and stamped. That means a stamp from one of the agencies that does plan review for the manufactured housing program; RADCO, PFS, HWC, TRA, NTA, NEB (whoever is listed on the data plate).

·         Know the HUD code. Be able to explain why the drain lines under the home do not need insulated. Be able to explain why ARC Fault protection is not required. Be able to explain flash rings, bonding wires, closed combustion appliances, limited combustible materials at the cooking range area …just to name a few.

Ok, that is enough for now. But stayed tuned, Part 2 on this topic will post next week!