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!

Manufactured Home Installations Are Changing!

The other day I received a call from a manufactured home retailer who was concerned because a code official refused to issue a building permit unless the installation documents were better organized. The code official wanted the installation details to be organized with a “Manufactured Home Building Permit Application Cover Page”. Other installers in the area had begun using this document to organize the pages, tables and charts from the home manufacturer’s installation manual instead of just using a pier print. As a result, this code official was so impressed that she now requires this cover page for all manufactured home permit applications.

If you are not familiar with the “Manufactured Home Building Permit Application Cover Page” click HERE. It is a simple one-page document where the installer can go through the manufacturer’s installation instructions to organize and detail the information needed for a proper installation. Plus, it is a great start to installer record keeping that is required for all new home installations. For more of an explanation on how this document can help you, click on this link to see the original post.  A Tool to Improve the Building Permit Application Process

This made me think, are there other improvements to manufactured housing installation that are starting to catch on? Well, yes there are!  Here are a few that I have recently observed:

Independently Supported Patio Covers and Carports

While monitoring several installations in Michigan, I was impressed to see how posts and columns were properly installed along the front and back of the carports and patio covers to assure they are independently supported. Just lagging the hanging rail to the home will overload the home, and can possibly lead to structural failure in a wind storm event. If you are still using the manufactured home to support these accessory structures, you need to watch this video HERE.

It clearly shows how attaching a carport, patio cover, or similar structure to a manufactured home (that was not designed for such an attachment), can lead to a structural failure of the home.

Example of a properly supported patio cover

Not only are installers in Michigan improving their installations, but here is a home in Pennsylvania where the porch roof supports itself and does not add additional loads on the home.

Porches Isolated From the Crawl Space

I have finally begun to see installations where the skirting or crawl space enclosure separates the porch area from the rest of the crawl space. We all know that water under the home is a huge problem, and rain water coming through floor decking boards and allowing this water to collect in the crawl space is a big problem.

Rain water coming through deck boards can lead to problems in the crawl space.

Finally, I have been seeing installations where barriers are provided to isolate the porch area from the rest of the crawl space, and the skirting around the porch is held above grade to allow any water that comes through the decking board to flow away from the home.

The lattice only serves to hide the piers and frame. It is installed to allow any water to flow away from the home.

 

Skirting Attachment

Attaching skirting directly on the siding of the home has been the conventional method of skirting application for years, simply because it is easy. However, this application has led to water infiltration, poor performance and appearance of the siding. It is extremely encouraging to see how many installers are now attaching skirting under the home.

Proper skirting attachment, prevents water infiltration and improved appearance.

 

Installation Check Lists

I am seeing quite a few installers have begun to use the installation check list, and have started to customize the enhanced checklist to better fit their particular installations. These checklists, along with the building permit cover page, go a long way to reduce the liability of the installer. Check out this post and download your own copy of the Expanded Installation Checklist.

Manufacturers Getting On Board

As reported in our last post, New Installer Resource & Upcoming Training Available, Clayton Homes started publishing a quarterly newsletter designed to improve installation. Also, I have seen that the Commodore Corp. has been providing their retailers/installers with some home specific foundation details to help streamline the installation process. I am sure that there are some other manufacturers doing similar things, and I hope more follow suit.

Bottom line, the installation process is slowly changing for the better. So, as a professional installer, you should want to be in front of these changes and use them to your advantage.

 

A Tool to Improve the Building Permit Application Process

Having just wrapped up a week of talking to building code officials in three different states, I was reminded of the importance of the building permit application process and how professional installers need to improve the flow of information between themselves and the building code officials. 

Far too many installers continue to pretend that the entire installation process for a manufactured home can be boiled down to a one-page pier print. Then complain if the code official doesn’t uniformly enforce installation requirements on other installers. The problem is that it is very difficult to organize the documents needed into a manageable sized packet of information. The typical installation manual is far too cumbersome and code officials are not going to spend time flipping through these 100+ page manuals for each permit application. Nor should they!

I thought if we could create a tool to help assemble a packet of designs, extracted from the manufacturer’s  installation instructions, it could streamline the process, focus on the important issues of support and stabilization and help eliminate bad actors from the business of manufactured home installation. This post is intended to help installers assemble just such an informational packet through the use of a cover-sheet to pull everything together! 

I know you don’t think you have the time to organize all the documents needed for a complete building permit application, or that the code official doesn’t want anymore then the one page pier print. But if we are ever going to move the manufactured housing industry and careers as professional installers forward, we need to look at the bigger picture when it comes to working with building code officials. 

Here are a few things to consider:

 Manufactured homes have gotten significantly more sophisticated over the years, yet our approach to working with the building code officials remains unchanged! If we want to improve the image of manufactured housing and attract a larger segment of the home buying public, we need to earn the confidence of the code officials.    

Getting familiar with charts like this is step #1 to a more professional installation

 As a trained and licensed professional installer, you should take charge of your installations by being in control of all of the documents needed to properly install the home. The way we have always done things in the past is probably wrong, out dated, and a waste of money and time. Housing designs have changed rapidly over the years, both installers and code officials must be on top of these changes. The only way to keep up with the changes is to make sure we are submitting and following current and pertinent installation documents with every permit application. We just lacked a tool to help installers organize the designs they need for a building permit. 

 Are there unlicensed installers stealing work from you? Once building code officials start seeing exactly what is to be expected for every building permit and subsequent installation, unlicensed installers will not be able to keep the pace.

 Most importantly, a properly applied for building permit eliminates variables and unknowns from the process and goes a long way in increasing profits and reducing liability.

Ok…here is a breakdown on what should be included at permit application as a minimum:

Identify the licensed installer! Show the code official your license so that they come to expect a licensed installer for every new manufactured home installation.

Identify the home by manufacturer as well as home width, side wall height, roof pitch, foundation type and for a few manufacturers, the size of the eaves along the sidewall.

A copy of the manufacturer’s DAPIA approved installation instructions that highlight the appropriate charts and tables needed to construct the foundation. If not submitting the entire installation manual and only the table of contents page shows the DAPIA stamp, provide a copy of that page as well.

Provide DAPIA approved documents from the manufacturer that show approval for any alternate installation methods you might be using (such as alternative anchoring system or shallow frost protected foundation).

Include the Complete Installation Checklist from the installation manual or a Expanded Installation Checklist (from October 16, 2017 post) to better address the installation.

Provide notes on the soil bearing capacity, frost depth and other site-specific considerations that are needed to assure a proper installation.

Typical Pier Print-an installation tool, but must be used with several other design details.

 

And finally, prepare a plan of the home where you can layout the proper location of piers. CAUTION! Pier prints from the manufacturer are not to be trusted. Every pier print refers the installer to the actual installation instructions.  You may want to use the pier print as a tool to help you determine pier locations, but never trust these pier prints without first reviewing it yourself! 

A sample of the permit application cover sheet.

The link below will take you to my attempt at developing a tool to help professional installers organize the documents needed for the building permit application. Feel free to modify it for your particular use.  Click Here for Manufactured Home Building Permit Application Cover Sheet

You will likely need to add some additional documents for the code official (plot plan, sewer tap permits, etc.), but the cover sheet in the above link, will help you get the home specific details in order. Consider making this a part of your typical building permit procedure. I promise, if you try it one time you will quickly see the benefit! 

    

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 2 Permitting Process

Last week we talked about why manufactured homes are preempt from local and state building codes. If you haven’t read that post, see my March 13th post “Working with Code Officials-Part 1” before going on.

Today we will begin to talk about the process of getting a building permit and how important it is to a successful project. I know many installers let others (customers, retailers or community owners) take sole responsibility for the building permit, but that needs to change. Your involvement in the permitting process helps assure the project gets off on the right foot. At the very least, make sure you get copies of the documents submitted for the building permit. Then you can know what the code official expects from you!

The first thing to understand is that the vast majority of code officials are only familiar with their particular building code (in most cases the International Residential Code (IRC) or some variation). The problem is that the IRC says very little about manufactured housing (Appendix E), and what it does say is not very useful. Rarely are building code officials trained in the Manufactured Home Installation Standard (24 CFR 3285) or Program (24 CFR 3286). So, it is up to you to get them on the right track. Here are a few steps to follow:

1.       Installer License. As of June 1, 2016, all manufactured home installers must be licensed or certified by their state or HUD everywhere in the country. It is a fair bet that a lot of code officials don’t know this or don’t care. You as a professional installer have invested time and money for your right to install manufactured homes. Make sure you present your credentials as a professional installer along with every permit application. Once the code official starts expecting to see installer licenses with every permit, it will start to weed out the impostors who steal business away from you!

2.       Manufacturer’s Installation Instructions. I generally see one of two scenarios: A one page pier print that has very little usable information; or an entire installation manual containing tons of charts and details that do not apply to the job you are doing. Keep in mind the code official should be inspecting to the designs presented with the application. Highlight the actual charts you need to determine things like pier spacing, footing size, anchor system, fastening charts for multi-section, etc. If you have a design that includes a statement like “If acceptable to the local authority having jurisdiction” that means the issue in question is not addressed in the HUD code and does not preempt the local code.

3.       Understand Local Requirements. If the local code official requires three copies of the permit application, have those three copies ready. If they require a plot plan for every job, have one ready. If they require special forms for manufactured housing, have them completed and ready to hand in! If you don’t know the local requirements, most municipalities have everything you need on their web site.

4.       HUD Requirements. If you are in one of the 13 states where HUD oversees new manufactured home installations (that number is subject to change), your code official may need to sign off on HUD Form 309 (HUD Manufactured Home Installation Certification and Verification Report). Don’t surprise him with this form and expect a signature. Make sure this form is part of the permit application. Also, for more information on HUD requirements, visit: www.maufacturedhousinginstallation.com

Last week, as a few of you pointed out, changing the attitudes of building code officials is not easy. I completely agree, but it has to start sometime and there is no better time than right now.

Stay tuned, next week we will take a look at the inspection process.

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!