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!

Would You Like That Super Sized?

Have you noticed that with almost everything you buy, you’re given the chance to enhance your purchase? You can add on a protection plan, increase the size, quality, or quantity on almost everything. Often the choice is centered around an opportunity to improve customer service, or to offer an upgrade beyond the manufacturer’s minimum requirements.  When the oil change shop checks your  tail lights, turn signals, or windshield wipers, isn’t it perceived as good customer service?  Many HVAC businesses offer annual service contracts as an improved customer service option. Evidently, some pretty enterprising folks have found a new way to profit by giving their customers choices, and maintaining relationships beyond the initial sale.

Ok, I understand financing is tough and money is tight, but let’s consider a few simple things that might lead you to increase your bottom line. Just as important, these ideas can improve the overall performance of the homes you install.

Marriage line gasket options:  The conventional gasket is fine, but imagine the savings in heating/cooling costs if you offer your customers an “Energy Upgrade”. Maybe a double gasket? Or maybe you spray foam along the marriage line that would eliminate all those little air leaks that cost the homeowners money and impact their comfort. Think about it as the “Good, Better, Best” approach. Given the choice, many of your customers may opt for an “Energy Upgrade” and be very willing to pay for it!

Foundation options:  Would some of your customers be willing to pay for a heavier foundation if giving the choice? Maybe a foundation designed for a 30 lbs. roof load even though you only need 20 lbs. foundation.  Or maybe a 40 lbs. foundation for a 30 lbs. area? Several manufacturers overbuild their homes to achieve a more structural substantial home. Why don’t installers/retailers consider offering similar choices?

Anchoring (or stabilizing) options:  You could offer the conventional ground anchor and straps, or an upgrade to one of the more modern, high tech, steel bracing systems. Give your customers a choice!

Right now you are probably thinking, these ideas are geared more towards retailers at the initial sale, and that is true.  But what about some after market opportunities?

I think a lot of our customers would be willing to pay to have a professional installer visit their home once a year and perform an annual foundation inspection. Inspect the support piers for cracked blocks, or loose shims. Check the tension on the anchor straps. Examine the bottom board for holes, and while you are at it, look over the ground vapor barrier. Are the downspout elbows, leaders and splash blocks still in place? Is the heat duct crossover still air tight? Look over the roof shingles and check the flashing and other penetrations. And while you are there, test the GFCI, smoke alarms and check the dryer vent!

The “Complete Installation Checklist” that you already use to confirm the installation is correct, can be exactly the tool you need to make clear what you would inspect, and how to document your findings. See my post “A Very Valuable Tool” from January 6, 2017.

I am certain many of your customers would love to have piece of mind that their home will continue to deliver the quality, durability, affordability and safety that manufactured housing is all about!  And maybe the person to deliver that piece of mind is you!

Working With Code Officials Part 3-Inspections

Today we will look at the last piece of the puzzle on local code officials: The Final Inspection. That last hurdle to get the much-anticipated “Certificate of Occupancy”.

The local code enforcers I work with typically require two inspections for manufactured housing:

  1. A footing/site grading inspection
  2. A final inspection.

Not to say that sometimes additional inspections aren’t needed, but for a typical pier set, two inspections should be sufficient. Here are four things for the professional installer to consider going into the inspection phase of an installation:

  1. Don’t cover your work before the inspection!

If you want a bad relationship with your code official, go ahead and pour your concrete before the footer inspection. Remember to schedule your work with the inspector in mind!

  1. Be present at every inspection.

This is extremely important. It is akin to being on trial without showing up in court! In fact, I suggest that the installer actually direct the inspection! Trust me, I have been audited, inspected, examined, and interrogated more times than I can remember, but in each and every case, I did my very best to set the tone and direction for whatever type of oversight or inspection is occurring.

You can set the tone of the inspection by simply showing off your work.  Explain how you determined the footing sizes. Explain how the home has pier savers and that you don’t need piers at the patio door, but that the triple ganged window needs pier support. Explain how the anchoring system you use takes care of the end wall anchors. Just start with keeping the inspector engaged, and soon he will start having confidence in you, and that will pay dividends on future projects.

BUT…you MUST be present at the inspection!

3.  Have the installation details and instructions at the job site to be used during the inspections.

In my opinion, a good inspector will inspect against the documents that were provided for the permit application. Not just walk around the job site and point out what he doesn’t like.  Having these instructions with you helps eliminate confusion, and as an installer who does the job right, it helps educate the local inspector in the proper way to install manufactured homes.

If the code enforcer points out what he feels is a problem, your first reaction should be to refer to the instructions to verify the issue one way or the other. Don’t just do something because the code official told you to, stick to the designs, charts, instructions, etc. If the code official is wrong, you need to tactfully and calmly show him why you believe you are correct. Keep in mind, this is a business and we need to have a business-like approach.

Remember, if there is a problem with the installation of a manufactured home, the installer bears the responsibility, not the code official!

  1. Utilize the “Complete Installation Checklist”.

If you have been following this blog, or attending my training courses, you know that I am a big advocate of the “Complete Installation Check List” (see “A Very Valuable Tool-Jan. 6, 2017).

Just imagine the reaction of the inspector when he arrives at the job site and you hand him a checklist that is completely filled out with notes and comments to indicate that you have followed the manufacturers installation instructions.  And he can keep a copy of this checklist for his records!

Trust me, that inspector will have gained more confidence and respect for you then you could ever imagine! Presenting the completed checklist as evidence of a properly installed home will help you set the tone for the inspection, and identify you as a true professional manufactured home installer.

In closing, I understand that many professional installers don’t have a warm and fuzzy relationship with local code enforcers. But if we ever hope to improve the image of manufactured housing, I think this relationship is the most logical place to start. It is up to us to start changing mindsets, attitudes and relationships. While a few code officials might be impossible to work with, most code officials are only looking to do their job. They would much rather avoid confrontation just like you!  They don’t need extra work, and honestly don’t take pleasure in failing an inspection.

Change starts with us! Let’s improve our understanding of this entire Manufactured Housing Program and be able to explain preemption and why it is deserved. The permitting process can make or break an installation. Let’s re-examine our approach and use the tools at our disposal. And finally, get involved in the inspection process and start taking charge of our projects! And there is no better time than right now! Spring is Here!