How to Train Your Code Official

The one thing that all manufactured home installers and retailers have in common, is that they are all impacted by the state or local building code officials and their approach to manufactured housing. Whether a code official oversteps his authority by requiring unnecessary code provisions, minimizes his role by simply issuing permits and occupancy certificates without any oversight, or if they don’t issue building permits for manufactured homes at all, our work is impacted and far too often, negatively.

Code officials that do not understand the manufactured housing program, ultimately add unnecessary costs to the home and limits our ability to provide high quality, durable, safe and affordable housing.

Today, I want to talk a little about what installers and retailers can do to educate code officials and as a result, better position the manufactured housing industry for the future.

The first thing to remember is that the vast majority of code officials receive no formal training in regards to the manufactured housing program(s). Except for the few states that specifically require code officials to receive training on manufactured homes, very few code officials understand manufactured homes. The industry does a poor job explaining how the manufactured housing program works on behalf of the state/local code enforcers. As a result, we are left with a patchwork of requirements which often result in inferior installations, and also undermine the overall affordability of manufactured housing.

To compound matters, installers, retailers, and manufacturers are reluctant to have business-like discussions with code enforcers and as a result, nothing changes. The industry folks I talk with generally adopt one of two extremes when it comes to this relationship (neither of which is correct). Either they object to the code official simply entering a manufactured home, or they are of the opinion that it is easier, cheaper, or faster to just do everything the building code official asks.  No matter which approach you take, it ultimately supports the notion that either we have something to hide, or that the construction and/or installation of manufactured homes is substandard and needs the code enforcer to improve on the homes design.

Here are a few things that installers and retailers must do to start to get code enforcers to view manufactured housing for what it is: sophisticated, code compliant, safe, high quality, durable and yet affordable housing.

Stop using the term “mobile home”. If it was built before June, 1976, fine, call it a “mobile home”. But today we produce and install “manufactured homes” and the differences are significant. If you want state and local code officials and the home buying public to think that the industry of today is producing and installing the same product that we did over 40+ years ago, then keep using outdated terms. But if we ever have hopes of getting people to understand that the manufactured home of today compares favorably to every other housing product on the market, then we must use proper terminology. 

Accept that you as the installer are the primary source of information for the code official. If you start to improve the building permit application process, you can begin to drive your code official to better understand our program. For example:

  • Provide a copy of your installer license with every installation. The code official is the first line of defense in stopping unlicensed installers. Presenting your license with every permit application, supports the notion that only trained professionals should be installing manufactured homes.      
  • Provide DAPIA approved details (from the installation manuals) to the code official to used to conduct the inspections.  Single page, unapproved pier (or footer) prints do not illustrate that the real installation drawings and details have already been reviewed and approved. Far too many code officials don’t understand that the plan review has already been performed for them!
  • On the other extreme, it seems that too many people just give the code official the entire installation manual and expect them to make sense of it. We should organize the DAPIA approved designs needed for the installation so that they are easily followed. Utilizing a cover sheet is one way to do that. This not only educates the code officials, it is a great tool for installers as well. Click here for a sample that you can use: MH Building Permit Coversheet
  • Be present at the inspections. There is no better time to provide training than this. Bring the DAPIA approved designs (and maybe your copy of the Manufactured Home Construction & Safety Standards) with you and whenever a question is asked, refer to the designs or standards.

 At this point, I know many of you are thinking that you would rather not make waves, and that the code official won’t listen, and a ton of other reasons as to why you prefer the status quo. But, like it or not, the industry is changing and what worked for us in 1976 is not going to work tomorrow.

I was encouraged to learn folks from HUD and SEBA are speaking at a national meeting of code officials in September to discuss installation.  I have been conducting code official training for the past several years, and I can tell you, they are receptive to the message when we present it properly.

Bottom line is that either we start driving the state/local code officials to understand and respect our program, or manufactured housing will go the way of typewriters, telephone booths, and record albums.

 

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