Encouraging Feedback From Manufacturers

Have you ever had to tell a friend that their fly was down? Or maybe they had some broccoli stuck between their teeth? While it may be a little awkward to point out someone’s simple mistake, you know that ultimately your friend appreciated your honesty and candor. This leads me to ask installers “does the home manufacturer ever point out any mistakes or issues that you may have gotten wrong during the installation process?”. Since the installations of all new homes must be in accordance with their installation instructions, it seems to me that the manufacturer is in the best position to point out when something is overlooked or simply done incorrectly, even if that discussion may be a little awkward.

However, I continue to see too many cases where installation mistakes are routinely ignored by the home manufacturer. As a result, little problems become big problems which are far more difficult and costly to correct, and in some cases, correction is impossible.

For example: there are countless communities across the country where manufactured homes have had garages attached to the home. While an attached garage is a great feature to offer the consumer, few manufactured homes are designed to accommodate this add-on. Multiple structural and life-safety concerns can result from a garage attachment if not a part of the original design. Problems such as: improper fire separation between the garage and the living area (including windows opening into the garage space), overloading the roof, walls and foundation of the manufactured home due to the weight of the garage and potential snow on the garage roof, failure to provide an electrical branch circuit to provide power to the garage, failure to provide a carbon monoxide alarm as required by most state building codes for homes with attached garages, and possibly having egress doors leading into the garage space, to name a few.

Example of a “garage ready” home. Designed specifically to accept the on-site constructed garage.

When called upon to investigate problems in communities like this, I often wonder why the manufacturer(s) of these homes never mentioned that the homes weren’t designed for attached garages. Wouldn’t you think a good friend or partner would point that out and maybe suggest that they could design and construct homes specifically for garage attachments? But instead, too often not a word is said until the situation gets out of control.

In all fairness, there are now several manufacturers offering garage ready homes, but this is a fairly recent development.

I am sure you all have seen similar issues. Maybe you have seen manufactured homes in communities that have carports or patio covers attached directly to, and being supported by the home. Or maybe the homes have recessed porches or decks which allow rain water to flow between the decking boards and directly into the homes’ crawl space. Or maybe the homes are set in pits which collect water, instead of atop a slightly elevated site that will shed water away. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Rain water falling onto this recessed porch has no where to go except into the crawl space. If enclosed by skirting, it must be fully vented and allow for the free flow of water from under the porch area.

I would hope that any business partner of mine would be just like that friend who lets me know when I am wearing my shirt inside out. But in the manufactured housing industry, that is not always the case.

A “pit set” and recessed porch. How will water ever escape this crawl space?

So, just who is in the best position to tell you when you missed a button, belt loop or maybe a tie-down strap? First off, I think the factory sales representative could be one of the first ones to let you know that there could be a problem. Next would be the factory’s service department. Anyone from the factory that visits your sites should be able to provide some feedback to improve the overall installation.

Too many factory representatives choose to overlook these issues or maybe they don’t know anything is wrong. I have long advocated for the training of service personnel, and with a few exceptions, they operate outside of the building code or regulations or even the manufacturer’s quality control process. While I have met quite a few really sharp sales people, many are a little weak when it comes to understanding code requirements.

So maybe it is time to start expecting more from our friends at the factory. It is not always easy to tell someone they are messing up, but that is what a good friend would do.

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Embedment Factors? Cohesive Soils? Let’s talk about it!

Looking over a recently revised manufactured home installation manual, (DAPIA approved in Feb. 2018),  I ran across something that I thought was worth a closer look.

In the section of the manual that talks about footings, I found a chart titled “Foundation Embedment Factors for Cohesive Soils” (there is also a chart for Non-Cohesive Soils).

In case you are wondering, cohesive soils are described as clay, or soil with a high clay content, which has cohesive strength. Cohesive soil does not crumble, can be excavated with vertical sides, and is like plastic when wet. Cohesive soil is hard to break up when dry and sticks together when submerged. Cohesive soils include clayey silt, sandy clay, silty clay, clay. 

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Cohesive Soil

 

On the other hand, non-cohesive soils are loose soils like sand, or sandy soils.

Ultimately, by using these charts and directions, you can increase the maximum load per footing based on the depth that the footing is embedded in the soil.

Let’s try to work through the process.  This manufacturer tells me that a 14’ wide home, in the south (20 psf) roof load zone, with piers spaced 8’ apart, has a pier load of 5640 pounds (per pier).

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Since I like to auger round footings, the chart for circular shape footings says that I need a 28” round footing at a soil bearing capacity of 1,500 PSF. But my auger is only 24” diameter! Well, this is where the “Foundation Embedment Factors for Cohesive Soils” chart might come in handy!


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Since I can only dig 24″ round footings, I need to start there. The chart for circular footings tells me that a 24” round footing can carry 4710 pounds (again 1,500 Soil bearing capacity). I know my 24” round footing will be 36” deep (for example, to get below the frost line) in a clay (cohesive) soil, so I can multiply the 24” footing capacity by the 1.56 as indicated in the cohesive soils chart and my 24” footing works! (4710 pounds x 1.56=7347 pounds, well beyond the 5640 pound load needed to support the home).

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It is not as confusing as it seems. You just need to know if your soil is cohesive (clay) or non-cohesive and know the footing size and depth. Use the chart to determine the embedment factor and multiply the footing capacity by the factor from the chart.

A few important things to consider before you start reducing footing sizes. Currently, this is specific to only a few manufacturers. You need to check with the Quality Control Manager at your factories to see if they allow you to utilize embedment factors. One manufacturer told me that they provide these designs only upon request.

Next, you need to have a very thorough understanding of the soil at the job site. You need to have all of your documents in order and make certain that the building code official (and possibly the purchaser) understand how you are calculating these footings sizes/loads. As always, keep good records for your installation files, including copies of these charts.

While I am not an engineer, I do think that the embedment factor is to be applied only to poured in place concrete footings. But you can verify that with the factory. 

Finally, on the one manual I reviewed, there is a big typographical error, labeling the chart for non-cohesive soils, so be cautious. Stay in touch with Quality Control folks and watch for further changes to the manuals. 

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.

 

Let’s Talk About Bottom Board

I know that all too often we take for granted the importance of that black, plastic-like material that stretches under the floor of manufactured homes. Some folks, (and the manufacturer’s installation instructions), call it bottom board. Others call it “underbelly” or “belly board” or some other name, but for today, lets just call it “bottom board”.

Obviously the bottom board is needed to secure and protect the floor insulation, and keep critters out of the floor cavity. But that is only half of the story.

I am certain that you have had your customers ask you why the holes cut in the floor decking for drain lines are often over cut. Why does the factory cut 2 ½” holes for a 2” pipe? What about the big hole for the bathtub “P” trap? We all have seen homeowners stuff insulation around these pipes in an effort to reduce heat loss. But is this necessary?  Not really!

Leaking “P” trap was fixed, but the installer failed to replace the insulation and repair the bottom board!

If you look under the floor decking, you will see cables, drain lines, water supply lines and most likely, un-insulated metal heat ducts. These un-insulated heat ducts keep the entire floor system warm in the winter, and prevent the water pipes from freezing. Since the floor cavity is in a sense “conditioned space” those holes in the floor decking are not a path of heat loss or air infiltration. So, what keeps the outside, unconditioned air from getting inside of the floor cavity? The Bottom Board!!

Water lines in the floor. Be sure to replace the insulation and access panels to keep from freezing!

The bottom board acts as the pressure envelope, which is the primary air barrier to limit air leakage. With that in mind, we should start thinking about the bottom board as less of a part of the transportation system, and more of a thermal component which is critical to the overall performance of the manufactured home’s energy efficiency!

The red line represents the pressure envelope that is intended to contain the conditioned air inside the home.

Consider the impact of every hole, slice, cut, tear or missing access panel of the bottom board.  They all allow unconditioned air to enter the floor cavity. This unconditioned air can cause significant damage to the home. In summer months, it can cause condensation to form on the heat ducts, and promote the growth of mold and mildew. In the winter, it can cause higher heating bills, and could impact consumer comfort.

The manufacturer’s installation instructions all require the installer to “Repair and Seal Bottom Board”.  For new homes, make sure you inspect the bottom board upon delivery, and report any holes, tears or road damage to the manufacturer. If you need to make any repairs, follow the information in the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Replace missing, wet, damaged or dirty insulation. Allowing wet insulation to dry out does not make it as good as new, it must be replaced. Just be sure to maintain the same R value as was originally installed in the floor.

Tape over lag bolts with an approved bottom board tape.

Make certain that the material you use to make any repairs or patches are appropriate for the job. I know a lot of installers use “Flex-Mend” with great success, and it is approved for this application.  If the area to repair is too large, use staples and a backer board of ¼” plywood or similar materials.  On multi-section homes, you should tape over the lags used to secure the floors together.

Be sure to clean the surfaces where the patch is to be applied. The HUD Code clearly states that any patches must be just as durable as the original bottom board material, see 24 CFR 3280.305(g)(6). Duct tape is not approved for bottom board repairs!

Duct Tape is not an approved material for repairing bottom board.

 

If you are a professional installer that is using the Complete Installation Checklist for every home you install, you already know that there is a line item for bottom board holes and tears.

I hope that installers, retailers,  community owners, and consumers are on the lookout for cable television, telephone, or satellite dish service technicians that have no respect for the importance of the bottom board under our homes. Their all too common practice of slicing open the bottom board to fish their cables and wires, must stop!

Bottom Board cut in two places for fishing cables.

Finally, many savvy industry professionals are now performing annual service inspections on their customer’s homes. For those of you that provide this service, make sure bottom board repair/patching is on your inspection checklist. If you don’t offer annual service inspections, maybe you should. It can be a money maker for you, and a money saver for your customers.

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! 

    

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!