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!

Advertisements

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.