The HIGHS and lows of 2019!

As we start a new year, I thought I would look back and assemble a list of some of the manufactured housing installation highs and lows from 2019.

Let’s start with the HIGHS:

  1. Installer record keeping is catching on! I visited with quite a few installers last year and was pleasantly surprised to see how many of them met me at the job site with a job folder in hand! It was no surprise that the installations done by these professional installers were some of the best I have ever seen in over 30 years of inspecting installation!
  2. Improved skirting application. Thankfully, I ran across only a few installations where the vinyl skirting was fastened directly through the bottom course of vinyl siding. Several installers were attaching 2 x 4’s to the bottom of the home to attach the skirting, others used Skirt Back’r (Tiedown Engineering) or something similar. Add that to the homes where the manufacturer provided a double starter strip, or extended the wall sheathing below the siding, and it is pretty clear that we are getting better at skirting attachment.

    Consider flashing to prevent water from seeping behind skirting channel.

I need to add a note of caution when talking about skirting attachment. Be sure you don’t create an area where water can seep behind the skirting channel, especially if the manufacturer extends the wall sheathing below the siding. In that case, you should consider installing some flashing to keep water from getting into the joint.

  1. Improved Site grading. More installers are bringing a couple lifts of fill dirt to the job sites to better groom the site for proper drainage.

    A couple lifts of fill dirt is often needed to grade a site!

  2. New resources are starting to emerge. Such as the construction blog and quarterly newsletter from Clayton  Click here to visit their site. And as we discussed last week, the availability of several installation manuals on-line is also a big step forward!

The LOWS:

  1. The Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee met twice in 2019 (in April and in October). This generally would be a good thing, except the committee membership still does not include installers. This committee is responsible for the development of the vast majority of the current installation program requirements and now they are again looking at additional changes to the installation process. The failure of installer representation is completely illogical. As I like to say, if you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu! And installers are still not at the table!

Should you want to express your thoughts to the Consensus Committee, you can email HUD at: mhcc@hud.gov or the contractor that administers the operation of the committee at: mhcc@homeinnovation.com

If you would like to learn more about the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee, check out their information on the HUD website: Click here for HUD MHCC

 

  1. The loss of states participating in the manufactured housing program should be seen as a huge warning sign for the industry. In the past year, New Jersey completely ended their relationship with the manufactured housing program and Pennsylvania dropped their installation program. In addition, far too many of the remaining states have drifted very far away from the basic program principals. The lack of strong and informed state participation undermines the sustainability of the overall program. The manufactured housing program does not exist because of written laws or regulations, but rather because of a federal-state-local government partnership that understands, respects and defends the manufactured housing program. This partnership makes these laws and regulations come to life.
  2. The continued stubbornness of the industry. There are still too many installers that operate under the “we have always done it that way” mentallity. Far too many industry professionals continue to use negative terminology, such as “mobile homes” and even “trailers”. All too often we are reluctant to have a business-like discussion with our building code officials because they might get mad. Keep in mind, just like swimming, if we don’t keep moving forward, we will eventually sink!
  3. The service side of our industry remains focused on fixing problems, as opposed to preventing them from ever occurring. Before patching cracked drywall, adjusting cabinets or counters, or resetting windows or doors, service technicians should be called on to identify the source of the problem. Rarely do factories provide meaningful feedback regarding improper installation, and as a result, we miss out on opportunities to improve.

 

Moving into this next decade, I believe that there is a lot of potential for the manufactured housing industry. Potential to increase our share of the housing market, potential for installers to improve their bottom line, potential to become the housing solution for a country that is desperate for high quality, yet affordable housing. But…if we don’t expect more from our industry partners and ourselves, this potential will never be realized. So, let start by building on our “Highs” and working to eliminate our “Lows”.

Is Everyone Playing By the Rules?

Not a week goes by when I don’t hear from an installer or retailer that is upset because they are losing jobs, and as a result money to competitors that aren’t playing by the rules. Maybe unlicensed installers are working in the area. Maybe the footings they are digging are too small or too shallow. Maybe they are cutting corners on the anchoring of the homes they install. Maybe they are not performing the required testing. Maybe they aren’t doing all of the required paperwork. Maybe they aren’t having their installations inspected, or maybe they are forging the signatures on the installation forms.

How can you compete and still do a quality job?

Let me tell you, it is tough, very tough! Just as sure as there will always be speeders on the highway, there will always be a few dirty dogs in the manufactured housing industry. The end result is the reputation of the entire industry suffers, and opportunities and profits are lost!

Now, I will admit that I don’t have a perfect plan to stop cheaters from stealing your business, but I do have a few thoughts that I would like to share with you.

I contend it all starts with educating the consumer. One of the best ways to educate potential customers is by handing every person that walks into your sales lot a well-designed, easy to read, consumer disclosure brochure. You all should know that this consumer brochure is a national requirement, but far too many retailers/installers underestimate how powerful a tool these brochures can be. You can make these brochures serve a dual purpose: a regulatory requirement as well as an educational/marketing tool!

The brochure that I have made available is a good place to start, (see the blog post from November 13, 2017 or click: Consumer brochure). You will need to customize it for your own use. This installation brochure is step one to getting the customer to understand that you are a professional installer and/or retailer and that you are worth the extra cost.

Next, if you are lucky enough to have a working relationship with a building code official (yes, lucky enough), then educate them! A well-educated code official can stop the corner cutters right at the building permit application process! For years I have encouraged good installers and retailers to start showing code officials what documents should be expected for the permit application process. For decades, the manufactured housing industry has been reluctant to engage code officials and as a result, little has changed. We actually have a good product and a good program that protects the interests of everyone. It is time to start showing it to the code enforcement community. If the code official starts expecting every other manufactured home installer to come up to your quality of work, that will mean trouble for the competition. Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats!

What about enforcement? I know nobody likes being inspected or monitored, but just like going to the dentist for your regular visit, enforcement is a necessary evil. Start demanding that the folks that placed these costly requirements on your business take steps to assure that everyone complies. That can happen several different ways, but it needs to happen and it doesn’t have to be just inspections. It can begin with regular, on-going communication. Maybe regional meetings between regulators and installers. Quarterly newsletters on enforcement actions with maybe some input from home and product manufacturers on recent changes. How about a few installers working together to form peer review groups? Sounds crazy, but why not? Doing nothing, changes nothing.

A lot of requirements have been placed squarely on the shoulders of the installers and retailers, without much input or feedback. I can tell you there will only be more to come, and as professional manufactured home installers we need to get involved and have our concerns heard and start thinking outside of the box.

There is a Manufactured Home Consensus Committee (MHCC) meeting scheduled for October in Washington DC. I don’t know if any installers are invited, but I sure hope so. If you are interested in attending and speaking at this meeting, or just learning more and possibly become a member of the MHCC, CLICK HERE .

As I have said before, you’re either at the table or you are on the menu!

Comments on the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee Meeting, Sept 11-13, 2018

I heard from a few folks that attended the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC) meeting held last week in Washington, DC. Since they shared their observations with me, I thought it would provide you with a short summary of the meeting.

Let’s start with what did NOT happen:

HUD did not introduce a new Administrator to oversee the program. As you may recall, the previous administrator and one other high-level manager were removed in December, 2017 (see my post from December 27, 2017 on this topic). But no replacements were announced.

HUD did not include any installers in the discussions. I had hoped that HUD would have invited an installer or two to attend the meeting to try and keep things balanced. But once again, installers were not represented.

Local Code Officials were not invited. I hoped that HUD would invite a few local code officials to participate in this meeting. However, none were invited.

Ok…so let’s talk about what DID occur at this meeting:

The MHCC talked about the HUD Interpretive Bulletin on frost free foundations. Basically, the MHCC wants HUD to withdraw their earlier issued bulletin and allow the states and local governments to have final say in how to protect the manufactured home foundation from frost heave. I personally believe that protecting a foundation from frost heave should be a local or state issue. However, HUD should provide some guidance to help local code enforcers have a better understanding of manufactured home foundations.

The MHCC talked a lot about carports, porches, garages, patio covers and the like. It seems that the discussions suggested that the installer or retailer will need to get much more involved in the design of these after-market structures and as a result, take on additional responsibility. The MHCC wants to add information to the data plate about this. It appears to some folks that this approach is just kicking the can down the road….to the installers and retailers.

The MHCC talked about installation inspectors getting involved in On-Site Completion (SC) inspections. Too bad there were no installation inspectors at the meeting.

They also talked about things like removal of the steel chassis, multi-family manufactured homes and the energy standard (which hasn’t been updated since 1994).  But, not much promise of changes anytime soon.

Looking on the bright side, this was the first face to face meeting of the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee in a long time (October 2016). So, I guess it is good they met.

Maybe the next time, they will invite some installers!

Keep this in mind!

If any of you attended this meeting and/or would like to add your comments, feel free!

Affordability-Installation and the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee

From my first day working in the Manufactured Housing Industry, I was told how manufactured housing is “affordable” housing, and that preserving affordability was a top priority. Through the years, I saw how adopting new code requirements were often derailed solely based upon their potential impact on the cost of the home. Arc-Fault protection, carbon monoxide alarms, and an energy/insulation standard that is 24 years old are only a few code provisions that are not adopted or updated largely because of their impact on the price tag of the home. 

When it comes to the cost of installation, I think affordability has been forgotten.

Over the past ten years, we watched the roll-out of the installation standard and the installation program which seemed to have an impact on affordability. Let’s take a look at some new requirements that effect affordability:

Bonding/Insurance:  I spoke with a couple installers, and it seems that the average rate is about $300 per year to comply with this HUD installation program requirement. For the independent, self employeed installer, this is quite an added expense. While I am not saying that being bonded and insured is a bad idea, I wonder how many installers have had an action taken against their bond or had a claim made against their insurance. I am sure there have been a few, but are there sufficient claims to justify this added cost? 

Paperwork:   Regardless of which state you are in, you now have an additional paperwork burden. It could be monthly HUD reporting, state labels, decals or certificates. Retailers now have installation disclosures, dispute resolution disclosures, HUD reporting, on top of the existing reporting requirements. time-is-money-create-a-clear-job-description

Recordkeeping:  The dispute resolution program requires all installers to maintain records of every new manufactured home they install for a minimum of three years. Documents such as contracts, checklists, installation manuals, service requests, parts requests, etc., all must be collected and retained.

New Installation Requirements:   There are so many items added to the installation process that directly impact affordability of the home, that I am hesitant to list them.  But consider the added costs of water supply line pressure testing, and anti-scald temperature testing (tub and showers), DWV testing, electrical continuity and operation tests, polarity check, and gas line tests. The costs of acquiring the needed testing equipment and the additional time to conduct these tests have a considerable effect on the price of installation and as a result, the home.

You may be asking yourself “how did installation costs get so out of hand”? In my opinion, it is due to the lack of installer representation on the Manufactured Home Consensus Committee (MHCC) which has the job of advising HUD on these matters. I know that HUD and the MHCC have worked closely with the trade associations in developing the installation standard, but very few installers are members of these associations and few if any were at the table during these discussions.

 

With this in mind, I wanted to inform you all that the next Manufactured Home Consensus Committee meeting is being held on September 11-13, 2018 in Washington D.C. The meetings are open to the public, but I don’t think too many installers will be in attendance. You could email a proposal or comment to the Consensus Committee Click HERE.

Maybe just let them know how all of the changes have impacted the affordability of manufactured housing.

For more information on the Manufactured Home Consensus Committee, Click Here