Monday, June 9, 2014

What Goes on Behind the Scenes of Building Inspectors Seminars?

This past Friday I had a very unique and I have to say “enlightening” experience. I attended a seminar hosted by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). These are the folks that oversee the modular housing industry in the state.

This was the third seminar of the week, each hosted in a different region of the state. It was designed for local municipalities’ code enforcement officers as a way to keep abreast of the current regulations and codes governing modular homes shipped into the state.

Overall I found it quite interesting and was impressed by the wealth of knowledge Don Plass, the Instructor/Administrator for the Building & Fire Code Academy, brought to the seminar. He spoke with knowledge garnered from years of experience in IL as both a builder and a code enforcement officer.

The thing that really pissed me off is how modular homes can be singled out for discrimination by local building inspectors.

In MD, every modular home is built to the Model Performance Code (MPC):
  • Provides standards for the construction of the industrialized/Modular buildings
  • Defines the construction, alteration, remodeling, and renovation of the buildings that are owned, leased, operated and controlled by the State of MD
These codes CANNOT be modified.

There is another standard code, the Maryland Building Performance Standards (MBPS) that effects every home built in MD:
  • Requires each Maryland Jurisdiction to use the same edition of the International Building Codes
  • Applicable to all, other than industrialized buildings (modular homes)
  • Each local jurisdiction MAY MODIFY these codes to suit local conditions with exception to the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code and Maryland Accessibility Code.
Here is what I saw happen at the seminar that so angered me that I actually spoke up about it. Most of the building inspectors in attendance have been in the on-site construction business before becoming an inspector.

When the instructor mentioned that the local jurisdiction could change building codes, several of the inspectors started asking if they could change this or that about modular homes coming into their municipalities? The answer was that they could not inspect anything built at the factory but could inspect anything done on site by the builder. This could be site built garages, decks, dormers, and even stair rise, cabinet heights, etc built at the factory and reject them if they don't meet code. When they heard this they started patting each other’s backs, laughing and high fiving.

When I asked why they were doing this, they just smiled and said that now they have power over the modular homes.

I sat there in total disbelief that modular housing was so misunderstood by these local folks. The State of MD has a set of codes they enforce on modular homes and that only seems fair. The Fed has a set of codes that they want enforced. The only people in this whole chain of codes and inspections that are allowed to run amok with power appear to be the local jurisdictions and their building inspectors.

Don Plass, the instructor, pointed out many times to the people attending the seminar that the total number of quality controls found in the modular factory and the way they are built is far and away better than he has seen in most on-site building.

Since it was said in the seminar for all to hear, I will share one last thing. When I asked why they treated modular differently than site building, one of the attendees rolled his fingers making the “money” sign. When I pressed him in front of everyone as to what that meant, he said the big builders are tight with the local elected officials. Then he rolled his eyes and stopped talking.

The local code inspectors are supposed to be the State’s eyes and ears on the job sites. The problem is that they are also the weak link.

Even though this seminar was for Maryland inspectors, I would wager good money that this is going on every state.


Anonymous said...

Coach, this is not news. The local inspectors have always found ways to single out modular homes. Here in MA it is almost a sporting event with the inspectors on one side and the modular home builder on the other and guess who wins ever time?

Anonymous said...

Why are these inspectors so anti-modular home?

Anonymous said...

If we are ever to fight back we all must JOIN THE MHBA!

Builder Bob said...

This has been going on for years. I wonder if the state were to take over the inspection process if it would be better or worse? Thank God Obama hasn't taken this under his wing like he did Obamacare.

Anonymous said...

You've read it here before, but I'll say it again: Maryland is one of the most difficult states to build in. But modular home builders are at a distinct disadvantage versus site builders. When local inspectors pile their shoot-from-the-hip interpretation of local regulations ON TOP OF already harder code requirements, we are doubly screwed.

ED LANDON - please help!!!