Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Codes and Regulations - The Builder Viewpoint

We’ve all heard the stories of how much harder it is to build a modular home in some states and communities than site building a home. Builders email me on a weekly basis about a problem they encountered with a local code enforcer or with their state’s code office.

Over the weekend I received an email from an East Coast builder telling me about yet another problem he ran into with the State and local code offices. Seems like the customer wanted a change to one room after PFS and the Certified Sprinkler Installer had both signed off on the plans and submitted them. The sprinkler system had to be redesigned and resubmitted showing the exact same system and head placement as before costing the home owner 2 weeks and another design charge. Yes, it was the homeowner’s fault that this happened but if it had been a site built home, there would have no need to resubmit the sprinkler plan.

I began wondering if there really was a problem with National, State and local regulations that single out modular home construction or are most of the problems just part of the modular building process.

So I sent out an email and got some great responses. First I asked the builders and then I asked the factory owner. Here is what I sent them:

I would love to do a series of articles about whether modular home builders in each state are having their homes singled out for more regs and tougher inspections than site builders or is it that having to add another player (factories), that site builders don’t use, into the mix causing a vast majority of the problems.

Here are some of the responses from modular home builders on the East Coast:

Builder #1
Hands down modular homes are being singled out and obtaining a permit for them as well as inspections along the way are MUCH more difficult to obtain and pass (a lot of inspectors are biased (against) modulars) as well as not educated on the process and therefore their default is to deny the permit and fail the inspections.  It is extremely hard to get anything done, then throw in lack of knowledge and you have the cause for continuous delays. 

Builder #2
For the most part I would say yes we have to jump through a few more hoops over conventional construction. No question about that at all.

As the builder going into a town we have not built in, there tends to be a good amount of confusion over the separation of factory vs builder. Best example I can give you is just recently we went into a town and the response from the building inspector was "make sure you bring this plan in with a stamp unlike the one you are doing on xyz street."

I told the inspector we have actually not worked in the town yet so it wasn't our home in which he thought I was pulling a fast one. He went and got the plans and slammed them in front of me and said "SEE it’s a (Factory Name) Homes. Why are you telling me you are not building a house in this town."

I then pointed to the actual builder on the plans and had to educate him on the difference and after that he understood. I without a doubt got the other builder in trouble because he lied to the inspector on how this works (looks like he PDF the stamp), but he certainly appreciated the education and understanding. 

This is the not the first time this has happened and I haven't been grouped with other builders because we use the same factory. There are many towns in my state that I refuse to work in because the inspector has such a tainted image of what modular is as they are unable to differentiate builder vs. factory. 

Some other areas in construction we are treated different because of modular is the onsite work. We stick build garages, decks, and porches and many times on the decks and porches they want a stamp from an engineer because it is being attached to an "engineered product."

Again this is not how the code is actually written, but I would say 5-10 departments around me have asked for this. Same goes with foundations. Again many builders go in with the generic state plan foundations and do not actually draw up their own with proper code for the area. Another one we get lumped into. 

I will say the education level of many inspectors on modular has dramatically improved from when we started. Also after we have built one house in a town their mindset completely changes when we go in with another. I still would say 75-80% of towns still lump us all under one umbrella, but most of the time we can at least go in and educate and explain the process and they will work with us.

Most of the time that is. The ones that I can't I just chalk up as a loss and don't build in their town. Not worth the headache! 

Builder #3
I don’t feel that we are singled out by the jurisdictions at all.  In my county, the chief inspector is an ex-modular builder himself and I feel most of the inspectors prefer our homes because much of their normal responsibilities are taken care of at the factory. 

I am however surprisingly experiencing some difficulty when I work in a nearby city.  They seem to think that every house should be designed by a local architect to meet the neighborhood requirements, some of which are historical and they don’t think we can do that with modular. 

I hope I have finally dissuaded them of this—it has only taken a year and a half, but I’ll know for sure when we get approval of the final re-design.  When the design was put out for community approval some of the uninformed had issues too and we’ll see if the final design has gotten rid of those. 

I haven’t come up against these kind of things in over 20 years so I am surprised it has occurred now.  Our factory has always been right behind me if there have been any issues, though they have been few and far between.  I would be interested to see what others have experienced.  

Are modular home builders having a tougher time than site builders? Yes. Are the problems insurmountable? No.

One common thread is that the local code officials would benefit from an all day class in modular housing design, production, set and finish.

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