Thursday, April 23, 2020

"Ready to Work if You Will Permit" - Modular Home Builders Association

A Discussion Started on April 23, 2020 by Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of MHBA

By most accounts, states have deemed the construction industry as an essential business and have given the green light for operations to continue. This is good news for the thousands of projects that were halted mid-way through completion and many more that were scheduled to start. But as we all know, the construction industry is made up of numerous contributors and not all are on the same page yet.

Construction projects still need to the reviewed, approved, and inspected to ensure safety and compliance with all regulations. Prior to the coronavirus, many building departments were already lagging in the technology and staff to keep up with construction demand. Now, with code officials working remotely, this bottleneck has proven to be even more problematic.

For the past several years, we have felt that many of the thirty-five state modular administrative programs were understaffed. Some of these agencies still review and approve plans with in-house staff rather than relying on third party inspection agencies. And they do so with a very small staff. What happens when one person leaves that agency? It often takes months, or longer to fill the vacancy and plan reviews take longer to process. Some states still have no over-arching program for approvals, pushing everything to the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). In far too many of these jurisdictions, the locals simply do not have the staff and/or expertise to review these projects.

But it does not have to be this way, and there are a few things in the works to address these bottlenecks.

The industry is currently working with the International Code Council (ICC) to develop an ANSI standard for a Model Administrative Program (or MAP) specifically to address submittals, review processes, quality control plans, and approvals for modular components. This standard is in the early stages of development but will include standard terminology and a process for third party reviews - a key feature to help alleviate these bottlenecks. This standard, and the adoption by states to accept it, is still one to two years out.

The ICC is also directly contacting Congress and FEMA asking for additional support for their code official members. In a recent survey by the ICC, they found that two-thirds of AHJs are working remotely, but do not have the resources to effectively do so. According to their survey, “nearly a quarter of departments lack needed hard copy code books, 4 in 10 departments do not have the capability to conduct electronic/remote plan review, 3 in 10 departments do not have the capability to conduct electronic/remote permitting, and 6 in 10 departments do not have the capability for electronic/remote inspections.”

We are encouraging any state without a program to contact us NOW to begin the process of implementing one. We are also encouraging all states with a modular program to allow the use of independent third-party inspectors rather than trying to rely on in-house staff. As policy makers across the country hail the need for the construction industry to get back to work, please keep in mind that the entire industry network may need additional tools and resources, and the states need to get on board with standard and consistent approval processes.

Modcoach Note: If you in the modular construction industry and are not a member of the Modular Home Builders Association, you are missing out on so much information and help.


IL said...

It is interesting that California is never mentioned in the national modular conversation (except for having scams or hype-making companies with no substance), but we have the following functioning now:

1. Third party agencies - plenty to choose from.
2. Electronic plan submission and approval, and have had it for several years. It is fast and efficient.
3. Functioning approval process during the COVID-19 shut-down. We have received deviation reports, approvals, and have been in communication with our 3rd party agency regarding issues of clarification with a quick response.

In California, the system is functioning well. I appreciate the MHBA's work and as a member, we are excited that they are advocating for an ANSI standard to address the process. It sounds like what a lot of the country needs is already present in the backwater of California modular approval process.

Tom Hardiman said...

Isaac, you are correct in that California is one of the better modular programs nationally and we have a good relationship with the agency. There are several states that do not have a program (15) and several that could be improved upon. Thanks for your support!