There are many things to learn the first time you build a modular home. But if you’re like most homebuyers, you won’t get the full benefit of what you learn, since you’ll likely only build one home.
But you can benefit from what I’ve learned over twenty-eight years building more than 1,200 homes. To start with you can read my book, The Modular Home, which gathers all this information in one place.
Take Advantage of My Experience by Using My Modular Home Checklists
Of course, it’s hard to use a book efficiently the first time you use the information. That’s why I’ve created several checklists that cover the most important steps. Below is a link to each of the checklists. There’s also a link to this list on the home page of The Home Store’s website. I hope you find these modular home checklists helpful.
- Ensure You Are Ready Willing and Able to Build a Modular Home
- Selecting a Modular Home Dealer
- Your Modular Home Dealer Customer References
- Selecting a Modular Home General Contractor
- Your Modular Home General Contractor References
- What to Include in Your Modular Home Legalese
- Selecting the Right Modular Home Plan
- What You Should Ask Modular Home General Contractors
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Floor Plans
- Reviewing Your Modular Home Elevation Plans
- Modular Additions
- Building a Universal Design Modular Home
- What Your Modular Manufacturer Needs from Your Contractor
- How to Air Seal a Modular Home
- Making an Offer To Purchase for a Building Lot
- Your Municipal Water and Sewer Connections
- Reviewing Your Modular Construction Drawings
- Potential Permits and Supporting Documents
- Your Modular Dealer and Financing Tasks
- Your Permit and General Contracting Tasks
- Omitting Materials from the Modular Manufacturer
For more information about all the topics covered in the checklists, see my book The Modular Home.
Why Building a New Home Is Better Than Remodeling When You Need Accessibility
What should you do if you need an accessible home? Should you remodel your current home, buy a more accessible used home, or build a fully accessible new one?
Since there are very few truly accessible used homes, let’s compare remodeling your existing home with building a new one. Since I believe building new is almost always better than remodeling, I will outline the advantages of building over remodeling. Of course, if you don’t have the resources and flexibility to build a new home, remodeling will be your only viable alternative.
No Demolition and Shoring Up Expenses
You will not waste money demolishing or shoring up your new home.
Remodeling your existing home to make it accessible can often be surprisingly expensive. You will undoubtedly anticipate some of the costs for adding new features, but you may not plan sufficiently for the cost of the other work required to remodel. Most importantly, you must add the cost of the destruction (taking apart and removing what you no longer want) to the cost of construction (building in the new features). In addition, you must add the cost of shoring up the existing structure of your home so that the new construction can be completed. For example, in addition to tearing down old walls and ripping out old plumbing and electrical, you might need to add structural supports in the ceiling and basement before you can begin. Otherwise, your home will not be structurally sound.
The task of removing walls and shoring up the structure is usually a Pandora’s Box for the remodeler. Often the remodeler can’t know what problems and expenses he is going to run into until he actually starts the demolition. If you ask him to give you a fixed price for the entire project in advance, he will usually build a significant cushion into his price. If you agree to pay him for “time and materials”, and he uncovers a number of problems that require additional work, he will hit you with a change order that will create cost-overruns for you. That’s why remodeling often goes significantly over budget.
Greater Equity and Resale Value
Your new home is likely to provide you with greater market value and equity than a remodeled home.
Since the demolition and shoring up your home will not increase its value as much as it costs (only the new construction will), the total cost of the remodeling will often be considerably greater than the value added to your home. Since much of the money you will spend on remodeling will be lost, your bank’s appraiser will be unlikely to justify a loan for the full cost of remodeling unless you already have a lot of equity in your home or a large down payment. And should you decide to sell your home, you will likely lose some of the money you spent remodeling it.
Since every room in your new home can be designed to be accessible and located where you want it, you will need to make fewer compromises to get the features and functions you want.
Because the remodeler will have to work with your existing structure, he might not be able change the home sufficiently to give you enough of what you need. For example, the remodeler might not be able to locate the accessible bathroom where it would most benefit you.
Efficient Use of Space
Your new home will provide you with the rooms you need without wasting space.
When remodeling your home, you will often have to give up some existing rooms so that the needed features and functional space can be added. For example, one of your existing bedrooms might have to be donated to the remodeling cause so that your hallways, doors, and bathrooms can be widened. When the work is done, you may feel that you have lost valuable space.
Attractive and Functional Landscaping
The site of your new home will be graded and landscaped in ways that are esthetically pleasing as well as usable.
When remodeling your home, you will sometimes have to settle for site work and landscaping that is less attractive. With your foundation, driveway, and walkways already in place, the remodeler is limited in how he can make your site more accessible without detracting from its appearance (often with long ramps) and adding considerably to the cost.
Lower Architect Fees, Custom Design
Whether you wish to customize a builder’s standard plan or design a completely new custom plan, a modular home builder’s fees will be substantially less than those required for a sizable remodeling project.
When remodeling your home for accessibility, you will often are best served by hiring an experienced architect to design a remodeling plan.
Home and Lot Matched in Size
You will be able to match a building lot of appropriate size with a new home that is as big as you need and your budget allows.
When remodeling, your design choices will be limited by the size of your home and your lot. If your home is too small, and your lot does not allow for easy expansion, which can happen in city lots, your design options will be limited.
Right Sized Home
When building a new home of your choice, you will end up with a home that is neither too big nor too small.
If your existing home is already bigger than you need, your remodeled home will almost certainly be too big. If your existing home is not too big before remodeling, but the remodeler is forced to add rooms in order to meet your needs, your remodeled home may become too big. For example, if you have all of the bedrooms that you need, but they are all on the second floor and you need a first floor master bedroom suite, you will be forced to build an extra bedroom.
Lower Energy Costs
Your new home will be considerably more energy efficient than your remodeled home.
Your remodeled home will usually have higher energy costs. Older homes were not built as energy efficient as new homes are today. Often the budget for remodeling won’t allow for improving the energy efficiency, since to insulate all of the walls and replace all of the windows can be expensive. In addition, older homes have very high amounts of air infiltration (leaks around the windows, doors, and electrical receptacles), and air infiltration is the number one cause of heat loss, even after insulation has been added and windows replaced.
Brand New Fixtures, Fully Featured
With your new home, everything will be brand new with the features you desire.
With older homes, your remodeling budget will require you to keep certain things you would prefer to replace. For example, although you might like to replace your fifteen year old appliances, the cost of the remodeling will probably prevent you from replacing them. In addition, your budget will often prevent you from affordably adding features that you would desire. For example, if you want to add central air conditioning, but you have hot water baseboard heat, you will need to add the duct work in addition to the air conditioning compressor, which will add substantially to the total cost.
Lower Maintenance Costs, Extended Warranty
Because your new home will come with new materials, it will require minimal maintenance. Furthermore, all the parts will be protected by a warranty. In fact, your entire modular home will come with a ten year structural warranty.
Of course, if you don’t have the resources and flexibility to build a new home, remodeling will be your only viable alternative.
Even after your older home is remodeled, it will have higher maintenance costs. All areas and components of your home that are not completely replaced will continue to bear the effects of wear and tear. In addition, the only items that will have a warranty will be the ones installed by the remodeler.
For more information about building a fully accessible Universally Designed modular home, see Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home. For more information about building an accessible modular in-law addition, also known as an Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity (ECHO), see Building a Modular Addition also in my book.
Electrical Outlets for Your Holiday Decorations
Now that the holiday season is upon us I’m reminded of one of our homebuyers who added electrical outlets under every window so she could display her Christmas candle lights without extension cords. She also put two electrical outlets in the stairwell to the second floor so she could string a lighted garland along the railing. And of course she included some extra electrical outlets on the outside of her home for lighting up Santa’s sleigh and reindeer. Recalling my homebuyer’s foresight got me thinking about how important it is for homebuyers to think about how they’ll use their home before finalizing their modular home electrical plan.
Today’s modular homes come with many more electrical outlets than older homes, since the building code requires them to be spaced close together for safety reasons. But this doesn’t mean you’ll have enough electrical outlets. Nor does it mean they’ll be located where you need them.
Electrical Outlets for Special Purposes
If you’re a craft person, for example, you may want extra electrical outlets in your special room. You may also want to raise some outlets a couple of feet for your convenience. The same suggestions apply to an office. You’ll want to make sure you have enough electrical outlets for your computer, printer, copier, shredder, charger, etc. Adding electrical outlets in a garage that will do double duty as a work area is also a smart move.
If your living room or family room furniture will not be placed along a wall, you’ll want to include some floor outlets to power the lamps you locate away from the walls. This is especially true with today’s open floor plans, since they provide fewer opportunities to mount outlets on walls. If you’re using window air conditioners, it might help to locate electrical outlets below the window. If you enjoy barbecues and lawn parties, you should include extra electrical outlets on the exterior of your home.
Before approving your modular home for construction, give some thought to whether you should include additional electrical outlets in other places for other purposes. Take advantage of the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive to have the manufacturer add them when it builds your modular home.
For more information about planning your electrical layout, see Designing a Modular Home and Modular Home Specifications and Features in my book The Modular Home.
Homebuyers Need the Construction Details for Their Home
Our homebuyers often tell us that few of our competitors, stick or modular, provide thorough and detailed construction information. The reason homebuyers like our emphasis on construction details is that they are almost always novices. They recognize that they lack professional knowledge, and they’ve heard the stories about cost overruns from their friends. They’re afraid they’re going to make a mistake or be taken advantage of. They are comforted by our efforts to patiently explain the construction details and then to document them in writing.
However, sometimes we don’t explain the construction details as well as we could because we forget how much more we know as professionals than our homebuyers. Our homebuyers sometimes unintentionally contribute to this miscommunication by saying they understand something they’re embarrassed to admit they don’t understand.
For example, a construction professional knows the significance of this note on a homebuyer’s elevation drawing:
“The ground level elevations are approximate, and the final heights will be determined during the site work”.
The professional realizes that any of the following might be affected by the site work on their homebuyer’s property:
- How much of the foundation will be exposed above the finished grade
- Whether kneewalls will be required or a walkout will be possible
- How many steps will be needed from the ground to their entry doors, porches, and decks
- Whether railings will be needed on the steps to their entry doors, porches, and decks
- How many steps will be needed from their house into the garage
Moreover, the professional knows that each of these changes will alter how their homebuyer’s finished home will look and function. Because homebuyers are unlikely to recognize these implications, the professional needs to explain them in some detail. Of course, this level of construction detail overwhelms some homebuyers. And few homebuyers absorb all the construction details. But even though the professional can’t make every homebuyer understand or recall every word they say, they should err on the side of too much information rather than on too little.
Presenting the Construction Details to a Novice Is Not Over Explaining
Sometimes construction professionals are concerned they are guilty of “over explaining”. They would be over explaining if they were talking to an expert rather than a novice. An expert has mastered the material, so they can be presented new information in their area of expertise in a few simple, brief statements. But a novice is trying to learn unfamiliar material they don’t yet understand. When explaining this new material to them, the professional needs to elaborate the details until the novice understands how the parts fit together.
For example, if a construction supervisor tells an apprentice carpenter on his first day to “frame the house”, the apprentice might not know where to begin. But once the apprentice has framed many houses, the supervisor can say this and the carpenter will know all the steps. When we say, “Always keep your explanation short”, we confuse the two stages of learning. What works for the expert isn’t enough for the novice.
Finally, providing the construction details to homebuyers does not necessarily mean being long winded. Completeness and brevity can go together. But if a construction professional is going to make a mistake, they should err on the side of completeness. You as the homebuyer deserve this.
For more information about getting all of the details from your modular dealer and general contractor, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer, Modular Home Specifications and Features, Selecting a General Contractor, and see The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.
Purpose of Rain Gutters
Many people think the main purpose of rain gutters is to protect the side of their home. Actually its to protect their home’s foundation by channeling water away from the foundation. Otherwise water running directly off the roof will dig a ditch along the sides of the foundation, and as the water soaks into the ground, some of the water will work its way through the foundation. If you choose not to install gutters, the excavator must take extra care to grade your property so all sides slope away from your modular home. Keep in mind that this solution isn’t as effective as installing rain gutters.
It’s also true that gutters are helpful with protecting the exterior of your modular home from back-splash stain and rot. In addition, they help shield your landscaping and reduce ground erosion. Most importantly, gutters shield windows and doors from water infiltration as well as family and guests from being soaked while entering your home. Gutters are especially helpful for preventing leaks around the thresholds of exterior doors during heavy storms. Without gutters, the exterior doors will be pounded with rain falling off the roof as well as from the sky. In such circumstances, the doors will be prone to leak.
In fact, the reason I decided to write about rain gutters is that two of the problems we’ve had from time-to-time have been with homes that did not have gutters because the homeowners wanted to save money. For sure, gutters are costly. But homes without them are much more likely to have a leaky exterior door or a damp basement or both. Since such leaks are not due to a defect in the exterior doors or foundation, they’re not a warranty claim.
Rain Gutter Material
Gutters are available in four materials: vinyl, steel, aluminum, and copper. Each material has its pros and cons for your home.
Vinyl gutters are lightweight, the easiest to install for do-it-yourselfers, and the least expensive. They come in a variety of colors, and since their color is part of the material, they hold it well. Another advantage of vinyl gutters is that they won’t chip, dent, or corrode. However, they can become brittle in extreme cold.
Steel gutters are the sturdiest, which enables them to support ladders and falling branches without damage. On the other hand they require the most maintenance and can rust if water doesn’t drain properly.
Aluminum gutters are very popular because they won’t rust. However, they can dent and bend from too much weight, powerful winds, or falling debris. This is most likely to happen if the gutters are fabricated out of secondary aluminum, which is made mostly of recycled materials, rather than primary aluminum, which is of a higher quality and thicker.
Copper gutters are usually reserved for classic restorations. They’re very attractive, durable, never rust, and never need painting. During their 75+ year life-time they will oxidize to an attractive green. On the other hand, copper gutters are the most expensive, which also makes them a target for thieves.
Seamless vs. Sectional Rain Gutters
There are two types of gutters, sectional and seamless. Sectional gutters are built out of pre-cut pieces that are joined and fastened together as they are installed. Seamless gutters are created on site using single lengths of gutter that are as long as can be functionally installed. This eliminates the number of joints that need to be fastened together, usually only at inside and outside corners and downspouts. Since gutters most frequently fail at the joints and seams, seamless gutters virtually eliminate this problem
Rain Gutter Maintenance and Repair
Gutters must be maintained regularly to remove leaves and other debris, since these materials will back up the flow of water. When this happens the gutters will no longer protect the house. In fact, the overflow can damage the roof and encourage the formation of more ice dams than if you didn’t have gutters. An option is to use “gutter guards”, which are designed to keep debris out but allow water to enter. Although these reduce the need for frequent cleaning, it’s still wise to inspect your gutters regularly.
You should also regularly examine whether your gutters are fully attached to your house. Gutters can pull away from the roof over time due to the weight of snow, ice, branches, and small animals. Checking for holes and leaks where gutter sections connect is another homeowner responsibility for maintaining well-functioning gutters.
For more information about rain gutters, see Modular Home Specifications and Features and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.