Manufactured Home Installation and Setup is Important
Manufactured home installation and setup is vitally important to your home’s lifespan and overall health. Simply put, there is nothing more important than having your manufactured home installed and setup correctly.
Don’t worry about the shingles, framing, or window header upgrades. Don’t worry about the roof pitch or the flooring material – If your manufactured home is not properly installed none of it will matter because you will experience leaks, warps, bowing and other unfortunate issues.
Improper installation will result in serious damage. The stress on one small part of the structure impacts the entire home. The home will age quicker and the stress causes warping and bowing. After a short time has passed, the homeowners will begin experiencing issues such as leaks and it just goes downhill from there. Unfortunately, by the time the minor issues pop up major damage has been done to the home and it can be expensive to repair or correct the problem.
Proper installation and setup is so important, in fact, I wholeheartedly believe that the majority of complaints and poor reviews by manufactured homeowners can be explained by one simple reason – improper installation.
Windows and roofs don’t normally start leaking after only 4 years so there has to be an underlying reason for the issue. A home that is un-level is usually going to be that reason. If a manufacturer built 500 homes in 2008 and all were made with the same materials, in the same factory by the same employees, using the same building process – why would only 50 of those homes have serious issues? Using deduced reasoning we can easily find the the main difference between the homes – They were all installed by different contractors, in different locations, using different regulations.
So how do we ensure we get the best homes and the best installation possible? Education! If a homeowners knows a little about the installation process and are able to ask the right questions and know what they are inspecting, they can ensure it is done correctly!
Buying Your Manufactured Home
Hopefully, home buyers have researched a good deal and learned how to get the best home at the best price. Here’s a few articles I hope every manufactured home buyer will read, regardless if they are buying a new or used home:
- Buying a Manufactured Home: Warranties and How to Handle Issues After the Sell – Mobile Home Living article.
- Avoiding Issues During a Manufactured Home Purchase – Mobile Home Living article.
- Buying A Used Mobile Home – Mobile Home Living article.
- 15 Tips for Buying and Financing A Manufactured Home – Mobile Home Living article.
- The Insider’s Guide to Manufactured Home Dealers – About.com article I wrote.
- Buying a Manufactured Home – Another article I wrote for About.com.
- How to Choose the Best Upgrades for Manufactured Homes – Another About.com article I wrote.
Once you know how to buy your home at a fair price you need to continue the research on installation and setup in order to protect the investment you just made.
The Installation and Setup
When it comes to installation and setup of a manufactured home, the builders instruction manual shall trump all others.
Think of the national HUD standards as being the base regulations. Their standards are nationwide but each state has its own higher standards based on their average soil and climate environments. The manufacturers installation manual will meet all HUD standards but it is usually much more detailed and will have higher regulations so it should always be followed.
HUD Regulation for Manufactured Home Installation and Setup
In 2009 HUD finally realized that improper installation and setup was a serious issue and began regulation reform. Before 2009, there were little regulations or codes set on a national level to mandate or control installation and setup procedures for manufactured homes. Some states had some simple guidelines to go by but minimal standards varied and little to no checkpoints were in place. Thankfully, that’s changing a bit.
Home buyers are often put in an awkward situation when it comes to installation of their home. Typically, the dealership will either have their own installation department or have a huge impact on the choice of contractors that are used and that could be an issue. Either the dealer or manufacturer installs the homes or they hire an outside contractor to do it. Most home buyers aren’t going to have an installer on speed dial and it’s not a topic that is brought up often among manufactured homeowners so finding a knowledgeable and reliable installer is difficult. Buyers will probably just take the recommendation from the dealer and let them handle it all but that’s where they go wrong.
If builders and dealers truly understood the importance of manufactured home installation and setup they would put as much emphasis on it as they do on the building process. Why go through all the trouble of building a home for a customer when they don’t do everything in their power to ensure that home has been installed correctly? It’s like a car manufacturer building a fine sports car and putting wooden wheels on it!
I have a theory that if manufactured homes were installed correctly more often that consumer complaints would decrease and overall homeowner satisfaction would increase significantly. That’s just my theory though.
Manufacture Home Installation and Setup Terminology
Learning the lingo and terminology used during a manufactured home install is the first step in understanding the process and ensuring that you get your home properly setup. Here’s a few common terms you should know, courtesy of the Florida Manufactured Home Setup Manual:
- Dealer Installer – any licensed manufactured home dealer who is authorized by the department to install mobile/manufactured homes. Dealer installers are part of the dealership where you buy the home. In the US, a manufactured home dealer cannot sell a home themselves, there has to be a middle man or dealer. Larger companies will usually have one large umbrella corporation and separate entities within the company to handle the building and selling independently. This allows them to have more control over the entire buying and installing process and, in my opinion, is a better situation than any other. If you can reduce the number of people or companies involved with your home purchase and installation the chances of them taking more responsibility for the process is greater. It minimizes them from being able to put blame on something or someone else.
- Licensed Installer – any person that is not a direct employee of a licensed dealer or builder that engages in mobile home installation and is licensed to do so from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
- Manufacturer Installer – any licensed manufactured home manufacturer who is authorized by the department to install manufactured homes.
- Stabilizing Devices – any part of the anchoring or support system, such as piers, footings, ties, anchoring equipment, anchoring assemblies, or any other equipment, materials, and methods of construction that support and secure the manufactured home to the ground.
There are several types of foundations that a manufactured home can have. The permanency of the installation, chosen appearance, and the location of the home will determine which will be used. If a homeowner owns the land and has no intention of moving the home again, a permanent foundation is usually the best.
The three main categories of foundations are floating slab, roll-on, and pit-set. There’s also the basement and roll-on foundations.
A floating slab foundation is a poured concrete pad with re-bar or J-bolts installed into the concrete so that the tie-downs can be attached to them instead of Helix Anchors. The concrete slab is usually only 6 inches thick but due to the way the concrete is formed and shaped the home can move along with the slab when the ground freezes, avoiding the possibility of cracking the foundation or damaging the home. There is a variable to the single floating slab foundation. Two strips of concrete is used instead of one large slab.
- Roll-on foundations are used when a homeowner wants the home to be even with the ground level. A deep foundation is dug out and reinforced walls are poured to so that the home looks as if it is sitting directly on the ground.
- A pit-set foundation is similar to a floating slab except the slab is poured one or two feet below ground level and walls are poured around the perimeter of the foundation to be even or slightly higher than the ground level. This creates a completely enclosed foundation.
- Basement foundations are self explanatory. A full or half basement is built under the home.
For non-permanent foundations there are two main choices, pads and footings. A surface set pad foundation uses cinder blocks on level ground.
A pier footing foundation system consists of several re-bar reinforced concrete columns that are poured to set directly under each pier or block set of the home. These columns may or may not meet the frost-line depth for that location.
The size of the foundation is determined by the soil bearing capacity and the size of the pad. Each state will have a minimum foundation pad size and will state what material the pad can be constructed with. For instance, Florida’s smallest pad size is 16”x16” and can be made of concrete or plastic, wood is not acceptable. The size of the foundation determines the pier spacing and the amount of weight that each pad can carry. The manufacturer’s installation manual will provide additional information for proper pad sizes.Below is a footing pad diagram from a Skyline Homes manual:
One of the main differences between a manufactured home and site built home is the position of the piers used. Site built homes have stem walls on the outside, directly under the exterior walls. Manufactured homes have piers positioned under the home, under the chassis.
There are three main support area on a manufactured home: the frame or I-beam, the center-line, and the outside perimeter. Piers are made from steel or concrete.
Perimeter piers are always specified by the manufacturer, as are the center-line piers. Piers must be centered under the I-beam and at the marriage line if the home is multi-section and the spacing of the piers must be carefully calculated by the installer. The block plan discussed earlier is used to determine this spacing.
There are various rules regarding the different piers. Clearance, pier height, single vs double stacked blocks, shims, and many more guidelines must be followed. The homeowner should research to know the specific rules for the home type and the location.
A blocking plan will be included with each home installation manual. It will be similar to the one below:
The illustrations below portray the various types of piers and footings that a manufactured home can have.
Note: If a double interlocked pier is filled with concrete it can usually be used up to 80 inches in height.
Anchors, or tie-downs, are used to secure the home and keeps it from shifting off its blocks. It essentially anchors the frame to the earth or the foundation if a permanent foundation is used.
Improper anchoring or tying-down a home is the main reason we see so many homes on their sides on the weather channel. It is not the home itself but the lack of tie downs or anchoring system used on the home.
If a home is correctly tied down it can withstand the exact same wind speeds as a site-built home. You cannot compare a home that was simply sitting on blocks without any type of anchoring system to a site built home!
- Ground Anchor – any device approved by the DMV that is used for the purpose of securing a manufactured home to the ground in order to resist wind forces. Ground anchors are rated by working load, which is the maximum load for design purposes. The ultimate load is the working or design load multiplied by the safety factor of 1.5.
- Frame Tie or Tie Down – any device or method approved by the department and used for the purpose of securing the mobile/manufactured home or park trailer to ground anchors in order to resist lateral wind forces.
- Vertical Tie – any device or method approved by the department and used for the purpose of securing the mobile/manufactured home or park trailer to ground anchors in order to resist vertical or uplift forces caused by the wind.
- Over-Roof Tie – any device approved by the mobile/manufactured home manufacturer or listed by the DMV to be used for the purpose of securing the manufactured home to ground anchors in order to resist wind forces. Ties may be installed over metal roofs.
Installation Differences Regarding New Vs. Used Manufactured Homes
Manufactured home installation regulations can vary by state, wind or climate zone, and county. It also varies if the home is new or used. Used homes have lower standards than new homes. The reason for this is that used homes may not have been previously installed correctly which, as we learned above, can warp the structure. It may be impossible to get a used home installed correctly due to the damage so the rules are relaxed a bit.
How to Insure Your Home Is Installed Improperly
As much as I love manufactured homes because they are affordable and have so much potential – I’m not a big fan of the industry. That’s why I don’t accept advertising from any manufactured home company (builder or dealer) and remain as neutral as possible when it comes to speaking about the builders and dealers.
I’ve heard and seen so many situations that breaks my heart. Blame is always placed on someone else or something else. Rarely, if ever, does a company actually take responsibility for their own errors. My heart breaks for all the homeowners that have had their dream home turn into a nightmare and unfortunately, it happens way more than it should.
I’ve told the story before of how signing a final inspection ticket allowed one dealer to get out of fixing major issues with my fathers new 1986 double wide. The dealer had their own installation crew and after the home was setup an employee came out to do some finishing work. My father had only seen the home for a few minutes, the skirting wasn’t even installed nor was the carpet laid over the marriage line when a crew member asked him to sign a paper to ‘prove he had worked that day.’ There was some small print on the bottom and top of the paper but the handwriting only stated the guy’s name and how many hours he had been there that day along with some notes of what he did. My father signed it with no questions asked.
After 10 days of no visits from the dealer he started calling. The skirting and carpet was finally installed about 2 weeks later. The 2″ crack from the ceiling to the floor on the exterior corner in the master bedroom was never repaired nor was several other issues. The dealer refused to repair it because they had a paper with a signature on it stating the home was completely installed and the owner had signed off on it. Hiring an attorney would have been his only respite.
Had this not happened to my own father I would have a hard time believing that a company could be this way. After 4 years of phone calls and letters, nothing was ever done to correct the issues. He still has a large box in the closet with all the correspondence. I was only 9 when this happened but I remember the anger. I remember the worry and the feelings that this dream home, a home that he had worked for years in a underground coal mines to buy, wasn’t the home he hoped for. It was tainted and imperfect.
Pay a 3rd Party Licensed Manufactured Home Inspector to Inspect Your Home
The most important advice I can give you is to never sign anything until the home has been completely installed and inspected by a 3rd party that is not affiliated with the dealer.
After they install a home they will have the owner ‘inspect’ the home and sign off on it – by doing so you release the company(s) from all liability of an improper installation. Who would, in their right mind, have someone with absolutely no knowledge of a subject sign a legal contract stating that simply based on looks alone, and whatever paperwork that’s been provided, the home has been setup correctly? The manufactured housing industry would!
Hiring an independent inspector will cost you a few hundred dollars but it is money well spent.
When you refuse to sign anything at the home site, the installer or dealer will complain. They will tell you that the bank will not release the check until you sign off on everything. Don’t worry about that – your main priority after the home has been installed is to get a 3rd party inspection done. A couple of days isn’t going to kill anyone but it can protect you.
Only after they have inspected everything should you sign anything.
What to Do if Your Home Was Installed Improperly
(I’ve added this section after I published this article – it is based on a reader’s question and I figured it would be helpful to include it)
There’s only 3 real ways to get some kind of help for an improperly installed manufactured home, and none are very good.
Pay for the Repairs Yourself
The first is to pay for it yourself. You will need to get the home re-leveled to stop the damage from getting any worse. It will cost but it won’t cost as much now as it will in 5 more years.
HUD State Agency
The second is the HUD state agency funds. Each state has a fund setup for manufactured homeowners to get help for faulty manufacturing or installation but it takes years of frustration and paperwork to get anywhere. Contact them and start the process to file the claim immediately. If possible, get an attorney.
Every home that is sold has a percentage of the price go to this fund but there is rampant fraud and misuse going on with these funds in a lot of states (WV being one of the worse) so the chances of actually getting any help from these funds are slim to none.
The third remedy would be taking it to court. The paperwork is probably against you if you signed it but you may have a leg to stand on if you are willing to pay an attorney up front.
The installer or dealer may tell you that your insurance will help you repair this but if you turn this kind of thing into your insurance the chances of staying insured is slim – you may be cut from your current insurance and if that happens you will have a hard time finding another insurer that you can afford.
I should add that in some instances a home must be re-leveled at regular intervals. Homes with complicated foundations or if they are high off the ground, should be checked annually for the first few years to ensure that settling or shifting hasn’t occurred.
I hope this helps!
I’ll be adding more PDF’s from various resources now that I know how! As always, thank you so much for reading Mobile and Manufactured Home Living! If there’s anything in particular that you want information on just let me know in the comments. Thanks!