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Our modular home quality, well..?

Buy a modular ranch vacation home, that was our quest.  We had owned a plot of land in the Endless Mountains for quite a few years.  We visited, camped on, and mowed this property, it was a lot of fun.  But it got to the point where we wanted a little more comfort at our vacation property so we decided to purchase a modular home.  When we originally purchased our modular home, it was a vacation home.  We only visited the home on weekends and holidays and it was truly great fun.  But ultimately due to circumstances mostly beyond our control we decided to make our vacation home our permanent residence.  While we did notice some minor problems as vacationing visitors, once you move into a house you really start to see all the positive and negative quality issues.

Purchasing our modular vacation home

At the time of purchase of our modular home, we really wanted a "turn key" solution.  We both had full time jobs and we lived 2 hours and 15 minutes from our property.  We were unable to properly supervise the construction of our vacation home.  We had decided however to buy a modular home with sufficient features that it was not just a vacation home, but a home any family would desire as their home.  So we did not choose a cabin or mobile home, but a 27 by 56 foot, 3 bedroom two bath modular ranch house with a full walk out basement.  We feel the home we chose has value for many families.

We listened to, and accepted, advice

During the purchase process of our modular home, we were encouraged by our home supplier to save money by selecting our own contractors for the well, septic, driveway, and even the foundation.  We ultimately chose to have the home builder (assembler) also be responsible for the foundation, since this was so critical to the home's structural stability, construction schedule, and warrantee.  And we are very pleased with the foundation with one exception, an exception that is probably not the responsibility of the foundation contractor.  That exception is a small long horizontal crack in the concrete block mortar.  We feel this was caused by improper backfill.  Just piling topsoil against a foundation wall and then on top of that bolting a very heavy cast concrete stair to the wall initiated the crack which has now stabilized.  We have been advised that the backfill should have been partially stone, which is substantially lighter and retains far less water.  This crack appears to not be a structural issue, because it has stabilized, but it is an annoyance.  This is the first of many quality issues we have discovered now that we live in our former vacation home.

Choosing your own contractors has one great disadvantage, the three way finger pointing situation.  It is much easier if it is just you and the home supplier, when you add in that third party contractor, you can lose control, and perhaps you ultimately will not save that much money.  It is the "luck of the draw".

The Good

The home seems structurally fairly sturdy.  Our house is very exposed on a hill in a high wind area.  We have howling winds at times but have seen no structural issues to date.  I am a little concerned about lateral stability and could see adding some support in the attic.

  • The steal beam is large, bolted where needed, bolted to the Lally columns.  ( Being paranoid about tornadoes I have now bolted the house down to the beam as well. )
  • The electrical panel.  We were told there would be many spare breakers, but I do not think the salesman was familiar with homes having electric heat.  But I will give the home suppliers electrician credit, a full sub panel was installed providing additional breaker space, even still, somewhat limited.
  • The basement stairs are built in a neat and sturdy way.  Full 2 x 10's support the steps, but the notches for the steps are cut on a 1 x 10 which is nailed to the 2 x 10's, making a strong stairway.
  • The plumping and electrical were done professionally in the basement.

The Bad and the Ugly

Quality problems

  • While the house is structurally stable the rear wall is not vertical, it is tilted more than half an inch, probably three quarters.  The house has a vaulted ceiling and when assembled I suppose there was enough "flex" to push the rear wall out.  We noticed this after installing vertical blinds.  What?  Well the blinds are 3/4" away from the wall at the top, but touch the wall at the bottom.  I have checked this with a level, the wall definitely leans.
  • Two of three sliding doors are not properly installed.  The doors do not close fully, therefore the seals do not engage adequately.  On a windy winter day cold air pours in.  The frame of the windows bows inward preventing proper closure.   I have fixed this partially by cranking down the door latch screws pulling the frame so there is more space for closure, but that is definitely a "quick fix". 
  • I have "re-hung" the front door, it was binding very badly.  I am not sure if the house is slightly "racked" or perhaps the door jam was installed racked.  I chiseled the hinge mounts deeper into the door jam at the top.  This pulled the top of the front door away from the binding point.  Now the door will close without 50 pounds of force!
  • The closets in the front half of the house do not have lights?  The closets in the back half have lights.  Was the front half of the house behind schedule?
  • In high winds there was severe air infiltration around many of the light switches adjacent to exterior light fixtures.
  • Exterior light fixture mounting not properly done.  Small bolt cutters are required to make light fixtures fit correctly.  This is probably a home supplier quality problem.
  • Proper exterior fixture insulation.  If the lamps had been installed correctly this might have been OK, but regardless when I fixed the fixtures to fit properly I added caulk and insulation to make sure there was in air infiltration.
  • Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans should be vented to the exterior of the house.  I was crawling through my attic one day and notice the flexible vent house from the master bath was neatly tucked under the blown in insulation.  It should have gone to a missing vent that should have been installed in the roof!  I dangled the end of the hose from a string so it went up and folded back down, this forms a heat trap.  I should put a vent in the roof.  (Actually the home builder should have done this).
  • The kitchen exhaust fan installation became a path for mice to enter the house in two ways!  The vent pipe to the roof was not properly sealed to the pipe from the exhaust fan housing so mice got into the fan, chewed through the metal filter screen and were in the house.  Conceivably this is a fire hazard too.  The exhaust pipe penetration into the attic is sealed with foam.  The mice gnawed through the foam and were able to enter an area adjacent to the kitchen cabinets.  There is a large gap between the drywall and cabinets in drywall surrounding the exhaust pipe, path number two.  I sealed all this up.  Please see my "mice in the attic" article.
  • Creaking floors.  Only the rear half of the house has severely creaking floors after 3 years of actual use.  It appears the glue was applied at the wrong point and missed the joist. 19/32" tongue and grove oriented strand board was used for the flooring, would should be OK if properly glued, it was not properly glued in the rear of the house.  Also 1/8" spacing should be maintained and in the squeaking areas it is quite a bit less than this.
  • Air infiltration around foundation into basement.  There is a foam seal around the base board of the house, certainly a nice try at sealing.  I am pretty sure our house does not have house wrap, if it was available we should have ordered it, and made sure the foundation would be sealed to the home structure.
  • Exterior grading and sloping of backfill was insufficient at the time of turnover and even more so after settling.  I added at least 6 yards of soil to the front of the house, even after my third party contractor had beefed up the original rough grading done by the home supplier.  The rough grading by the home supplier should be sufficient to prevent any water infiltration problems around the foundation.  The home supplier was the foundation contractor in our case.  They can grade enough to compensate in advance for future years settling.  Advice was provided since that the backfill should have been partially stone, which is substantially lighter and retains far less water.
  • Improper fastener length.  The staples used to fasten trim to our kitchen cabinets are excessively long.  This is dangerous especially to children.  The staples stick in and up on the top of the cabinets.  Anyone who reaches up there takes a chance of poking one inch of staple into their hand.
  • The kitchen cabinets are not securely and adequately fastened to the wall.  I believe that perhaps should even a child attempt to climb on these cabinets the cabinets may come down!  The trim on the cabinets will certainly rip off perhaps causing a child to fall.  OF COURSE THEY SHOULD NOT CLIMB ON THE CABINETS.  Did that ever stop you?
  • The kitchen stove anti-tilt device was not installed.
  • The fine, fine, trim on much of the cabinetry is so thin and frail that just a bump will cause the wood to rip through the finish nails and fall off.
  • Kitchen tiles, in some places, have sharp exposed edges where they were cut, and this can cut you!
  • The laminated sides of the kitchen counters are not properly glued adjacent to the stove, like this since new.
  • The shingles on the upper and lower half of the front roof are not properly aligned.  This is cosmetic, but I thought these houses were built on precise "jigs".  Cosmetic problems like this should not occur.
  • The roof peak vent was not installed properly (both ends).  The last 4 or 5 feet on the West end was not fastened on one side.  On the East end, the vent was not properly centered causing a gap to form between the foam end seal and the roof peak.  I screwed and caulked both ends down.  This was a pest (mice) infiltration zone I am sure.  Please see my "mice in the attic" article.
  • The skylight was not installed properly.  We noticed this more by smell than actual moisture penetration.  During heavy rains moisture would get into the attic insulation and then ultimately soak into the drywall in the ceiling.  It was very subtle at first.  I discovered the shingles had been trimmed back too far around the skylight exposing a portion of the plastic drainage system that should not have been exposed.  I "back flashed" this with aluminum sheet, covering the gap.  After a month or two to dry out, no more odor.
  • Windows are single hung!  This was a surprise, we did not even think to ask about this.  I was unaware that they still made single hung windows.  Note: this means only the bottom of the window slides up, the top does not slide down, nor is there a screen.  This can be OK, but cleaning is harder on elevated windows, and on that hot summers day, I used to like to open the top half of the window to let the heat out.
  • Washers were left sitting on the foundation and steal beam.  The house is surprisingly sitting on several stacks of washers.  Someday I might try to fix this with a jack-able Lally column or hydraulic jack.
  • Nail misses.  There are far too many nail misses.  Nails protruding where they should not as well.
  • The attic access panel and trim is so sloppily made the panel comes close to falling through.  I reattached all the trim to properly align it with the openings in the joist so the panel is reasonably supported and seals reasonably well.
  • The basement did not have any insulation between the joists.  The basement is an unheated space, so as delivered perhaps the house should have had insulation between the joists.  This has to be installed after the plumbing and electrical, but our house never got any insulation.  I thought this was a code requirement.  I am 50/50 on needing this because our intent was to finish and heat the basement and there can be some advantage to not having the insulation in the way of this process.
  • This winter 2005, a bullet hit my house!  It went right through an exterior lamp fixture, outside the kitchen wall.  I was in the kitchen when it hit!  By shattering the vinyl siding penetration and electrical junction box it revealed an improper grounding practice.  This exterior box appears to be tied into the rest of the kitchen through at least two additional cables.  The box has 4 cables total.  The problem?  There's about 1/4" of ground wires twisted together, no wire nut, no crimp, these wires have a poor connection at best.  This could be part of a ground fault circuit!  As the weather warms I will research the wiring and fix up the grounding problem. 

Some suggestions

  • Skip the tile trim around your kitchen countertops.  They stick the tile on with caulk, and dirt invariably builds up in this joint, and it is very difficult to clean out.  Repacking this joint with caulk will be very difficult.  Sorry, I would never have tile countertops, the grout has to be a nightmare.
  • Strongly consider double hung windows.

The home suppliers inspection and your signoff

We hurried this inspection and this is where having a 3rd party contractor can make things very difficult.  We were already paying the construction home loan and the home supplier had finished all the work they could until they had the well and septic connections.  The home supplier did not want to turn over the home to us until it was 100% completed.  But we wanted to use the house now, just no water, the electric was in.  The 3rd party contractor was really reluctant to finish the sand mound portion of the septic system, due to very muddy soil conditions.  He said we could make through the winter with just the septic tank once the water was in place.  There were problems with this.  Our home supplier did not want us in the home, our bank would not convert the construction loan, and ultimately we have to endure another half year of muddy property so heavy equipment can come through again. 

 

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BHT Revised: 03 Apr 2017

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