Friday, May 22, 2015

May Builder Breakfast a Fantastic Success

To say I was a little nervous about moving the Monthly Builder Breakfast from Frederick, MD to Lewisburg, PA would be an understatement. But my apprehension was misplaced as reservations came rolling in and in fact there was an overflow of people wanting to attend.

Milt Stoltzfus

Builders and factory people from all over the area showed up, had a great buffet and then settled in to listen to two speakers, Milt Stoltzfus, manager of the PA Industrialized Housing Program bringing us up to date on our industry’s impact not only in PA but also throughout the entire East Coast and Rick Terry, a HERS rater who owns Eco-Haven, a consulting company.

Rick Terry
Rick spoke on the thousands of dollars builders are leaving on the table simply because they are not aware it is there simply for the asking. When I asked him how many modular builders are actually taking advantage of state Energy and Green programs, he guesstimated at only 10%.

If you would like to know more from them, you can contact Milt at mstltzfus@pa.gov and Rick can always be reached at fterry@eco-haven.com.

Next month’s speaker is Andy Gianino, owner of The Home Store in New England and author of the most widely read book on modular construction, The Modular Home. He is outspoken about his love for this industry and wants to share his ideas for improving it on several fronts including factory/builder relations, marketing and building a “better” builder.

It was also announced yesterday that I will be having an all day seminar for builders and factory people featuring professionals taking on contract law, better mortgage preparation, extended warranty coverage you may be overlooking and lastly, a fresh, new approach to marketing our industry. Keep you September calendars ready to reserve the date when it is announced.

I want to personally thank everyone that attended my first Builder Breakfast in Lewisburg and judging by the emails I’ve received, this is now the permanent home for my Builder Breakfasts.

Magazine Acknowledges Success of Excel Homes

I really like it when a well respected regional magazine like the Central Penn Business Journal does a great article about our industry. With so many good modular home manufacturers in PA, it must have been a tough decision to choose between them.

The article not only reflects on Excel Homes in Liverpool, PA but for modular homes in general.

Here is the article from the Central Penn Business Journal:

Modular success for Excel

The traditional home has long been built from the ground up using hammers, nails and other means to fasten wood, brick, concrete and other materials.

When the company now known as Excel Homes began building homes in 1984, it capitalized on a revolution transforming the modular home industry from a niche business into a mainstream option that today accounts for nearly 10 percent of all new homes. Until then, modular homes were mainly rectangular and suffered the stigma of being associated with the cheap homes that filled a market need in the post-war decades.
That housing need stemmed from the baby boom generation, which fueled strong population growth across the United States.

From a Juniata County manufacturing facility, Excel began making customized modular homes. Advances in Computer-Aided Design programs opened the door for creative modular designs.

Within a few years, Excel was constructing 2,000-square-foot family homes with all the modern amenities — all from the climate-controlled confines of its five factories. Today, the company is under the Innovative Building Systems Inc. umbrella, the result of the 2010 sale of Excel Homes to H.I.G. Capital, a Miami-based private investment firm.
H.I.G named Steven Scheinkman president and CEO and created IBS.

IBS, based in Lower Allen Township, claims to be the leading builder of modular homes in the United States. The original of its five factories is in Susquehanna Township, Juniata County, while others are in Maine, Virginia, Indiana and Iowa.

“The culture that exists at Excel is one of pride and relationships,” said Phil Hickman, president of Excel Homes and All American Homes, another IBS brand. “There are very strong relationships, not only with the employee base ... but also the supplier base and the builder base. We treat our janitor the same as we treat our CEO.”
Tough times

After more than 25 years of mostly strong growth, Excel Homes went through a tumultuous period in 2010. The down period coincided with the poor economy, which caused home sales to plummet.

President and CEO Steve Scharnhorst resigned in April, and the company was acquired a month later by H.I.G. Capital.

Anthony Zarilli, president of Zarrilli Homes Inc. in Brick, N.J., had several homes on order at the time for various customers. He recalled meeting Scheinkman, who personally visited Zarilli to smooth relations.

“It wasn't the easiest process for about six months, but they 100 percent came through,” Zarilli said. “So that kind of solidified the relationship for me.”

Zarilli is one of Excel's biggest customers, ordering 30 to 40 homes annually for the Jersey Shore. The majority of IBS homes are sold along the East Coast; overall they are sold in more than 30 states.

“I've tried a couple other companies over the years and nobody has been able to beat Excel on the quality,” said Terrance Hegel, owner and president of Atlantic Modular Builders in Manasquan, N.J. “When I talk about Excel as a manufacturer to my customers, I say they're the Toyota of the modular home world.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Answer Man: Is My Modular Home Safe in a Storm?

Finally, a reporter for The Citizen-Times in Ashville, NC calling himself the "Answer Man" puts out an article that should get people to realize that off-frame modular is a great option when choosing to build their new home.

Here is the article and link:

Question: On the April 13 Opinions page of the Citizen-Times, it is stated that modular homes are not as safe in violent storms as conventionally built houses. Since I live in a modular home, I am wondering if there is any data to show the safety of these homes during bad weather? Should I leave my home and seek shelter elsewhere when storms come?

My answer: I live in a stick-built home made of Styrofoam, vinyl siding and studs. It's basically a cooler. Want to trade?

Real answer: First of all, I wanted to get the terms as clear as possible, so I sent the question to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, where spokeswoman Tiffany O'Shea sent me this explanation:

"There are two kinds of manufactured homes being produced in factories throughout the United States," she said. "There are manufactured homes built to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development construction code. These are commonly referred to as 'mobile homes' and are built on a steel chassis with wheels. In most cases, the wheels remain attached after the home is set on piles built using dry-stack concrete blocks (blocks piles that are not reinforced and mortared together)."

"They may be single, double or triple wide (one, two or three units mated together) and are typically held down by straps that go from the chassis or side of the home to earth anchors that are screwed into the ground," O'Shea continued. "These homes are the typical targets for evacuation recommendations when severe weather threatens. The other kind of manufactured homes are usually referred to as modular homes; and that seems to be what you are asking about."

Indeed it is. For that part of the question, she provided an answer from Timothy Reinhold, senior vice president for research and the chief engineer at the institute.

"Modular homes are built to the same building codes and subject to the same inspections as 'site built' homes built in the area where the home is to be sited," Reinhold said. "Modular homes are installed on permanent foundations just like site built homes. In theory, modular homes should be just as strong as site built homes in the same area and because they are built in a factory setting they may be subject to higher quality control measures."

I found a couple of industry website stories online, based on a Federal Emergency Management Agency study, suggesting that modular homes are actually stronger than site built homes, in part because of those factory standards and the need to withstand travel and crane lifts.

I also talked with Matt Stone, Buncombe County's director of Permits & Inspections, who also said modular homes "are built to North Carolina building codes and standards, so all that — floor loads, wind loads — is theoretically compliant to stick built."

Stone noted modulars can come in "on-frame" and "off-frame" models, meaning some are sited on the frame and anchored in a similar way to manufactured homes, while off-frame homes are taken off the frames and typically put on a foundation.

Reinhold touched on this, too.

"Some modular homes, and even some site built homes with crawl spaces are strapped down with relatively long metal straps that are typically loose," he said. "If your home is on piers with long loose metal straps as the only sign of anchorage, your home will likely be more vulnerable to high winds than a site built home that is properly anchored (anchor bolts, plate washers and nuts) to a concrete slab, a reinforced masonry or concrete basement wall, or a reinforced masonry or concrete stem-wall around a crawl space."

All sources noted homes built away from the coastline, where hurricanes occur more frequently, are "generally not designed to withstand particularly high winds and many of them can be significantly damaged by relatively weak tornadoes or storms with wind gusts of 100 mph or higher," as Reinhold said.

If you want to check the quality of your modular home, he suggested checking in the attic to see if the trusses are at a minimum made with full-sized 2x4s (1.5-inch by 3.5-inch), and that the ends of the trusses are connected to the tops of the exterior walls using metal straps. Also, try to identify the line where separate modules are connected together in the attic and in the basement or crawl space and make sure that the modules are bolted together and supported along the mating lines, and check to make sure that the floor system is anchored with bolts, plate washers and nuts to the foundation."

This is the opinion of John Boyle. To submit a question, contact him at 828-232-5847 or jboyle@citizen-times.com. Click here to read the original article.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Coastal Modular Group Chooses Eco Red Shield for Their NJ Homes

Coastal Modular Group is a collective of New Jersey's premier modular home builders, site builders, designers, engineers, architects and contract professionals. Coastal Modular Group was formed by local New Jersey modular home builders and civil engineers to ensure that their neighbors receive the best possible direction, service and support.

Collectively, their team has built hundreds of custom modular homes in NJ all along the Shoreline. That same team consists of lifelong local NJ Residents committed to the rebuilding effort and more importantly the people and families that were affected. Most recently they've made the move to go defensive and build with Eco Red Shield protected lumber.

Eco Building Products, Inc. is a manufacturer of treated wood products that are protected against fire, mold/mycotoxins, fungus, rot-decay, wood ingesting insects and termites by their proprietary eco-friendly chemistry utilizing ECOB WoodSurfaceFilm™ and FRC™ technology (Fire Retardant Coating) leading the world on Defensive Innovations through the implementation of defensive building practices.

Eco Building Products' Global Defensive Vision is to foster environmental stewardship, respect reforestation programs, and consider the carbon footprint and recycling efforts in the protection of homeowners and builders.

Finish Werks Continues to Battle High Energy Costs

When Antonette and Clement Vasseur decided they wanted to build a “passive house” in Brunswick, MD they turned to Finish Werks in Savage, MD.

They were looking for an air-tight home that draws less energy for heating and cooling than a typical new home but the cost of building such a buttoned up LEED home that is practically ‘off the grid’ was very expensive so they chose to go with the US Dept of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home which means it will be more energy-efficient and have a means of generating power, bringing the overall amount of energy consumed as close to zero as possible.

Harris Woodward, Finish Werks
This is where Harris Woodward, owner of Finish Werks came into the picture. He is well known in both Maryland’s Energy/Green community and also in the modular industry as one of the most energy efficient new home builders on the East Coast.

Antonette Vasseur standing in front of her new home
The Vasseur’s new home 2,500 square feet and will have a high-efficiency heat pump and solar panels on the roof, just enough to power the home.

“The house is probably not exactly net-zero, but we’ll see in a year or so,” Clement Vasseur said.

“That’s pretty neat, and something I’d like to do,” he said. Though neither he nor his wife have a background in architecture, the Vasseurs are advocates of energy conservation and green living, not to mention lower power bills.

Clement estimates that in a worst-case scenario, their energy bills in their new home would be $50 per month.

The Vasseurs join many of their neighbors in making green improvements. Bruce Dell, Brunswick’s planning and zoning administrator, said the city received one application for a solar array permit in 2012. Last year, they received 42 applications.

More and more builders are using Energy Star standards and alternatives to LEED as the minimum requirements for homes, Woodward said. “Very few builders are talking about LEED anymore.”

Clement said he expects to see more homes like his in the Frederick County area in the near future.

“It’s going to be much more common because it makes sense,” he said.

Their house is scheduled to be completed in July.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Modular Housing and the Kentucky Derby

As I was watching the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness the past two weekends I noticed how well prepared the horses and jockeys were for the races. Even the mud on the track at the Preakness didn’t stop the horses running all out.

The horses were well fed, healthy and well groomed. The jockeys had their silks pressed and the colors were bright. The trainers had prepared the horses and were excited to hear their horse’s name from the loudspeakers. Owners were anxious to see if their horse could win. Bets were placed on every horse. It was Go Time!

Then the jockeys brought their horses up to the starting gates and guided them into their starting position. The horses were keenly aware that soon they would be ready to run.

Then the announcer said the horse race was ready and the buzzer went off and the horses bolted from the gate. Magnificent!

Maybe your horse didn’t Win, Place or Show but it ran the entire race and finished. Maybe it won and you won some money. Either way, it was a great race.

Now imagine the modular housing industry in a similar position. Thousands of potential customers in the stands waiting for the chance to see our builders in action.

The modular factories are the trainers, the modular home builders are the jockeys and the builder’s companies are the horses.

Unfortunately only a few trainers (factories) have spent any time with the jockeys (home builders) preparing the horses (New home companies) for the race. Most of the jockeys have had to not only get themselves prepared for the race, they also had to train the horse.

The trainers each have so many horses that need trained that they just don’t have much time or money to do a good job of it. Some trainers have so many horses in the race that the ones that work hard on their own get all the feed and attention while others stand around waiting to see who will feed and train them.

The jockeys are trying to fill the trainer’s job but they know little about what goes into the behind the scenes of properly training the horse. There is no book or person to turn to fill this need.

The horses tend to lose their fine tuning and begin to be less than they could be.

When the horses are brought into the starting gate to await the run, neither the jockey nor the horse are prepared to capture the crowd’s attention. When the gate finally opens the horses and jockeys don’t run out but rather just wander around looking at each other for the way to the finish line.

Isn’t this what the modular housing industry is becoming? We all want more than a 3% share of the new home market but nobody has stepped forward and said to the industry that until we start training the builders and the factory sales staff on ways to market our unique building methods, we will just continue to wander around the starting gate until maybe a couple of them will eventually find the finish line.

There are some factories and builders actually doing things right and winning over hundreds and thousands of new home buyers but for every one of them, they are others that need the training that our industry should be providing.

It is a question of money, talent and time. Three things that have been in short supply since the housing recession of 2008. It is coming back but very slowly.

Maybe it’s time to bring in professional trainers to help. They could get us to look at what we are doing right and improve on them. They could help factories and builders improve their websites and social media. They could create marketing programs for both our industry and for the factory and the builder.

As Dr. Phil says, the first step to changing a problem is to acknowledge the problem. I don’t think there’s any argument that we have a problem. Now we need to find that professional help.

Zarrilli Homes Taking New Home Buyers for a Factory Visit

Anthony Zarrilli, the owner of Zarrilli Homes in Brick, NJ, uses every tool in his marketing pouch to bring in new prospects to his business.

Social media isn't enough. This Old Home and Breakneck Builds TV shows featuring his company weren't enough. Being written up in many local newspapers isn't enough. So what is next for this quality NJ modular home builder?

You guessed it! Hire a luxury bus and take prospective new home buyers to the Excel Modular Homes factory in PA to see how his homes are built.

I understand there may still be a few seats left if you are looking to build in his part of NJ.

This is the bus Modcoach's grandson would use

Knowing Anthony and his staff, the riders will be treated to a first class trip.
Lucky them.