Thursday, January 19, 2017

Energy Codes Continue to Prove Challenging for Modular Factories and Builders

This was sent to me by Rick Terry, a HERS Rater with vast experience working with the modular home industry.


Here he talks about new Energy requirements for MA but other states like NJ will also see these beginning in 2017. I wish I could say enjoy the article, but…...

Massachusetts Energy Codes and Common Issues Challenging Compliance at Final Testing

an article by Rick Terry, HERS Rater

The MA Energy Codes continue to be another example of “open to interpretation & enforcement” as the transition from IECC2009/IECC2012/MA Stretch Energy (1st ed.) moves to IECC2015/MA Stretch Energy (2nd ed.)!

Statements have been all over the spectrum on what the current situation is and what the future will require in regard to HERS Rater involvement and application. I as a Rater am continuing to search for “solid” answers so I can both serve you and your clients better but also to determine how I need to adjust my business accordingly.

I don’t have those answers yet but I feel like I’m getting closer. Please see the following link for what appears to be a decent resource for what the code changes will mean to us  including links to the actual regulations, up to date locator maps for Stretch Code communities and the ENERGY STAR® Version 3.1 (Rev.8) alternative.

Based on my recent experience with the requirements of the IECC2012 & IECC2015 codes, especially with regard to building envelope leakage, duct leakage, and mechanical ventilation, I STRONGLY urge you to consider your current levels of air sealing, thermal insulation materials and values, and completion of your mechanical bath fans and range hoods. The majority (I’d say roughly 80%) of houses I have tested under the new code requirements have failed the air leakage requirements during the blower door test. Air sealing of the building envelope in the plant and on site is critical to meeting the minimum requirement of 3AirChangesperHour at -50 pascals; a 40% reduction from the 5ACH50 that the IECC2009 required.

The majority of issues are site related, post set, which is always a great challenge due to the number of independent contractors trying to get their respective jobs done and not having any responsibility for the air sealing issues. Here are some of the most common issues challenging the tightening of the envelope:

Marriage walls sealed with expanding foam on all horizontal and vertical exterior seams (prior to covering with sheathing); center beams in attics and basements; interior cross over areas at interior doors and archways. The foam gaskets used in the marriage wall by plant and set crews are a start but DO NOT provide adequate air sealing needed. Additional air sealing, preferably an expanding foam product is required to insure meeting envelope leakage code requirements.

Air sealing with expanding foam and/or caulk of plumbing and electrical penetrations made by contractors on site; sealing radon vents, conduits, and HVAC chases on top and bottom.

Sealing off under tub/shower drain cut outs once plumbing is complete. This are major sources of air leakage in the building envelope as well as between floors which creates more depressurization that pulls air in between floors/units and coming out through unsealed areas of the interior walls like outlets, switches, others. This also occurs where sink drains go into walls and/or through the floors. Also, caulking or foaming between drywall and floor on any walls adjacent to unconditioned space /exterior behind or under tub/showers PRIOR to installing. Just because it is out of site does not mean that these areas do not need to be air sealed when on outside walls. (Same for HVAC chases and fireplaces)

Fireplace box outs need to be completely air sealed at all seams and joints especially top at ceiling to vertical wall and floor to wall; the through the wall vent needs to be addressed as well. The fireplaces are causing a lot of leakage issues; I know there are concerns about both insulating around and air sealing the vent and collar. I spoke with some manufacturers’ reps about using mineral wool for insulation around the flue and the hi-temp red caulking to air seal around the collar and any other seams that can cause leakage. They verbally confirmed with their “higher-ups” that this would be acceptable and not violate any warranties or compliance. I haven’t yet received the confirmation in writing but will definitely get it distributed as soon as I do!

Appliance installs cause additional unsealed penetrations; prior to final install, air seal drains, supplies and electrical wires that were run post set. In addition, even the water lines for ice makers need to be air sealed at the floor or wall.

Condensate drains for HVAC, emergency relief drains on WHW, etc. need to be extended into drains through appropriate grommet to air seal or equivalent. These drains are notorious connections between conditioned and unconditioned spaces.

Weather-stripping doors to basements and attics plus making sure the sweeps or sills seal the gap at the bottom of the door is very important. I’ve also caulked between the casing and drywall on the conditioned side of these doors which is a common source of leakage.

Why Young People Don’t Want Factory Work

The idea that blue collar jobs aren't a pathway to the middle class and higher is antiquated and wrong. Factory work today is often highly sophisticated and knowledge-based with workers using equipment and tools their ancestors never had.

After honing their skills in the factory, carpenters, electricians and technicians can earn upwards of $50,000 a year--which in most years still places a household with two such income earners in the top 25 percent for income. It's true these aren't glitzy or cushy jobs, but they do pay a good salary.

So why aren't young workers filling these available modular home factory jobs--or getting the skills necessary to fill them. Here are 4 reasons that may account for a lot of Millennial’s reluctance to seek factory work:

First, government discourages work. Welfare consists of dozens of different and overlapping federal and state income support programs. A recent Census Bureau study found more than 100 million Americans collecting a government check or benefit each month. The spike in families on food stamps, SSI, disability, public housing, and early Social Security remains very high even 9 years into the housing recovery. This should come as no surprise given the combination of the scaled back welfare work requirements and the steep phase-out of benefits as a recipient begins earning income.


Second, our public school systems often fail to teach kids basic skills. Whatever happened to shop classes? We ‎have schools that now concentrate more on ethnic studies and tolerance training than teaching kids how to use a lathe or a graphic design tool. Universities are even more negligent. Kids commonly graduate from four year colleges with $100,000 of debt and little vocational training. A liberal arts education is valuable, but it should come paired with some practical skills.


Third, negative attitudes toward "blue collar" work. Many parents say they are disappointed if their kids want to become a craftsman--instead of going to college. This attitude discourages kids from learning how to make things, which contributes to sector-specific worker shortages. Meanwhile, too many people want to go into the talking professions: lawyers, media, clergy, professors, and so on. Those who can't “do,” become attorneys and sociology professors.

Fourth, higher education has become an excuse to delay entry into the workforce. I always cringe when I talk to 22 year olds who will graduate from college and who tell me their next step is to go to graduate school. Maybe by time they are 26 or 27 they will start working.

Home Shows - A Waste of Money for Builders

Just 10 years ago the housing industry officially went into the fetal position. Modular factories started shuttering their doors, builders went bankrupt or simply left the business and new home buyers were nonexistent and homeowners watched the equity in their homes disappear.
It’s been a rough decade but there is hope for modular housing again. Factories are running at near capacity, commercial projects like hotels, apartment complexes and senior housing are replacing a lot of the capacity that was once the domain of the single family modular home builder.
Most of the builders you see in business today weathered the years after the housing recession and are back bigger and and stronger than before.
This is not to say that there haven’t been a few problems along the way. Excel Homes, one of the largest custom modular home factories in the East, filed for bankruptcy twice since the recession. It’s finally in good hands since its purchase by Champion Home Builders.
Local Home Shows also suffered over the past 10 years. If you haven’t been to one in a couple of years let me tell you what you will see this year.
Every Realtor will have a booth filled with people that really don’t want to be there and end up talking to each other while they hand out candy, pens and mini calendars to everyone. Banks are also everywhere you look manned by staff that really doesn’t like giving up their weekend just so that the attendees can spin the wheel and maybe win a pen, a refrigerator magnet or the big prize of dinner at Red Lobster.
There will be a mix of craftspeople showing the woodworking skills, local gift shops, people selling packets of salad mixes, plumbers, closet organizers, garage door salespeople and on and on and on.
What you won’t see are local homebuilders. There might be a couple of tract home builders like Ryan Homes with a booth displaying their latest acquisition of land and handing out literature but you will see very few local builders.
There are two reasons for this. First the number of independent new home builders has dwindled to record lows and secondly, cost both in time and money.
Today’s local builder knows that having a good presence on Facebook is better than sitting at a Home Show trying to grab sales from the people that are there just to have something to do on a Saturday or Sunday when there is no football on TV.
Local builders are also using their website to attract people to their homes. A lot of really great websites have been developed over the past 10 years by builders that understand that most, an estimated 95%, prospective new home buyers begin their search by Googling for builders in their area.
Today many Home Shows have been renamed “Home and Garden” or “ The Spring Show”. The builders that used to show up, built an elaborate display and maybe sell one home from the Home Show are gone.
My advice. Take the money you would have spent on being in the Home Show and hire a good web designer to refresh your website, learn how to promote yourself and get free exposure on Facebook and post lots of pictures of your homes which will find their way onto Pinterest.
Starting writing a blog. It’s free also.

Just don’t waste your time on being part of a Home Show at your local Community College, Mall or Fire Hall.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Modular Home Builders Association Has Your Back

While you are busy building homes, the Modular Home Builders Association (MHBA) has been plowing through countless pages of proposed new rules and regulations.  According to a recent survey by the National Small Business Association, the cost of dealing with federal regulations alone exceeds $12,000 annually for small business owners.  This includes time spent reviewing and understand the tax code, Affordable Health Care Act, and proposed overtime rules.  In addition to federal regulations, many modular homes builders and manufacturers find themselves spending even more time and money addressing state and local issues.  
Did you know that just in the last thirty days while you were enjoying time with your family (at least we hope you were enjoying your time), there were over 10,000 bills introduced at the state level, 6,770 state level regulations introduced, 2,461 federal regulations introduced, and 516 new federal bills introduced – that’s nearly 20,000 new laws and rules proposed in thirty days alone!
In an effort to save modular companies time and money, MHBA has been reviewing these bills and regulations to determine the potential industry impact.   MHBA Director Tom Hardiman recently hosted a call with members to talk about those issues.  Here’s a summary of what was discussed:
California – A recent housing report posted on the Department of Housing and Community Development page shows a shortfall in the supply of homes of 100,000 annually for the next decade.  This shortfall, coupled with California’s requirement for net zero energy homes by 2020 will help drive market share growth and acceptance of modular homes.
Connecticut – 1,005 bills introduced so far.  67 pertaining to “transportation” but none of those are specific to expanding oversize shipment permits yet.  MHBA is working with lawmakers on a more comprehensive transportation bill this session.    
Florida – Florida is working on their 6th edition of Florida Building Code which is open for public comments now.  The Florida Building Commission meets on 2/7/17 to discuss proposed changes.
Georgia – Georgia Industrialized Building program meets in April to discuss containers and tiny homes. MHBA plans on attending.
Indiana – 1,172 bills introduced.  104 regulations introduced.  HB 1124 – requires disclosure of engineered lumber on building permit application.  MHBA will monitor this bill but does not think it will progress due to the added burden it imposes on local building officials.
Maryland – 207 bills introduced so far.  None impactful to industry.  157 regulations in last 30 days. None impactful.  MHBA is working with the Department on changes to their administrative processes to try to streamline the program and reduce time and money.
Massachusetts – 51 bills introduced so far.   107 regulations in the last 30 days.  None seem relevant. The 9th Edition of the building code will soon be available for public comment with complete re-write of modular program.  Draft available for review soon. Public hearings are tentatively set for March.  Several key changes are being considered to the program.  
New York – 4,591 bills introduced!  These include two companion bills similar to last year, establishing a mobile and manufactured home replacement program and providing state funding to replace dilapidated mobile homes with new mobile and modular homes. SB 1378 & AB 1124.  
Pennsylvania – 96 bills introduced.  118 state regulations in last 30 days.  None seem relevant.  The commercial modular program moving under the Department Community and Economic Development (DCED) in 2017.
Tiny Homes continue to gain in popularity and acceptance – a recent new California law applying to accessory dwelling units changes the requirement for tiny homes and should open the door for much greater acceptance.  AB 2299 eliminated many of the requirements for accessory dwelling units that prohibited greater use of tiny homes.  Several other cities and states are currently considering similar changes.

For more information or updates on these issues or in other states, email

2017 Job Listings Starting to Show Up on the Blog

The first of this years job listings for the systems built industry have just arrived on my desk from Robert Sage Careers.

If any of these positions interest you, visit their website at or email them at

Modular/Branch Manager/South West
Modular/Sales Rep./South West
Modular/West/Design Engineer
Modular/Branch Managers/U.S.
Modular/Arch.Structural Eng. C.E., A.E., or P.E. strong exp.w/wood structures/North East
Modular/Purchasing Manager/South
Modular/HUD/Production Personnel/US

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Official Videos from the 2017 IBS

For everyone that attended the show, here are daily video recaps directly from the NAHB. For those that couldn't attend, it may be a blessing just to watch them as the show was HUGE!

Congrats to the NAHB for yet another great event. Looking forward to next year in Orlando.




Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite BSC Speaker at This Year’s IBS

The BSC Lounge had a lot of very good speakers including Sam Rashkin, Tifanee McCall, Ken Semler and others but the one that I found delivered a message that every modular home builder and factory owner should pay closer attention to was given by Valerie Jurik-Henry on Aging in Place.

Talking vjh.jpg

We all age and the house we build for ourselves today will not; let me repeat that; will not be the house we need later in life simply because we don’t design it for our older selves.

There was a good crowd in the BSC Lounge when she began her talk on aging, all doing what they always do, talking to each other, wandering around, getting coffee, etc. But a very unusual thing happened. Everyone stopped doing those things and began to really listen to her talk about where most falls and injuries the home.

50plus 1990.jpg
50+ Population in 1990

50plus 2010.jpg
50+ Population in 2010, just 20 years later

She offered graphs and charts that showed most senior citizen falls occur in home bathrooms and in what was a real surprise, flat, dry surfaces were a leading cause of falls.

falls where.jpg

Valerie went on to say that builders and factories need to rethink how to tweak floorplans and options to meet the needs of everyone from cradle to grave when designing new homes. It isn’t hard to sell Green or High Performance and it shouldn’t be hard to sell “Inclusive” design either.

If you haven’t heard her speak on the subject, you are missing one of the best and most personable speakers you will ever hear.

Valerie is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), a professional speaker, author and consultant. With over 30 years of experience in healthcare and housing, she has a unique view when it comes to educating businesses, industries and families.

Aging In Place simply means ‘to live at home for as long as possible.’ Valerie’s entire career has been geared toward helping people do just that. She works with businesses to embark on the Aging In Place market to offer more choices. Her motto is, and has always been, “Educate to Create a Voice For Choice” ™

Valerie realizes how important choices are in life. A choice can only be made if we are presented with two or more options. The reality is that we usually do what someone else has done or what we’re told to do. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just the way we function as people. But think about how much better our decisions would be if they were truly informed decisions.

As we age, for instance, we start to make decisions about:

• Where am I going to live? 
• How can I remain in this house? 
• Who can help me?

Valerie became a speaker and consultant to help people see these important decisions as educated choices rather than a gamble. With Valerie’s years of experience, she navigates the waters to help you better understand aging, Aging In Place and how to engage in the market.

She is ready to offer her consulting services to any builder and factory that wants to begin addressing these issues and has spoken at my Boot Camps.

Changes Coming in Housing

Traditional housing will always be the number one way our industry grows. The ranch, cape and two story home dominate the new home market.

However there are changes that everyone in the modular home industry needs to be aware of. Small is the new big. Modular is the new custom-built. 3-dimensional printers are creating components for new homebuilders. Auxiliary Dwelling Units, Medical Cottages and even yurts, the dwellings favored by Mongolian herders, are making a comeback.

Micro Apartments
What is smaller than a tiny house? Micro apartments. These units are coming at a quarter the size of median size apartments built in the last 5 years are cropping up in big cities like New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles. They’re even spreading to smaller metros like Providence, Rhode Island.

What they lack in size, micro apartments make up for in lower costs—usually. But residents may wind up paying a little extra for the luxury amenities that many come with, such as Wi-Fi, weekly housekeeping service and even communal activities such as whitewater rafting trips and happy hours.

These circular homes, which have sheltered Mongolian nomads for thousands of years, can cost quite a bit less than more traditional homes. A roughly 700-square-foot model with a wooden frame and vinyl walls could go for around $20,000. That doesn’t include the foundation and utilities hookups.

That’s a prime reason why over the past few years, sales of the structures have grown by about 10 percent annually with many retirees wanting them as their empty nest homes.

This is one type of home construction that is not well suited to modular construction but I thought it was interesting that they have been on the upswing in the US.

Modular homes.
phone 196.jpg
Upscale modular homes are beginning to enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Modular housing is often of higher quality, costs about the same as site built but with less waste and can go up a lot faster than traditionally built homes.

Modular is also inherently greener and inspected better and more often than site built homes.

3-D Printed Home Components
Homes created by a 3-D printer are expected to be cheaper than traditionally built residences.

They don’t require as many construction workers and they produce less waste as the machines use only as much material as is needed. New homes could be designed by ordinary folks and printed in days.

99% of the 3-D printed parts are components that can replace some of the materials and standard components in homes and will be used mostly for site built homes.

The technology is still evolving, but rudimentary buildings, mostly made of concrete, are already being printed around the world. They still have to be finished which usually occurs off-site.

Tiny Houses
This small segment is gaining popularity and once the modified IRC TH code is completed and implemented, many states will begin creating zoning laws and regulations for them. Modular factories should be ready for this when the IRC regs are completed. Once this happens the logical place to build them will be on an production line that already builds to the IRC code and that is the modular factory.

There are several other types of single family dwellings that will begin to make inroads in tomorrow’s housing including ADUs and Medical Cottages.

Auxiliary Dwelling Unit

Medical Cottage
These new types of housing should make the owners of every modular factory in the US drool with anticipation. Well, maybe not the Yurts but surely everything else.