Wednesday, March 13, 2019

State Code Officials Unprepared for Next Wave of Modular

After attending many meetings where state manufactured housing code officials told how their current systems work and more importantly how they are understaffed for the amount of work thrown on their desks every day it’s a miracle some state code officials don’t look for less stressful jobs like crash test dummy.


In most states the modular home factory must have their plans approved by third party inspectors and state and local code enforcement agencies. With the onslaught of modular housing plans crossing their desks to be reviewed to verify they meet all the building codes it’s no wonder what was once a good working relationship between third party inspection services, the factory and the state code people has been now become in many instances an adversarial relationship.

Many state legislatures fund their housing code offices like it was 1999. Until recently NJ’s manufactured housing department was also in charge of inspecting and reviewing amusement park rides. MA used to have a great modular housing code review system until it imploded a few years ago.

Maryland has seen an almost 90% drop in modular homes coming into the state mostly due to the super restrictive enforcement of IRC codes while site builders are practically given a rubber stamp approval by local code officials.

But instead of seeing improvement happening in these agencies there is a new problem headed their way in the form of tiny houses, 3D printing, modular ADU housing as well as new affordable and homeless modular housing projects.

Has staffing been added? Has over-regulation been addressed? Has zoning and code regulations been updated to meet these new modular projects? In most cases the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Reviewing modular home plans is not a ‘lick and stick’ process for state building code officials. It takes time to make sure all components of a house meets the state’s current building codes and rejections and refiling are becoming commonplace. That means the same number of state staff are now looking at plans two or more times before they approve them.

Many states look at housing code enforcement agencies as just one of those things that needs almost no attention from year to year and funding for them is always lacking. Fewer staff to handle an ever increasing amount of new modular home applications means that someday soon something has to give. What that will look like is anyone’s guess.

Personally you couldn’t pay me enough to sit at a desk reviewing modular home plan after modular home plan looking for the smallest missing notation or wrong code being applied to a roof section day after day after day for 30 years. Then you go to work one bright sunny morning and learn that your state just adopted the new IRC Tiny House code and there is already a 200 plan backlog in your ‘INBOX”.

By the way your state also adopted IRC regulations for the newest zoning change, the Auxiliary Housing Unit, for cities across the state. This will be another playground for the modular housing industry.

That crash test dummy job is probably looking pretty good about now.

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