Selecting a General Contractor for a Modular Home
A brief summary of Chapter 5 "Selecting a General Contractor" (20 pages) in The Modular Home , by Andrew Gianino, President of The Home Store
There are three types of construction tasks that need to be completed to build a modular home: the site work, the button-up work, and the construction of site-built structures. Someone needs to be in charge of hiring all of the trades people needed for these tasks, coordinating their schedules, and overseeing their work. That is the job of the general contractor, often known simply as the GC. The GC can be a modular dealer, independent professional, relative, friend, or even yourself. He may have years of experience, or this may be his first job. He may have worked on many modular homes over the years, or never seen one before. He may or may not be licensed.
As a general rule, the best choice for a GC meets the following criteria:
This chapter explains why hiring a GC with these credentials serves most customers well. It also looks at several other options that a customer's personal situation or inclination may lead them to consider. The latter road is full of potential pitfalls, which can be largely avoided if the risks are recognized upfront and taken seriously.
Why Select An Experienced and Licensed General Contractor?
On any construction project, the GC has a full list of responsibilities and duties that are both difficult and time-consuming. A professional, experienced GC is best equipped to handle each of them competently. When problems occur, as they do on every job, he solves them quickly. Better yet, he anticipates problems as a matter of course and heads them off before they become a threat. A licensed GC knows the building codes, which is important not just because following them is the law, but because they protect the customer's health and safety. In short, although it is considerably easier to build a modular home than a stick-framed home from scratch, most modular-home customers benefit substantially from the assistance of an experienced, professional GC.
The classic details of this house fit in both old and new neighborhoods
Here are just some of the more important jobs on a modular-home project:
As this chapter explains, a professional GC completes each of these tasks more competently. In addition, a seasoned GC:
Why Select A GC with Modular-Home Experience?
Any good stick builder can build a garage, porch, or deck, or finish the basement in a modular home. A foundation contractor does not need modular experience to make a good modular-home foundation as long as he follows instructions. Many of the other jobs, however, benefit greatly from someone who has solid experience with modular homes. The excavation contractor, for example, must prepare the site for the delivery and set of the modules. Even contractors with years of excavation experience routinely underestimate the logistical difficulties of maneuvering modules that are often long, usually wide, and always heavy.
The button-up work requires the most specific knowledge of modular construction. There are aspects of the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC work that are unique to modular construction, and there are many interior and exterior carpentry tasks that involve modular-specific skills. Skilled GCs who lack experience with modular homes often get into trouble when they take on modular jobs. GCs who have modular experience, however, know which construction tasks must be completed, how to complete them, and in what order, for any particular house design. They supplement their trade knowledge by using subcontractors who themselves have modular expertise.
Seasoned modular GCs understand the difference between their button-up responsibilities and true warranty issues. They know that manufacturers expect them to repair and adjust components of the modules that need some additional work because of the delivery and set. Repair of minor drywall cracks, adjustment of miter joints, and realignment of windows and doors are considered normal GC responsibilities. GCs with modular experience know to budget time and money to complete this work.
GCs with modular experience also save you money because they know how much to charge for specific tasks. They do not have to pad their price estimates to protect themselves from their own inexperience.
This is not to imply that an inexperienced GC cannot learn. A well-informed customer, armed with the information presented in this book, could help a GC understand the unique aspects of modular building.
The Home Store's Sugarloaf 5 model home with a front porch
Why Select Dealers Who Are Also General Contractors?
The ideal situation for someone buying a modular home is to work with a dealer who can also function as the GC. This chapter explains how having one person in charge of the whole project offers the following benefits.
Other General-Contracting Options
Many people take pride in acting as general contractors on their own home construction. For those who do, increasing numbers are finding that modular homes are much easier to manage than stick-built homes, since they reduce responsibilities to a manageable level and afford a greater measure of control. People often enlist the help of relatives and friends in these projects.
Some people do this quite well. They have the right personality, the supervisory and management skills, and the necessary time. Their relatives and friends may have prior construction experience that allows them to bring the project in on budget and on schedule, allowing them all to celebrate their success in a wonderful house-warming party. Often, however, things do not go this smoothly. Since you may be considering hiring relatives and friends or acting as your own GC, this chapter takes a close look at many of the potential pitfalls of doing so.
Better Ways to Save Money
People who think they will save significant money by acting as their own general contractor are wrong more often than right. This chapter discusses the following three options for a budget-conscious customer. It also discusses how to hire a GC as a "construction manager". This arrangement allows you to hire your own subcontractors and purchase your own materials, thus eliminating the GC's markup for these jobs. The advantage is that you get to retain some expert guidance you would not otherwise have.
A competent GC requires a different set of skills than a competent modular dealer, and the screening process needs to take these differences into account. Even if you are using the same person for both jobs, look at his competence in each field separately. It is also important to look closely at your GC's skills even if you have already selected him because he is a friend or family member. After all, you want to know his strengths and weaknesses. If you are assuming the role of GC, shop for subcontractors using the same advice offered here.
This chapter answers the following questions:
To learn more about building a modular home, read excerpts from the other chapters of The Modular Home (325 pages), by Andrew Gianino, President of The Home Store: