It’s just an ABS pad, right?

This past week, the Ohio Manufactured Home Commission held a hearing on revised changes to Ohio Rule 4781.  This law is the one that dictates among other things how manufactured homes are installed in the State of Ohio.  If you install any manufactured home in Ohio, whether you are moving the home from one place to another or purchasing it new, or whether it is being installed in a manufactured home park or on private property, this law is the one that the installers and inspectors must follow when installing it.  Interestingly, most manufactured home owners are not even aware of it–until they move the home and try to have the power hooked up.  That is when the power company is going to ask for proof of the required inspections.

The changes in the rule were initiated to align it with the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) model codes, which dictated the minimum requirements for all states’ laws.  Ohio initially developed its rule before HUD finalized its model code, by more than a year.  However, when HUD’s model code was passed into law, Ohio needed to align its rules with HUD’s, and that was the purpose of the hearing.

One particular part of the rule change had me concerned.  It was the part where acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) pads were going to be allowed for all installations in place of a concrete footing required in the current rule.  The foundations of many manufactured homes differs from stick-built homes in that the home is supported on a series of piers as opposed to a wall foundation.  Typical manufactured homes have a pair of steel I-beams running the length of each section of the building.  When set, these beams will sit atop the piers, which are spaced about eight to ten feet apart.  Some manufactured homes do have foundation wall structural systems.  But, even these homes have a series of piers under the home in places.

Piers supporting a manufactured home are usually constructed with some kind of footing and a stack of concrete and wood blocks.  Until now, footings were a minimum of 6″ of concrete and usually were constructed in strips that either ran the length of the home or across the width of the home.  These footings were also required to be at frost depth, which is 30″ in our area.  Additionally, footings that are installed for concrete block perimeter walls for homes that have them are tied together with strip footings that run across the home’s width.  Tieing all of the footings together makes for a very solid foundation base.

The proposed rule change would allow ABS pads to be used in place of concrete footings for ALL installations.  So, what is an ABS pad.  They are a square or oval ABS plastic pad, that is about 1/2″ thick.  The dimensions of the pad that is used depends on how much weight the soil can bear.  Whereas, with concrete footings, a trench needs to be excavated, forms possibly installed and the soil compacted, ABS pad only require the lot to be cleared of debris and vegetation, reasonably leveled, soil compacted if needed and then piers erected.  Do these two installation even sound equivalent?

We at Criterium-Cincinnati Engineers did not think so.  In fact, we know so based on inspections of over 500 manufactured home installations that are qualifying for FHA loans.  These were homes with all kinds of foundation systems, on all kinds of soil types, in many different topographies and both single and double-wide structures.   I was there to try to persuade the cognizant Commission to leave the rule the way it was with NO ABS pads allowed.  Our conviction was that allowing ABS pads was not good for home owners who would not know otherwise.

Although I could not find any logical explanations for why the pads were being allowed, I have heard over and again the term affordable housing.  But, is housing affordable if the structural system fails due to the foundation sinking into the soil?  When this happens, the homeowner could either lose his or her investment in the home or incur large expense to fix the home.  In our opinion, affordable housing should be sensible affordable housing.

Surprisingly, I was the only one to testify against the ABS pads.  With the support of a couple of Commission members, who surprisingly are installers, the Commission voted to at least not allow pads to be used for all multiple section homes unless they are being temporarily set.  ABS pads will still be allowed for single-wide homes, not matter whether they are installed in parks or on private property.  We did not get a full victory; but I am happy with the result.  Multi-section homes are those purchased for long-term housing where the homeowner expects the property to gain in value.  Once set, these homes will likely not be moved, whereas single-wide homes often get moved.

And that is where the rule is at.  I, once again solely, applauded the Commission after the vote for their good work.

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