How to Maintain Your New Modular Home & What to Expect

When you move into your brand-new modular home, it’s common to encounter some unexpected issues. You might notice cracks in freshly painted walls or protruding nail heads disrupting the pristine drywall finish. In some instances, cracks may even develop between the wall and the ceiling in certain areas, making your new home seem less than perfect. So, should you immediately contact your builder or lawyer in frustration? Probably not. Let’s take a closer look at these situations.

Understanding Shrinkage Cracks

When you buy “dry” lumber from a dealer, it typically has an average moisture content of 19%. However, after a heating season in your region, the moisture content of the lumber in your house drops to about 9%, causing the wood to shrink. For example, a 2×10 floor joist, initially 9 inches high at 19% moisture content, can shrink to approximately 8’8″ high when it dries to 9% moisture. As a result, the entire house may settle by about 3/8″.

Moreover, the floor joists are supported at one end by the concrete foundation and at the other end by a center girder made of four 2x10s nailed together, which also shrinks by 3/8″. Consequently, during the first winter, the entire house settles toward the center. This settling often causes diagonal cracks to appear in the drywall, especially at the corners of doors in interior partitions.

Builders typically provide a one-year warranty with the house to address these cracks caused by lumber shrinkage. In some cases, the center girder may need to be raised slightly and re-shimmed on top of the piers or posts to square up the door openings in the cross partitions and close the cracks. Remember that lumber shrinkage isn’t the builder’s fault, and it’s best to make repairs at the end of the heating season when the wood has finished shrinking.

Dealing with Screw or Nail Pops

Another thing that may appear as the result of lumber shrinkage is screw or nail pops, where the head of a drywall screw or nail pushes the finishing compound loose and “pops” out of the wall. In this case, the point of the screw or nail stays exactly where it was driven into the wood, but the wood shrinks, leaving a small space between the drywall and the face of the framing member. If any pressure is applied to the wall finish, the drywall slides down the shank of the screw or nail, causing the screw or nail head to protrude, popping off the finishing compound. The solution is to use a punch or screw driver to drive the screw or nail deeper, then apply new finishing compound, sand, and repaint. Screw or nail popping will appear most often near the corner of a wall or ceiling.

Understanding Truss Rise

A third problem, which is somewhat related, is that of truss rise. Most roof framing is composed of trusses, which are complete triangular frames that extend from wall to wall. In an effort to control energy costs, insulation is used to cover the ceiling, and it is usually deep enough to completely cover the bottom member of the truss. Since it is buried in insulation, the bottom member is warmer than the upper members during the winter; it dries more, causing it to shrink. Because of the geometry of the truss, the bottom member is pulled upward, causing it to lift the ceiling off the interior partitions, particularly near center wall. During the summer, it will usually return to its original position.

In most cases, this truss rise happens only once, the first winter. However, in about one case in five, it happens each year. It depends upon where in the log the bottom truss member was cut. If the problem happens just once, repair of the drywall tape at the joint between the wall and the ceiling is all that is required. If the problem reappears, the only practical solution is to use a molding to cover the joint. The molding is fastened only to the ceiling and moves up and down on the wall, covering the crack. The problem is not structural, and indicates the presence of extra-heavy insulation in the ceiling. This problem is likewise beyond the control of the builder, but he should be responsible for repair of the joint after heating season and for installing the molding if that is necessary.

Addressing Wet Basements and Crawl Spaces

Water in the basement or crawl space? It probably came from the roof! Improper disposal of the roof runoff is the most prevalent cause of water problems in the house.

If the house is not equipped with gutters and downspouts, the force of the water dripping from the roof edge onto the ground will dig a shallow ditch at the drip line. This ditch will keep the water near the house, where it can soak down and through the foundation. If the house cannot be equipped with gutters, it is essential that the ground slope away from the house on all sides, and that the surface of the soil be protected from erosion by some form of landscaping. Landscaping rock works well for the purpose, as long as the homeowner remembers that as far as drainage is concerned, the gravel is not there. The drainage slope must be maintained beneath the gravel. Gravel in a trench around the house merely forms a moat, with the roof water to fill it.

Installing gutters is only the first step in roof water control. The discharge from the downspouts must be directed away from the foundation, preferably at least five feet away. While downspout extensions are a nuisance when mowing the lawn, they are essential to keeping the basement or crawl space dry. On many older houses, the downspouts extended into underground tiles that discharged into either cisterns or to a storm sewer. Most of these drain lines were made of clay tile, and many have broken underground, usually at the elbow just below the downspout. A break here directs all of the water from the downspout against the foundation under the ground. This is responsible for many of the leaks in the corners of basements.

Maintenance of gutters is necessary, too. A sagging or blocked gutter is worse than none at all, because it overflows in one place rather than all along the roof edge, and at a point that is not prepared for the overflow. In areas with many mature trees, where gutter blockage by leaves in common, perhaps it is best to leave the gutters off and allow the roof runoff to drip into a plastic-lined gravel bed a foot or so deep, with a perforated drain tile in the bottom to carry the water away.

Ensuring Proper Grading and Drainage

Many houses experience problems with water or moisture problems in the crawl space or basement. Most of these problems are the result of improper grading around the house. Ideally, the bottom of wood, metal, or vinyl siding should be at least six inches above the soil level around the house. In the case of brick veneer, the dirt should be at least six inches below the sill plate of the floor framing. This distance is necessary to avoid damage to the siding, sill, and joists from water splashing up from the soil or landscaping material. Even though the interior floor framing is protected by brick veneer, enough moisture will penetrate the brick to cause rotting of the sill and floor joists if the ground level is above the sill plate. Unfortunately, few builders set their houses that high above grade, primarily for the sake of appearance.

A second requirement is that there should be a slope of about four inches away from the house in the first six feet. When this slope is present and the grading level is as specified above, water and moisture problems are rare.

The owner of a new house should be aware that even if the builder does the grading properly, some settlement will occur during the first and second years of occupancy. It may well be necessary to add another truckload of dirt around the house to compensate for the settlement of the backfill around the foundation. This is often ignored, because the proud owner has installed landscaping that will have to be revised or replanted when the soil is added to maintain the original slope. Many homes more than 50 years old still have a “moat” around them because the settlement of the backfill was never refilled. That is probably the second most prevalent cause of wet basements in older houses.

Proper Maintenance of Heating and Cooling Systems

How often should you change the filters in your heating and cooling systems?

How often should you change the filters in your heating and cooling systems? The frequency depends on several factors, including the type of filter and your household’s specific conditions. Filters come with Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) ratings, indicating their ability to capture particles larger than one micron. Higher MERV values indicate better dust removal capabilities.

Particles Size in Microns

Human hair3-200
Pollens10-100
Dust Mite Remains10-60
Pet Dander0.2 – 100
Plant Spores10-70
Fungi0.5 – 5
Bacteria0.3 – 3
Tobacco Smoke0.0003 – 0.04
Viruses0.002 – 0.005

Generally, filters should be changed at least every three months, although some may require more frequent replacement. Factors that affect filter life include dirty ductwork, construction activities in the house, the number of household pets, sanding projects, the presence of smokers, continuous fan operation, and the type of filter installed. It’s usually best to use the same type of filters that the contractor originally installed to avoid restricting air flow.

Maintaining Outdoor Air Conditioning/Condenser Units

To ensure your outdoor air conditioning or condenser unit functions optimally, maintain at least a 30-inch clearance around it, keeping plants, trees, and fences away. Regularly trim and prune plants and trees near the unit to prevent interference.

For cleaning purposes, you can use a garden hose to gently spray the condensing unit at a 45-degree angle, pushing dirt from top to bottom while the unit is turned off. This practice helps keep the unit running at peak performance.

Understanding Electrical Tips for Your New Home

Your new home comes equipped with “tamper-proof” receptacles designed to prevent the insertion of objects other than plugs. Each receptacle opening has a shutter mechanism, and excessive pressure on any one of them will prevent them from opening. Insert plugs straight into the receptacle without forcing, and use gentle, even pressure to open the shutters. With usage, the outlets become easier to use.

In some areas, like bathrooms, kitchens, and the exterior of your home, you’ll find Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacles. These outlets are designed to trip when moisture levels exceed normal levels. Keep in mind that other receptacles may also be on the same circuit as the GFCI. If you encounter an unresponsive outlet in these areas, check if the GFCI receptacle has tripped. Follow these steps to test and reset the receptacle:

  1. Press the “Test” button. You may hear a click, and the outlet should lose power.
  2. Press the reset button. You may hear another click, and the outlet should regain power. If not, consult a technician.

When dealing with tripped circuit breakers, push the breaker to the off position first to reset it, then switch it back on. Check for power; if it’s still not restored, turn off as many items (lights, appliances, chargers, and unplugged electrical devices) on the circuit as possible. Reset the breaker again and check for power. If power is restored, turn on lights and plug devices back into receptacles one by one. If the power goes out again as you re-energize a specific item, that item may be the problem.

Maintaining Smoke Detectors and CO2 Detectors

Remember to change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO2) detectors annually. You can do this when you reset your clocks in the spring or fall. While doing so, take the opportunity to clean the detectors. Use a vacuum hose to remove dust and debris from around the detectors, and if your vacuum can blow air, use it to blow air around the detectors to help them function more effectively.

Electrical Tips To Help You Understand Your New Home

Caring for Vinyl Siding

Cleaning your vinyl siding is essential for maintaining its appearance. You can wash vinyl siding with a soft cloth or a soft-bristle brush. For textured surfaces, use only a soft-bristle brush to prevent staining the grooves. It’s best to start at the bottom of the house and work your way up, rinsing the cleaning solution thoroughly before it dries. If your home has brick facing, protect it from runoff.

Power washers can also be used, but be sure to follow the washer’s instructions carefully. When cleaning, hold the power washer straight at eye level to keep the water on top of the siding for the most effective cleaning. Avoid aiming the power washer upward, as water could collect behind the siding.

For removing mold and mildew, small spots can be handled with cleaners like Fantastik, Windex, or a solution of vinegar (30%) and water (70%). For larger sections, consider using a solution containing powdered laundry detergent, powdered household cleaner, liquid laundry bleach, and water.

When dealing with other stains, refer to the list of recommended cleaners provided in the manufacturer’s instructions. Always spot-check any cleaner on a small section of siding before using it extensively. After removing the stain, rinse the area thoroughly with water. Avoid using cleaners containing organic solvents, undiluted chlorine bleach, liquid grease remover, nail polish remover, or furniture polish, as they can damage the siding’s surface.

 

Vinyl Siding Cleaners

General cleaners (e.g., Simple Green, Nice & Easy, Armor All, etc.) can be used to clean dirt, bird droppings, and spider webs. Stain-specific cleaners are listed below. Rinse all cleaners with water before they dry.

StainCleaners*
Bubble GumFantastik, Murphy Oil Soap, solution of vinegar (30%), water (70%), and Windex
CrayonLestoil
DAP (oil based caulk)Fantastik
Felt-tip penFantastik, water -based cleaners
GrassFantastik, Lysol, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex
Lithium (car) GreaseFantastik, Lestoil, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex
Motor OilFantastik, Lysol, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex
PaintBrillo Pad, Soft ScrubFilters are rated when they
RustFantastik, Murphy Oil Soap, Windex
TarSoft Scrub
Top SoilFantastik, Lestoil, Murphy Oil Soap

Understanding Septic System Maintenance

A septic system is an efficient, self-contained underground wastewater treatment system consisting of a septic tank and a drain field. Proper maintenance is crucial to its longevity.

The frequency of septic tank pumping depends on:

  1. The number of people in your household.
  2. The volume of wastewater generated based on the number of people and water usage.
  3. The solids content in the wastewater (e.g., using a garbage disposal increases solids).

While the septic tank’s absorption field typically doesn’t require maintenance, follow these rules to protect it:

  • Avoid driving vehicles or heavy equipment over the absorption field.
  • Don’t plant trees or shrubs in the absorption field area, as their roots can clog the lines.
  • Avoid covering the absorption field with hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt; use grass instead.
  • Divert surface runoff water from roofs, patios, driveways, and other areas away from the absorption field.

Never flush certain items down the drain or toilet, as they can harm your septic system. These include hair, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, cigarette butts, condoms, gauze bandages, fat, grease, oil, paper towels, and chemicals like paints, varnishes, thinners, waste oils, photographic solutions, or pesticides.

Maintaining Your New Home’s Vinyl Siding

If you want to keep your vinyl siding looking its best, follow these cleaning tips:

  • Wash vinyl siding using a soft cloth or a soft-bristle brush. For textured surfaces, stick to a soft bristle brush to prevent staining the grooves.
  • Start at the bottom of the house and work your way up, making sure to rinse the cleaning solution completely before it dries.
  • When using a power washer, follow the instructions carefully. Hold the power washer at eye level to ensure water stays on top of the siding for effective cleaning. Avoid aiming the power washer upward to prevent water from getting behind the siding.
  • For mold and mildew, you can use cleaners like Fantastik, Windex, or a vinegar and water solution. Larger sections may require a mixture of powdered laundry detergent, powdered household cleaner, liquid laundry bleach, and water.
  • Different stains may require specific cleaners, so be sure to spot-check before using any cleaner extensively. Rinse the area thoroughly with water after stain removal. Avoid cleaners with organic solvents, undiluted chlorine bleach, liquid grease remover, nail polish remover, or furniture polish.

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Understanding Septic System Maintenance

A septic system is a cost-effective, self-contained wastewater treatment system found in many homes. It consists of a septic tank and a drain field. To ensure its proper function, it’s essential to follow these maintenance guidelines:

  1. Pump the septic tank regularly, with the frequency determined by factors such as the number of people in your household, the amount of wastewater generated, and the solids content in the wastewater.

  2. Avoid driving vehicles or heavy equipment over the absorption field, as this can damage the system.

  3. Refrain from planting trees or shrubs in the absorption field area, as their roots can clog the lines.

  4. Do not cover the absorption field with hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt; instead, use grass to prevent erosion and manage excess water.

  5. Divert surface runoff water from roofs, patios, driveways, and other areas away from the absorption field to prevent waterlogging.

  6. Never flush items like hair, coffee grounds, dental floss, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, cigarette butts, condoms, gauze bandages, fat, grease, oil, paper towels, and chemicals (e.g., paints, varnishes, thinners, waste oils, photographic solutions, or pesticides) down the drain or toilet, as they can harm the septic system.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure the proper functioning and longevity of your septic system.