Manufactured Homes: “Settling Can Be Unsettling”

Interior walls of mobile homes built prior to the mid-1970s were wood paneling or a photographed type wallboard that was installed by the factory using vertical batts to cover the seams where the panels were joined. Ceilings were synthetic panels or squares that were nailed to ceiling rafters with plastic spleens covering the nails where the sections joined. The ceiling panels were usually covered with a sprayed-on material that resulted in the descriptive terminology “popcorn ceiling.”

Later on in the ’70s, I became a mobile home dealer in Southern California selling “high end” double-wide mobile homes with thick, real wood paneling. The paneling was more expensive than the drywall used in site-built homes, but less desirable to the potential home purchaser than the taped and textured finished walls in so-called  “real homes.”  Manufacturers were reluctant to build homes with wall and ceiling finished drywall because of the potential of service/warranty problems that might result from damage to drywall in transit to home site.

Originally, some of the manufacturers agreed to build an occasional customer home without any wall coverings. This required the drywall to be installed on site. The additional cost to the home buyer somewhat negated the savings advantage over a site-built home and created delays in customer assuming occupancy—one of the important advantages when compared to site-built homes.

One manufacturer built a home using sheetrock panels with interlocking seams. However, that was short-lived because the sheetrock was obviously not taped and textured resulting in an unfinished appearance that wasn’t appealing to the home purchaser.

Finally, the major manufacturers of mobile homes developed the building expertise and mastered the procedures to install finished drywall in the homes produced in the factory and minimizing damage caused by the transport en route to the home’s destination. (There is disagreement amongst industry “old-timers” as to which manufacturer was the first to offer tape and textured drywall in their mobile homes. I say it was Golden West Homes, while other less informed parties claim it was Silvercrest Homes.)

Finished drywall is very common in today’s manufactured home — especially in modern multi-section homes. The drywall installed is the same thickness, using the same taping and texturing process as in a site built housing. The big difference is that drywall is installed in a factory and the home is then transported on its axles to the home site, often over roads or highways that can result in so-called “stress cracks” in the drywall.

Dealers employ drywall construction companies, or use their own drywall employees, to complete the tape and texture “close-up” required to join the sections of the home after the sections are mated together and the home has been leveled by the set-up installer. At this time the drywall personnel repair any stress cracks as a result of the transportation from the factory to site. The factory will “ship loose” the matching paint and other drywall materials needed to effect the close-up and repair the stress cracks as required.

A manufactured home is built in the factory on a steel frame and chassis. The longitudinal steel I-beams of the frame are engineered with camber in the frame to account for the placement of the axles on the frame and the disposition of weight at the various locations throughout the home using steel crossmembers to support interior weight and outriggers to support the exterior sidewalls. All this steel and engineering is primarily to maintain the integrity of the home in transport.

After the home is completely installed and homeowner’s personal belongings and furniture have been moved into the house, there can be a settling of the home that can result in the home becoming unlevel over a short time period. The settling of the house can possibly result in the reappearance of minor drywall cracks. The amount of settling is usually attributable to the soil conditions and the types of footings, pads, and/or runners supporting the piers or blocks that support the weight of the home. Homes installed on a permanent foundation are unlikely to be subject to settling.

Other examples of your home becoming unlevel are doors that do not open and close smoothly or windows that become difficult to open or close.

My experience is that the extent of settling is within a time frame of a few months after assuming occupancy.

New manufactured home purchasers are not always informed of the “settling” considerations at the time of sale. Homeowners sometimes are concerned that the home has structural defects that are creating the drywall cracking and uneven floors. In reality, settling is a natural occurrence that has nothing to do with with the manufactured home building process.

Being aware of the settling possibility, it is suggested that at the time of purchase you negotiate a written understanding with your selling dealer to relevel your home and repair any resulting drywall cracks within one year if required.

It is unlikely that your new manufactured home will ever need to be re-leveled in the future if home site placement is on stable soil.


(Image credit: Gooden-Harrison Construction Co.)

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