Acting weeks after a FOX Undercover investigation raising questions about fire safety and modular homes, the board that sets the Massachusetts building code voted today to change the way these factory-built homes are constructed.
The state Board of Building Regulations and Standards no longer wants ceilings held up only with a flammable glue, a building method used almost exclusively by the modular home industry. Instead, today’s unanimous vote will require these factory-built homes to have screws or nails also holding up their ceilings.
It’s one of the changes that Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher has pushed for ever since a 2008 fire devastated a home in his town. Gallagher fears that ceilings held up only with glue will give way more quickly during a fire.
“This is a big step forward toward occupant safety and firefighter safety,” Gallagher told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet. “Firefighters will be safer when fire chiefs like myself order them into a burning home that is a modular home.”
Not everyone agrees. Representatives from the modular home industry say glue is just as safe as more expensive screws and nails.
“Our nation’s economy and the state of Massachusetts’ economy is not going to recover without a rebound in the housing sector. And implementing a mechanical fastening requirement upon site-built construction as well as modular construction would have a detrimental impact on that recovery,” said Chad Harvey, executive director of the Modular Building Systems Association.
But the FOX Undercover investigation showed one modular home builder had already replaced glue with screws at a minimal cost. The modular homes manufactured by Maine-based KBS Building Systems come with ceilings entirely fastened by screws, no glue used at all. General Manager Ray Atkisson says it adds only about $500 to the cost of a 3,000-square-foot home, and that the ceilings look just as good.
Asked about that report, Harvey maintained the costs would be an undo burden on the industry.
“It certainly would,” he said. “We're opposed to anything that increases the cost to consumers right now.”
The building code change is set to go into effect in October, after a public hearing.
Modular home industry representatives are preparing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for tests they say will show the glue is just as safe as mechanical fasteners like screws and nails. Industry leaders are hoping those test results will convince the board to abandon its code change.