Ron Chasse’s modular home in West Boylston looks great from the outside, but Chasse says he was shocked to find out what lay hidden inside the walls.
“I’ve seen storage sheds that are built better than this. Honestly,” Chasse said.
Chasse bought the modular home in 2005, and planned on listing it for $500,000. But after discovering screws popping through wall and then finding numerous other problems, Chasse says he couldn't in good conscience sell it to anyone.
“This wall here,” Chasse said, shaking an interior wall, “not even nailed at the bottom.”
Chasse ended up filing a complaint with the state against the manufacturer, Signature Building Systems of Pennsylvania. After a long legal battle, the state in January ordered the manufacturer to gut the home and fix the problems.
The order provided a rare opportunity to see behind the walls of a modular home.
Asked what was being exposed, Chasse said, “Everything. Horror show. Ultimately a horror show.”
A horror show that Chasse says includes many fire dangers. Flammable glue used to hold up the ceilings is sprayed excessively. And most of the wires don't have fire proof caulking on them, which is supposed to stop flames from spreading.
On top of that, most of the electrical boxes were just cut into the sheetrock and not secured to framing as they should have been.
“All these electrical boxes should have been attached to framing. New construction, you're supposed to attach it,” he said.
And there’s more.
During a tour with FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet, Chasse showed how framing members have been penetrated, plumbing was corroded and insulation was, he says, improperly installed, allowing moisture to seep in.
“Basically everything that was wrong with this building was underneath the drywall. And I don't even call it wall board. It's cover-up board. That's what it is. They covered up everything that was wrong with this house and just shipped it,” he said.
Homes built right on the lot require numerous inspections by the city or town. With modular homes, a private inspector is hired to examine them at the factory where they're built.
But the state only requires the private inspector to view the modular home sections once, and those inspections are even allowed to happen after the units are fully constructed. Records show that’s just what happened with two of the four sections of Chasse's house.
State Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, toured the Chasse’s home.
“I was outraged at the lack of quality in this house,” Brewer said.
Brewer and two other lawmakers wrote a letter to the Commissioner of the Mass. Department of Public Safety, saying the way the home was built "demonstrates a lack of oversight for the safety of residents inside the structure."
“We need to improve the standards of oversight and certification of the construction of those buildings if they're going to come into Massachusetts,” Brewer said.
But a top state building official said there is no lack of oversight.
“If there's not a lack of oversight, how did that house make it into Massachusetts?” asked FOX 25’s Beaudet.
“We were given the paperwork that indicated that in fact… it was in compliance with the code. Turns out that there were some issues with it that are now being addressed,” replied Rob Anderson, chief of inspections for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees modular home construction in Massachusetts. That department also ordered Signature Building Systems to fix the problems in Chasse's home.
This isn’t the only issue with modular homes that is being addressed. The state changed the building code earlier this year to require ceilings to be held up with screws or nails, not just glue, in response to a FOX Undercover investigation raising questions about fire safety in modular homes.
Back in West Boylston, Signature Building Systems has already repaired the roof at the Chasse house, and is now agreeing to fix all the problems pointed out by Chasse and state and local inspectors.
But company president Victor DePhillips defended the quality of his company’s homes, saying Signature has sold as many as 400 modulars in Massachusetts.
Regarding the West Boylston home, DePhillips says, "There's certainly no structural problems, number one," and that "what we are doing is in no way an admission or acknowledgment of any wrongdoing on our part. Our willingness to make these changes to this house are out of our desire to bring to an end a story that should have had no beginning and let everyone move on with their lives and businesses."
But Chasse says his gutted home is filled with code violations, proof, he says, that corners were cut.
“Would you buy another modular home?” FOX Undercover’s Beaudet asked.
“Cerrtainly not from this manufacturer. And if I did, I'd have to stand right there at the plant and watch them build it,” Chasse said,
The department of public safety says it believes the West Boylston home is an isolated incident, but it's planning to review how it happened and why it wasn't discovered earlier, and will consider revamping the inspection process.
An official at PFS Corporation, the private inspector who looked at the Chasse's house, defended the company's inspection, saying it did what it was required to do. Reconstruction of the house is scheduled to start next week.