In my previous article, “You Can Afford Your Homestead Dream,” I described how to find, analyze, do your due diligence, negotiate and buy your homestead by focusing on mobile homes with land. The first question you might have after purchasing such a property is, “What the heck do I do with it now?”
Good question. First thing you don’t do is invite your friends and family over to see your new place, that is, unless you have a great deal of emotional resilience. Let’s face it, if you bought a place like I suggested, chances are you won’t be impressing anyone with it for some time.
It is a good idea to pick your battles one at a time if you intend to win the war of creating your homestead. You might have to begin, simply enough, by hacking your way through high weeds just to get to the front door. The immediate gratification you receive from cleaning up the front yard and cutting the grass and weeds can be a huge boost to your morale. Neighbors will, no doubt, be impressed, not to mention thankful.
Once you have a path to the home you might continue to attack the remainder of the yard surrounding the mobile home. This not only makes working in and around the home easier, it also gives you an open field of fire to help deter the usual varmints that have become accustomed to living in and under your home. In my area this means field mice, snakes, feral cats, possums, raccoons, black widow spiders, and the occasional homeless person, just to mention just a few.
Securing and Prepping the Home
Securing the home itself is our next focus. On the first day, this may mean nothing more than putting up oriented-strand board (OSB) over broken windows, replacing deadbolt locks or securing exterior doors with whatever is laying around. Holes in the floor need to be covered temporarily so as to keep others out and us in. I prefer OSB for these temporary fixes due to the fact that plywood costs considerably more.
Purchase a box of the 3 mil “contractor garbage bags” and consider renting a dumpster, if necessary, to remove all the old debris, junk, broken furniture, dead appliances, old-pet-urine-laden carpet and whatever else you have inherited with this property. I don’t recommend trying to save any carpet or padding. I typically tear all the floor coverings out, right down to the sub-floor.
Once the home is emptied out, I open up all cabinet doors and begin my assault on the creepy crawlies that have taken up residence. I find that whatever approach you take must be repeated several times in order to kill the adult bugs and again later to kill the new batches that always seem to hatch when you think you have things under control. For what its worth, the best products I have found contain fipronil as the active ingredient. While I do try and be as gentle as I can on our environment, I have finally conceded to this approach.
My next step is to paint the ceiling, walls and sub-floor using “Kilz” primer. This white paint/primer covers stains and paint quite well but more importantly it can seal in odors that may have soaked into the sub-floor. In worst-case scenarios, I will use the oil-based “Kilz” primer, but be sure to have plenty of ventilation because this stuff gives off extremely strong fumes. The smell will go away when dry but it can be rough on the painter when wet.
By painting the ceilings, walls and sub-floor the same color you don’t have to spend as much time worrying about trimming-out or getting different colors on other surfaces. If you later wish to paint the walls a different color, you will have a great primer in place and it should only take one coat of your new paint to cover.
Replacing mobile-home doors and windows is similar to watching the pit crews change tires at a NASCAR race. The doors and windows are installed with dozens of ¼ inch drive sheet metal screws. I replace mobile home windows with mobile home windows but I prefer to replace the doors with solid, six panel metal doors designed for stick-built houses. I buy these at surplus stores. I do have to retrofit these doors into the house, which can take several hours, and a bit of carpentry work. If you don’t feel comfortable with doing this then feel free to take the much faster route of just swapping the old mobile home door with a new one.
Most all of these homes have holes in the floors. In nearly every mobile home I have owned, the sub-floors are made of particleboard, which disintegrates quickly when exposed to water, which is only a matter of time in these mobile homes since they have not been kept up. Soft spots and holes will develop in high traffic areas, water areas such as kitchens and baths, and also under doors and windows, which have likely been leaking for years.
I take a hammer and break a hole large enough for me to determine where the floor joists are located and to be sure that I am not going to accidentally cut into wiring or other obstructions. From there I use a circular saw to cut out the flooring to a point half way across the floor joist so that the joist will support both the new and remaining sub-floor. I screw in 2×4 supports between the floor joists to provide support for the edges of the sub-floor between the joists (essentially completing a box of supports under the repair). I replace the bad wood with OSB or plywood that is of equal size so as to make the repair flush with the existing flooring. If a room or a hallway is just filled with holes or previous repairs, I will install OSB flooring over all the existing flooring so as to provide a second sub-floor which will be flush throughout the room and allow for greater support and easier installation of new floor covering.
At this point the house is secured, cleaned, freshly painted from top to bottom and has sound flooring. Next, I take a little, three-prong electrical tester that you can buy at any home-supply or hardware store. This little tool looks similar to a large plug from a cord, except it has no cord, of course. On top you have a button to test G.F.C.I. (ground fault circuit interrupt) outlets that you find in bathrooms and kitchens. With the power on, you press the button and it will trip the G.F.C.I. if the outlet is working properly. This tester has lights on the end that will light up in a different order when different wiring problems are encountered. The problems are explained on the tester itself. This is one of my favorite, idiot-proof tools on the market. No electrical knowledge is needed. If you can plug in a lamp you can operate this tester. This tester can give you a quick idea of what if any electrical problems might be present in most of the house. With this information you can discuss repairs intelligently with your electrician.
Broken and missing plumbing is quite routine and easily fixed. I prefer to use Pex plumbing as it has proven to be a more durable and easy to use product than PVC, and less expensive than copper. Pex tools and fittings can be expensive. I buy the fittings in bulk to help cut the cost and use them on multiple properties. I like Pex because it does not break if it freezes. If a portion of this plumbing were to freeze up it is more a matter of defrosting than repair.
Schedule 40 PVC is much easier to work with and cheaper than Pex. Do yourself a favor and do not go with the cheaper CPVC as I have found that this product does not hold up to freezing and when it does freeze and crack, it splits the length of the pipe from fitting to fitting. I often have found that I cannot just replace that one pipe because once I do I find others that are also broken. Schedule 40 PVC can freeze and crack but it tends to snap and crack in one place, usually where the main water line exits the ground and enters the underbelly of the home.
To work with PVC, all you need is a pair of PVC pipe cutters, purple primer, glue (I have tested all kinds and oddly enough find that the best glue is the all purpose, clear glue that comes in a red can), piping and fittings. Putting them together is kind of fun and you really can’t make a mistake and if you do it is not costly. Just make the pipes go where you need them to go. Give yourself the room you need to work and replace what is broken. Remember to replace old plumbing with the same diameter new PVC. For example if you have ¾ inch plumbing running to the water heater then repair it with ¾ inch PVC.
You can transition from one type of plumbing to another. For example when I have ¾ inch PVC and need to transition to ¾ inch Pex, I glue on a threaded, male (PVC) fitting and then screw that into a threaded, female Pex fitting. I most often run into the polybutylene (grey pipe) plumbing which has problems with leaking and breaking at the fittings but if protected from the cold seems to hold up well enough that I don’t necessarily replace the plumbing throughout the whole house if I can just fix one portion. For this, I transition to Pex with a fitting designed for this application, then add in a section of Pex pipe and another transition back into the polybutylene pipe using the same type of transition fitting. I find this much faster and it usually holds up well for years.
In my rental properties I have tried just about every floor covering option on the market. Carpet and carpet padding are my least favorite floor coverings in rental properties, as they simply do not hold up well in most cases. The cost to replace the carpet and pad is too expensive, too laborious and occurs all too often, usually every other time (at best) that a tenant moves out. For these type of properties I have installed laminate (Pergo style) flooring that fits tongue-and-groove and looks like hardwood flooring. I buy a product from a mom-and-pop supplier called Miralco that has a green-board backing which is extremely water resistant. This product runs me 99 cents per square foot and is worth far more than that to me.
For our homestead property application I would recommend using this type of product or ceramic tile in your entry ways and high traffic areas as it will hold up well to the farm-yard stuff we tend to track in on our shoes and boots. This laminate just looks fantastic and cleans so easily that I have all but stopped using ceramic tiles in most cases. In some bathrooms and utility rooms I still use ceramic tile but in a few I have stuck with laminate flooring and it has held up just fine. Laminate flooring comes in a variety of colors and can even have a textured appearance that can give a home a more cabin like feeling to it if you prefer.
This stuff is much easier and faster to install than tile, especially for those just learning home repair. The laminate’s tongue and groove installation method does take a bit of finesse but keep in mind if you find yourself really hammering the boards together than you need to stop. You should not need more than a woodpecker type tapping of the hammer to lock these boards in place. Chipping will occur during the learning process so buy a few extra boards just in case. Even then you can usually salvage parts of these chipped boards to use on end runs. Just like most building projects, don’t line up your seams or you will weaken the integrity of the flooring and it won’t really look very nice.
I don’t recommend vinyl linoleum flooring or peal and stick tiles as they simply do not hold up as well to this lifestyle and can be a pain to tear up and replace. If you already have some decent looking linoleum in the home then there is no need to tear it up. You can always replace it later. I would personally replace it with laminate but you are certainly free to use whatever you like.
My wife prefers carpet in the living areas and bedrooms and as a good husband should, I defer to her. As carpet wears out or becomes stained I hope we can agree on laminate in the higher traffic areas but when/if I lose that discussion I will install whatever she prefers. I have come to realize that she has much better taste than I do when it comes to decorating our home.
If the mobile home has a metal roof then I recommend you seal it with a product designed for mobile homes. Product names like “Kool Seal” is what you are likely to find in the big box and mobile home supply stores. I have used both the roller technique and the brush technique and have favored the brushes that are designed for this purpose. If you find an area of the roof that is cracking or rusting, be sure to clean it first with a wire brush. Some folks will apply a Rustoleum-type product over it. I usually cover this area with a roofing patch or a product I really like called “peal and seal.” I overlap the problem area to be certain no water will leak in and then I seal over that when I am sealing the rest of the roof.
I recommend that you pressure wash metal exterior siding to remove debris from it as well as the chalky powder that seems to form on these older mobile home’s metal siding. For the quick fix I just paint the home with a deep matted roller (usually 1 ¼ inch nap) so as to easily get the paint into all the nooks and crannies. I have found that an extendable handle allows me to complete this job in very little time. I am no professional painter and I like Kilz primer for both interior and exterior applications. In most cases this is the only paint I use as I find that the white color looks bright and clean and Kilz has proven to hold up well for many years.
Later you might consider covering the old metal siding with vinyl siding. Depending on the type of metal siding you are covering there are different techniques you may use to attach the vinyl siding to the home. Ask around and explain what you are covering including the corners and windows you will have to “J” channel around. Most supply stores have people who can set you up right. It is amazing how vinyl siding can change an old metal-sided single wide into a dollhouse in a matter of hours.
Skirting a mobile home is a very easy project to complete but bear in mind that vinyl skirting simply does not hold up well in my opinion. Lawn mowers throw rocks right through it leaving cracks and holes. Weed eaters tear skirting up badly making it not only look terrible but also allows access for water, mice and others things you don’t want under your home. “Block skirting” as I call it is what you often see under doublewide mobile homes. This is much more expensive but holds up best. People call this a permanent foundation but in most cases if you look above the block you will find that it does not support or even touch the mobile home itself. This is why I call it “block skirting.”
When building or replacing mobile home decks and steps I recommend you find out exactly what the code is for your area. In most cases the steps cannot be attached to the mobile home itself and will fall under the codes applying to free standing structures. I recommend you overbuild your decks and steps and be sure to remember to give yourself a deck or platform that will allow you plenty of room to move larger items, such as sofa’s and beds, easily in and out of the home. I have found that the front door should have at least a six-foot wide deck in front of it. The back steps typically lead into a utility room area, which has tighter turns that do not accommodate the movement of most furniture. Here you may want to start with a four-foot platform and later you may consider building a larger deck for enjoying the view of your new homestead.
With all this work done you are now ready to begin decorating your homestead to suit your needs and tastes. That old “trailer” will no longer have that run down look but rather the appearance and feel of a well maintained, dollhouse of a homestead that you can finally call your own.