If you just bought your mobile home and discovered the home is not level, you might feel a little wronged. But don’t worry too much; most causes are often less nefarious than a negligent owner or contractor. Even though it might seem like an impossible task, there are solutions to your problem. As a matter of fact, you can do it yourself!
This article is here to answer all the above questions for you and to help you get back to a level home.
Is My Mobile Home Level?
How does a mobile home’s foundation work?
At this point, let’s refresh our memory on how mobile homes are “planted” in the first place. A standard house sits on a foundation. Similarly, a mobile home rests on a foundation. However, the mobile home may not be permanently attached to it. There are 3 main types of foundations:
- Pier foundation: This is the most common form of support for mobile homes. Mostly because the separate concrete or steel piers can be used easily in different locations and they are very easy and quick to install compared to other foundations. Unfortunately, since your home rests on individual piers, it is the most prone to become un-level. We will focus on this type of foundation.
- Basement foundation: As you might expect, this type of foundation contains a basement with stair access.
- Slab foundation: The mobile home sits on a solid concrete slab.
All mobile homes rest on thick metal I-beams that run parallel to the underside of the home. In addition to providing support, they serve the dual purpose of creating a crawl space underneath the mobile home.
When the mobile home has a pier foundation, each I-beam is held up by piers. The number of piers depends on the size of the home. The manufacturer specifies where the piers should be located and at which intervals they should be spaced. If metal piers are in place, they might be situated on concrete blocks or slabs to lift the home even higher.
For a full description of mobile home piers look at page 3.1-3.3 of this official HUD foundations guide. It also contains information on permanent foundations.
Why your mobile home might not be level
So, are you about ready to call the contractor or previous owners and give them a piece of your mind? Hold the phone! They may not be the reason your home is un-level.
Mobile homes sit on the ground, which consists of soil, dirt, clay or another fill. These materials shift with time due to a variety of reasons like rainfall, movement in the earth, or even the roots of cut-down trees rotting away underneath the home. As a result, the mobile home or its foundation shifts and becomes uneven.
When earth shifts into place underneath a heavy object, we call it “settling.” The time it takes for settling to occur depends on various factors, including the weight-carrying capacity of the soil, the weight of the home and the number, as well as the footprint, of the piers.
Your home might also become un-level because one of the piers has a structural weakness. With open steel frame piers, rust might cause damage. If someone used wood wedges to level the home, the wedges might have started to rot. This will happen especially if the wood was left untreated.
How do I know if my mobile home is not level?
When your mobile home isn’t level anymore, the issue can manifest itself as a variety of small annoyances, but these can become a serious problem that affects the undercarriage of your home. Don’t panic if you just find one of these niggles, but if you find more, you should look into it.
Here are some of the signs that your home might not be level:
- Creaks and moans that seem to come from the wall, floor or roof.
- Some doors, windows, cabinet doors or closet doors that don’t shut properly or are extremely hard to open.
- A slight lean on the floor when you walk in certain directions.
- Visual signs from outside that the home is leaning in a direction.
- Cracks in the walls, roof or floor that look as if they have been caused by stress, especially at joints.
- Problems with awnings or attachments to your home, like being bent or hard to operate.
While all of these issues can be completely isolated problems, if they occur throughout your home or on a regular basis, it can indicate an un-level home.
You might be wondering about other consequences that can result from an un-level home. Well, a weak foundation may mean that your house no longer falls under official safety standards in “the HUD code.” Consequently, you might not be able to get a federally-secured loan or mortgage. You might also find yourself unable to sell your home before fixing it.
How to level a mobile home
Fixing an uneven home might seem like quite the mountain to climb. However, it is doable, and you have options. It is not a completely bank-breaking process, but keep in mind that leveling your home is a relatively expensive procedure whether doing it yourself or hiring a professional.
Simply put, the process of leveling a mobile home goes something like this:
- Inspect and determine the reason for the home not being level.
- Lift the home on the side sagging down.
- In order to level the house, either replace damaged piers, adjust them (if they are adjustable), or insert wedges to hold them up.
- Lastly, lower the home back down on it’s now (hopefully) level foundation.
Hiring a professional vs. DIY
We know as a fellow, mobile-home owner you probably aren’t afraid of a DIY project, and you’ve probably taken on a few. Despite your experience, here are a few, very practical reasons you might want to hire a professional for this particular project:
- There is a danger factor involved. You will be working underneath a house that weighs around 23000 lbs. One wrong move or slip and you could be seriously injured.
- The equipment alone will also cost quite a lot of money, and it might not justify the price as the chances of using it again are slim. Examples include:
- A water level. You can get a single unit from $30-$100 like this. Or you can splurge on a whole leveler kit like this one. You can also build your own, but the materials and effort might work up to the same.
- To lift the whole side of the home, you will need a 5-20 ton hydraulic jack. They should cost between $40-$140.
- Lastly, you will need a bunch of different-sized, treated wood wedges and various home tools.
- This is a pretty advanced DIY project that will take a lot of time to complete. So, if you aren’t willing to commit the time or you aren’t already skilled at DIY work, it’s better to seek a professional.
The least you can expect to pay for a professional to re-level your home and expect a decent result is $400 for a single-wide, in the $800 region for a double-wide and up to a $1000 for a triple-wide. You can see that materials alone can cost you almost as much as the cheapest professional.
Flying solo, how to level your mobile home
How to inspect an un-level mobile home
Before knowing exactly what you need to buy, you should check the reason for your house being un-level. You don’t want to get big concrete slabs if your home uses open steel frame piers and the other way around!
What you will need:
- Bubble level tool: A good ol’ simple, yellow bubble level tool should do the job. The longer the level, the more accurate readings you will get.
- Flashlight: You will need a flashlight to do a proper inspection as it is dark under the home.
- Work gloves: There might be sharp edges and debris so protect your hands.
- Overalls: This is optional, but it might be a good idea to protect your clothes.
- Notepad and pen: Keep track of which beams and piers are affected.
- Measuring tape: To measure the pier sizes.
How to do the inspection
Step 1: Ready your flashlight, gloves and coveralls. Make sure you have your level tool.
Step 2: If the bottom of your home has no skirting, then simply enter the crawl space. Skirting differs from home to home and owner to owner, but there should be a panel that serves as an entrance. Find it and enter the crawl space.
Step 3: Check the piers holding up the home, especially in areas you suspect are not level. Check for rust damage, corrosion, wood wedges that are damaged or rotting away, etc. Make a note of exactly what piers or support your home uses so that you can buy them later.
Step 4: Using the level tool, hold it against each of the I-beams, the closer to a support beam, the more accurate the reading you will get. Move from the center beam outwards. Note which piers are lower than the rest on the same beam. These are the ones that need work. The piers might be one of these types:
Open steel frame pier:
These also come as self-adjustable piers.
Pyramid concrete block pier:
Concrete block piers:
Concrete block piers are made up of a variety of concrete blocks. You will need to photograph or measure the blocks to make sure you buy the right ones if you need to replace them. We advise that you hire a professional for this as some construction work is needed.
Level your mobile home
Now that you know why your home is not level and what piers your home uses, let’s start leveling your mobile home!
What will I need?
- 5-20 ton hydraulic jack: You can even use a car jack to lift the house (if the house is within its weight class).
- Protective goggles: Shield your eyes from the debris and dust that collects under a home.
- Water level: You can buy one, or you can build your own! Here is an easy-to-use guide for building your own water level. If you don’t have time for that and want to buy one, here is an example of what you should look for.
- Hammer: If you are going to use wedges, you might need a hammer to move them in place.
- Flashlight: To see underneath the crawl space.
- Wooden blocks/wedges: Get some 4”x 12” or 4” x 16” wedges and extra blocks, 4”x8”x16”, 8”x8”x16”, in case you need to stick them into place or lift a pier. Also, invest in some shims.
- Work gloves & coveralls
- Piers: Depending on which kind of piers your home has and if you plan on replacing some. You also might need some extra concrete block to set the jack on.
- Bolts and spanners: You also need these if you are replacing a pier and need to loosen it.
Leveling your mobile home step-by-step
Step 1: MFirst, make sure you are wearing all the safety equipment and all your tools are ready. Then, enter the crawlspace under the home, removing the skirting if necessary.
Step 2: Go to the affected I-beams with the water level between them. First, put the one pipe on the beam at the highest pier and the other at the sagging one. Next, add water until the water in the pipe is at the height of the correct pier. By doing this, you’ll be able to see the difference in height on the water level.
Step 3: At this point, place the jack under the beam between the two piers. Use some concrete or wood blocks to lift the jack or support it if needed. It is important to place the jack correctly, so the beam won’t slip. Your life could depend on it. Lift the home using the jack until both pipes are at the same water level.
Step 4: Depending on whether you are replacing a pier or simply propping it up with wedges, do just that. If the wedges get stuck, use the hammer to hammer them into place, use the shims for small adjustments. On the other hand, if it is an adjustable pier, adjust it until it supports the home at the correct height.
Step 5: Once the piers are in place, slowly lower the jack until the home rests entirely on the support. Only remove the jack if everything seems balanced. At this time, check whether any pipes shifted during the process.
Step 6: Lastly, make sure you take all your equipment with you and leave the crawl space and replace the skirting if you removed it.
Well done! You have just successfully leveled your mobile home! At the beginning, this must’ve seemed like quite a challenge, but it wasn’t that bad, was it? Just like you settled into your new home, your home simply settled on its turf. It’s a natural process of any home’s life that needs to be corrected, but it isn’t impossible to do so. Stay aware and use this handy guide to help you if you should discover that your mobile home is no longer level.