With housing costs on the rise in hot markets, many would-be homebuyers are looking for ways to achieve the American Dream without breaking the bank. While tiny homes are getting a lot of press, they aren’t the only option for buyers seeking to minimize their costs. Manufactured, modular and mobile homes have long been popular options — and contrary to what you may think, they are not all the same thing. So how do they differ?
Mobile Homes: The Predecessor of Today’s Manufactured Housing
Mobile homes came on the scene in the 1930s as vacation options to pull behind the family vehicle. Over time, as designs became longer and larger and more livable, consumers began to see them as viable full-time living environments financed much like a car loan. Their construction was unregulated and quality was low, and public perception waned.
But beginning in 1976, a new Department of Housing and Urban Development code fundamentally changed the definition of these homes-on-wheels. From that point forward, mobile homes became known as manufactured homes, which must meet federal construction and quality standards for:
- Design and construction
- Strength and durability
- Fire resistance
- Energy efficiency
- Overall quality
- Electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems
Manufactured Homes Offer Quality, Affordability
Not only do today’s manufactured homes meet strict building requirements, they also offer homebuyers an array of modern, attractive designs with a striking resemblance to site-built homes.
The real difference is in how they are constructed.
Unlike single-family homes that are completely constructed at the home site, manufactured homes are built in well-regulated manufacturing centers where uniformity of quality can be closely monitored. Replicating manufacturing processes helps keep construction costs and time down, while still leaving plenty of room for customizing exterior facades and interior selections. “Manufactured homes have an inventory of supplies, so when building is at its peak and supplies are running low, manufactured companies continued to build and meet their delivery dates. Project delays are fewer,” says Shannon Miranda, principal designer and owner of Woodcliffe Design.
Manufactured homes are built on a fixed steel chassis, which serves as its foundation. Once it is moved to the home site, the wheels usually are removed and homeowners add skirting to hide where the wheels were.
Manufactured or Modular
Modular homes are another affordable alternative to stick-built construction. Unlike manufactured homes built entirely in the factory, modular homes are factory-built in sections. Those sections are then transported to the property, where crews complete the construction on-site. The construction must meet local building codes and is subject to building inspections before a certificate of occupancy is issued. In addition, modular homes are built on a permanent foundation.
Another difference of modular homes is in the ability to reconfigure home plans. Modular construction has almost endless possibilities and can be completely customized, according to a recent blog post by manufactured and modular home dealer Black’s Home Sales Inc. in Pennsylvania. However, the company says, “Manufactured (HUD-code) housing is different; these plans can be altered, just not as much. Typically, you cannot completely reconfigure these plans. You are limited to two boxes always placed parallel to each other. You can stretch the length or width of these homes, add windows and doors, and do minor floor plan changes.”
While the outdated term “mobile home” refers only to pre-1976 construction, the concept behind this type of home is very 2019. Both manufactured and modular housing offer homebuyers well-regulated, factory-built and beautiful options for affordable housing. They can be your answer to achieving the American Dream of homeownership, without stretching your budget.
Freelance writer and marketer Sue Durio has been writing about construction, design and related products for more than 18 years.