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What is the Difference Between Manufactured Homes, Modular Homes, and Mobile Homes?

July 24, 2023

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A Guide to Mobile, Manufactured, and Modular Homes

According to Wikipedia, a mobile home is a prefabricated structure built in a factory on a permanently attached chassis before being transported to a site that can be moved again. 

However, this definition is quite accurate anymore. 

Actually, it hasn’t been completely accurate since 1976. 

Today, we have manufactured homes, modular homes, and mobiles homes, and they all have distinctions. 

Construction 

The reason for the distinctions is that mobile homes technically only refer to manufactured homes built prior to June 15th, 1976. These are now obsolete due to Department of Housing and Urban Development policy changes during that year.  

Moden manufactured homes are built according to federal construction codes enacted by HUD. They’re built in factories as well, but they closely resemble site-built homes. 

If companies construct manufactured homes on a permanent chassis, they’re considered “on-frame” and if they’re built on temporary ones they’re considered “off-frame.” 

Modular homes are also built in factories. However, they’re built according to local state building codes (some states adopted the federal code, though, so that’s something to be aware of). A good example is modular homes in Texas, which follow the Texas IRC code for modular homes in 2001. This IRC code meets construction codes for site-built codes, which means it allows modular homes on residential zoned properties. That said, you must still abide by deed restrictions and subdivision or architectural ordinances. 

Modular homes usually require heavier lumber packages with more materials for the walls and framing than manufactured homes. There are also often subtle electrical, HVAC, and plumbing differences. 

Safety 

Safety was one major reason HUD enacted the 1976 rules. Because these kinds of homes are constructed off-site, many people are hesitant to trust the structural integrity the same way they trust residential homes built on-site. These fears aren’t reality-based anymore. Manufactured and modular homes don’t present safety risks (this doesn’t mean they’re perfect always obviously, though). 

Manufactured homes follow the strict guidelines set forth by HUD. They’re constructed in a controlled environment and taken to the “home site.” Certification labels from HUD can always be found on the exterior as well. 

Modular homes follow strict guidelines set forth by local government based on the home site. These may be the same standards as HUD, but some states opt for their own codes. Each state will place its safety certification on modular homes.  

Inspectors also inspect both kinds of homes after they’re placed at the home site. This adds another layer of safety for the people who’re going to live there. 

Moving 

Another key difference between manufactured and modular homes arises when someone wants to relocate their dwelling. Manufactured homes can be moved if they meet certain criteria. The age, condition, wind zones, and whether the home meets local zoning regulations for the new location will all factor in (read our article about moving manufactured homes for more details).  

Modular homes, on the other hand, cannot be relocated once they’re placed and assembled. This kind of prefabricated home isn’t designed to be take apart and relocated. 

Cost 

Modular and manufactured homes are significantly more affordable than traditional homes built on-site. There are several reasons for the lower prices: 

  1. Factory Built: The first reason is because these kinds of homes are built in factories and then transported to the location where they’re assembled. Construction costs are much lower this way, and there are fewer construction delays due to weather that impede the process (which is one of the factors that often makes on-site built homes more expensive). 
  1. Less Expensive Materials: On-site built homes typically use more expensive materials like bricks and mortar. Modular homes, however, are typically built with more affordable materials like steel and wood. 

What about the price differences between manufactured and modular homes? 

Manufactured homes, because of their simpler designs, are typically more affordable.  

However, it’s important to note that modular homes typically increase in value over time. Thus, they can be a better investment in the long run depending on your needs and budget. 

Conclusion 

Even though most people still use the terms manufactured and mobile interchageably when referring to prefabricated homes, it’s important to know they aren’t technically the same thing. 

This doesn’t mean you need to be the person ruining parties by correcting everyone else or changing how you refer to mobile homes in articles. However, it’s key to know the differences in case you’re in a situation where the technicalities matter.  

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