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Are you interested in purchasing a new home? If so, you may have heard about prefabricated, or factory built, housing in your search. This type of housing includes modular, mobile, and manufactured homes, among others. For this article, we are going to focus on the difference between those three, and which home type is best for different types of buyers.

From the outside looking in, these three types of homes may look very similar to one another. They can also look very similar to traditional site built homes. The main difference between modular, manufactured, and mobile homes are building codes, which we discuss below. The one trait they all have in common is that most off the construction takes place off site, and the builders delivers the home to the property mostly assembled.

What is a mobile home?

To this day, many people mistakingly use the term ‘mobile home’ to refer to a manufactured home. However, mobile homes and manufactured homes were distinguished from each other in 1974 when the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Act was passed. This act was followed in 1976 by the HUD Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards— usually called the HUD code — which set federal standards for manufactured homes in areas including:

Prior to the HUD code of 1976, mobile home construction had little oversight. The homes were mostly built for those that had transient jobs or were looking for temporary housing. We can trace the origins back to the beginning of the 20th century, when people began trying to follow work around the country. They wanted a home that could move with them, and to fill that need, the mobile home was born. 

The early mobile homes look a lot like today’s travel trailers. They had exposed wheels and axles and were fairly easy to move. The utility connections were not permanent, and the hitch stayed on the home. The home itself was generally built on steel I-beams that ran from end-to-end and could be set up on concrete blocks, wooden blocks, metal stands or a concrete foundation at the desired location.

During World War II, factories used mobile homes as temporary shelter for workers traveling long distances to work. After the war ended, the soldiers returning home from the war needed quick, affordable housing, and mobile homes fit that need. As time went on, manufacturers began to create larger mobile homes, which made them less mobile, and more like a permanent home. Into the ‘60s and early ‘70s 

After the HUD Code was created in the 1970s, the Housing Act of 1980 later mandated the term “manufactured” be used in place of “mobile” in all federal laws and literature that referenced homes built after 1976. This new code gave manufacturers clear guidance and created the modern manufactured home that we have today. 

What is a Manufactured Home?

Today’s manufactured homes are very different from the mobile homes built prior to the HUD code of 1976. They’re larger, more durable, energy efficient, and simply look better. Today’s manufactured homes are built in modern, climate controlled facilities with some of the best laborers in the country. They use 2 x6 construction, and are built according to which wind, thermal, and load zone they’ll be assembled in. There are countless instances of these homes withstanding disasters BETTER than their site-built counterparts.

When comparing modular and manufactured homes, they will also differ in terms of the type of foundation you can use for each. If your manufactured home has a pier and beam foundation, a contractor or home retailer can help you relocate the home if your family needs to move. If you know that you will never need to move, manufactured homes can be set on a permanent foundation, just like a site built home. One of the advantages to a permanent foundation is that the homeowner can surrender the title to the home and treat the home and land like real property. This means that in the eyes of the assessor and appraisers, the home is no different than a site built home, and it will appreciate with the local real estate market.

What is a Modular Home?

Like mobile and manufactured homes, modular homes are built inside building facilities and then delivered to the home site. The main difference between manufactured and modular homes is that manufactured homes are built to the national HUD code, while modular homes are built to all applicable state and local building codes. The state residential codes are more similar to how site built homes are constructed, which is why oftentimes a modular home will look more like a site built home than a manufactured home.

The codes and standards of modular home construction vary based on the state, the county, or the city/township in which the home will be located. For example, some states, like North and South Carolina, have standards about the appearance of a modular home that regulate the minimum roof pitch, overhang length and foundation wall requirements. Some areas do not allow on-frame mods (a frame very similar to manufactured homes), which further differentiate manufactured and modular homes.

What makes factory-built homes so great?

Factory built homes are great because of their value. The factory construction method allows builders to use economies of scale, assembly line production methods, and climate-controlled construction to create a great home at a better price than its site built equivalent. Whether you buy a manufactured home or a modular home, rest assured that you will be getting a quality home that will last for years to come.