The term “mobile home” is a misnomer, and these days really refers to manufactured or prefabricated homes, not dwellings that are technically mobile. More than 800,000 Floridians live in mobile homes, many of them are homeowners, and the state’s second only to Texas in the number of factory-made houses, according to 2018 Census data.
What Is & Is Not
Though these houses may look like those built on-site, manufactured homes:
are at least 320 feet square
are transported as complete units
have permanent frameworks
are constructed according to federal building code
What’s not a manufactured (mobile) home:
modular homes (built-in factories, but transported in sections and constructed together at a permanent site)
In short, if it has wheels, it’s not a manufactured home.
While many people use the terms “mobile home” and “manufactured home” interchangeably, they’re not the same. The main ways in which they differ are when they were built and the HUD building code from the 1970s. And they can be covered by homeowners’ insurance.
The History of Mobile Homes
There’s a common misperception about “mobile” homes today. They aren’t that mobile. These residences may have been moved to their present locations, and become homes, but they’re not easily relocated. But they used to be.
In the 1920s, the popularity of traveling by automobile led to the creation of trailers, called such because they trailed behind the vehicles that pulled them. Many of these were essentially camping trailers, used as mobile sleeping quarters for long-distance travelers or people who wanted a place to sleep while driving into the wilderness.
The 1930s saw manufacturers produce these trailers on a massive scale. They became bigger – longer and wider – as well as more elaborate. Though they still had wheels, they weren’t used normally for travel. Families even started using “house trailers” as permanent residences during the Great Depression. The derogatory terms “trailer trash” and “trailer parks” goes back to this era, when people struggling economically used mobile homes to keep from becoming homeless.
In the middle of the 20th century, manufacturers started to market them as permanent housing to those aspiring to be homeowners, incorporating kitchen and bathroom facilities to make them more properly homes. Situated on properties, they remained in place, though still with wheels they weren’t permanently attached to the properties on which they sat. Still, they had VIN numbers and were financed similarly to vehicles.
The origin of mobile home parks, known by the somewhat vilified name “trailer parks”, were as resting places for travelers who utilized their trailers as truly mobile homes. These were safe places that often accommodated tents, and many still exist as roadside campgrounds.
The Great Depression forced many into a transient lifestyle on the edge of indigence. And this is where we get the terms “trailer trash” associated with mobile home dwellers. The once mobile domiciles became permanent homes, and these communities were seen to trap its occupants in communities that lacked opportunity.
During World War II, mobile home communities accommodated factory workers, deepening the blue-collar roots of these communities. While the post-war 1950s saw the advent of mobile home communities with playgrounds and swimming pools, trailer parks were still seen as a neighborhood for the lower class.
The Federal National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act of 1974 brought new changes, regulating mobile homes according to standards set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD regulations came into effect in June 1976 requiring all new dwellings manufactured off-site to meet Federal Housing Authority (FHA) certification. Since then they’ve become known as “manufactured homes”.
So, the difference between “manufactured” and “mobile” homes stems from these 1976 changes in regulation required by HUD.
The HUD code makes a manufactured home fundamentally different from mobile homes. It established federal standards for regulating the construction of manufactured houses, which included regulations on the following:
design and construction
strength and durability