The Difference Between Mobile & Manufactured Homes

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

  • factory built

  • are transported as complete units

  • have permanent frameworks

  • are constructed according to federal building code

What’s not a manufactured (mobile) home:

  • RVs

  • campers

  • trailers

  • campers

  • 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.

Trailer Parks

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.

HUD Code

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:

  • transportability

  • fire resistance

  • design and construction

  • strength and durability

  • energy efficiency

  • quality

HUD set standards for systems that included electricity and plumbing as well as heating and air conditioning. Before the mid-1970s, mobile homes weren’t regulated, so these regulations ensured quality in the manufactured housing industry. Essentially “mobile homes” are unregulated construction, while “manufactured homes” follow the 1976 HUD rules for design, durability, and safety.

Perception About Mobile & Manufactured Homes

Prior to 1976, mobile homes were seen as low quality. The industry changed the name to help establish a change in how manufactured homes, now a higher quality product with these new regulations, were perceived.

Manufactured homes today are built according to very stringent standards and are sometimes indistinguishable from those built on-site. Certain lenders even offer home loans to those wanting to become homeowners. The negative connotations of manufactured homes may take a while longer to get past, but more homeowners are seeing the cost benefits of buying manufactured residences.

Insuring a Manufactured Home

A manufactured home is insured as real estate. It is not insured as a recreational vehicle or camper.

Half of Florida’s manufactured homes aren’t insured, partly a result of the state’s weather. Manufactured homes, though built with more stringent regulations, tend to be less likely to successfully withstand storms, especially disaster-causing hurricanes and tornadoes.

Those homeowners living in manufactured homes can still get affordable insurance on their homes, however, and Kin even offers replacement-cost coverage for dwellings manufactured off-site, which is much the same as homeowners’ coverage for traditionally built homes.

About Shahbaz Ahmed

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