Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Modular vs Manufactured Homes - The Final Word

I have tried on many occasions to explain the difference between a modular home and a manufactured home and have always fell just a little short. Recently I found a great article on the National Association of Certified Home Inspector's website that does it so much better than any explanation I have found. 

Here is that article:

While the terms “modular home” and “manufactured home” refer to two very different things, they are sometimes used interchangeably. Perhaps some of this confusion stems from the fact that modular homes are, in fact, manufactured (“manufactured” might be an unfortunate label.) Also, traditional “site-built” homes are not necessarily better than modular homes, despite the stigma associated with their assembly-line origin. There have been cases where Realtors and builders of manufactured homes have misrepresented manufactured homes as modular homes, and buyers were not informed enough to know the difference. Everyone (especially inspectors, who make their living examining residences) should understand the distinguishing features of these two types of houses.

Modular Homes

Modular homes are residences constructed entirely in factories and transported to their sites on flatbed trucks. They are built under controlled conditions, and must meet strict quality-control requirements before they are delivered. They arrive as block segments and are neatly assembled, using cranes, into homes that are almost indistinguishable from comparable ones built on-site. Wind and rain do not cause construction delays or warp building materials.

In addition, modular homes:
  • must conform to the same local, state and regional building codes as homes built on-site;
  • are treated the same by banks as homes built on-site. They are easily refinanced, for example;
  • follow the same market trends as site-built houses;
  • must be structurally approved by inspectors;
  • can be of any size, although the block sections from which they are assembled are uniformly sized;
  • are often more basic than homes built on-site, but they tend to be sturdier;
  • are highly customizable. Design is usually decided by the buyer before construction has begun; and 
  • generally take eight to 14 weeks to construct. Differing from a site-built home, the foundation can be dug at the same time that the house is being constructed.
Proponents of modular homes claim that their indoor, environmentally controlled construction affords them greater strength and resilience than homes built on-site. They also tend to be constructed using more precise building techniques and with more building material than comparable site-built residences. One reason for this is that they must be able to withstand the stress of highway transport. A study by FEMA found that modular homes withstood the wind and water from Hurricane Andrew better than most other homes in the area. They take less time to construct than site-built homes, are more energy-efficient, and generally cost less.

Manufactured Homes

The term “manufactured home” is the most recent label for what were once called “mobile homes” or “trailers.” They are relatively inexpensive, small, and are held to less stringent standards than modular and site-built homes. Their obvious advantages are their mobility and affordability, factors that allow buyers to make home purchases without a serious monetary or geographical commitment. They are available in three sizes that escalate as follows: “single-wide,” “double-wide” and “triple-wide.” 

In addition, manufactured homes:
  • conform only to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) code. Some homes contain a red tag that confirms that the unit was manufactured in compliance with this code;
  • are inspected, but do not have to be structurally approved by an inspector;
  • are manufactured in sections at factories;
  • are never more than one story;
  • do not have a permanent or conventional foundation; 
  • tend to lose value over time because they are difficult to expand or improve;
  • are transported to the site on their own wheels;  
  • are transported on steel chassis that are never removed;   
  • are often placed on property owned by others, such as public land that is leased by the homeowner;
  • are treated as a separate lending category from modular and on-site built homes; and 
  • are rarely custom-designed. The buyer can choose from homes that have already been built and receive it within days.

Despite their manufacturing process, modular homes are essentially the same as homes that are built on-site. They are treated the same under the law, and their basic structural features are almost indistinguishable from site-built homes, once assembled. Manufactured homes are relatively small, inexpensive, mobile residences that require a smaller commitment than is required by modular and site-built homes. It is important to understand the differences between these home types in order to reduce the influence of stigmas, misrepresentation and ignorance.

For more information, watch NACHI.TV's episode on Understanding Modular Homes.


Brian K. Willis, P.E. said...

Nice article. It is my understanding though that each section of a manufactured home is REQUIRED to have a red metal tag located on the road-side of the section. If the siding gets changed on site, the tags must be re-attached. Plus I've never seen any manufactured home placed on public land.

Marta said...

Not sure what Mr. Willis is referring to about not seeing manufactured homes on public land. Is he talking about private property instead of in a mobile home park? If so, there are certainly a great number of manufactured homes in this country on private property.

When I am asked the difference by customers, I explain it this way. Manufactured homes, mobile homes, or trailers were eventually regulated and approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development back n the '70's. From that point on, manufactured homes had to be built on a frame. They must remain on that frame as the home gets part of it's support from that frame. As a result of the home being built to a Federal (National) code, you can buy a manufactured home from a company in Washington State, Tennessee, or Maine, and other than aesthetics, they are all built the same. AND local building departments do not have any jurisdiction or authority to change or dictate how the home is built.

A modular home can be built on a frame, but doesn't have to be and in fact most of them are not. Some of us call in the business call those "Hudular". The modular homes carrier is usually just a method of transporting the house to the job site. The modules are lifted off the carrier and placed on the foundation. Then the carriers are returned to the factory for re-use. Modulars are built to state and local building codes which of course differ from town to town, state to state, etc. As a result of this, modular construction is much more flexible than manufactured (mobile) home construction.

Each of them (Manufactured or modular) follow a rigorous inspection process, but what the inspectors are inspecting too differs.

Each manufacturer works with a 3rd party inspection agency to assure that they are building the home correctly whether it is for the Federal HUD code or the State and local code.

You can find some really great manufactured homes, and some really cheap modular homes and vice-versa.

With a manufactured home EVERYTHING has to be done before it leaves the factory. With a modular home you can finish most of it, or leave almost everything out and complete on site.

On another note, I believe there have been some 2 story manufactured homes, although not many and I don't know if they are still making them or not.

Comparing manufactured and modular homes is like comparing horses and zebras. They are obviously from the same family but really quite different from each other.