In everyday conversation, we often hear the term ‘mobile home’ used interchangeably with ‘manufactured home’ when in reality these are distinct concepts. Date built, HUD code, and perceptions are three key ways manufactured homes differ from mobile homes. In this article, we’ll discuss these differences to provide a clearer understanding of the difference between the two.
Mobile homes and manufactured homes actually share a common history which is why they are so often confused. In the 1920s, the popularity of the automobile led to people creating trailers, named as such because these vehicles ‘trailed’ behind the truck or van that was pulling it. Trailers were popular with vacationers who wanted to camp on the go.
In the 1930s, manufacturers began to produce trailers on a mass scale in factories. Over time, they became bigger, longer, wider, and more elaborate. Families eventually started using these ‘house trailers’ as permanent residences and although they had wheels, they were typically not used for travel.
In the 1950s, ‘trailers’ started to gain a poor public reputation, so the industry decided to rename them, calling them mobile homes instead. These mobile homes were situated on property, but the wheels remained in place. They were not permanently attached to that property. Mobile homes were assigned VIN numbers and financing was similar to financing a car.
In 1976, the industry stepped in again. It was decided that stricter standards for mobile homes should be set to ensure the quality of these structures which many people were now using as permanent residences. With these new codes came another name change – from mobile homes to manufactured homes.
Therefore from a date standpoint, the term ‘mobile home’ is only appropriate if the structure was built before July 15, 1976. If the home was built after July 15, 1976, the correct term should be ‘manufactured home’.
The HUD code, enacted in 1976, is really what makes a manufactured home fundamentally different from a mobile home. The HUD code established federal standards for the building of manufactured housing. It involved regulating the construction and quality of all aspects of building a manufactured house, including:
- Design and construction
- Strength and durability
- Fire resistance
- Energy efficiency
- Overall quality
- Performance standards for all house systems, including electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning
It is important to note that before this time, these important features were not federally regulated. The HUD code was a huge step forward in ensuring quality manufactured housing. Therefore the term ‘mobile home’ refers to an unregulated construction that was built pre-1976, and the term ‘manufactured home’ refers to a housing unit that is constructed post-1976 following specific rules for design, durability, and safety.
The final difference between mobile homes and manufactured homes is the difference in perception. We can see the influence of perception in the HUD code. At that time, mobile homes were perceived as low quality so in 1976, the industry enacted code changes and a name change to alter this perception.
When people take offense to the term ‘mobile home’(when the structure is actually a manufactured home), it is often because of perception. Mobile homes are perceived as low quality, old, and linked to poverty. When the term ‘mobile home’ is used, it is not giving the manufactured home the credit it is due. Today’s manufactured homes are built according to very stringent building standards. They are beautiful, functional, and sometimes even indistinguishable from site-built homes.
The change in perception is also impacting manufactured home financing. Whereas mobile homes(pre 1976) were financed like a car, certain lenders like Cascade offer manufactured home loans that are similar to loans for site-built homes and other real estate.
By understanding these key differences, it is easy to see the terms ‘mobile home’ and ‘manufactured home’ are very distinct. When referring to a housing structure built within the past ~45 years, it is correct to use the term manufactured home, and using this correct term also helps you avoid any negative connotation with mobile homes of the past.