You might think that mobile, manufactured and modular homes are all the same – but there are key differences between all 3.
Many people, land buyers and sellers alike, use the terms interchangeably for these “pre-fabricated” homes. Note that some refer to “pre-fab” homes as a specific modernist style or type of component house, but in this case we refer to all 3 types of houses under the pre-fab umbrella. All three home types are pre-manufactured and can be moved around from location-to-location. In terms of physical structure and legal regulations, however, there are clear differences.
Mobile homes are the most mobile of the three pre-fabricated homes, and typically rest on stands made of concrete, metal or wood. They can also be placed atop a permanent concrete foundation. Many land-owners settle their mobile on their property. Technically, mobile homes are only considered such if they were built before 1976. After this date, all mobile homes have been deemed manufactured homes per new FHA guidelines. Originally, mobile homes could not be housed in a subdivision, only in a Mobile Home Park. They were also built on 2 x 2″ studs and steel frames underneath, with short ceilings around 7 ft tall. These limitations are what contributed to the growth and innovation of modular housing.
Joe Green, owner of Icon Construction, has the lowdown on the advantages and disadvantages for mobile homes.
“Quick turn around time for construction. Since these structures are usually for temporary use, lower quality construction methods are used to make them affordable.” These homes can be moved or relocated easily, you don’t need to sell your home to move it.
“Mobile homes have a limited size and layout structure, due to the chassis,” Joe adds. “They do not increase in value over time like traditional homes. Lower quality construction leads to a less sturdy structure when put up against bad weather conditions.”
Manufactured homes move around just like mobile homes, but are constructed to look like a standard house rather than an RV. Manufactured homes are cheaper than modular and site-built houses. Both manufactured and mobile homes are only one floor, but they can attach to make single, double or triple-wide homes.
Manufactured homes differ from regular on-site homes when it comes to labor cost and controlled conditions. Mike Martin, a Boston-based Contractor at MBM Construction, has been in construction for 20 years, and has built his share of these homes.
“With a (manufactured) home, you’re getting your home built quickly. Everything is pre-built in a shop, from the exterior walls, to the floor joists, roof trusses and all equal parts involved.”
From a construction standpoint, manufactured homes have reduced material waste, less slow downs for labor, and reduced overall cost. There’s also less maintenance and upkeep. Taxes are lower because residents pay a property sales tax based on the value of the home, not the land it is located on.
“Having your home built on-site reduces all of the pitfalls of a (manufactured) home. However, it also increases the cost and time factor,” Mike says. “Builders are limited to working weather conditions.”
The bad part? It is difficult to make adjustments when there are errors on site, such as a foundation that is “out-of-square” or “out of level.” Layout changes in windows, doors, and walls can also be an issue. “It basically all goes together like ‘paint by number’ everything is laid out and dummy proof with some minor adjustments as needed,” Mike says.
Joe Green from Icon Construction mentions the value of the land. “Since residents do not own the land the home is located on, the home’s value never increases and can be difficult to refinance.”
Modular homes bridge the gap between manufactured homes and site-built homes. Factory workers construct modular home pieces and take them to a site for assembly. The homes may have multiple levels, as opposed to mobile and manufactured homes. Modular homes are not mobile once constructed, and the cost per square foot is typically close to a site-built home. Unlike manufactured and mobile homes, modular homes do not usually decrease in value over time. Instead, modular homes hold value just like their site-built equivalents.
Mike Martin describes the process in further detail. “When you have a modular home built, it’s completely built from the inside out and put together in sections. Have you ever seen tractor trailers carrying pre-built sections of a home on their trailer? Everything from the flooring, sheet-rock, plumbing, wiring and kitchen, is completely put together. Once put together, sub contractors and crew members will put the finishing touches on the home.”
Similar to mobile homes, modular homes have a quick construction process, says Joe Green of Icon Construction. “These homes are cost effective because builders take advantage of economies of scale by building multiple similar pieces at once. Although these structures are built similarly to mobile homes, modular homes can be permanent or temporary structures.”
Be prepared to pay in full up front. “Another costly expense is the necessity of land ownership,” Joe says. You must have ownership of the land before the purchase of the modular home is even made.
Bob Harrison, Owner and Operator of RMH Homes, has been in the business of housing since 1954. The savvy veteran started building component houses way back in 1959. “Using (wall panel) components and trusses with the help of a crane we could frame a house in about 10-12 hours.” In 1965, a farmer whose house burnt down came in to his office looking for a quick replacement fix. That’s when Bob and Boise Cascade pioneered the “pre-built” house business.
The company hit the ground running – replacing farmhouses across Idaho, Utah, and Montana. By 1974, they were the largest shelter provider in the U.S. They built condos, ski resorts, Super 8 Motels, housing complexes, hotels, and Native American housing. They even created barges to send modular houses all the way to Anchorage, AK.
Today, Bob is no longer in the modular house business, but he’s still going strong today, and is one heck of a guy to contact for Custom House needs.
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