Are Manufactured Homes Safe?

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Gone are the days when manufactured homes are viewed as tin cans of mobile trailer homes. Today they are trailblazing the housing industry providing quality, quick and affordable homes to meet the market demand. They even prove more resilient than traditionally built homes!

Manufactured homes are considered a highly secure house structurally. Being constructed in a factory,  they are subject to stringent government standards before being allowed to operate, sell and build. Housing codes dictate minimum standards for material quality, fire resistance, joinery and energy efficiency that all homes must prove via inspection before leaving the factory. Not only that, but all labor are professionally employed, giving less room for human error.

Image from Prefabs We Love for 2021 (buildwithrise.com)

Safety In Numbers Speak For Itself

In 2016, the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) of the United States reports: (1,2)

  • Over 22 million affordable quality housing was provided to very low to low and moderate income Americans
  • The average income of homeowners of living in manufactured homes is estimated at $26,000
  • Manufactured homes report 38-44% less fires and civilian fire injuries compared to site built (conventionally built) homes per 100,000 people
  • Manufactured Homes (built after 1976) and Site Built Homes both present the same fire death rate

Ever since the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) implemented a new code for manufactured homes in June 1976, several ratings of improved fire and hurricane safety appeared throughout the United States. Even the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of the U.S. released a study in 2013 showing the fire resistance features of manufactured homes are proven stricter than those homes built from the ground up on site.(2)

Having the government monitor everything around the factory, the new housing codes (HUD) include checking the following features for fire resistivity: (2)

  • Materials subject to stringent standards for flame spread and smoke generation. (Particularly those installed near fire/heat areas like the kitchen.)
  • All bedrooms equipped with windows appropriate as a fire exit
  • Smoke detectors
  • A minimum of 2 exterior doors, both of which distanced from one another and both accessible without passing through a locked door.
Image from 4 Heat Resistant Materials You Need to Build a Home – Every Last House Plan

All Built Under A Watchful Eye

Minimum Code Standards to Follow

Since the 1970’s with the New Building Codes in place, manufactured home companies are forced to comply with the minimum standards: (3)

  • Material Quality Used
  • Skilled Labor
  • Compliance to Fire Safety
  • Compliance to Code of Plumbing and Electrical Systems
  • Thermal Insulation
  • Energy Efficiency

This set them drastically apart from the old “mobile homes” on wheels, and through time, raised them at par (or even higher) in safety to traditionally built homes.

In 1994, these codes were made more stringent by the U.S. Federal Government after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992. Home construction will now comply with standards depending on their location and corresponding “wind zone”, to ensure they can withstand the next calamity. For example, homes located in Wind Zones II and III are prone to stronger hurricanes and coastal storms, therefore must be built to combat higher wind speeds. (3)

The HUD Basic Wind Zone Map, with standards based on the 2012 International Building Code: (1)

Wind Zone 1: Non-Hurricane Prone Areas = 136 miles per hour wind speed

Wind Zone 2:  Prone Hurricane-Force Winds = 150 miles per hour

Wind Zone 3:  Prone Hurricane-Force Winds = 163 miles per hour

The HUD Code with the Wind Safety Standards added the following structural requirements to prevent wind overturning, wind uplift and the like by the elemal forces: (3)

  • “Revised foundation specifications and wall framing to allow installation of hurricane shutters.”
  • The roof framing must be securely fastened and anchored to the wall.
  • House walls must be securely fastened to the floor structure.
  • Floor framing must be securely fastened to the building foundation or chassis.
  • All elements of the house for wind-resistance are designed to withstand a minimum 76.55 mph for  horizontal wind loads and a minimum net uplift roof load of 59.29 mph.

For a full account on the standards these homes follow, check out the code itself below!

Housing and Urban Development Code of the United States (1976): eCFR :: 24 CFR Part 3280 — Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards

Image from Prefabs We Love for 2021 (buildwithrise.com)

Loss of Product and Human Error on Site

People take for granted just how much can go awry on site. Even if your architects and engineers are the best in their field, if the site build team executes poorly, or perhaps has an off day without someone watching, an overlooked step in construction can quickly lead to problems like a leaky roof or one that will be completely blown away!

Building on site goes through several stakeholders such as the contractor, supplier, engineers and workers themselves. There’s always something that can go wrong like bad weather conditions and there will always be something unexpected, like a delay in shipment due to permits or a COVID surge.

There will also be ways to cut corners to save money and time, which without meaning to, can also compromise quality.

Building materials are often stored on site, meaning workers have to receive and create temporary storage on your land property. Naturally these will be exposed to outdoor weathering conditions much more than those stored in the factory of manufactured housing.

Also, manufactured home companies employ professionals as builders. Imagine working in safe, controlled conditions and handling the same building parts every day. There’s less room for error in construction and the people can work in better conditions.

If they fall short? There’s careful inspection of the factory in production and also of the finished home before final turnover, transportation and delivery. I’m talking about a government agency inspection, beyond the conventional building/construction supervisor you typically have on site. In the United States, it is an official manufactured home only if it has the HUD Code metal verification plate of approval post inspection.

Due to all the factors mentioned above, Manufactured Housing Institute therefore states the average life of a manufactured home is approximately 55.8 years. (4)

Image from How Long to Build a Manufactured Home | Clayton Studio (claytonhomes.com)

When is it Unsafe?

The simplest way is to make sure those government and code regulated stamps are on the homes or company profiles you’re buying from.

Another would be not taking a chance in remodeling a manufactured home built before 1976 in the U.S. It’s still possible to renovate them to code standard, but may come out more costly in the big picture. For example old electrical wiring systems cannot meet the energy demands today.

Keep in mind these homes still need regular maintenance as conventional homes would like repainting, caulking to avoid water seepage and damage. Ensure the plumbing and electrical systems are running smoothly and have proper ventilation.

“In 1994, HUD revised and increased its wind safety standards after Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992. The result was that during the four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, not one manufactured home built after 1994 was destroyed by hurricane-force winds!” (5)

Image from Hurricane Andrew still haunts Florida 25 years later (usatoday.com)

The codes also keep updating. In 2007, the Federal Government also enforced stringent standards on installation and anchoring of structural elements to windstorms for manufactured homes. (5)

This is due to the fact that around 80% of home damages in storms are caused by huge debris of improperly installed accessories. So if your roof is not properly anchored or has some exterior elements loosely fastened like patios, window eaves, these can fly right off and cause damage or injury beyond your property.

Most debris comes from unfastened, roofs are often unanchored well. — Weak or bad joinery is often the culprit to home damage with roofs being ripped off etc.

To give you further security, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) released a test in 2014 to find manufactured homes performing better against higher winds than houses conventionally built on site.

Image from Watch what winds over 100 mph do to this house – CNN Video

Safer than Sorry

Several studies have been conducted throughout the U.S. and the world on the resiliency of these manufactured homes.

My personal advice onthe safest way to go is purchasing a manufactured home from a local company. This makes sure the homes were specified with materials suited to the local climate and built according to your codes, the strengths and different calamities of your region. If none are available, choose a company that’s based in a country closest to you, or with a similar climatic region e.g. Tropical, Desert, Temperate, Tundra, etc.

If these stats aren’t enough, go search some more online till you feel secure.

This is after all still an investment in what will protect you and your family for decades at the very least. However my standpoint on purchasing a manufactured home is that there’s a much bigger chance you’ll be safe than sorry.

Image from Prefabs We Love for 2021 (buildwithrise.com)

 

References

  1. Manufactured Housing Institute. (2016, August 30). Manufactured homes are as safe as traditional homes during a Storm. GlobeNewswire News Room. Retrieved May 2022, from https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2016/08/30/868126/0/en/Manufactured-Homes-are-as-Safe-as-Traditional-Homes-During-a-Storm.html
  2. Manufactured Housing Institute. (2017, May 11). Don’t ignore the real facts about manufactured home safety. GlobeNewswire News Room. Retrieved May 2022, from https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/05/11/982528/0/en/Don-t-Ignore-the-Real-Facts-about-Manufactured-Home-Safety.html
  3. C, M. (2022, April 18). Are manufactured homes safe during storms? l Clayton Studio. Retrieved May 2022, from https://www.claytonhomes.com/studio/are-manufactured-homes-safe-during-storms/
  4. Becker, J. (2021, August 2). How long do manufactured homes last?: Tyrone Woods Community. Tyrone Woods Manufactured Home Community. Retrieved May 2022, from https://tyronewoodsmhc.com/how-long-do-manufactured-homes-last/
  5. Ferguson, W. (2021, August 12). Is it true that a mobile home is less safe in storms? it depends on when it was built. Manufactured Homes. Retrieved May 2022, from https://www.manufacturedhomes.com/blog/true-mobile-home-less-safe-in-storms/