Modular Homes vs Manufactured Homes – A full review

Share

Modular and Manufactured Homes are built to serve very different purposes. Modular homes are meant to be permanent houses while manufactured homes, as the new “mobile homes”, are meant to be transportable. However, it is common for these two types of constructions to be confused since they share one big similarity that sets them apart from traditional construction: they are both prefabricated houses built off site.

Main differences between Modular and Manufactured Homes:

  1. Main purpose
  2. Construction process
  3. Design possibilities
  4. Location
  5. Building Code’s regulations
  6. Safety
  7. Building Cost and Financing

Both modular and Manufactured construction are both perfectly valuable building solutions for a house as long as the chosen one responds best to our specific situation and needs. By understanding when to choose Modular over Manufactured you will have the necessary tools to choose the best type of home for you.

Main differences between Modular and Manufactured Homes

Main purpose

The biggest difference between modular and manufactured homes starts with their purpose. While modular homes are meant to be permanent constructions built and attached to their foundations just as any other site built construction, manufactured homes are the new “mobile homes”, meant to be mobile and therefore always designed to be transportable.

Certainly, manufactured homes are very often purchased as a substitute for a traditional house and once placed on land will remain in the same location for most of their life. Moreover, 23% of the manufactured homes in the United States are not only stationed in one location but placed on a permanent foundation acquiring the title that considers them real state property [1], just as any other site built or modular construction.

However, even if the reason for purchasing a manufactured home is to be unmoveable, they are still required to be built on a permanent fixed steel chassis designed to stabilize the house. The original purpose of this this chassis is to offer a stable structure to place the house on wheels as well as to attach it to a permanent or non permanent foundation. A modular home on the other hand, will never be placed over this kind of support since once the modules are constructed they will be attached directly to the permanent foundations on site.

Construction process

Manufactured homes, being meant to be transported as a whole, will be built in a factory entirely and in one whole peace while modular homes will be constructed per parts or modules, hence the name modular. It is feasible for modular construction to be built per parts since once on site they will be assembled together and placed on the permanent foundations to construct the entirety of the home.

One big difference concerning the construction of these two types of houses remains in the post manufacturing. While the construction of a manufactured home finishes once the manufacturing process is complete, the construction of the modular home won’t be complete until this one is transported to the plot and assembled on site being attached to its permanent foundations. After the manufacturing process, a modular home is 80% finished [2] and will still require some site works for which a builder or contractor is usually required to connect the plumbing and electrical systems, landscaping and ensuring the site is finished and ready to live in.

Design Possibilities

Modular homes can be designed in a variety of different shape, sizes and styles, similarly to site built houses. Even if they are prefabricated and therefore limited to the factory capacity, the fact that the entirety of the house is built per parts (or modules) allows a great variety of combinations of shapes and sizes. The designs of manufactured homes, on the other side are limited. Having to be entirely transportable on as truck and built on a steel chassis limits the shape and size possibilities of these constructions.

The indoor design can also differ between these two since, as a general rule, modular homes are delivered with no furniture except for that one that is built in within the structure such as closets and cabinets, similar to a site built home. Manufactured homes however, even if they can be delivered unfurnished as well, are commonly delivered turn key and fully furnished, ready to move in.

Location

Linked to the main purpose of these two types of homes, we can talk about the differences in relation to their location. Modular homes are designed and built to be placed on a plot of land of your property, for which you will be required to obtain the necessary permits to construct the house, such as if you were building a traditional site built construction. Manufactured homes, on the other side, are built as unit, independent from the land and can be placed on your own plot, rented land or even in a manufactured home community. 

Building Code’s regulations

Being built for one specific plot of land, modular homes are permanent constructions under the same category as site built homes, and therefore are required to stick to the same regulations stablished by the state and local building codes. Manufactured homes on the other hand, since they are originally designed to be mobile and not to be fixed to a permanent foundation in a particular spot, are not required to stick to any state or local building codes and are instead regulated in a national level by the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards, following the HUD Code [3]

Safety

While both types of houses are built up to their current safety regulations, there are some differences between the safety measures of the local building codes and the HUD code. While most of the building codes of those areas where extreme weather events are common are strengthened ensuring the safety of their homes under those circumstances, the HUD code is a generalized rule applicable to the whole territory of the United States and therefore not focusing on these very specific situations.

Moreover, independently from building regulations, the fact that modular homes are attached to permanent foundations ensures a more stable construction especially in front of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

Building Cost and Financing

While both modular and manufactured homes as prefab constructions are cheaper than a site built house, when comparing them among themselves, manufactured homes are cheaper than modular homes. Building a manufactured home has a cost per square foot of around $30 to $60, while the average price per square foot of a modular homes $50 to $100 [4].

Financing these two homes is also quite different, while a modular home will be financed like any other site built home. Manufactured homes need to follow a different procedure. A manufactured home is purchased as personal property, a title more similar to a vehicle than to a house and therefore will require special treatment. There are though few options to obtain financing for a manufactured home and the most popular one is the one insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Loan, which considers manufactured homes without requiring the ownership of the land where they are based [5]. 

Modular and Manufactured Homes are both prefabricated structures

Being built off site is what puts manufactured and modular homes together in one whole prefab group. In both cases the entire house is manufactured in a factory-like environment, offering these two types of houses some advantages over site built constructions:

  • Labour safety: Contrary to traditional construction where homes are built on site, prefabricated construction is carried in a controlled environment where accidents occurring during construction works can be highly reduced.  The utilization of specialized machinery, isolation from unexpected weather events and control over the environment, provides safer working conditions to the workers in charge of building both Modular and Manufactured homes [6].
  • Lower materials cost: More often than not, prefabricated homes are cheaper than site built constructions. Companies building prefabricated houses have a centralized working space where every one of their houses will be build and all the needed materials will be stored. This centralization reduces the transportation needs since materials can be delivered in bulk and stored to be used in a number of different houses [7].

During on-site construction, materials have to be delivered to the site and are only those that will be used in that one particular house. This particular situation of prefabrication in comparison to site built construction also eases the recycling and reusing of materials.

  • Lower labour cost: Building in a controlled environment is faster and lowers the need for man power since it easies the usage of specialized machinery. Moreover, carpenters, plumbers and all the necessary construction workers are centralized in the same location, reducing transportation to site and improving coordination among them [7] which will as well improve productivity.
  • Shorter building time: Building off site brings construction closer to an assembly line, where production is being optimized. Working indoors ensures a controlled environment without delays due to weather conditions, making it easier to manage and plan working times.

Understanding when to choose Modular over Manufactured

While both modular and manufactured homes can be a great housing solution, the list below shows the different aspects to consider to take the best decision over choosing one type or another:

  • Permanent or Mobile: If our intention is to build a permanent home, modular usually offers a better outcome than manufactured. However, if we are planning to move in a near future and the idea of bringing our house with us seems interesting, a manufactured home might be a better choice.
  • If you own land: If you own a plot of land where you are planning to build the house, building a modular home will offer more opportunities.
  • Freedom of design: If your idea is to personalize the design of your home to suit your needs, and even be able to choose among different shapes and/or sizes, a modular home will be a better option for you.
  • Extreme weather: When building in a location where extreme weather is likely to occur such as areas where hurricanes are common or areas with heavy snowfalls in winter, the specific requirements for that house construction to be able to withstand those situations might not be included in the HUD Codes [7]

and therefore a manufactured home might become less safe than a modular one.

  • Building Cost: If you are building in a very restricted budged, a manufactured home might allow you to own a house at a lower cost.

References

  1. Manufactured Housing and Standards – Frequently Asked Questions U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/rmra/mhs/faqs 
  2. Turn Key and Custom Modular Homes West Built Homes https://www.westbuilt.com.au/turnkey-and-custom-modular-homes
  3. How much does it cost to build a modular home? Home Guide https://homeguide.com/costs/modular-home-prices#vs
  4. (2015, 9 July) What you need to know about the HUD Code Home FirstTM https://homefirstcertified.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-hud-code/
  5. Financing Manufactured (Mobile) Homes U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/sfh/title/repair
  6. Thurston Group (2019, November 15) The health and safety benefits of modular construction PBC Planning BIM & Construction Today  https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/mmc-news/health-safety-modular-construction/67480/
  7. Barber M., (2020, March 2) Everything you need to know about prefab homes. From costs to sustainability to financing CURBED Vox Media https://archive.curbed.com/2020/3/2/21142898/modular-prefab-homes-house-build-cost
  8. (2020, May) 2020 Manufactured Housing. Facts Industry Overview Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI)https://www.manufacturedhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020-MHI-Quick-Facts-updated-05-2020.pdf