Modular and Mobile Homes are two different types of construction that share more differences than similarities. The biggest distinction between the two remains in the legal treatment they receive, while modular homes are considered real state property, mobile homes are purchased as personal property, a title commonly associated to vehicles. This difference remains in the fact that modular homes are designed and build to become permanent constructions whereas mobile homes are conceived as transportable houses.
Despite their noticeable differences, both modular and mobile homes share one big similarity: they are both prefabricated constructions. This common trait welcomes the possibility of mixing up the terms modular and mobile since building off-site is a unique construction approach uncommon in the building industry.
Main differences between Modular and Modular Homes:
- Legal treatment and building regulations
- Quality and safety standards
- Construction process
- Design possibilities
- Building Cost and Financing
Both modular and mobile homes can offer a good housing solution though not in all situations. Understanding the pros and cons of both modular and manufactured homes offers us the tools to identify the benefits granted in each situation and avoid the inconveniences we could be faced with when choosing a construction type that doesn’t respond to our own needs.
What type of construction classifies as either modular or mobile home
There is a common misunderstanding regarding prefabricated constructions and often the names modular and mobile are mixed up. Modular homes are a specific type of permanent prefabricated construction that is built per modules. Every module is prefabricated in a factory-like environment and delivered to the site to be assembled and set on the foundation.
Mobile homes are entirely prefabricated homes built in one whole piece that can easily be attached to a truck and transported as one. The name mobile home is the common terminology used to describe today’s manufactured homes and in this article we will treat it as so. However, it is essential to acknowledge that not all mobile homes are built under the same quality and safety standards and in our comparisons we will always refer to the “new” mobile homes exclusively, which are technically labelled as manufactured homes.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) draws a clear line distinguishing mobile from manufactured and considers to be mobile homes only those built before 1976 . The reason behind this distinction remains in the quality and specs offered by these constructions depending on the time of their construction, since it was on June 15, 1976 when the HUD wrote a set of regulations (HUD Code) that ensure a higher quality home .
Main differences between Modular and Mobile Homes
Legal treatment and building regulations
Modular homes are conceived as permanent constructions and built specifically to be settled on one definite plot of land. Once finished a modular home is no different from a site built home and is therefore treated as so: being considered real state property and required to stick to the same regulations stablished by the state and local building codes.
The construction of a modular home takes place in a centralized location where every modular home built by the manufacturing company owning the factory will be built. Each one of these homes might be permanently assembled in a different location. Still each home will be built to the specific building codes enforced by its location.
Mobile homes follow a different path, being originally designed to be transportable instead of affixed to a specific plot of land, are considered personal property  and not required to stick to any state or local building codes. Alternatively, mobile homes are regulated in a national level by the HUD.
Quality and safety standards
Both modular and mobile homes are built to adhere to a building regulation, which guarantees that the houses meet the minimum quality and safety requirements. Though there are some differences between the safety measures of the local building codes and the HUD code.
All the state and local building codes are based on the International Code Council® (ICC) and modified to fit the specific needs defined by the location. Therefore, the regulations to which a modular home builder has to construct the house will depend on its location and won’t be based on one single standardized code .
Therefore, those locations where safety measures are extremely important to be taken into consideration such as areas where extreme weather events are common, are often contemplated in the building Codes. This is the case of Florida’s Building Codes, which are carefully strengthen to ensure the safety of the buildings placed in hurricane prone areas .
Being a generalized rule applicable to the whole United States territory, the HUD code can’t consider specific situations affecting only a few locations. To address this issue the HUD code proposes three different wind zones and a mobile home can be built according to one of these . Still, the HUD code offers basic safety and quality standards and in extreme events it won’t equate with the Building Codes.
Being built per parts, modular homes can be designed in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles such as site built houses. Every module conforming a modular home is built of the same shape and size to optimize the transportation needs, but once on site the number of modules used is as unlimited as their possible combinations offering an extensive range of design possibilities.
Mobile homes don’t benefit from this modular flexibility and their design possibilities are quite limited. Conceived as transportable houses, mobile homes are sized and shaped to fit the shipping truck requirements. It is possible to customize the interior design and the finishes of these homes, but the shape and size remains standardized.
Building Cost and Financing
The differences in building cost are quite responsible for the popularity of mobile homes since these constructions are an affordable housing option. Building a mobile 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 .
The financing options for these two types of constructions also differ. A modular home can be financed like any other site built home but mobile homes need to follow a different procedure. Since mobile homes are purchased as personal property they cannot be financed as any other traditional home. The most popular way to finance mobile homes is with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, which covers the house without requiring the ownership of the land where they are based .
When to Choose a Modular or a Mobile home. Understanding their Pros and Cons
Both Modular and Mobile homes offer different benefits and inconveniences. In order to choose the type of construction that would offer the best housing solution for our own situation, we need to understand what each type of home can or cannot offer:
- Intention to build a permanent home: Modular homes are designed and built as permanent constructions. When looking for a permanent home, modular offers the most benefits. Mobile homes are not designed to be permanently affixed in one location and therefore won’t provide a solid foundation system.
- You don’t own land: Since mobile homes are purchased a personal property, they can be acquired with no land and be installed in rented land or even settle in a trailer park. While modular homes always require a land of your property to be built in.
- Size flexibility: If you want to be able to choose the size of your home according to your own needs modular is the way to go. Mobile homes offer a size that is standardized and restricted to fit the transportation needs.
- Freedom of design and shape: Modular homes allow a huge variety of designs and shapes by combining different modules. With modular construction there aren’t much limitations and the building possibilities are almost as extensive as with traditional site-built homes. Mobile homes per contra, offer very limited customization options in a one shape fits all.
- Locations with extreme weather: When building in a location where extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or strong snow falls are common; it is recommended to opt for a home built to the building codes. Modular homes will offer a safer construction in this case.
- Restricted building Cost: Mobile homes are designed as an affordable housing solution, granting a fully finished home at an affordable price. Modular homes are often advertised as an affordable construction method, which it often is in comparison to traditional construction. However, since mobile homes are personal property sold as one product by itself and follow a less restricted set of rules, it will always offer a more affordable house.
- Adkins C., (2018, July 4) Manufactured Home facts everyone should know Mobile Home Living For Mobile Homeowners By Mobile Homeowners https://www.triadfs.com/news/how-manufactured-homes-differ-from-mobile-and-modular-homes
- Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. https://www.hud.gov/hudprograms/mhcss
- Manufactured, Mobile Home Personal Property Taxes indy.gov https://www.indy.gov/activity/manufactured-mobile-home-personal-property-taxes
- I-Codes Code Adoption Map The Wagner Companies https://wagnercompanies.com/i-codes-code-adoption-map/
- Florida Building Codes Panel Built https://www.panelbuilt.com/blog/hurricane-rated-construction
- Basic Wind Zone Map Manufactured Home Institute (MHI) https://www.manufacturedhousing.org/wind-map/
- How much does it cost to build a modular home? Home Guide https://homeguide.com/costs/modular-home-prices#vs
- Financing Manufactured (Mobile) Homes U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/sfh/title/repair