How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
How can I tell the difference between a manufactured home and a modular home?
Saturday, October 13, 2018
A manufactured home is better known by names like mobile home, double-wide, or trailer. It is built in a factory and trucked to a homesite, just like a modular home, but that’s where the similarity between the two ends.
•• A manufactured home is always built on a steel I-beam frame, with axles and tires attached underneath, a welded steel tongue towing-assembly at the front, and is towed to the homesite on it’s own wheels by truck. The tongue and wheels are typically removed when the home is installed in place. On older manufactured homes, you will sometimes see the undercarriage and axles still in place, with only the tires removed.
•• A modular home is built using essentially the same building materials and construction methods as a site-built home, except that is it constructed in transportable sections that are loaded on trucks for delivery to the homesite to be connected together. Some modular homes are built over a steel I-beam frame similar to manufactured homes, and called “on-frame” modulars. “Off-frame modular homes are more common. There is a stemwall, or piers and elevated beams, constructed at the site before arrival of an off-frame the home, while some on-frame homes are installed on piers the same as manufactured/mobile homes.
•• The manufactured home sits on a foundation of rows of stacked concrete blocks over plastic pads, with tie-down straps every four to eight feet along both the long sides, connecting the steel frame to deep-set stakes in the ground. The home is rolled into place and the foundation is then built under it. Occasionally we see a manufactured home with an upgraded, “permanent” foundation of concrete piers set on concrete footings—but not very often.
•• The modules of a modular home are lifted by crane into place onto the same kind of concrete foundation under a site-built home that has wood floors.
•• A manufactured home is considered a vehicle, and is licensed as such by the State of Florida. Financing is similar to buying a boat or a car in most markets. If the mobile home is permanently secured to the ground and you own the land under it, Florida allows you to convert it to real property by applying for an “RP” sticker. To learn more, go to our blog post What is an "RP" sticker for a mobile home?
•• A modular home is considered to be real estate, and can be mortgaged the same as a site-built home.
•• Manufactured homes are built to a national building code established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1976 and regularly upgraded. The home will have a HUD Data Plate affixed somewhere inside, usually on the wall of the master bedroom closet or inside of the cabinet door under the kitchen sink. It lists all the construction performance specs of the home. There will be a HUD Tag (often called the “red tag”) riveted to the long side of each section of the home.
A modular home is built to the building code of the location where it will be placed. In Florida, it’s the Residential Edition of the Florida Building Code (FBC) and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) further regulates the construction of modular homes. There will be a data plate similar to a HUD Data Plate inside the home. Also, in Florida, a DCA Label affixed inside, like the one shown at right.
A manufactured home has a long rectangular footprint, and a low-sloped gable roof. The interior usually has cathedral ceilings (no attic), and there is a double-beam at the ridge of the ceiling (the upper part of the what is called the “marriage line”) where the two parts of a double-wide meet. Once in a while, we come across a triple-wide manufactured home, with the third section being perpendicular to the first two, to create a “T” or “L” shaped layout.
The small “red tag" mentioned above, about 2” x 3”, mounted near a corner on one of the exterior walls is one sure way to identify a manufactured/mobile home. Ventilated skirting is required between the bottom of the manufactured home and the ground, although sometimes a homeowner will replace it with a brick/masonry wall that comes up to the bottom of the mobile home but is not load-bearing.
Also, manufactured homes are typically elevated several feet off the ground. But, occasionally you will see one that is “pit set,” meaning that it has been placed in a shallow pit so that the floor level is just slightly above ground, comparable to a site-built home. Unfortunately, pit set homes are prone to moisture accumulation in the pit. During a wet season, it is not unusual when we pull the skirting to find the pit filled with standing water.
There is always a manufacturer’s info sticker, called a “data plate,” typically placed on the wall of the master bedroom closet or on the inside of one of the cabinet doors in the kitchen, that identifies the manufacturer, date and place of manufacture, listing of appliances, and the wind load and roof load standards that it was designed to meet. It may be removed or painted-over in an older manufactured home. For more information about data plates, see our blog post How do I find out how old a mobile home is and who manufactured it?
Some modular homes look exactly like a regular site-built home at a glance, while others appear similar to a premium-grade manufactured home. The best way to verify that it is modular is to look under the home for marriage lines of beams that have been bolted together. Where a site-built home would have double sill beams throughout, the marriage line of two modules will have two double-beams bolted together. Also, in Florida the home will have a sticker somewhat similar to the data plate of a manufactured home, usually located in the master bedroom closet, along with a second, smaller sticker that has the Florida DCA logo and a serial number, like the one shown below.
One of the big advantages that manufactured homes have in the residential marketplace is low cost.
A modular home costs significantly more than a manufactured home, and sometimes even a little more than a comparable site-built home. But an on-frame modular will be less expensive than an off-frame modular. The trade-off is that some lenders treat on-frame modulars as manufactured homes in the lending guidelines and appraisals. What modulars offer a homebuyer is the superior quality-control standards of a modern factory when compared to a site-built home.
THE BETTER CHOICE
It would be unfair to claim that either a modular or manufactured home is a better choice, because they each have their pros and cons. It depends on what you’re looking for in a home, and what you are willing to pay. Also, see our blog post Are mobile homes well built?
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Here’s links to a collection of our blog posts about MOBILE/MANUFACTURED HOMES:
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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about MODULAR HOMES:
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