How do I find out how old a mobile home is and who manufactured it?
Thursday, June 28, 2018
“Who made this mobile home? And how old is it?” These are often the first questions we get asked at manufactured home inspections. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that a manufacturer place a large information sticker, called a “data plate,” on the interior of every mobile home manufactured since June 15th, 1976—and that’s where you find out. The data plate provides a tremendous amount of useful info in a standardized format. It will be located on the wall of the master bedroom closet, at the electric panel, or the inside of a kitchen cabinet door--often one of the doors under the sink. The key items you want to locate on the data plate are:
- The name of the manufacturer and address of the manufacturing plant where it was made. if you are not familiar with the reputation of the manufacturer of the home you are considering buying, we suggest getting a copy of The Grissim Ratings Guide to Manufactured Homes (John Grissim, Rainshadow Publications, 2007, $29.95, www.grissimguides.com). The book is updated every few years and your local library will likely have a copy. The guide covers all major manufacturers and includes a brief history of the company, price range of their homes, rating of construction quality, and description of the company’s most popular model lines. While it is intended as a guide for buyers of new manufactured homes, the information is equally valuable for evaluating a pre-owned home. Mobile home manufacturing rides a roller-coaster between boom and bust every 15 years or so, with a cluster of companies leaving the industry on the downside of each cycle, so the brand of a 20-year old mobile home you’re considering may not by be in the current Grissim Ratings because the company is defunct.
- The date of manufacture. If the mobile home was built before June 1976, there were no baseline HUD-requirements and the home may not have a data plate, or it may be in simpler format. The year of manufacture is important, because construction standards were strengthened over the years, especially after certain key dates. The construction standards of different manufacturers of pre-HUD Code homes varied—sometimes dramatically. Then, between June 1976 (beginning of HUD Code) and July 1994 all mobile homes were required to meet a single minimum standard regardless of where they were intended to be located. While these homes, especially the double-wide units, are typically sturdier than pre-1976 homes, they are not nearly as storm-resistant as homes built to Zone II and Zone III standards after July 1994.
- A listing of the certification label numbers (also called HUD tag numbers) affixed to each transportable section of the home. One number for a single-wide, two for a double-wide, and so forth.
- The manufacturer’s serial number and model designation of the home. In some versions of the data plate, the model designation is in a separate box.
- A list of the factory-installed equipment, including the manufacturer’s name and model number. Comparing this list with the refrigerator, range, water heater, and other currently installed appliances in the home will tell you whether they are original to the construction or newer.
- A check-box for the “roof load zone” in which the home was designed to be located. Northern roof load zones are meant to allow for a snow load. Compare the roof load zone checked with the adjacent small U.S. map to confirm that the home meets the standards for where it is located.
- A check-box for the “wind load zone” in which the home was designed to be located. Zones are I, II, and III—with II and III zones constructed to withstand different levels of hurricane-force winds inland from the coast. Here too, compare the wind load zone checked with the adjacent map to verify proper construction for the location.
- Heating and cooling data and “thermal map,” which shows the zone the home was designed to be located in, along with a calculation of the level of heat transmission of the building envelope. Sometimes this is a separate plate. Because most homes in our area do not have factory-installed heating or cooling, the manufacturer’s recommendation for the BTU-size of the package air conditioner is noted. A home designed for a higher thermal zone number can be located in a lower zone, but not vice-versa.
For the full text of the HUD requirements at 24 CFR 3280 for a data plate, see our blog post What are the HUD-code requirements for a mobile home data plate? We sometimes encounter older, remodeled mobile homes where the data plate has been painted over or removed. So you may not find one.
But there’s still hope: if you can locate either the HUD certification number or the serial number, then you can obtain the original data plate info from the Institute for Business Technology and Safety, a HUD contractor that maintains a database back to 1976 of HUD-code manufactured homes. There’s a fee of $100 for a replacement data plate by email. See our blog post “What is a ‘HUD Data Plate/Performance Certificate’ for a mobile/manufactured home?” for details.
The HUD certification number is etched into a 2” by 4” metal plate (called the “HUD tag”) riveted to the exterior wall of each section of a mobile on the long side at a corner near the bottom. There’s a picture of one below. It starts off life bright red, but will likely be faded when you find it. If even the HUD tag is gone, crawl under the home with a flashlight and look for the serial number on the forward cross-member of the steel I-beam frame. It is required by HUD to stamped into the metal by the manufacturer in letters a minimum of 3/8” high.
And, finally, the local property appraiser’s office will have basic info about the mobile home that they acquired for real estate tax purposes which can be accessed via a public records search of their website; or, if paperwork for the original home financing turns up, it will contain helpful information. For pre-1976 mobile homes, see our blog post “How do I determine the age of a very old mobile home?”
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