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McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
What is the life expectancy of a mobile home?
Friday, June 29, 2018
Today’s manufactured homes have a life expectancy of 30 to 55 years, depending on the level of maintenance, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A study by the Manufactured Housing Institute, a manufacturer’s association, that was done in 1990 is more optimistic. It placed the habitable life at 55.8 years. But there are five variables other than owner care that will affect how long a mobile home lasts:
1) The HUD projection was based on todays’s standards for mobile home construction. They established a nationwide building code for manufactured homes in 1976, and have ratcheted up the construction standards every few years since then. Newer homes are built to be more windstorm and fire resistant, along with other requirements that make the homes sturdier overall.
We have found that Florida mobile homes built to the lower standards of the 1970s, and now 40 to 50 years old, are reaching the end of their serviceable life—even in well-maintained senior citizen manufactured home developments. Florida’s humid environment is one factor, but the lesser quality materials such as wood fiber-board flooring also come into play. As the water supply piping fails and its time for the second re-roofing, along with soft spots appearing in the floor, many homeowners make the decision to have their old home towed away and pull in a new one.
2) While an aging mobile home may still be habitable, there are several downsides to continuing to maintain it. Lack of adequate insulation is one problem. Older mobiles are notorious for high utility bills during the winter heating or sweltering summer seasons. Many have 60 or 100-amp electric panels, which are marginally adequate for today’s higher electric usage. Also, the floor plans often feel cramped by modern standards, with narrow hallways and tiny bathrooms.
3) The budget models that offered lots of square footage at an amazingly low price when they were originally purchased will not last as long the more expensive, better quality homes. Lower-priced mobile homes can start to show signs of age within 10 years if poorly maintained. To understand how to tell the difference between the several levels of quality of mobile home construction, go to our blog post How can I tell if a mobile home is well constructed?
4) The conditions at the homesite also affect the longevity of a manufactured home. If the home is installed over ground that is wet for part of the year or the site is not graded so that rainwater will flow away from the home on all sides and it’s prone to puddling water under the home, then moisture will begin to deteriorate the underside of the home prematurely, especially if the bellyboard has been torn open in places. Homes built during the 1980s with fiber-board siding are especially vulnerable to high moisture. To find out how to avoid the mold and wood rot that result from a wet site or other moisture-intrusion problems, visit our blog post What can I do to prevent dampness and mold in my mobile home?
5) Remodeling an older mobile home can be a sensible strategy for extending its life, especially if a large part of the budget goes to roofing, siding, insulation, windows, and interior upgrades that will improve both the weather-tightness and livability of the home. For more on remodeling, see our blog post Does it make sense to buy an older mobile home and remodel it?
So, selecting a better quality manufactured home and careful maintenance of both the home and its site are the keys to reaching the 50+ years of longevity for your mobile home that HUD predicts. To avoid some of the recurring problems with older mobile homes, go to our blog post What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?
We have received several irate emails from mobile home folks since we wrote this article. They believed it was nonsense to say that a mobile home was worn out and useless after 30 to 55 years, and usually pointed out that they knew of several manufactured homes that were older than that, still occupied, and in good shape.
Perhaps they misunderstood the concept of average lifespan. The average lifespan of a car in the U.S., for example, is 13 to 17 years. It’s called the “scrapping age,” and plenty of cars are older—some much older and only driven by their doting owners to antique car shows; but others get crunched into scrap metal even sooner than the average. It’s simply an average. A statistician would call it “the middle of the bell curve.”
To understand the basis, potential use, and limitations of lifespan ratings, see our blog post How accurate are the average life expectancy ratings of home components? Are they actually useful?
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