How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes
What's the differences between a trailer, a mobile home, a manufactured home, and a modular home?
Sunday, September 30, 2018
The evolution of all these words began with the surge in popularity of automobile travel in America in the 1920s, which provided the impetus for the first towed camping vehicles. They were called trailers because they “trailed” behind vacationers’ motorcars. The first ones were homemade, with a wood frame set on a salvaged auto chassis, and trailers became instantly popular.
Manufacturers starting producing them in the 1930s and they began to grow in size immediately, getting longer, wider, and more elaborate year by year. Soon families started living in them year-round, and the larger versions became known as “house trailers.” They were no longer designed for travel, instead intended to be installed on a simple foundation as a year-round home.
When house trailers and, more specifically trailer parks, acquired a shoddy public reputation, the industry renamed them as “mobile homes” in the 1950s. Further image buffing occurred in 1975 when the Mobile Home Manufacturers Association changed its name to the Manufactured Housing Institute. It also managed to get the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to mandate that HUD-code homes, formerly known as mobile homes, could only be called “manufactured homes.”
So now a trailer has come to be defined as an RV-type travel trailer, which can be hitched to the back of a car like the original models, for use by vacationers and vagabonds. Mobile homes and manufactured homes are two words for the same thing: a home built in a factory on a steel frame with wheels for transport to a homesite, where the wheels are removed after it is set on a foundation. Manufacturers and HUD prefer that they be called manufactured homes, but most people still refer to them as mobile homes.
Modular homes are also built in a factory and then delivered to a homesite, but there is no steel frame or wheels under them. They look virtually identical to a site-built home and comply with the local building codes where the homesite is located. Upon delivery they are hoisted by crane into place on a permanent foundation. To read a more detailed account of the differences between a manufactured/mobile home and a modular home, go to our blog post How can I tell the difference between a manufactured home and a modular home?.
And for an enjoyable graphic romp through the history of travel trailers, we suggest getting a copy of the book “Trailerama,” by Phil Noyes (Gibbs Smith, 2012). The “Atlas Mobile Home Museum” website also has a wonderful collection of old travel trailer and mobile home brochures and ads at:
Also, see our blog posts When were the first double-wide mobile homes manufactured? and What is a Park Model mobile home?
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