I spent some time exploring mobile homes in Western North Carolina. Having served as the most effective and extensive affordable housing option in the United States for the past 50 years, I was curious to learn a little more about the uses of mobile homes here, especially since many of them have been adapted and changed. Many people (especially architects) think that manufactured housing is the only way to effectively address the affordable housing crisis in the US. Unfortunately, the past is littered with brilliant architectural minds failing miserably in using mass production to produce well designed, high quality, and affordable homes. (read the excellent book: The Prefabricated Home by Colin Davies).
There are many techniques and methods being employed now, and some of the terminology can be a bit confusing. A few of the commonly used terms and their descriptions:
- Mobile Home (often referred to as trailers): Terminology used to describe factory-built housing building on a chasis and transportable before 1976, when HUD changed its code.
- Manufactured Home: Same type of home built after 1976 with new HUD code (both of these are one story and come in either single-wides, or double-wides.)
- Modular Home: Factory built home that meets or exceeds state and local building codes. (these houses are often indistinguishable from site-built stick frame homes.
The mobile/manufactured home is actually built on a chassis, that serves as its main structure and allows it be transported. It is then strapped or anchored onto a site and connected to respective plumbing, electricity, etc. On the other hand the modular home is a permanent house, even though it is manufactured on a factory. It is transported on a trailer, but is not built on it. It is picked up off the trailer by a crane and dropped onto a permanent foundation. Typically, there is much higher resale value with a modular home, and of course, it is costs more to build in the first place. On the low end, a modular house can cost $55/SF and go much higher depending on the design and bells and whistles. A mobile/manufactured home will come in around $40/SF. You have a lot more flexibility with modular homes, and can even design it yourself. One salesman told me it only added $800-1000 to the cost of the overall home.
While mobile/manufactured homes are often the most affordable housing options for people, especially in rural areas like this, stigmas and associations with ‘trailers’ and temporary housing have made it difficult for these types of homes to gain traction in certain areas. See previous posts about Mississippi and temporary Katrina Cottages.
The quality of mobile/manufactured homes has improved over the last few decades.