A "Manufactured Home" has a very specific meaning within the factory-constructed housing industry. Unfortunately, the term often gets used with terms like "Mobile Home", "Trailer", "Prefab Home", "Modular Home", often with people believing that they are all the same product. While this article will focus on the Manufactured Home, I will attempt to clarify the various types of factory housing and how they are distinguishable from Manufactured Homes.

Factory Housing:

Factory Housing is a broad term referring to any form of housing not constructed complete from scratch on the site on which it will eventually remain. In otherwords, housing can be essentially be broken down into Factory Housing and Site-Constructed Housing. Factory Housing includes home construction methods such as Mobile Homes, Manufactured Homes, Panelized Homes, Modular Homes and even to a small degree, Log Homes[1]. Factory Housing offers a number of advantages, as discussed in detail below. Unfortunately, Factory Housing has long since carried a stigma in many parts of the country. Manufactured Housing has long suffered from the stigma that it is little more than a glorified version of the old "trailer" homes.

Mobile Homes:

In 1957, the State of California became a pioneer in the field of Factory Housing. Prior to that time, people began converting what were at the time "travel trailers" to more permanent housing – living in trailer camps. Manufacturers, siezing on the demand, began building what they termed "mobile homes", but at the time, there were no standards in place and a mobile home built by one manufacturer shared almost no commonality with that built by any other manufacturer; often a design for a recreational trailer was modified slightly and called a "mobile home". In 1957, the need became clear for more uniform standards for the construction of inexpensive, factory constructed homes. In 1957, the State of California in concert with the factory housing industry, developed the nation’s first standards for Mobile Home Construction, referred to as the "Mobile Home Construction Standards Act".

Although California adopted its own Construction Standards Act, few if any other states jumped into the business of regulating the construction of mobile homes. In 1963, in response to the inconsistent manufacturing standards in mobile home construction, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed construction standards for mobile homes on behalf of the Mobile Home Manufacturer’s Association (a trade organization made up of manufacturers throughout the country). These standards were not mandatory, but voluntary in nature. Over the next 10 years, 45 states in the USA adopted these standards as their "model" manufacturing code. Because the standards had been adopted by a vast majority of states, the ANSI Code became the basic reference for construction and design of mobilehomes[2].

In the early 1970’s, mobile home living had become very popular. In California in particular, the large majority of mobile home parks or manufactured housing communities were built at some time during the 1970s, often as a means of land-banking by the property owners. These communities were built with the intention of generating revenue for the land owner with nominal construction costs up from, and with the idea that the landowner would easily (given the "mobile" nature of the homes, change use at a later date to more profitable ventures. Because mobile home living had taken off, the Federal Government and industry trade groups lobbied for a uniform, national manufacturing standards act. In 1974 Congress passed the "Mobile Home Construction Safety and Standards Act, which eventually came to be referred to as the "HUD-Code". The Act was intended to become the single, national preemptive construction standards and home safety requirements for all mobile homes built in the United States. This act did not become mandatory for all states until June 15, 1976 when the federal government formally adopted the Code. The Code, as amended over the years, is mostly uniform with some regional exceptions for conditions such as high wind, snow and moisture.

The HUD-Code was, and remains today a building and safety standards code that is based upon performance requirements, rather than specifying specific construction techniques. By way of example, rather than specify that a roof must be constructed in a specific manner, using specific materials, the Code set forth minimum requirements for performance (load-bearing capacity, wind resistance capacity), and left it up to the manufacturers to determine how best to meet these performance requirements. The performance-based nature of the Code resulted in manufacturers being free to research and develop new, innovative construction methods while ensuring that the homes met a minimum safety standard for the consumer. 

Over the years, the Code has been amended several times. In 1980, the Code was renamed to reflect a change in the industry. The manufacturers and retailers of the mobile home product felt a need for their industry to reflect a more sophisticated image, as the term "mobile home" was being used to describe everything from old travel trailers to the newest product. The industry chose to rename their product "Manufactured Housing" (which has arguable had little effect as so few people outside of the industry really understand the different). The term Manufactured Home has come to mean any factory constructed home, built to the specific standards of the HUD-Code, and constructed after the June 15, 1976 formal adoption of the HUD-Code. The new name for the HUD-Code became the "National Manufactured Housing Construction & Safety Standards Act". In 2000, the American Homeownership and Economic Opportunity Act of 2000 included legislation aimed at making broad reform to the HUD-Code. The Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 provided a structure for a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Manufactured Housing Industry to develop reform to both the Manufactured Housing Construction & Safety Standards Act as well as developing a Model Installation Standards Act. These two laws go into effect in October of 2008. The Harvard Graduate School of Design has a great timeline of the major events in "prefab" housing, dating back to the first Sears & Robuck Kit homes right through the Improvement Act of 2000 here.

 Manufactured Homes:

After adoption of the new name "Manufactured Home", little changed in terms of the actual construction standards for manufactured homes. At their heart, all Manufactured Homes are simply a housing unit that was constructed in a factory, designed to be transported to the site where it will be installed on its own steel-framed chasis, with axles, tires and a hitch appended thereto. Manufactured Homes can be transported in one section or multiple sections. Finally, to be a Manufactured Home, it must have been designed and constructed to the standards set forth in the HUD-Code. The home designs must be approved by a third-party inspection agency which ensures that the home meets certain minimum performance requirements set forth in the HUD-Code. The home must also be constructed by a HUD-licensed manufacturer and built in an inspected and authorized factory. HUD-Code homes bear an insignia or label on the back of each home section indicating that the home was designed and built in accordance with the standards set forth in Federal Law.

Manufactured Homes have evolved tremendously from the mid 1970’s when they were mostly constructed with aluminum siding, low metal roofs, wooden interior paneling and generally (reflecting the trend in the ’70s) equipped with decor and appliances in colors like burnt-orange, olive green and sculpted, brown shag carpet. Sadly to this day, many people retain this out-of-date image of manufactured homes. Today’s manufactured homes are built very similar to most site-constructed homes with drywall interiors, modern appliances, cement fiberboard exterior siding, architectural composite shingled roofs, hardwood floors and fixtures to rival the best of site constructed homes. Manufactured homes can be built to almost any size, and can now be built and installed as two-story homes. Very little can’t be done with a manufactured home that can be done with a site-constructed housing unit.

Some great examples of today’s manfuactured homes can be seen by simply visiting the websites of manufacturers and viewing their product.

David L. Gibbs is an attorney with The Gibbs Law firm, APC. The firm’s practice focuses on issues related to Bankruptcy, Business Law and Manufactured Housing; including community subpision, pre-purchase diligence and analysis as well as advising community owners on operational, financial and enforcement issues. The firm also represents manufactured home dealers in a wide range of issues. David L. Gibbs is admitted to the Federal Courts for the Central and Southern District of California, and also holds a California real estate broker’s license, a manufactured home dealer’s license and a contractor’s license. The firm continues to offer a wide range of real estate and business related services as it has done for 34 years from its offices in San Clemente. Mr. Gibbs can be reached at (949) 492-3350.

Manufactured Homes, along with a variety of factory constructed housing, offer many advantages to traditional site-constructed housing. The Manufactured Home of today is not your father’s trailer . . .

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