What's the Difference? - Mobile vs. Manufactured vs. Modular

Could it be true? Oh, yes. Finally, a one-stop shop to explain the question: What’s the difference between a mobile, manufactured and modular home?

When it comes to off-site built housing, I’m sure you’ve heard several terms thrown around but, what exactly do they mean? Aren’t all homes built in a facility the same? The short answer to that question is a definite no. The longer, more interesting answer will show you exactly why these homes are in a category of their own. So, let’s dive in!

When it comes to classifying a home, deciphering between the terms mobile, manufactured and modular is often confusing. Visually, manufactured and modular homes don’t appear that different, and both are often mistaken as site-built homes. But, prefabricated homes differ depending on the codes they follow.

That’s right, the code is the key! A prefabricated home is a term used to describe any building or dwelling that is manufactured off-site in a home building facility, and then transported to the home or building site.

Although they are built to local, state and regional codes, modular homes are even technically “manufactured” in a home building facility. Some say a “mobile home” and a “manufactured home” are essentially the same thing. If that’s the case, then what’s the difference?

Mobile Homes

Old black and white image of a mobile home.

The terms “mobile home” and “manufactured home” are often used by the general public to describe the same type of home. Mobile homes and manufactured homes were finally distinguished from each other in 1974 when the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Act was passed. This act, was followed in 1976 by the HUD Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards, usually called "the HUD Code," which set standards for the following:

  • Design and construction
  • Body and frame requirements
  • Thermal protection
  • Plumbing and electrical
  • Fire safety
  • Energy efficiency And other aspects within these homes!

The intent of the HUD Code is to improve the durability and quality of manufactured homes, and it is the only federally-regulated national building code.

Prior to 1976, mobile homes were mass produced due to the demand for affordable, mobile housing by the American public, but had very little oversight of the building specifications. In the early 1900s, people found that they needed to be able to move to wherever jobs were available in order to provide for their families, and so the mobile home as we think of it was born. The structural designs of these mobile homes resembled what we might think of as a modern-day camper with an exposed trailer coupler and wheels making the home easily movable. The home itself was generally built on steel I-beams which ran from end-to-end and could be set up on concrete blocks, wooden blocks, metal stands or a concrete foundation at the desired location.

During World War II, mobile homes were bought by factories and used as temporary housing for workers who had to travel a far distance to aid in the war effort. When the war ended, affordable housing was in short supply for the veterans returning to the U.S., so the mobile home industry provided a quick and cost-efficient solution.

In the 1960s, the public demand expanded from mobility and affordability, to looking for larger mobile homes with more amenities. The new mobile homes were bigger and started to look more like traditional homes while still being cost efficient and mobile. In 1974 Congress passed the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Standards Act, which were soon followed by the HUD Code. The HUD Code went into effect in 1976, and the Housing Act of 1980 mandated that the term “manufactured” be used in place of “mobile” in all federal laws and literature that referenced homes built after 1976. The new terminology gave rise to an advance era of homes due to these homes being built to new safety standards.

Manufactured Homes

Exterior of a manufactured home with gray siding.

Modern manufactured homes are extremely different from the mobile homes built prior to 1976. Manufactured homes are generally built in three standard sizes—single wide, double wide and triple wide. They are built entirely inside home building facilities that are climate controlled to avoid weather delays and almost always have lots of customizable options such as types of flooring, cabinetry and exterior finish, just to name a few. Each Clayton Built® home is internally inspected multiple times throughout various phases of construction to confirm proper construction and quality.

If the home is placed on blocks or metal piers, skirting can be added to customize the home to your liking. Manufactured homes can also be placed on a permanent foundation or on a basement—just like a site-built home. Manufactured homes can usually be relocated, however, will probably require the help of a contractor that specializes in manufactured home set up and delivery.

For more details on the Clayton home building process, check out how our homes are built.

Modular Homes

Manufactured home building facility with sections of homes being built.

Like a manufactured home or a mobile home, the sections of a modular home are built in a climate controlled home building facility. Modular homes are built to conform to all state, local and/or regional codes that apply based on the final location of the home, just like site-built homes. Clayton modular homes are typically built in two sections, however, depending on the size and design of the home, it could be built in up to five sections.

The sections are then transported to the final location where they are joined together on a permanent foundation by a local contractor. If an inspection is required, once the home is completely constructed at the site local building inspectors complete the required inspection of the home.

Why Choose Clayton Built®?

A new class of manufactured homes in a neighborhood with garages.

Most modular and manufactured homes are customizable from the floor plan to the countertops and everything in between. Modular homes can even be built as two-story homes! Many modular and manufactured homes don’t look any different from site-built homes. In fact, modular and manufactured homes can be more desirable than some site-built homes for several reasons:

  • Energy Savings: Clayton Built® homes are built in climate controlled home building facilities, reducing the amount of waste produced.
  • Potentially Shorter Build Time: home building facilities run factory assembly lines cutting down on the amount of time needed to build a home. The climate controlled facilities also cut back on weather delays traditionally associated with a site-built work site.
  • Solid Structure: Trained craftsmen use quality materials to build our homes. This ensures that each home, from the engineered flooring system to the durable siding, is built with strength and durability in mind. Clayton manufactured homes are also built to HUD Wind Zone specifications according to where the home will be located, as well as to withstand wind speeds endured during transport.

Another reason to choose a Clayton Built® home is the fact that our trained team members are committed to helping one another and to building great homes every day for families like yours.

The Clayton Built® team feels that continuous strides toward creating a more efficient and sustainable building process is the next step in our housing industry. From mobile homes and now custom manufactured housing, we have believed the sky is the limit! Now it’s time for a new class of homes.

This new category of homes, called CrossMod™, blends the best of both off-site and site-built homes. And for the first time in industry history, these homes can finance and appraise similarly to traditional site-built housing. With state-of-the-art designs and technology this new class of homes has to offer, the Clayton Built® team truly believes this is the first step to the homes of tomorrow.

Clayton has come a long way in its development through the housing industry, but we want to make sure you’re always up to date on housing lingo.

**CrossMod is a trademark of the Manufactured Housing Institute.

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