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

The Laney manufactured home model with white and gray siding, a large front porch, lawn and trees behind it.

Want to learn more about the types of prefabricated housing? We have your one-stop shop to answer the question: What’s the difference between a mobile, manufactured and modular home?

When it comes to describing off-site built homes, you’ll probably see a variety of terms used. Simply put, off-site built homes are constructed inside a building facility and then transported to the home site for final assembly. You may also hear this type of housing referred to as “prefabricated” or “prefab” homes.

Types of prefabricated homes include manufactured, modular and mobile homes. Visually, manufactured and modular homes don’t appear that different from one another, and both can look very similar to traditional site-built homes. The main difference between manufactured and modular homes is the codes they are built to, which we’ll talk more about below.

You may also be wondering where mobile homes fit into this. Let’s break down the details about the difference between these types of homes and what it means for you!

Black and white photo of a mobile home with steps leading up to the door, bay window at the end and telephone pole behind it.

What is a Mobile Home?

Many people commonly use “mobile home” or "trailer" to refer to today’s modern manufactured homes. However, mobile homes and manufactured homes were 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 federal standards for manufactured homes in areas including:

  • Design and construction
  • Body and frame requirements
  • Thermal protection
  • Plumbing and electrical
  • Fire safety
  • And energy efficiency

Prior to 1976, mobile homes were mass produced due to the demand for affordable, moveable housing, but there was very little oversight when it came to building specifications. Starting in the early 1900s, people found they needed to be able to move to wherever jobs were available in order to provide for their families, and so the mobile home was born.

The structure of these early mobile homes resembled what you might think of as a modern-day camper or trailer with an exposed trailer coupler and wheels, making the home easily movable. The home itself was generally built on steel I-beams that 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, some factories bought mobile homes to use as temporary housing for workers traveling long distances to aid in the war effort. When the war ended, affordable housing was in short supply for veterans returning to the U.S., so the mobile home industry provided a quick and cost-efficient solution. In the 1960s, demand expanded beyond just mobility and affordability to those looking for larger mobile homes with more features.

And after the HUD Code was created in the 1970s, the Housing Act of 1980 later mandated the term “manufactured” be used in place of “mobile” in all federal laws and literature that referenced homes built after 1976. The new codes and standards then quickly gave rise to the whole new era of the beautiful, modern manufactured homes you see today.

Manufactured home with white siding, red brick skirting and large side porch leading down to the lawn.

What is a Manufactured Home?

Modern manufactured homes are extremely different from the mobile homes built prior to 1976, both in terms of construction and design. Manufactured homes are constructed with quality materials inside climate-controlled building facilities according to the HUD Code. They also typically come in three sizes — single section, double section and triple section.

When it comes to comparing manufactured and modular homes, another factor that can set them apart along with the codes each are built to is the type of foundation typically used for each.

If your manufactured home has a pier and beam foundation, it can usually be relocated by a contractor who specializes in manufactured homes. Depending on factors like where the home will be located, manufactured homes can also be placed on a permanent foundation, crawl space or basement.

Modular home with porch with pillars, blue-gray siding, white trim and darker blue shutters.

What is a Modular Home?

Like manufactured homes, modular homes are constructed inside building facilities and then transported to the home site. The main difference between manufactured and modular homes is that manufactured homes are built to the national HUD code, while modular homes are built to all applicable state and local building codes. This is similar to the way traditional site-built homes are constructed.

The codes and standards a modular home is built to can vary based not only on the state but also the county, city or township the home will be located in. For example, some states, like North and South Carolina, have standards about the appearance of a modular home that regulate the minimum roof pitch, overhang length and foundation wall requirements. Some areas may require modular homes to be permanently installed at the home site without a steel frame, while others allow on-frame foundations and lower pitch roofs.

Spring Exterior New Class Home Photos Lifestyle 2019-44 (2)

Why Choose a Prefab Home?

A prefab home from Clayton can be a great choice for you and your family for many reasons. We construct our homes across the country inside of our home building facilities, using a streamlined process that allows us to reduce waste and delays because of factors like bad weather. This means we can offer you a more affordable home.

Clayton Built® homes use materials from some of the world’s leading home building brands, so you know your new home will be equipped with long-lasting, quality products, right down to details like the windows, door hardware and appliances. We also build with energy efficiency and sustainably in mind and include smart home features like an ecobee smart thermostat® in all our new homes to help you save energy and money. Many of our Clayton Built® manufactured and modular homes also offer several different options when it comes to flooring, cabinetry and the exterior, as well as the ability to add customizable features like kitchen islands or standalone bathtubs. From five-bedroom homes full of farmhouse details to single-section models that incorporate tiny home design, we’re all about offering you a variety of options that are designed to fit your life and your needs.

Innovation with CrossMod® Homes

As part of our commitment to innovation within the prefab housing industry, Clayton has taken part in an initiative by the Manufactured Housing Institute to build a new category of off-site built housing, called CrossMod® homes. CrossMod® homes combine features of both prefab and site-built homes. They are constructed inside of a building facility like a manufactured or modular home and include features that make them look more like a site-built home, such as:

  • An elevated roof pitch
  • A garage, carport or covered porch
  • And a permanent foundation

CrossMod® homes also offer an attainable housing solution, typically starting at $200,000 in most areas, plus the cost of land. And, because of the features this type of home has, they can appraise similarly to a site-built home and increase in value over time, depending on the housing market. You can learn more about the details of CrossMod® homes on our website.

Since 1956, Clayton has worked to make the dream of homeownership possible for more people by offering affordable, stylish homes that are built to last. Want to see more of what we have to offer? Head to our Find a Home page to see manufactured, modular and CrossMod® homes that are available near you, with all the features and details you’ve been looking for!

CrossMod is a trademark of the Manufactured Housing Institute.

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