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Manufactured housing (commonly known as mobile homes in the United States) is a type of prefabricated housing that is largely assembled in factories and then transported to sites of use. The definition of the term in the United States is regulated by federal law (Code of Federal Regulations, 24 CFR 3280): "Manufactured homes are built as dwelling units of at least 320 square feet (30 m2) in size with a permanent chassis to assure the initial and continued transportability of the home." The requirement to have a wheeled chassis permanently attached differentiates "manufactured housing" from other types of prefabricated homes, such as modular homes.
According to the Manufactured Housing Institute’s National Communities Council (MHINCC), manufactured homes
are homes built entirely in the factory under a federal building code administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards (commonly known as the HUD Code) went into effect June 15, 1976. Manufactured homes may be single- or multi-section and are transported to the site and installed.
From the same source, mobile home "is the term used for manufactured homes produced prior to June 15, 1976, when the HUD Code went into effect."  Despite the formal definition, mobile home and trailer are still common terms in the United States for this type of housing.
The original focus of this form of housing was its ability to relocate easily. Units were initially marketed primarily to people whose lifestyle required mobility. However, beginning in the 1950s, these homes began to be marketed primarily as an inexpensive form of housing designed to be set up and left in a location for long periods of time, or even permanently installed with a masonry foundation. Previously, units had been eight feet or less in width, but in 1956, the 10-foot (3.0 m) wide home was introduced. This helped solidify the line between mobile and house/travel trailers, since the smaller units could be moved simply with an automobile, but the larger, wider units required the services of a professional trucking company. In the 1960s and '70s, the homes became even longer and wider, making the mobility of the units more difficult. Today, when a factory-built home is moved to a location, it is usually kept there permanently. The mobility of the units has decreased considerably.
The factory-built homes of the past developed a negative stereotype because of their lower cost and the tendency for their value to depreciate more quickly than site-built homes. The tendency of these homes to rapidly depreciate in resale value made using them as collateral for loans far riskier than traditional home loans. Loan terms were usually limited to less than the 30-year term typical of the general home-loan market, and interest rates were considerably higher. In other words, these home loans resembled motor vehicle loans far more than traditional home mortgages. They have been consistently linked to lower-income families, which has led to prejudice and zoning restrictions, which include limitations on the number and density of homes permitted on any given site, minimum size requirements, limitations on exterior colors and finishes, and foundation mandates.
Many jurisdictions do not allow the placement of any additional factory-built homes, while others have strongly limited or forbidden all single-wide models, which tend to depreciate in value more rapidly than modern double-wide models. The derogatory concept of a "trailer park" is typically older single-wide homes occupying small, rented lots and remaining on wheels, even if the home stays in place for decades.
Modern manufactured homes
Modern homes, especially modular homes, belie this image and can be identical in appearance to site-built homes. Newer homes, particularly double-wides, tend to be built to much higher standards than their predecessors. This has led to a reduction in the rate of value depreciation of many used units.
Although great strides have been made in terms of quality, manufactured homes do still struggle with construction problems. Author Wes Johnson has pointed out that the HUD code which governs manufactured homes desperately needs to be updated, quality control at manufacturing facilities are often lax, and set-up issues often compromise even a well-made manufactured home. Johnson states buyers need to be exceptionally cautious if they are entertaining the idea of purchasing any manufactured home by carefully checking it for defects before signing the contract and supervising the set-up process closely.
High-performance manufactured housing
While manufactured homes are considered to be affordable housing, older models can be some of the most expensive in the nation to heat due to energy inefficiency. High-performance manufactured housing uses less energy and therefore increases life-cycle affordability by decreasing operating costs. High-performance housing is not only energy efficient, but also attractive, functional, water-efficient, resilient to wind, seismic forces, and moisture penetration, and has healthy indoor environmental quality. Achieving high-performance involves integrated, whole building design, involving many components, not one single technology. High–performance manufactured housing should also include energy efficient appliances, such as Energy Star qualified appliances.
Difference from modular homes
Both types of homes - manufactured and modular - are commonly referred to as factory-built housing, but they are not identical. Modular homes are transported on flatbed trucks rather than being towed, and lack axles and an automotive-type frame. However, some modular houses are towed behind a semi-truck or toter on a frame similar to that of a trailer. The house is usually in two pieces and is hauled by two separate trucks. Each frame has five or more axles, depending on the size of the house. Once the house has reached its location, the axles and the tongue of the frame are then removed, and the house is set on a concrete foundation by a large crane. Most modern modular homes, once fully assembled, are indistinguishable from site-built homes. Their roofs are usually transported as separate units, eradicating the telltale roof line of the factory built home.
Difference from IRC codes homes (site built)
Manufactured homes have several standard requirements that are more stringent than IRC coded homes.
A National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) study from July 2011 shows that occurrence of fires is lower in manufactured housing and the injury rate is lower in manufactured housing. The justification behind the superior fire safety is due to the following higher standard requirements:
- The HUD standard requires a flame spread of 25 or less in water heater and furnace compartments.
- The HUD standard requires a flame spread of 50 or less on the wall behind the range.
- The HUD standard requires a flame spread of 75 or less on the ceilings.
- The HUD standard requires a flame spread of 25 or less to protect the bottoms and side of kitchen cabinets around the range.
- The HUD standard requires additional protection of cabinets above the range.
- The HUD standard requires trim larger than 6" to meet flame spread requirements.
- The HUD standard requires smoke detectors in the general living area.
- The HUD standard requires 2 exterior doors.
- The HUD standard requires bedroom doors to be within 35 feet of an exterior door.
In Australia these homes are commonly known as transportable homes, relocatable homes or prefabricated homes. They are not as common as in the US, but the industry is expected to grow as this method of construction becomes more accepted.
Manufactured home parks refer to housing estates where the house owner rents the land instead of owning it. This is quite common in Queensland in both the form of tourist parks and over 50's estates. The term transportable homes tends to be used to refer to houses that are built on land that is owned by the house owner.
Typically the homes are built in regional areas where the cost of organizing tradespeople and materials is higher than in the cities. In particular prefabricated homes have been popular in mining towns or other towns experiencing demand for new housing in excess of what can be handled by local builders. This method of construction is governed by state construction legislation and is subject to local council approval and homeowners' warranty or home warranty insurance.
The San Francisco Bay Area, located in Northern California, is known for its high real estate prices, making manufactured housing an increasingly popular alternative to traditional real estate. In June 2011, Coldwell Banker Real Estate published a report detailing the top 10 most expensive real estate markets in the US; the Bay Area alone accounted for three of these top 10 markets. It is mainly the value of the land that makes real estate in this area so expensive. As of May 2011, the median price of a home in Santa Clara was $498,000, while the most expensive manufactured home with all the premium features was only $249,000. This drastic price difference is due to the fact that manufactured homes are typically placed in communities where individuals do not own the land, but instead pay a monthly site fee. This enables a consumer, who could otherwise not afford to live in the Bay Area, the opportunity to own a new home in this location. There are various communities and dealers of manufactured homes in the Bay Area, the largest dealer being Alliance Manufactured Homes and the largest community being Casa de Amigos, both located in Sunnyvale, California.
- "Homeowner's Fact Sheet," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Manufactured Housing and Standards, accessed 6 July 2011
- "What is a Manufactured Home?" Manufactured Housing Institute's National Communities Council, accessed 6 July 2011
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute. "Issue Brief: High-Performance Manufactured Housing". Retrieved August 2, 2011.
- "2011 Coldwell Banker U.S. Home Listing Report". Coldwell Banker. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
- "Bay Area May Home Sales, Median Price Inch Up From April; Fall below 2010". DataQuick. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
- "Sunnyvale Model Home". Alliance Manufactured Homes. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
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