The Grissim Guides to Manufactured Homes and Land

Glossary of terms

If you’re new to manufactured homes it’s easy to be confused by the dfferent terms you will hear. Here’s are some definitions to help you better understand what these homes are—and what they are not.

Factory built home
Any home that is constructed inside a factory and then brought to the site in big pieces, usually sections or modules, and assembled. This is a pretty broad term: manufactured homes, mobile home and modular homes are examples of factory built home.
Pre-fab home
A catch all term widely used in the media to describe any home that is prefabricated (or largely so) in a factory, then delivered to the site. However, in most cases pre-fab refers to expensive, modernist, high-design homes, the kind often featured in magazines such as Dwell. Hence the related (and more accurate) term "high design prefab" when describing such homes.
Site-built home
Any home that is built on the site, which the vast majority of homes are.
Off site built home
Another term for factory built, sometimes used to avoid having to use the term manufactured home with its connotation of mobile home.
Stick-built home
Same as a site-built home, although the term is inaccurate. Factory built homes are also stick-built; the “sticks” (lumber) are simply assembled inside a factory.
Manufactured Home
Simply defined, a manufactured home is a complete dwelling unit designed for year-around-living, and substantially constructed in a factory in conformance with a national building code developed in 1976 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The home can consist of one or more transportable sections, each constructed on an integral permanent steel chassis (frame) to which are attached axles, wheels, brakes and a hitch. Each complete section is then hitched to a tractor trailer and towed from the factory to a retail sales lot or to a home site. Once a home is placed on its site, usually on jack stands or blocks, the wheels and running gear are removed and recycled back to the factory. The home is then tied to the foundation (well , it’s supposed to be but enforcement varies widely) and skirting is installed around the perimeter to enclose the space beneath the home.
The key distinction here is the home is towed to its site on its own wheels. A second distinction is “manufactured home,” at least technically, refers to any such home constructed after June, 1976 when the Federal Manufactured Home Construction Safety Standards, called the HUD Code, went into effect. All such homes built prior to this date are officially called mobile homes.
HUD-Code home
Same as a manufactured home.
Mobile home
Technically, any manufactured home built prior to June, 1976 (see above). There are still hundreds of thousands of these antiques still around, many of them poorly engineered, and shoddily constructed with cheap materials before governmental regulators stepped in. Many others, built to a higher standard and well maintained, are still going strong. Alas, the term “manufactured home” has never really caught on with the public, and nearly everyone outside the industry still calls them mobile homes, even the New York Tmes and the Wall Street Journal. Some people still call mobile homes house trailers. As one industry wag once proclaimed, “We don’t build house trailers any more, we build manufactured trailers.”
Modular home
A factory built home constructed of prefabricated three-dimensional modules, entire rooms and larger, which are transported on flat-bed trucks to a home site and assembled, usually using a crane for placement. Sometimes the module is jacked up and the flat bed truck is then driven out from beneath it. A key distinction: modular home components don’t have wheels and running gear and are not towed to the home site. Two other characteristics to keep in mind: 1., most modular homes are built in conformance with the Uniform Building Code, or other local code requirements, not the HUD code. And, 2., Modular homes (with very few exceptions) are more costly than manufactured homes while offering savings over comparable site built homes (from which they are usually indistinguishable in appearance). In fact, modular construction is steadily gaining popularity for high end luxury homes because of its cost savings and shorter construction time.
Park model home
Technically considered an RV, and manufactured in accordance with recreational trailer specifications, not the HUD code, a park model looks like a mini-single section manufactured home under 400 square feet (any size larger and it would fall under HUD-code regulations). Park models are popular as permanent placement dwellings in RV parks and manufactured home communities where they are used as a seasonal cottage or vacation home, especially for snow bird retirees visiting the warmer southern and western states in winter. They are connected to all the necessary utilities as regular homes and have many of the same amenities. Increasingly, many park models are being used as permanent residences.
Pre-cut homes
Essentially kit homes in which all the lumber and other materials are measured and pre-cut at the factory, then transported to the site and assembled by the builder. Packages may include many more building materials such as pre-hung windows and plumbing. Homes in this category can be very high end. Also included here are log homes, A-frame homes and domes. All are built to local codes.
Panelized homes
Homes that are constructed of largely complete (or closed) panel sections. For example, a wall panel could consist of windows, a door, all the inside wiring, and insulation, its interior side covered with gypsum (dry wall), its outside with exterior siding. The finished panels are then transported to the building site, together with floor and roof panels, and assembled, usually with the help of a crane. An alternative system uses open panels in which the interior is left open for on-site installation of wiring, insulation, etc. Built to local codes. Note: The use of panelized sections is a growing trend among big home builders who develop large subdivisions of site-built homes. In essence these homes are hybrids: built on site using many large components (panel section, roof trusses, etc.) made in a factory.
SIPs construction
A type of panelized home construction that uses rigid foam-core panels called structural insulated panels (a.k.a. structural insulating panels) sandwiched in between two layers of structural sheathing such as OSB (oriented strand board), plywood, or even sheet metal. Though not yet widely popular (expense is one issue), home built using SIPs are incredibly energy efficient and soundproof.