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What Is a Manufactured Home? The Next Step Beyond Mobile Homes

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manufactured home next to palm tree (Marje Cannon)

What is a manufactured home? You probably grew up calling them mobile homes, but the times, they are a-changin'. They're now known as manufactured homes, and while some elements remain the same -- for instance, they're still built off-site then assembled on-site on a rectangular chassis rather than a permanent foundation -- today's manufactured homes are far more customizable and luxurious than mobile homes of the past.

Basic construction of a manufactured home

Originally, mobile homes were built on a chassis with wheels, hence the "mobile" portion of their name. They were small, easily movable, and relegated mostly to mobile home parks, recreation sites, and the hearts of kitsch lovers everywhere.

The modern manufactured home is different.

"They are built on solid steel frames, giving them a sturdiness that belies the stereotype of yesteryear," says Chase Daugherty, vice president of Express Homes, a manufactured home building company.

The wheels are gone, and the styles have changed. Today, buyers can get a range of floor plans with a host of add-on features, including garages, decks, and porches.

Plus, manufactured homes built today are also highly regulated.

"These are homes built entirely in the factory under a federal building code administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development," says Daugherty. HUD regulates everything from fire resistance to energy efficiency.

Classic 1976 Airstream

Manufactured home style

Manufactured homes can be surprisingly spacious, with a living space, kitchen, and multiple bedrooms. In recent years, style updates have included increasing ceiling height and customizing floor plans.

While you can likely spot a manufactured home from the outside -- thanks to its rectangular construction -- nowadays, many of these homes have the features you'd expect in a standard home and offer a variety of different looks on the interior.

"Many floor plans are available that range from basic models to more elaborate designs that feature vaulted ceilings, drywall, fully equipped modern kitchens, comfortable bedrooms with walk-in closets, and bathrooms with recessed bathtubs and whirlpools," Daugherty says.

The modern manufactured home

Manufactured home features

Manufactured homes can also be customized, similar to a standard home remodeling project. Homeowners have added upgraded cabinetry, hardwood floors, and fresh lighting to make spaces feel personalized and modern.

However, there are some upgrades not commonly seen in traditional homes.

"Some upgrades that we commonly see are extra insulation, ceiling fans, up-flow ceiling vents, and thermal pane windows," Daugherty says. These upgrades are specifically designed for manufactured homes to improve air flow, lower utility bills, and provide a more comfortable living space, all common problems with older models.

Interior upgrade possibilities

How much does a manufactured home cost?

A manufactured home has one big benefit over other housing options: cost.

The cost to purchase a new manufactured home varies widely by state (which may be due to the general cost of housing in different regions), but most manufactured homes are cheaper to buy than standard homes. For example, in Connecticut, a double-wide -- an extended version of a manufactured home that has twice the width -- costs an average of $138,800, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Indiana, the price for a double-wide home drops to $71,700.

If you're considering buying a manufactured home, don't forget to factor in the land costs. You need to rent a space or buy land for a manufactured home's resting spot.

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