Understanding the difference between manufactured, modular, and tiny houses

We often get questions from prospective buyers seeking to get a better understanding of what exactly is a “Factory Built Home.” Is it a Manufactured Home? A Mobile Home? A Modular Home? What about a Tiny Home? We’ll be the first to admit that the nomenclature around this housing class is far from user-friendly. So, if you’re confused about factory-built housing, you’re in good company.  In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into the nuances of this topic and dispel some of the common confusions around the many classifications of factory-built housing. 

There are many types of Factory Built Homes. Here we’ll discuss the differences between Manufactured Homes (aka Mobile Homes or Trailer Homes), Modular Homes, and Tiny Homes. 

Manufactured Homes are sectional houses built to a federal building code administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This code was enacted in 1976 in order to help ensure that safety and performance standards around strength and durability, transportability, fire resistance, energy efficiency, plumbing, heating, and electricity were being met. Manufactured homes are built in a factory in single or multiple sections. (This sectional component is where the outdated terms “single wide” and “double wide” come from.)  Once the home is shipped from the factory, it’s set on a pier or basement foundation when the section(s) arrive on site. Though manufactured homes can be moved, it is rare to see a manufactured home shipped from one location to another after it’s been set.

Modular Homes are houses built-in modules and are subject to state or local codes in accordance with where the home will ultimately be placed. Once the homes are shipped they are then installed in accordance with these local codes, which typically means they’re placed on a permanent foundation and cannot be moved.

Tiny Homes are the latest addition to the factory-built housing family and have yet to fall under the regulation of any federal, state, or local building codes. These homes have a tiny footprint ranging from 80 – 400 sqft and do not have a uniform set of construction standards. For these reasons, tiny homes are not permitted for residential occupancy under many of Pennsylvania’s zoning laws. 

All three of these types of factory-built homes come with modern finishes, customization, intelligent space-saving design options, and a price point that can’t be beaten, especially in comparison to site-built housing! 

The differences in these names have everything to do with zoning and building codes and little to do with the actual experience of living within these structures. While zoning and building codes provide homebuyers with the important peace of mind that they and their loved ones will be safe within their new house, the technical differences are simply the background upon which buyers turn the space between four walls into a home. After all, “A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams.”