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Breaking Down the Differences: Modular, Manufactured, Mobile, and Prefabricated Homes

Updated: Jun 3

Seeking a better understanding of the prefabricated housing industry? Curious about the differences between mobile, manufactured, and modular homes? Look no further! Join us in this article as our building experts from Canbury Homes share insights to clarify common questions and dispel confusion surrounding the latest advancements in home building designs and techniques.

man holding question mark symbol next to paper weight shaped like a house to symbolize his confusion around the differences between modular and manufactured homes

As a new home buyer, navigating the world of housing options can be overwhelming, especially when faced with terms like modular, manufactured, mobile, and prefabricated homes. Understanding the differences between these types of housing can help you make an informed decision about the right home style to fit your specific needs and preferences. Let's dive into each term to shed some light on what they mean and how they differ.

Prefabricated Homes

“Prefabricated” is a term used to encompass a broad category of homes that are partially or entirely built off-site in a factory setting. This includes both modular and manufactured homes, as well as other types of prefabricated construction methods such as panelized or kit homes. Prefabricated homes can offer several advantages such as faster construction times, reduced waste, and improved quality control compared to traditional site-built (aka “stick-built”) construction.

Manufactured Homes

“Manufactured” homes (also referred to as “mobile homes” or “trailers”), are built entirely in a factory or warehouse and transported to the site as a single unit. Unlike modular homes, manufactured homes are constructed on a steel chassis with wheels, allowing them to be moved from one location to another. They are built to comply with federal HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) code standards, rather than local building codes. Manufactured homes are typically more affordable than modular or site-built homes and offer a quicker construction timeline. Modern manufactured homes can come in three general floor plans:

  • Single-wide: A home built as one long section.

  • Double-wide: Two sections joined to make a larger home. This model is popular with first-time home buyers.

  • Triple-wide: A less common model with three sections joined together for a larger, more spacious dwelling.

Mobile Homes

"Mobile" homes are movable living structures (built on a permanent chassis to ensure mobility) originally constructed prior to 1976 when HUD established construction and safety standards for factory-built homes. After 1976, homes built to these standards were referred to as "manufactured homes”. While the terms "mobile home" and "manufactured home" are often used interchangeably,

a manufactured home specifically refers to homes built after 1976 that meet federal HUD standards, whereas a mobile home generally refers to older homes built before these standards were established.

Modular Homes

"Modular" homes are constructed off-site in a factory setting, where sections, or modules, of the home are built under controlled conditions. These modules are then transported to the building site and assembled to form the complete home. Modular homes are built to conform to local building codes just like traditional site-built homes, and they can vary greatly in size, style, and customization options. Once assembled, modular homes are indistinguishable from their site-built counterparts and offer the same durability and longevity. In addition, modular homes appreciate in value with the traditional housing market.

While both manufactured and modular homes are cost-effective alternatives to traditional site-built homes, there are some key differences to consider - explore the table below to help you decide which of these home types is right for you.

Modular Homes
Manufactured Homes

Multiple factory-made pieces delivered and assembled at home site

Built entirely in a factory and  transported to the home site as a single unit


Permanent / Traditional

Steel chassis with wheels with ability to be affixed to land




Real Property

Yes – Considered real property once completed on-site

No – Must go through additional steps to permanently affixed to the site and meet certain legal requirements established by state & local laws to convert title to real property

Financing options






Code requirements

Local, state and regional codes

Federal HUD code

Cost compared to on-site construction



Customizing Modular & Manufactured Homes

Modular Home Designs

Today, modular home plans encompass a wide range of sizes and configurations, spanning from compact tiny homes to expansive two-story colonials and even large-scale commercial structures. Similar to traditional custom "on-site" or "stick-built" homes, this diverse array of modular sizes, layouts, and styles presents an extensive selection of features, including attached garages, wrap-around porches, decks, and an endless variety of single & multi-level floor plans.

Manufactured Home Designs

Manufactured homes have also come a long way from the basic single and double-wide days and come in a variety of architectural styles and floor plans, however they are not as nearly customizable as modular or traditional site-built homes.

Financing Modular vs. Manufactured Homes

Modular Home Financing

Mortgage loans are secured by real estate or land, and the permanent fixtures that are built on the land. Since modular homes are placed on a permanent foundation and comply with all state & local building codes, once the construction process is completed, it’s treated exactly like a site-built home so it can be financed through a regular mortgage.

Manufactured Home Financing

Financing a manufactured can be a little more complex. The difference between taking out a mortgage to buy a modular versus a manufactured home comes down to the legal definitions of real property and personal property.

Essentially, personal property is movable property and real property is immovable property. Real property includes land and anything attached to the land. Some lenders are reluctant to finance the purchase of manufactured homes because the land on which they sit is generally rented, and / or the home itself can be easily moved. Consequently, manufactured homes are less frequently classified as real property.

In summary, banks and mortgage lenders typically provide traditional financing for modular homes, offering buyers a wider array of options compared to manufactured homes. Common financing methods include conventional and construction loans, with potential eligibility for FHA or VA loans. For further details, refer to our earlier blog post on obtaining a loan for your new modular home.

Zoning Laws for Modular & Manufactured Homes

Modular Homes

Since Modular homes must comply with local building codes and zoning regulations of the area where they are built, they are considered equivalent to traditional homes in terms of construction standards and thus subject to the same zoning laws as site-built homes. This means they can often be placed in residential zones without special permits beyond those required for traditional construction.

Manufactured Homes

Zoning laws for manufactured homes can be more restrictive than for modular or site-built homes. Some areas may limit manufactured homes to specific zones or require them to be placed in manufactured home parks. There are often additional regulations regarding the aesthetics and setup of manufactured homes, such as requirements for underpinning and utility connections, to ensure they blend in with surrounding residential areas.

To summarize, modular homes are treated similarly to traditional homes in zoning regulations, allowing them more flexibility in placement. Manufactured homes face stricter zoning restrictions that can limit where they can be located. It's essential to check local zoning laws and housing regulations for specific requirements and restrictions in your area.

In conclusion, while all prefabricated homes are constructed off-site to some extent, there are significant differences in terms of construction method, code compliance, mobility, and customization options. Understanding these differences can help you make an informed decision when choosing the type of home that best suits your needs and budget.

If you seek a cost-effective alternative to a site-built home that has the potential to increase in value over time and offers several advantages and possibilities for upgrades, expansion, and customization, a modular home is an ideal match for your needs.

If your priorities lean towards cost savings, shortest construction time, and the flexibility to relocate your residence, opting for a manufactured home could be the preferable choice.

If you're considering purchasing a new home, our team of building experts at Canbury Homes is here to help! We specialize in designing and building high-quality modular homes tailored to your specifications. Contact us today to learn more about the benefits of modular construction and how we can bring your dream home to life!

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