There are many different names for mobile homes and recreational vehicles (RVs), such as park homes, manufactured homes, trailers, trailer homes, house trailers, static caravan, RV, residential caravan, motorhome, and campervan.
But all these terms refer to slightly different versions of similar but not identical products.
Mobile homes and RVs offer affordable permanent housing and temporary holiday accommodation.
What do you need to think about when comparing a manufactured home vs. an RV?
What is a Mobile Home?
A mobile home is not a home on wheels but instead refers to a manufactured house constructed in a factory. A truck trailer transports it to its position on a campsite or other property.
You can pack it up and move it to another site, but generally, a mobile home puts down roots and provides all the benefits of traditional housing (but within a simpler architecture) at a fraction of the cost.
The two popular types of mobile homes are:
- Single-wide (18 feet by 90 feet); and
- Double-wide (20 feet by 90 feet).
You can get larger (triple and four-wide) and smaller (less than 90 feet) sizes, but the single- and double-wide are the most common dimensions for manufactured houses.
Since 1976 mobile homes need to meet FHA standards for safety and fitness for housing.
You can get a mortgage (Veterans Association, Federal Housing Association, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae), although most traditional lenders will offer loan finance over a short period.
Legal Definition of a Mobile or Manufactured Home
If a mobile house meets these criteria:
- Intended to live in as a home and built after 14 June 1976; and
- Connects to utilities with or without a permanent foundation; and
- Transports in one or more sections; and
- At least 8ft wide and 40ft long or a minimum of 320 sqft,
It is a mobile home that can serve as FHA-compliant housing, and it will have a metal certification tag and data plate.
What About an RV?
The difference between an RV and a Mobile home is that the RV combines a motor vehicle with living accommodation.
You register the vehicle with the appropriate licensing authorities.
People opt to live in RVs when they want to change the scenery outside their window rather than remaining static.
You get a range of RVs, including:
- Class A motorhome – built on a truck or bus chassis, huge windows, wider living area with slide outs giving you additional room. These are the largest sizes available.
- Class B motorhome – campervan, size depends on the van type. Some states have strict rules over what designates a Class B motorhome. For example, California Class B motorhomes must have at least four of the following: cooking system, water system, air conditioning system, refrigerator, toilet, 110-volt electrical system, or fuel.
- Class C motor homes – automatic transmission, cab-over profile, lots of features.
- Truck camper – short-term use, great for off-road campsites.
- Pop up camper – tent in a trailer or as an add-on.
- Travel trailer/caravan – a home you tow behind your everyday vehicle.
RVs range from basic overnight accommodation to luxurious homes on wheels with garage space for a smaller car or bike to give you easy mobility when parked up.
What Are the Differences Between Mobile Homes and RVs?
Both provide affordable alternative accommodation for holidays and primary living space, but there are some clear differences.
A Mobile home can move to a new site, if necessary, but you pay a moving fee to hire the wide bed trailer necessary to transport it.
Typical costs range between $1,000 and $15,000.
You expect your mobile home to stay on-site for the long term.
An RV is ready to move as soon as you switch on the ignition because it is a motor vehicle and home combination.
People who own RVs have enhanced mobility compared with a mobile home.
An RV is licensed for road use, whereas a mobile home is not. Plus, there are a host of restrictions that vary depending on your country and state.
If you intend to adopt the RV lifestyle, you need to investigate state rules for each place you plan to stay.
These rules cover:
- Physical dimensions – how long, tall, and wide.
- Type of driving license – you can drive some on a standard license but not the exceptionally large ones.
- Safety regulations for trailers.
- Individual campsite rules.
Today’s mobile or manufactured homes are more like a traditional stick-built house and have similar (but not identical) legislation covering their construction and position in your community.
The HUD code (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) covers all mobile homes built after 14 June 1976.
The legal name for these types of homes is – manufactured housing, but most people still refer to them as mobile homes.
You need to check your local rules but legislation for mobile homes covers:
- Manufacturing standards for structural and electrical safety, provisions, and quality.
- Need for a foundation.
- Permitted additions – extra rooms, porch, decking.
- Permitted locations.
Mobile homes have more legal restrictions than RVs because they are a form of semi-permanent housing.
3. Build Quality
RV build quality is less regulated than a mobile home, and you have a wide range of manufacturers, brands, and options.
Plus, an RV moves regularly, and the vibration increases the wear.
The most common problems with an RV include:
- Water heater – continual vibration can mess with the connections.
- Heating system – when you put your RV into storage, the heating system may not start up as well as expected.
- Air conditioning – also suffers from going dormant in the off-season.
- Electricity generators – unhappy if left standing with minimum fuel.
- Use of poor-quality materials to increase profits.
Mobile homes are in continuous use, plus they meet building standards for permanent housing, which covers electrical wiring, plumbing, room layout, and weatherproofing.
The lifespan of a mobile home vs. RV is greater, and the level of maintenance necessary is less.
4. Floor Plans
The determining factor for potential floor plans and room layouts is the available floor space; most mobile homes have room for dedicated space for kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, and living spaces – like traditional housing.
RVs range in available floor space and may need the areas to be multifunctional – a living room converts to a bedroom, for example.
Plus, that space needs to pack down for regular travel without loose items that can come adrift if you hit a bump in the road.
Frequently, RVs have a similar approach to camping – you expect to make more effort to access bathroom facilities and set up a kitchen.
Mobile homes are permanent living spaces, and you expect permanent access to all features.
Mobile homes can be off-grid, but usually, you connect to standard housing utilities for water and power.
An RV is self-sufficient with the occasional bonus hook-up to utilities at high-end campsites.
In an RV, you need to think about filling up water tanks, powering a generator, and emptying your toilet waste.
In a mobile home, you expect the same quality of plumbing, power, and waste disposal accessed by traditional housing.
6. Energy Efficiency
A modern mobile home gives you the best standards of energy efficiency to keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.
Plus, you can deploy permanent solar panels to supplement your energy and hot water needs.
RVs vary in their energy efficiency depending on the size and specification. You can retrofit an RV to be more energy-efficient, but typically this is an extra expense rather than a standard.
However, there is a movement towards using sustainable materials and other energy-efficient features in RVs.
An RV is typically less energy efficient than a mobile home because of the need for fuel to move the RV around and power the generator.
7. Weather Resistance
Mobile home construction meets your state’s requirements for weather resistance.
The climate and environmental hazards vary between states, and insulation against cold may be a priority against storm-proofing in another state.
An RV can go anywhere, but it is not necessarily explicitly enhanced to resist extreme weather. Plus, continual movement can render rainproof seals less rainproof – regular maintenance of seals is essential.
Most RV and mobile home roofs withstand normal-sized hail, but RVs use thinner materials to reduce weight (and fuel consumption), and these may dent and crack in severe hail storms with boulder-sized ice balls.
The significant difference in weather resistance between RVs and mobile homes lies with performance in high winds.
RVs are effectively high-sided vehicles and can topple in high winds from the wrong direction. Mobile homes are tethered to the ground and not prone to overturning in windy conditions.
Plus, a mobile home positioning can allow prevailing winds to pass over them; an RV on the move does not have that advantage.
8. Plumbing and Sewage Systems
A significant difference between RVs and mobile homes is in the plumbing.
An RV is a self-contained home on wheels. That means it does not have access to mains water and sewage.
At best, you have a water tank you refill and a grey water tank for flushing the toilet. Emptying the accumulated sewage is your responsibility with an RV.
A mobile home benefits from mains sewage or a large septic tank emptied by a contractor.
Most mobile homes have permanent access to mains water.
The upfront cost of an RV can be considerably more than a mobile home, plus the financing options are more limited.
You can spend $50,000 to $200,000 on an RV with a comparable floor area to a mobile home. You can get smaller RVs for around $10,000 and the most luxurious RVs for rockstar clients at well over $500,000.
The price range for a new RV varies widely depending on brand and features.
The price for a mobile home is more static – $64,100 for a single-wide and $118,400 for a double (2021 averages). The price fluctuates by about $2,000 depending on your area, but you can expect the prices of new mobile homes to continue increasing.
After the initial upfront cost of the RV or the mobile home, there are differences in running costs.
Typical additional charges that you get with an RV that does not or may not apply to a mobile home include:
- Registration and taxes – your RV is a motor vehicle and accommodation and needs to be legal and roadworthy.
- Fuel – expect to pay a lot more than running a car because shifting that load eats up plenty of fuel.
- Insurance – a combination of a motor accident and home insurance is necessary to cover your use of an RV.
- Camping fees – when you use your RV, you can expect to pay a nightly fee for any campsite, from a modest $19 to a hotel-worthy $120.
- Maintenance and storage – you need to maintain the vehicle and the outside structure, particularly if you put your RV away for the off-season.
Your mobile home needs land to rest on – you can buy a plot of land or lease in a trailer park. The average cost of renting, like condo fees, depends on other available community amenities.
Buying land is cost-effective in some states and beyond most people’s reach in others.
Across the US, the average monthly rent for a mobile home is $380. The price in your area depends on population (increased competition for space drives up costs) and park features.
Maintenance costs for mobile homes run lower than for an RV because the property is static and in continuous use. Plus, you don’t have a motor engine as part of the deal.
There is a secondary (used) market for both RVs and mobile homes. Plus, both alternative housing types offer a rental option.
You can buy a mobile home with a mortgage, and the mortgage finance can include the land purchase price. You have plenty of different financing options from mortgages, chattel loans, or personal loans.
You can finance or upgrade your mobile home even if you don’t own the land underneath it.
If you opt to buy an RV, you rely on loan finance and don’t have a mortgage option. An RV loan is like a car loan in operation.
11. Moving Costs
Despite the name, a mobile home stays on one site, you can move it, but that involves a freight vehicle and can cost between $1,000 and $15,000 (depending on size and distance) and is equivalent to packing up and moving house.
Moving your RV is straightforward and costs you the fuel needed to run the engine for your trip.
You can buy an RV as quickly as you can buy any other vehicle. Once you pay for the vehicle and present your insurance, you can drive it away.
What about a mobile home?
Is that a quick process?
Manufacturing a mobile home takes less than a week, but the time taken to buy a mobile home depends on:
- Weather conditions for siting the mobile home.
- Land availability.
- Manufacturer’s backlog.
Typically, you can expect a delay of four months between ordering your mobile home and moving in.
In the interim, you could rent an RV if you need a place to live in a hurry.
13. What About Selling?
There is a secondhand market for both used RVs and mobile homes, but are they assets that gain or lose value?
Your recreational vehicle is like a car in that it depreciates rapidly in value as soon as you take possession of it.
Selling your RV depends on:
- Condition – it is a buyer’s market, and if yours is in poor condition, you may not get much for it.
- Fuel prices – high fuel prices depress the market for recreational and other vehicles.
- Economy – fewer people buy fun vehicles in a depressed economy.
- Timing – in the holiday season, people are too busy having fun to look for an RV.
The process of selling an RV is the same as selling a car with many of the same hurdles.
Selling a mobile home is not as straightforward as selling a car, and most states have specific legal requirements and processes.
Typically, you use an authorized dealer – like an estate agent or realtor but with a mobile home specialism.
Because you are selling a property, you may want to use a lawyer to ensure all relevant taxes and warranties are paid and transferred.
Most people buy a mobile home because they need an affordable place to live, but do they win or lose on the deal?
Some mobile homes increase in value while others decrease in value depending on factors like:
- Location –high demand for housing always increases prices or maintains value.
- Community – a thriving trailer park with plenty of extras like a swimming pool and community facilities increases the price a potential buyer will pay to join.
- Physical conditions and extras.
Although your mobile home may not appreciate significantly in value, you should not lose significantly on resale, provided you keep it well maintained.
Plus, you benefit from years of less expensive living costs than your peers in stick-built houses.
14. How Long Do They Last?
An RV is a motor vehicle, and all motor vehicles have a maximum expected mileage depending on size and maintenance.
The average lifespan for a well-maintained RV is 20 years or 200,000 miles, but the determining factor is care and maintenance.
A responsible owner who regularly checks the weatherproofing on the home element and maintains the engine and tires will get the maximum life.
Someone who does not bother weatherproofing their RV before storage and is causal about maintaining the motor will get a much shorter lifespan for their RV.
The lifespan of a mobile home is like any other home – wholly dependent on care, maintenance, and the environment.
The HUD life expectancy calculations rate mobile homes’ longevity at 30 to 55 years.
Like any other home, you can remodel, upgrade, and the useful habitable lifespan can be much longer than the predicted average.
Who Adopts an RV or Mobile Home Lifestyle?
Anyone can adopt an RV or mobile home lifestyle, but circumstances make owning an RV or a mobile home more desirable.
An RV suits:
- Lovers of travel and nature – an RV gives you dedicated accommodation wherever you want to go, with more comfort than camping.
- Families who need an affordable way to take regular breaks and want to see different places.
- Retirees who want to follow the sun or enjoy life on the road.
- Working people who need to travel – film crews, agricultural workers, construction team, concert tours, and disaster relief.
- People with short-term contracts that involve regular movement across and between states – you always have a home base and less moving expenses.
- Lovers of luxury accommodation while on tour or a film set.
A mobile or manufactured home suits:
- People who want to vacation in the same location.
- Anyone who wants an affordable home with low running costs.
- Retirees that want to live in a thriving community with access to amenities.
- Anyone with land needing additional accommodation for a business income or independent living for their relatives.
- Ideal for people getting onto the housing ladder as a way of having somewhere to live and building equity.
- Families on low incomes.
RVs are better for those who need to move location, and mobile homes suit those that need a permanent address.
Both provide alternative accommodation for leisure and daily life.
Pros and Cons of Mobile Homes
All activities have pros and cos, and for manufactured houses, the pros are:
- Less expensive than stick-built traditional housing – half the price on average.
- Lower maintenance and running costs as a new build comes with all the energy efficiency features.
- Purpose-built for the State climate.
- Access to community facilities if sited on a trailer park.
- Open floor plans suit modern living.
- Additional features are straightforward to install.
- Potential source of a second income if rented out.
- Can move to a new location if necessary.
- Move into a brand new home quickly.
- If well maintained, it holds its resale value, so you get most of your capital back and may make a small profit.
- Straightforward financing options with cheaper mortgages available through traditional sources.
- Generates less waste and has less impact on the environment than traditional homes.
- Quality standards enforced by law.
The cons include:
- You can move them, but it can cost up to $15,000.
- If you choose to rent it out to others, you have all the hassles of dealing with tenants.
- Typically, you lease land for your mobile home, and that is an additional expense. You need to deal with the leaseholder and will have problems if you cannot renew the lease.
- The resale market for mobile homes is not as large as that for traditional housing.
- Limited locations for most states and the cost of land can be prohibitive.
Pros and Cons of RV Living
If you opt for an RV lifestyle, your pro points are:
- Freedom of the road – you can take your home wherever you go and enjoy the best views available.
- Plenty of choices from basic to luxury models.
The downsides include:
- High maintenance costs as you are running a motor vehicle and a house.
- Most sites charge an overnight fee, and although many are modest, some can be at hotel rates.
- Hard to budget for running costs and vulnerable to fuel price increases.
- High upfront costs, and financing is at car loan rates.
- You need to deal with maintaining the water supply and removing sewage.
Are You Better with an RV or a Mobile Home?
RV living does not suit everyone, but it is ideal for those that want to spend their retirement or leisure time exploring new places.
The ability to take your home with you significantly improves the quality of life for some people.
RVs also make life easier for anyone who must work away from home for extended periods as you get control over your living space.
Hotels are great for short breaks, but few people enjoy living out of a suitcase for months at a time and having to pack and unpack when they move locations.
Plus, it means you travel without your home comforts – an RV lets you sleep in your own bed, have photos on the wall, and enjoy your own cooking.
Mobile homes are super affordable accommodation for holidays or life.
A manufactured home has many plusses compared with traditional homes and fewer problems with maintenance and running costs.
Previously, mobile homes were seen as the last resort of poor people. Today, it is the first choice for eco-conscious young people, retirees looking for a community and easy living, and people at all life stages.
Everyone needs somewhere to live, and the choice between RV and a mobile home depends on how frequently you want to change the view outside your window.