Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, two noisy parrots, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at email@example.com.
Last month, we marked seven years in our little house on the prairie.
We celebrated by getting a new water heater. (Yes, we ARE an exciting couple.)
The old water heater was still working, but we were dubious about its future. It was, after all, 23 years old; the average life span of a tank-style water heater is eight to 12 years, although I saw some homeowners online tout water heaters that lasted 30 years or more. At any rate, when the workers pulled out our water heater, they said it was definitely showing its age, and we would have been lucky for it to have survived the winter.
The old water heater came with the house. And the house came from Texas.
Our house is a manufactured home, as are most of the homes in our area. Manufactured homes are built to the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards (HUD Code); they're built "in the controlled environment of a manufacturing plant and are transported in one or more sections on a permanent chassis." Our home is a "double wide," so it came in two parts.
Factory-built units constructed before the HUD Code took effect in 1976 are generally classified as mobile homes. There are also modular homes, which are also factory-built but instead of following the HUD Code, they're constructed to the same state, local or regional building codes as site-built homes.
"Manufactured housing plays a vital role in meeting the nation's affordable housing needs, providing 9.5 percent of the total single-family housing stock,” according to a HUD statement from early 2018. "According to the Manufactured Housing Institute, more than 22 million Americans reside in manufactured housing. Manufactured homes are particularly important in rural states, where manufactured homes are about 16.2 percent of occupied housing units."
Our house was built by Cavalier Town & Country in Fort Worth. According to the little bit of paperwork we have, it was built for Zone 1, which is really most of the United States. It was NOT designed for "the higher wind pressure and anchoring provisions required for ocean/coastal areas" that make up Zones 2 and 3. The roof was designed to not buckle under the snows of Colorado, and the home and heating equipment were designed "to maintain an average 70 degrees F. in this home at outdoor temperatures of minus 33 degrees F." (The water heater, by the way, is in a cabinet accessed from a door on the outside of the home.)
We were dubious about buying a manufactured home and had concerns about financing and quality. But if we wanted land in the country for our horses, a manufactured home was the most affordable –- and most available –- option.
We weren't the first –- or the last –- to view manufactured homes with skepticism.
"Manufactured homes have traditionally been maligned as housing for the rural poor or the object of jokes," according to a Housing Assistance Council study titled Moving Home: Manufactured Housing in Rural America. But, the report goes on to say, "The factory built homes of the 21st century are not the trailers of the 1960s and 70s, and the manufactured housing industry has transformed itself over the past few decades, producing units of greater quality, size and safety. Increasingly, new manufactured home models are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally constructed single-family units."
The Manufactured Housing Institute, a trade group, also works to ease fears that the affordability of a manufactured home results from cutting corners or using cheaper materials than a site-built home. "Much like other assembly line operations," the MHI website states, "manufactured homes benefit from the economics of scale resulting from purchasing large quantities of materials, products and appliances." Manufactured homes are built with the same materials as site-built homes, the MHI assures.
The previous owner of our home had made some key upgrades, including updating the windows and adding a blue steel roof. We've continued making improvements, adding hardwood floors before we even moved in and having most of the walls textured and painted to get rid of the batten strips that covered the gaps between the vinyl panels that make up the walls.
Removing the battens, mobilehomeliving.org notes, is the easy part. "Filling in the gaps that the battens were covering, and then making the entire wall look cohesive, is the difficult part." While some sites tout it as a DIY project, we left it up to the professionals.
Another worry we had in considering a manufactured home is whether it would gain in value like a "regular" home. A 2018 MarketWatch article points to a long-held assumption that manufactured housing does not increase in value –- at least not as much as other homes –- or might even depreciate in value. But the data show that just isn't true, the article cites an Urban Institute study: "Manufactured homes may actually appreciate at levels similar to site-built homes."
The MHI says appreciation on any home, whether site-built or manufactured, depends on such factors as supply and demand, the desirability of the community and upkeep of the home. Ultimately, the MHI argues, "When properly installed and maintained, today’s manufactured homes can appreciate the same as surrounding site-built homes."
We've seen homes in our area, both manufactured and site-built, sell for higher and higher amounts, as the market remains strong. What would our house sell for? We don't know because we have no plans to move. We are content in calling our cozy, factory-built house home.
The water heater in some manufactured homes is accessed from the outside; after 23 years, it was time for a new one. Photo by Bill Radford