What to Look for in Mobile Homes

The trailer wheels are typically removed from mobile homes, which are then mounted on grade-level wooden or concrete blocks. Standard skirting materials include painted plywood sheathing, vinyl or aluminum siding, or both. It’s not uncommon for mobile homes to be set on concrete block foundations, and because the crawl spaces are typically backfilled to grade level, it can be challenging to tell whether the foundations are set below the frost line. On a full-depth, finished basement, we have occasionally seen a mobile installed. There is hardly anything that sets these installations apart from many other manufactured homes from the perspective of occupancy.

Unless mobile homes are bolted to foundations at least 5 feet deep, mortgage lenders and insurance companies typically require storm tie-downs for them.

Experienced home inspectors charge the same price for traditional and mobile homes. Even though mobile homes are typically smaller than the typical house, they still require the same amount of time, if not more, for inspection. Most cottages share this characteristic. We frequently hear “It’s only a small cottage”, or “Why should a mobile cost as much as a house when it is just a mobile?”

Every year, we conduct a number of mobile home inspections, but their share of our overall volume is less than 2%. The following are some of the issues we focus on particularly, some of which are unique to cold-weather regions. These are a few of the more important items that come to mind that are unique to mobile homes, though there are undoubtedly more to look out for.

1. Look for signs of rust, rot, mildew, and other issues in the venting of the crawl space. under the unit – especially exposed, retrofitted plumbing, electrical and duct work.

2. Do the supply and waste pipes have enough insulation and/or heating for winter weather?

3. Does a typical gas or oil furnace have enough combustion air? The majority of the furnaces we see are typical forced-air, down-flow furnaces that run on gas or oil. Except for newer direct-vent furnace installations, the make-up (combustion) air source is typically from underneath the trailer.

Is the ductwork sufficient? Some mobile homes had supply and return air connections only at the furnace closet door in their original configuration. Flex-duct, which makes up a large portion of the retrofit ducting, may be harmed or degraded underneath the unit. Rodents can live anywhere underneath the unit.

* Speaking of mice and rats, be cautious when peering into shadowy areas because you might come across any number of cats, mice, rats, coons, and other animals. If cornered, these animals can be very aggressive.

4. Uninsulated outdoor oil tanks in cold climates are vulnerable to condensation and rust, especially at the bottom.

5. If the pilings are not installed below the level of the frost, the trailer may heave and shift under heavy frost depending on the soils underneath it.

6. Foam insulation made of urea-formaldehyde (UFFI) is used to insulate many buildings. Depending on local history and attitudes, this may or may not be a factor. Occasionally, polyurethane foam and other insulations are misclassified as UFFI.

7. Mobile homes are typically quite airtight, and in colder climates, retained moisture will lead to excessive condensation on windows, particularly those that are metal-framed and/or have single-pane glass. Many mobile homes are retrofitted with double-pane windows made of wood or vinyl in colder climates.

8. The electric capacity of older mobile homes was 50 or 60 amps, whereas newer models typically have 100 amps. They might, however, be connected to a pole-mounted shut-off with a capacity of less than 100 amps, depending on the mobile home park.

9. Water and sewage in many mobile home parks are private or shared, not municipal. It’s critical to understand how your sewage is handled, who is in charge, and who foots the bill for upkeep and repairs to individual or shared systems.

10. Watch out for additions and porches built by the owner. These require careful inspection. There is frequently wood-earth contact, inadequate ventilation, and frequently unconventional framing techniques. There are frequently poor and problematic porch roof-to-wall flashings.

As we look for information on standards…

* ‘Built-on-site’ structures are the only ones that building code inspectors inspect.

* We should contact the manufacturers for information on standards, according to the sales and service centers for mobile homes.

* We were pointed toward CSA (the UL equivalent) by one manufacturer… they test everything from bread makers to woodstoves.)

* CSA advised us to contact the Building Code Officials with any post-installation issues… it appears that mobile homes, at this time in our local area, are in an administrative “grey” area.

More details about the placement of mobile homes…

* In regions not considered “high-wind” zones, over-the-top tie-downs have not historically been used for single-wide manufactured homes.

* In the majority of Canada’s provinces, piers or pilings made of concrete and/or wooden blocks that are positioned on-grade at regular intervals beneath the trailer frame have historically been considered the standard.

* Although they may not always be the same among all manufactured homes, tie-downs typically consist of spun steel cable wrapped around the trailer frame and fastened to driven or screw anchors.

* The mounting and tie-down techniques that are typically used may or may not be in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

* Although manufacturer’s installation manuals are frequently mentioned, they are rarely, if ever, made available.

* See also: CBD-188. Wind Forces on Mobile Homes by National Research Council Canada, 1977

Mobile home moving notes..

* A lender or insurer may require confirmation that a mobile home is still transportable in some situations (leased land, for example).

* Depending on whether moving service personnel can mount axle assemblies and whether the unit is roadworthy, older mobile homes may or may not be transportable.

* A home inspector cannot address or confirm the actual process of moving a mobile home as a vehicle because it involves factors that only the chosen mover could assess. However, it is conceivable that the unit could be moved using alternative methods, much like any small house, if axles could not be installed for any reason or if it was discovered that it was not roadworthy as a vehicle in its original configuration.

* To get an idea of the costs or potential difficulties involved in moving a mobile home, it is advised to get estimates from reputable house or mobile home movers. A typical home inspection does not include the evaluation of this kind of activity.

The Bottom Line:

Mobile homes can offer very comfortable housing if installed and maintained properly. They cost much less than traditional homes of a similar floor area and require relatively little maintenance.

When installed and maintained incorrectly, mobile homes can be uncomfortable, challenging to fix, and frequently dangerous to live in.

To learn more about manufactured homes, go to www.mobilehomerepair.com.

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