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Is An RV Considered a Mobile Home? Settling the Debate

What exactly is a “mobile home”? It’s a question with an interesting answer, is an RV a mobile home? Mobile homes, also known as manufactured homes, are houses built off-site and then moved to where they’ll be set up. They’re usually more affordable than traditional houses and can be put on different types of foundations, either staying put in one place or being a bit more movable. But don’t let the name fool you; even though they’re called “mobile homes,” they’re often not moved around a lot once they’re set up.

Both mobile homes and RVs offer a unique way of living, and we’re going to explore what makes each of them special. So, let’s dive in and find out more about these fascinating homes on wheels (or blocks)!

What Is a ‘Mobile Home’?

Mobile homes (mostly reffered to as manufactured homes in the industry), are prefabricated residential dwellings. Companies deliver and install them at a specific location. They can sit on permanent or semi-permanent foundations. You typically build them in sections and connect the parts to the foundation and utilities on-site.

These structures come in various shapes and sizes. They’re an affordable housing solution and have evolved since they began appearing in the 1950s. Owners love them for their affordability, customization, and transportability. They can be useful entry-level housing options for first-time buyers to build equity and move toward larger, more permanent housing.

Manufactured home park
These are all what would be considered mobile homes as they were brought in on trailers. They however are not actually very mobile. But some of these still have axles and wheels under them!

What Is an RV?

An RV is a self-contained vehicle for travel and temporary living accommodations. However, there’s been an increase in the past decade of people using them for full-time living. RVs include motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, truck campers, and camper vans.

These vehicles can come with essential amenities. Even in the smallest RVs, users often have a sleeping space, a kitchen, and bathroom facilities. These features make it easier to take a road trip and enjoy unforgettable adventures.

Manufacturers create RVs for mobility. While you can park them for weeks or months, many owners enjoy moving from one spot to another. Those who want the freedom to travel the open road find them very appealing for a temporary or permanent residence.

Pro Tip: We compared the Differences Between a Tiny Home on Wheels and an RV to help you decide what type of living set up is right for you.

Mobile home
Mobile homes are permanent or semi-permanent options for affordable living.

Differences Between an RV and Mobile Home

While an RV and a mobile home are relatively similar, they have some significant differences. Let’s examine these differences and why they matter. 

Manufacturing Standards

The construction and regulation of RVs (Recreational Vehicles) and manufactured homes involve different standards and are overseen by different entities due to their distinct uses.

  1. Recreational Vehicles (RVs):
    • In the United States, the construction of RVs is generally overseen by industry associations rather than government agencies. The main organization is the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). The RVIA provides guidelines and standards for RV construction and safety.
    • The standards set by the RVIA comply with those established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), specifically in the NFPA 1192 standard, which details fire safety criteria for RVs.
    • Additionally, while not a legal entity, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has a set of standards known as ANSI A119.5, seen as a benchmark for the RV industry’s best practices.
  2. Manufactured Homes:
    • The construction of manufactured homes in the United States is regulated at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD Code, also known as the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards, prescribes the standards for manufactured home design and construction, strength and durability, fire resistance, and energy efficiency.
    • This code is unique in that it preempts state and local building codes and is the only federally regulated national building code. Each manufactured home must meet this federal standard, and a HUD label must be displayed on every manufactured home that meets these standards.

It’s important for consumers and manufacturers to understand these regulations and standards because they help ensure the safety, quality, and durability of RVs and manufactured homes. Compliance with these standards is also crucial for legality, insurance, and financing purposes. Always ensure that any purchase or construction adheres to the relevant standards and regulations set by these overseeing entities.

Purpose and Use

While an RV and a mobile home are housing types, people typically use them differently. Generally, manufacturers design RVs for travel. People often park RVs in campgrounds, RV parks, and off-grid sites. They make it possible to enjoy an adventurous and nomadic life.

Mobile home manufacturers design these homes as a more permanent living arrangement. Instead of moving from one spot to the next, they sit on a permanent or semi-permanent foundation. You’ll often find them in mobile home parks or on private land.

Size and Design

Some significant differences between an RV and a mobile home are their size and design. Even the most oversized RVs will only provide 200 to 300 square feet of living space. While they can feature multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, they’re very compact. Builders must consider the weight and rules of the road when creating these structures.

Mobile homes can be more extensive and provide a tremendous amount of living space. It’s common to find multiple bedrooms, a full-sized kitchen, and all the comforts you need. Because you can attach numerous modules, you can design a functional home that meets your needs.

Aerial view of parked RV
An RV is technically a mobile residence, but ultimately, it’s not a mobile home.

Mobility

The biggest difference between an RV and a mobile home is mobility. While moving both structures is possible, it’s more challenging to move a mobile home. Mobile homes sit on a sturdy foundation, usually free of wheels and axles. Moving them can be costly and require special machinery for heavy lifting. It’s a challenging task.

Moving an RV from one spot to another is typically very easy. You only have to hitch it to a towing vehicle or drive it over. The hardest part is packing up your campsite and storing everything so it makes the trip safely. Once at your new spot, you can start unloading and setting things up. If you’re not planning to stay in a spot permanently, an RV will be your best option. 

Cost and Maintenance

Unfortunately, costs can vary considerably for RVs and mobile homes. RVs are typically cheaper and have lower upfront costs. However, the ongoing costs for fuel, campground fees, maintenance, and insurance can quickly add up. In addition, RVs depreciate rapidly.

Acquiring a mobile home will likely cost you more upfront because you’ll need to purchase the house, a foundation, and the land where you’ll place it. You’ll also have expenses like property taxes, homeowners association fees, and insurance. These structures can retain their value and be good investments depending on the surrounding area.

Both will require ongoing maintenance. Generally, the maintenance of an RV will be substantially more than a mobile home. RV manufacturers use lightweight and low-quality products to decrease weight and costs. When put to the test, these products have a reputation for not being as durable as mobile homes. 

motorhome next to a mobile home
That is our motorhome on the right and a mobile home on the left.

Regulations and Zoning

One often overlooked difference between RVs and mobile homes concerns local regulations and zoning. Not everyone loves the idea of someone buying a plot of land and parking an RV on it. Local rules and regulations may have restrictions.

Some people discover that their city, county, or other governing body prohibits them from living in their RV on their land. In these cases, the agency likely doesn’t recognize an RV as a residential dwelling.

If they do, they may have strict rules and requirements about what must be present on the land. Restrictions can vary but could include utilities, a permanent structure, or other items. Check the local regulations and zoning laws before purchasing land. If you don’t, you could make a significant financial mistake.

Pro Tip: Considering a new rig? These are 7 Lesser-Known Perks of a Tow Behind Camper.

Mobile home parked
While some people use RV and mobile home interchangeably, they do have their differences.

Similarities Between RVs and Mobile Homes

RVs and mobile homes differ, but they also share some similarities. While many visit “The RV Hall of Fame” yearly, its full name is “The RV and Mobile Home Hall of Fame.” They have much more in common than most people think.

For instance, companies design their living spaces to be as comfortable and spacious as possible. While mobile homes may offer more room, large RVs can offer spacious layouts and configurations.

Additionally, RVs and mobile homes feature essential utilities and amenities. Their plumbing systems function differently. However, you’ll find sinks, showers, and toilets in many RVs. There’s also likely to be heating, cooling, and lighting in both. Some RVs include luxury features like dishwashers and washing machines.

Another similarity is how manufacturers build these units. Workers construct them on an assembly line at a factory. While RVs are typically 100% finished, mobile homes may receive their finishing touches once they arrive on site. However, having skilled workers on the assembly line helps ensure consistency and quality for each unit.

Can You Park an RV in a Mobile Home Park?

If you’re an RV owner looking for a place to park your rig, a mobile home park may be an option. Rules and regulations vary from one location to the next, but it’s possible. Some of these facilities will rent out temporary and long-term spaces to RVers. However, it will depend on the area and availability.

You may notice this when using Google or your favorite search engine. Occasionally, mobile home parks have appeared in the search results when looking for an RV park. It may not be the best option for an overnight visit, but a mobile home park could be worth considering for extended stays.

While RVs are Mobile Residences, They Are Technically Not ‘Mobile Homes’

While an RV is technically a mobile residence, it’s not a mobile home. The differences between the two structures are significant, and they serve two distinct purposes. However, both can make incredible options for a home. With work, you can create a cozy space, whether your home has wheels or not.

Which option would you prefer? Let us know in the comments!

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About Tom and Caitlin Morton

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Mark

Friday 22nd of December 2023

Well I would like to enter this debate by pointing out one more "mobile home" which in today's industry of manufactured homes vs. RV's more personifies the term, and you neglected to cover. Interestingly enough it's made by the RV industry, yet more often seen (in my experience) in what used to be termed mobile home or trailer parks. What I'm referring to are Park Model RV's. These trailers are BIG, typically up to 400 square feet (downright palatial by RV standards) and, while mobile are better suited to semi-permanent to permanent settings. However, for snowbirds they are still mobile enough that they can be moved semi-annually or annually to compatible parks. Therefore, this is my choice to end the debate of mobile home vs. RV. Made by the RV industry with amenities to match your brick and mortar home and room to breathe yet able to change scenery infrequently.