We're looking into buying a vintage mobile home from a private seller. It's a Viking double-wide from 1966. (It still has the tires on it!) We saw some information NCHH shared about manufactured housing, and it got us thinking about the healthiness of mobile homes, which are similar in some ways. Is there anything we need to be looking for before we buy? We did notice that the seller had candles burning inside the mobile home when we toured it – not sure if that means something. Thanks for any assistance you can give us about what to look for when purchasing a healthy home.
Thank you for using “Ask NCHH!” We understand your enthusiasm in wanting to own a vintage mobile home, and we appreciate your interest in making sure that buying one is a happy and healthy experience. Your observation that the seller appeared to be using lots of candles could be very telling, as scented candles and air fresheners are often used to mask the telltale odors of mold or mildew. The reasons for molding may be any of the following:
- Humidity trapped in the closed-up trailer or poor ventilation under humid conditions when the mobile home is used;
- Roof and window seal leaks;
- Pipe leaks;
- Moisture trapped in insulation or flooring material; and/or
- Holes that allow outside air into the mobile home.
Here are some things to investigate with an older mobile home:
- Lead in the water system or lead-based paint on any painted surfaces. Additionally, some varnishes and other surface coatings may contain lead as well; just because the interior is plywood doesn’t mean the paneling hasn’t been treated with a lead-based product. Old brass plumbing fixtures can have up to 20% lead in them, and this may leach into the drinking water if the water from the well/public system is acidic.
- Regarding the composition of the flooring:
- Is there any asbestos in the tiles? It’s unlikely, but something we recommend verifying.
- If the original flooring has been replaced, is there padding/underlayment
that could trap moisture? If so, this may account for a musty smell.
- If there’s old carpet, is it cleanable? Carpets can trap dust, mold
particles, and allergens, so it’s important that you’re able to clean it properly.
- Is the roof surface in good condition? Can the inspector* see the underside of the roof? There is usually a gap between the ceiling and the underside of the roof framing, so it’s important to ensure that no mold is growing. You’ll also want to make sure that no animals are nesting in that space.
- Is there any insulation? If there is, you may need to test it to be sure there is no asbestos/formaldehyde.
- Is there a whole-house ceiling fan, or is the bathroom ventilated? An old, deteriorating roof seal may result in a pinhole leak, although this is easily fixable.
- Are the pipes for water and sewer insulated, and if so, what’s the insulation? Could it be asbestos?
- If there is a shower/tub surround, does it fit the space well, having no cracks or holes to trap moisture between the surround and the wall?
- Does the plumbing drain into an approved tank (or sewer/septic if the mobile home is a more permanent structure)?
- If water/stove is heated with propane, has the system been checked for leaks? The new owner should also have a smoke/CO/gas detector in case there are leaks in the future.
- Can the inspector verify there is no pest or termite infestation? This is especially important for trailers on a permanent site, though it can be difficult to evaluate the undercarriage if the skirting blocks access. Any hole that opens to the outside is a potential opening for humidity/moisture to get in the trailer.
- Has any renovation occurred on the trailer since its original manufacture? If so, was the work done to code (i.e., no longer using fuses), and were the construction materials formaldehyde-free? Particle board can outgas for a long time. Homeowner electrical or plumbing work needs to be checked to be sure that the work was done correctly, with the proper materials. This may be especially important for the electrical system, as old trailers don’t have enough power and may need additional circuits.
For mobile homes, you should check with your insurance agent to determine if homeowner's insurance is needed - they may also require an inspection before insuring the trailer.
If you’re buying a trailer that will reside permanently on a lot, you should have a building inspection as if it were any other house. If it’s a mobile box on wheels, you’re probably on your own, but you still should check out as many of these items as possible – your family could face health consequences, and you may not have any recourse if you or someone in your family has a medical problem and wants to sue the seller at a later date.
Having said all that, we don’t want to scare you away from a lovely mobile home or trailer. They can be a lot of fun to own. Good luck!*Inspector: While it may not be required in some states for “as is” sales, we’d recommend contacting a home inspector for any real estate transaction, period. Verify that the one you select has experience inspecting mobile homes.