Trailer houses like this meet building codes even though they are unsafe and very poorly built.

Trailer houses like this meet building codes even though they are unsafe and very poorly built.

Trailer houses typically suffer massive damages after hurricanes and tornadoes like this trailer park that got hit by Hurricane Andrew.

Trailer houses typically suffer massive damages after hurricanes and tornadoes like this trailer park that got hit by Hurricane Andrew.

I’ve been writing about the problems with building codes for a while now. Just for the record, I’m not 100% against codes. Limited codes can be beneficial, but the current situation is way over the top. This fact is well illustrated by comparing trailer houses (also called mobile homes) to buildings made of earthbags. A trailer house like the one in the photo above is — how can I put it politely — a piece of junk. They are not built to any reasonable level of strength or durability. For instance, it would be easy to kick your foot through the flimsy 2×2 stick frame walls. Just look what happens to trailer houses in tornadoes and hurricanes. Most of us have watched scenes of trailer parks on TV that have been completely wiped out (flattened) after natural disasters. The same scenes are repeated over and over, year after year, because building officials say trailer houses meet current building standards.

I remember one of my friends who got married and bought a trailer house right out of high school. It was just a matter of months before problems started. In less than a year the particle board cabinets started to fall off the wall and the front door broke. Unlike most houses than typically gain value over time (except in a deflationary housing market), trailer houses rapidly depreciate in value. They make no sense financially.

One time I toured some model trailer homes for sale even though I knew they were a piece of junk. My real intent was to secretly study why trailer houses are popular and how they utilized small spaces. The biggest thing I remember from the visit is the awful smell of formaldehyde in the trailer houses. There was even a warning sign with the required government disclosure about the high levels of formaldehyde inside! (Think about it. They come right out and warn you of the toxicity and yet people still buy this crap.)

The FEMA trailers purchased for hurricane Katrina victims is a perfect example of the hazards of formaldehyde. You can google the articles about this scandal/tragedy by searching for phrases like “banned trailers”, “tainted trailers”, “toxic tin cans” and “FEMA trailers formaldehyde”. Here’s a quote from who’s working to spread the warning about these trailers: “ is dedicated to providing information about formaldehyde poisoning, and advocating effective government regulations. The government spent more than $2 billion on FEMA trailers with hazardous levels of formaldehyde, and now has dumped more than 103,000 former FEMA trailers on the market despite proven problems with formaldehyde, mold and even gas leaks. The FEMA trailer tragedy exposed what is a widespread problem in RVs, mobile homes, modular buildings and even conventional homes and offices. If you are having symptoms such as burning eyes, congestion, sore throat, coughing, breathing difficulties, frequent sinus infections or rashes, and difficulties concentrating, you may have a formaldehyde problem. For questions or to share your story, write” (Sounds like a big ‘ol class action lawsuit is heating up.)

Not only do trailer houses rapidly deteriorate and offgas poisonous fumes, they’re also poorly insulated. They get unbearably hot in the summer and freezing cold in winter. Trailer houses are also widely known for electrical fires. So keep all this in mind as you ponder why trailer houses are readily accepted by building officials. It’s easy to get a building permit for a trailer house. Now approach these same building officials with plans for an earthbag house that’s practically as strong as an army bunker and see what happens. Yes, you can get a building permit if you jump through enough hoops and spend thousands of extra dollars. But why do they make it so difficult? That’s why we routinely advise people to move to rural areas with few or no building codes if possible.

Image source: Reddit

American Housing Ripoff
How to Build a House That Will Self Destruct and Burn Like Crazy


Trailer Houses versus Earthbag Building — 15 Comments

  1. This was published in 2012. I’ll tell you why MH are desirable, it’s because they are still cheaper than a home and ready made for people who are not physically able, take pets for renters, and a manageable size in even some decent communities. That’s why. When earth bag builders start producing like a company that MH do, then you might see a change, but as it is. it’s only for the fit with land. Even tho it’s the cheapest to make and strong and all that. I’d love to live in one, but not enough of them for me to just move in.
    Earth bag communities, would change all that.

    • Fair enough. Good points. That’s why I’ve explained numerous times how mobile homes are one option to consider — including as temporary shelter while a more permanent home is being constructed.

      Here’s a case in point: This mobile home was purchased for $375. That’s practically free rent if you stay there long term.

      Your best option may be a tiny house on wheels. They can be built fairly fast and fairly low cost if you use recycled materials. This way you avoid the toxic materials in a manufactured mobile home.

      If earthbag building is too labor intensive for you, consider strawbale building. It’s easy enough that most anyone can do it. Of course you need land to build. There are places where remote rural land is very cheap.

  2. Thank you so much for all of the information on your site. We also live in Tornado Alley (in OK-but grew up in the Omaha metro!) and we’re planning to build an earthbag home. We’d love to have the home be “hobbit hole” in nature, that is, completely underground, and love the idea of just retreating to the back of the house (away from windows) for storms. However, given the inconclusive status of buried earthbag homes, we’re not sure we’re willing to test it on our own. So…how resistent to tornadoes IS an above ground earthbag home? Would earth berming on 3 sides be a better alternative? Thank you for your time-we’re still new to this concept (although we’re completely sold on it!!), and truly appreciate your work and willingness to share your time so generously. If this has been answered elsewhere, I just haven’t found it yet-so links are appreciated as well.

    • Both earth bermed (earth on the sides) and earth sheltered (fully covered) houses are tornado and hurricane resistant. In general, it’s easier and less expensive to do berming. This allows for a conventional, lighter weight, less expensive roof. However, if the conditions are really severe then earth sheltering is the safest. (A conventional roof could get blown off.) But this requires stronger beams and roof framing to support the extra load of soil on top. One compromise is earth sheltered/conventional roof with a storm shelter in the back of the house. As always, I encourage building on high ground (not hilltops) to prevent flooding. Always grade the site so water flows away from the building. Also, plan for strong storm shutters, hurricane ties and some rebar down through the earthbag walls next to each window and door.

    • Thanks. I still laugh about this blog post because it exposes how obviously broken and corrupt the system is. How else could these tin can pieces of crap meet code except through some sort of scam?

  3. Owen,
    I’ll borrow this from your post, “I remember one of my friends who got married and bought a trailer house right out of high school.” Ditto here… the first time I visited my friend’s trailer house, which was brand new, I had to leave after less than 5 minutes because I had a violent allergic reaction after going inside. I was sick for a few days after. I could never visit her there again. That was 35 years ago, before I knew about such things as offgassing and the dangers of formaldehyde. Good post.

    • It’s amazing how people can tolerate living inside. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to the smell and chemicals? But how can you not notice??? Maybe people like this would sleep next to a gas pump and not notice the fumes?

  4. We have a round house built into a hill with electric, septic, etc on six acres. The largest obstacle to building is fascist, urban building codes that are meant to maximize the taxes collected on the structure and extract unnecessary permit building fees. Individuals who want to build sustainable, earth friendly structures and become stewards of the land must become active on local town boards and in local government. Americans must take back their rights from a corporatized, statist elite that use institutions like the EPA to enslave us, rather than protect the environment.

  5. Travel trailers (RV’s) are built much sturdier, are easily moved, more affordable, easier to maintain, and most cities will not allow them even in a mobile home park…go figure…

  6. Toxic and expensive. I build my earthbag house for around $4,000 and it is as strong as a castle. New doublewides start around $50,000. Pretty simple math, eh?

  7. Yep theyre junk! All the glue in the paneling makes them burn like crazy.
    The only upside is theyre cheap. Id actually rather own a junker free n clear than pay forever on a home like slave. You cant even get financed on an older trailer.I owned one and it was like a tin can.

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