Mobile homes: Welcome to Ireland's original tiny houses 

Mobile homes are part of our residential landscape. We follow their itinerary as they motor into the future 
Mobile homes: Welcome to Ireland's original tiny houses 

Mobile homes have become the perfect setting for tiny-house interiors. Picture: iStock

Mobile homes have a long, curious and contentious history in Ireland. Still, given our deep scepticism about any home not rooted directly to the ground by blocks and concrete mounted on their signature chassis, they are a familiar part of our Irish residential story: The original tiny home.

They’ve been used by everyone from seasonal workers to extended family, and as everything from holiday escapes to shelters during self-builds — and of course also by our Irish Traveller community.

The build quality, energy efficiency and design talents of today’s best mobiles couldn’t be further from the freezing/baking tin cans of the 1970s seaside rental.

Wallace Mobile Homes in New Ross, County Wexford, celebrates 50 years in business this year. Founded by Tony Wallace in 1972, his son Philip became MD in 2009, growing the Duncannon Beach Holiday Park and establishing a new showroom base at Marshmeadows in nearby New Ross.

Tony Wallace, left, founder, founder of Wallace Mobile Homes, and his son Philip Wallace, MD, in one of their residential-level mobile homes.
Tony Wallace, left, founder, founder of Wallace Mobile Homes, and his son Philip Wallace, MD, in one of their residential-level mobile homes.

Today, this proud family firm displays the latest models from brands including Swift, Carnaby and Pemberton and a range of second-hand mobiles including Atlas, Willerby, Regal and ABI. Wallace Mobile Homes also run a busy workshop for inspection, valeting and refurbishing.

Having explored both thin, flimsy vintage mobiles and later models smarter than any hotel I’ve ever been able to afford, what is the difference between the comforts in a residential grade mobile home and a standard spec?

Philip explains: “Every year the manufacturers grow more innovative. It’s a competitive industry, so there are continual upgrades and improvements. One of the major ones which people would not be aware of when they call to us is how much the build standard and energy efficiency have improved over the years.

“Residential standard mobile homes, or lodges as they are referred to by the manufacturers, are built to BS3632:2015. This defines a far superior building standard to the normal mobile home with double-glazing and central heating, built to EN1647. 

The comfort and quality of a mobile home can be on par with a good apartment, with similar kitchen fit-outs. Picture: Wallace Mobile Homes
The comfort and quality of a mobile home can be on par with a good apartment, with similar kitchen fit-outs. Picture: Wallace Mobile Homes

While the vast majority of mobile homes in Ireland are like this, they are intended for leisure home purposes, for holiday homes on holiday parks, not to live in, year-round.

“The main aspects of BS3632, which improves the experience, include vastly better insulation, resulting in significant improvements in energy efficiency, keeping homes warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Walls built to comply with BS3632 standards have two to three times more insulation than those of typical EN1647 holiday homes (100mm in the walls, 200mm in the roof, double glazing with low-E and Argon-filled glass). There’s also superior acoustic performance as standard with far less ‘noise pollution’ and greater privacy for owners.

“In terms of heating performance,” Philip continues, “the BS3632 standard requires that an A-rated heating and water system is installed, capable of raising the temperature in rooms to a certain temperature. These criteria do not exist in the EN1647 holiday home standard.

“The EN1647 standard also contains no regulations on the performance of the appliances fitted in the home. BS3632 stipulates that only A-rated appliances are installed, and LED lighting is. There’s also better air quality with ventilation requirements closer to ‘bricks and mortar’.”

Planning conundrums aside (see our important guide), have the Wallace team seen an increase in the demand for residential-level mobile homes for potential year-round use?

“Definitely,” Philip responds, “and there are a few recurring reasons. Downsizing is one. So, we have had a retired couple recently who have a large house and garden, finding it harder to maintain and keep. The kids are all grown up with partners and kids but can’t find a suitable property nearby. One of their sons ended up buying the house from them, and the parents bought a new residential unit and put it on their grounds.

“Another family has just bought a new residential unit as they can’t get planning for a house close to their business. As they have animals they can’t be too far away so buying a mobile home/lodge was their only option.

“Another example would be a retired couple who had to move home from abroad. Due to health issues, they needed to be close to their family. There were no suitable properties close by and they found that putting a mobile in their family’s garden was more affordable and quicker than building. 

"All these mobiles were hooked up to utilities on holiday parks or tapped into existing utilities on private sites.”

Dedicated holiday sites have their own licensing agreements, and when you go to buy a mobile specifically to be placed on-site, or already on-site, it’s important to know the minutia from the length of the season in which you can use your mobile (many parks are closed from October to March), extra expenses including grounds keeping and utilities. Consider any conditions around selling the unit on too.

Costing up to €150,000 for a seriously beautiful layout and residential quality lodge, how do we choose a mobile? Philip offers his insights for a newbie looking for a holiday home.

The dream: A seaside location, and company if and when you want it at a mobile home camp, Donegal. Picture: iStock
The dream: A seaside location, and company if and when you want it at a mobile home camp, Donegal. Picture: iStock

“The first step is to contact the park of their choice to check site availability. All of the parks are independently owned and each one will have different waiting lists for new customers. You will be amazed at the number, diversity and high standards of layout and maintenance of today’s holiday parks.

Owners and managers are proud of their parks and many have achieved the highest of standards. We appreciate the differing needs of individuals, couples and families.

“Some parks will cater solely for older people whose needs may not be compatible with those of younger families with children.

Conversely, other parks specialise in families and provide facilities such as play areas, clubs, entertainment and multiple amusements. In addition, some parks are located in the heart of some of the most beautiful, tranquil, unspoiled countryside you will ever see, whilst others can be found close to lively and popular seaside resorts.

“The next step is to pick your holiday home itself.”

With such a wide range of models out there offering variations in style, design, colour and layout, make sure to do your research and have a good think about what suits you and your family best.

“You can choose from models with one, two or three bedrooms.

“In most holiday homes, the lounge settee also converts into a double bed. 

"Consider friends or family who will want to visit. Kitchens and bathrooms are well equipped in all holiday homes these days; some are more luxuriously appointed than others, depending on your budget. For instance, in some models, fridge freezer and even dishwashers and washing machines are fitted as standard,” he says

Cost

What about cost and ongoing expenses; has Brexit made an impact on pricing?

“The price of mobile homes has risen close to 30% over the past two years,” says Philip. “This is mainly down to Brexit and the rise in the cost of production with the shortage in materials.

“The price of a mobile home in a holiday park depends on the park but the average would be from €35,000 for a second-hand and from €50,000 upwards for a new model. On top of that, you have to allow for site fees and decking. A lot of parks will have an entrance fee so it’s possible you could be paying €10,000 on top of the price of your mobile.”

Investment

Philip adds: “People often ask me if a mobile home is a good investment and the answer to that depends on your outlook. They do depreciate over time but choosing to invest in a holiday home and you’re choosing an investment in a new and unique lifestyle.

“Your own holiday home gives you more independence. You are free to go when you please, do what you please when it pleases you.”

Longevity

How long will I get out of my mobile, buying through a reputable dealer or buying privately?

“Mobile homes can last a lifetime and while a lot of holiday parks will have an upgrade policy of 15/20 years, we would always advise that you should treat it like a car and trade it in while there is good value in it,” says Philip.

“Like cars, there are always new and more innovative layouts and as time goes on you and your family’s needs may change so you change the mobile to suit that.

“Again similar to cars, you might like the top-of-the-range model but can’t afford it yet so start within your budget and trade your way up over the years.”

Avoiding pitfalls

Philip advises: “Try to buy something that was on a holiday park as generally they would only be used for a few months a year and parks would have someone doing maintenance on the mobile if anything went wrong.

“One of the main problems you should look out for is dampness. If you see painted walls, it could be hiding it. Push in on the walls to make sure they are stable. If they are leaking then the wall will move easily. Walk all around the mobile and watch out for soft floors. Water damage could be coming from a slow leaking pipe, windows or the roof.”

Mobile homes and caravans are a lively, familiar part of our Irish residential vernacular. Picture: iStock
Mobile homes and caravans are a lively, familiar part of our Irish residential vernacular. Picture: iStock

Your supplier is not responsible for exploring the legalities around siting of your mobile home — you are.

“While they are built like homes they come on wheels so technically mobile homes are a temporary structure,” says Philip.

“It’s a grey area. What I would say, is that if you are putting a mobile home on your own land, be careful where you site it, and don’t position it where it would block a neighbour’s view or light, right next to your roadside, or directly on a neighbour’s boundary.”

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