Mobile homes, or manufactured homes, are likely one of the last housing types we might think of when we think of energy efficiency. But in fact, there still are a lot of manufactured homes out there and many of them are quite old and not very snug. (Trailers account for more than 7 percent of housing units in the US—that’s about 8 million homes. And mobile home owners or renters usually don’t have the resources to weatherize or upgrade to newer, more efficient models.)
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The Waxman Markey bill has a provision to provide rebates to manufactured homeowners that own homes built before 1976. In June of that year Congress passed comprehensive legislation to create a more demanding and uniform set of standards for manufactured housing. It’s hard to say how many of these homes are still around.
The bill would distribute money through state programs for lower income owners to replace their home with an Energy Star mobile home. The old home would have to be dismantled and couldn’t be used again.
While manufactured housing sales have fallen since their peak in 1973—from 579,960 to about 95,000 in 2007—they are still very affordable, averaging about $65,000 per home. The median income of a person living in a manufactured home is about $35,000 (substantially lower than the annual median income in the US of $50,000) and their average age is about 49 years. Because the manufactured market is so small there isn’t a lot of data about the sector’s impacts on energy use or greenhouse gas emissions attributable to manufactured housing. And the bill is really only targeting really old homes that presumably were built to standards not as rigorous as those established in 1976.
But there are some companies that are now designing manufactured housing that is more efficient than the Energy Star rating. These are thoroughly green manufactured homes. Clayton Homes, for example, is set to sell their “i-House” sometime this year. Now this is a home I would live in. And its price—$75-$100,000—is fairly reasonable.
Locally, Unico Properties has created a prototype for green pre-fabricated housing called Inhabit. Their prototype is another example of great-looking design that defies the worst stereotypes about mobile homes.
Who knows? Manufactured housing might be an important part of both affordability and sustainability in our region’s future. Until then Waxman-Markey, if it passes with these provisions, will go a long way toward improving the existing stock of manufactured housing and helping cut energy costs (and use) for a slew of families.