Manufactured Housing: Even Greater Affordability, Amenity and Energy Savings on the Way

(This is a reposting of a guest blog I wrote for Next Step Network. You can find that and other guest blogs here, as well as a wealth of information on Next Step's leading work toward more affordable, efficient manufactured housing.)

New frontiers in energy efficiency, comfort, and affordability in manufactured housing are on the near horizon thanks to smart, concerted effort from leading electric cooperatives, factory homebuilders, and lenders. And there's clear recognition among industry leaders of the benefits of the U.S. Department of Energy's eagerly anticipated new energy efficiency standards for the type of housing that's home to millions of Americans. (Manufactured housing is factory built under federal construction regulations called the "HUD Code," rather than state building codes.)

These topics and more were on the agenda at the 2015 National Congress and Expo for manufactured housing this month in Las Vegas. It's clear from the breadth of activities on display that manufactured housing will continue to play a vital role in the nation's housing mix, and that industry leaders are intent on offering ever-improving performance, amenities, and affordability.

Nearly 20 million Americans live in manufactured homes built under the HUD Code, which was introduced in 1976, and in their earlier unregulated ancestors, mobile homes. And to be clear, manufactured housing has improved greatly over the decades and continues to do so, just as is the case for televisions, computers, cars, and just about everything else. But there's still much more that can be done to cut energy waste in these dwellings.

Some of my many highlights from the Congress and Expo, in addition to talking with passionate experts from across the industry, were these:

  • Next-generation energy technologies
    Emanuel Levy of the Systems Building Research Alliance gave a great update on rapidly emerging energy efficiency technologies, and research efforts to accelerate their adoption. These technologies include advanced walls with more and better insulation, advanced roof prototypes, and ductless "mini-split" heat pump systems. He estimates they can produce a 75 percent increase in energy savings relative to the current minimum code. This is well beyond the 20 percent to 30 percent savings estimated for the updated energy standards that DOE is working on now. It was great to see the Manufacturer of the Year award go to a builder that has produced two homes that include some of these cutting-edge technologies (Cavco Industries, with independent support from Northwest Energy Works).

  • SmartMH KY: A cutting-edge program for energy efficient housing in Kentucky
    Barry Noffsinger of CU Factory Built Lending described the Next Step Network's latest energy efficiency program, and it looks great. Called SmartMH KY, the aim is to increase the take-up of ENERGY STAR™ manufactured homes from less than 1 percent currently to over 50 percent. About 15 percent of the new high-efficiency homes will replace very old, inefficient mobile homes, with the remainder adding to the housing stock. The program has a comprehensive combination of utility energy efficiency incentives (led by East Kentucky Power Cooperative and the Tennessee Valley Authority), targeted financing, marketing and outreach, training, and support from the Kentucky Housing Corporation among others. The sponsors estimate that households will save nearly $800 annually on energy costs. SmartMH KY builds on and goes beyond the highly successful manufactured housing efficiency program that TVA has long pioneered, and should set a great example for other states and utilities. ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program with energy-saving benchmarks that must be met in order to use its label, and provides the technical base for the new homes.
  • DOE standards, ENERGY STAR and utility programs.
    I gave a presentation on the status and outlook for the DOE efficiency standards, and on the role of ENERGY STAR and utility programs to deliver additional savings for consumers and the environment. It makes it onto my highlights list because there was clear industry interest in continuing to work together.

    In brief, we're awaiting DOE's proposed energy efficiency standard -- hopefully issued within the next month or so -- which should closely adhere to the stakeholder consensus proposal and deliver 20 percent to 30 percent energy savings while retaining first-cost affordability. Regarding ENERGY STAR, NRDC hosted a broad stakeholder discussion last month, including the program managers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to begin updating the specifications. We're all intent on ensuring that a new spec will be ready as soon as the new DOE standard takes effect, so there's a seamless transition for utility efficiency programs that rely on ENERGY STAR to define higher performance homes.

All of this adds up to a great outlook for energy efficient, economic manufactured housing - and the millions of Americans living in these homes.