A good step toward more affordable and efficient manufactured homes

A good step toward more affordable, efficient manufactured homes

The Department of Energy took an important step toward more affordable, energy efficient manufactured homes today when its standards advisory committee established a formal working group in which consumers, manufacturers, utilities, environmental advocates and other stakeholders will work together on updated energy-saving standards for a type of housing that is home to nearly 20 million Americans.

“Manufactured homes” are the modern counterpart to “mobile homes,” which are old units built before 1976, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development first established construction standards.  Unlike other homes, a manufactured home has a permanent chassis (a structure to which wheels can be attached), making it readily transportable.  (“Modular homes” are also factory-built, but don’t have a permanent chassis, and are regulated by states in the same way as site-built homes.)  While many lower-income Americans live in inexpensive manufactured homes, these factory-built units can be of high quality, with high-end amenities and performance.  

MH plant.jpg (Photo by Robin Roy) 

Manufactured homes play a major role in the nation's housing mix, especially as “workforce” housing and affordable housing -- with nearly 20 million people living in 9 million homes across the United States.  They are often rural or on the edges of cities, and often residents are low to moderate income.  While construction fell drastically in the last several years from a high of over 300,000 new homes per year, this type of housing is back on an upswing and on track for over 60,000 new units in 2014. 

NRDC has been working collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to urge stronger, updated energy efficiency standards.  The current standards, adopted over 20 years ago, are badly outdated and leave a lot of modern cost-saving efficiency out.  In contrast, states have adopted a series of ever-improving building energy codes for site-built and modular homes, delivering enormous energy savings as well as improved comfort and affordability, but those don’t apply to manufactured homes.  To fix this, Congress directed DOE in 2007 to update manufactured housing energy standards by December 2011, based on the latest model code for site-built homes where doing so would make sense.  While that effort is long overdue, today’s step at DOE should put it back on track for a quick, effective resolution. 

 Modern_Transportable_House.jpg

(Photo by Bidge, under Creative Commons licensing.)

Getting better energy standards right sooner rather than later matters.  DOE has estimated that a consumer-friendly new energy standard for manufactured homes built over the next 30 years could save about 200 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity (the equivalent of about 36 coal power plants operating for one year) and reduce emissions by 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.  Households would also have net savings of nearly $500 million per year, as well as benefit from improved comfort.

Given the large potential savings, and the many Americans who live in manufactured homes, we’re looking forward to continuing to work with DOE and other stakeholders to make these new homes more affordable and energy efficient as quickly as possible. 

About the Authors

Robin Roy

Director, Building Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Strategy, Energy & Transportation program

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