Keeping Manufactured Housing Affordable Through Energy Efficiency

By Jonathan Susser | June 11, 2018

Manufactured homes make up approximately 6 percent of the total U.S. housing stock and provide shelter for about 22 million Americans. In North Carolina, nearly 600,000 manufactured homes (the third highest in the country) represent 13 percent of the state’s housing market. While 13 percent may not sound like a large number, the units are clustered quite dramatically within the state, with some counties seeing as much as a 40 percent share.

Generally, manufactured homes represent a reliable and affordable housing option: They can cost 50 percent less per square foot to build than site-built homes. However, despite the lower costs of the units, manufactured home residents can spend more than twice as much on energy per square foot, particularly in older models. According to recent data, approximately 80 percent of the occupied manufactured homes in North Carolina were installed before 1999, and some are so old that they may be better off recycled and replaced than retrofitted as is. For many others, though, there are opportunities to improve resilience and performance, especially on the heels of a cold winter.

Energy Efficiency

The history of energy efficiency in manufactured housing goes back more than four decades. Nationwide standards first went into effect in 1976 through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These standards were updated in 1994, but they have not been significantly changed since then. To put this in perspective, in the same time frame, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which provides design and construction standards for site-built homes and guidance to local code officials, was created and is now going on its seventh revision. Fortunately, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy proposed new standards for manufactured homes based broadly on the 2015 IECC. These increased efficiency standards are currently under review. ENERGY STAR® also has its own certification that manufactured homes can achieve if they exceed the HUD Code.

Because energy bills tend to be higher in manufactured homes, improving energy efficiency continues to be a priority. Energy efficiency measures that are effective in site-built homes benefit manufactured homes as well. These include:

  • Swapping out incandescent bulbs with LEDs
  • Using low-flow showerheads
  • Replacing HVAC air filters regularly
  • Air sealing openings around plumbing fixtures, ducts and where units join (for double wide structures)
  • Adding insulation to ceilings and walls
  • Switching to ENERGY STAR appliances
  • Upgrading to a heat pump water heater
  • Installing energy efficient windows and doors

Air sealing is particularly important in manufactured homes in order to avoid losing heated and cooled air through leaks. Sealing these leaks helps lower utility bills, reduce mold and moisture, improve comfort and keep out pests. However, because manufactured housing units have a unique design, the necessary weatherization techniques often differ from those of site-built homes.

While installing energy efficiency measures and hiring contractors to perform work can improve home performance and lower energy bills, they are not always cheap. Fortunately, organizations both locally and nationally are taking steps to address this issue through housing programs and strategies.

Energy Efficiency Programs

Local

Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Upgrade to $ave retrofit program provides energy efficiency upgrades such as duct and air sealing, heat pump improvements and LED lighting. The upfront costs of these measures are deferred, and members pay them off over time through their electric bills, an approach known as on-bill repayment. More than one-third of the approximately 300 projects funded to date have been performed in manufactured homes.

Duke Energy’s Helping Home Fund, administered and contracted through the North Carolina Community Action Association and Lockheed Martin, is a retrofit program that has assisted low-income customers with managing their energy costs and promoting their health and safety. In the program’s first two and a half years, more than 3,500 homes received support through new energy efficient appliances; health, safety and weatherization improvements (e.g., roof repairs, water heater repairs, weatherstripping); and repaired and replaced heating and cooling systems. Nearly a quarter of those homes were manufactured homes.

French Broad Electric Membership Corporation has been offering a low-interest mini-split heat pump loan program for its members. (Mini-split heat pumps are highly efficient ductless heat pumps.) The program has been going on for five years to great success: customers have reported high satisfaction and savings, and the co-op has experienced peak load reductions.

In South Carolina, several electric co-ops participate in the Help My House retrofit program, a community whole-house residential energy efficiency program started in 2011. Like Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Upgrade to $ave program, Help My House uses on-bill repayment to help residents afford energy efficiency measures. The program has been very successful, producing savings, comfort and satisfaction among homeowners, and early results showed that over 50 percent of participating homes were manufactured homes. On the new-construction side, the South Carolina Energy Office is currently offering a $750 tax credit to purchasers of energy efficient manufactured homes.

Nationwide

Prosperity Now’s I’M HOME Network program, based in Washington, D.C., promotes the value of manufactured housing as a safe, stable and affordable path to homeownership. Participating organizations nationwide gain access to technical assistance, policy development working groups, scholarships and networking opportunities. Prosperity Now also offers a Manufacturing Housing Toolkit that contains communication tools, policy briefs, resource guides, sample local-level policies, and data and policy snapshots.

The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board work with other organizations and philanthropic sources to manage the Modular Housing Innovation Project. This new-construction program designed a zero energy modular home that fits on existing mobile home park lots. The home is highly energy efficient and offers great indoor air quality, with double-wall construction with superior insulation, advanced air-source heating and cooling, triple-paned windows, and more. More than 50 of these homes have been built, and VEIC recently launched a similar program with the Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility.

In Kentucky, the nonprofit Next Step supports affordable homeownership through manufactured housing that is practical and sustainable. The organization provides training and consultation to mission-driven, community-oriented nonprofits to educate them about manufactured housing, foster development projects and develop awareness of its benefits. Next Step also offers comprehensive homebuyer education and support, and all homes placed through Next Step’s partners meet or exceed ENERGY STAR standards. Its SmartMHSM program, a financial education program for homebuyers, was recently expanded to North Carolina.

In California, Southern California Edison is partnering with Synergy Companies and Southern California Gas on the Comprehensive Manufactured Home Program that helps identify and install energy efficiency measures in manufactured homes at no cost to homeowners. Pacific Gas and Electric Company worked with Synergy Companies on a similar program, the Direct Install for Manufactured and Mobile Homes Program, for customers in its territory.

Resident Owned Communities (ROC) USA and its regional nonprofit affiliates work with 200 resident-owned communities in 15 states (though none in the southeast U.S.) to promote homeownership. Resident-owned communities are neighborhoods of manufactured homes that are owned by a cooperative of homeowners. Benefits of these communities include more stable rents, community repairs and improvements, liability protection and a strong sense of community.

Manufactured homes offer affordable housing for millions of people across the country and are a vital part of our housing stock. However, there remains a need – and an opportunity – to ensure that they remain affordable for the residents living in them. Energy efficiency continues to be a bump in the road for manufactured housing, but new standards, cost-effective home improvements, and supportive programs and organizations are paving the way for a healthy, comfortable and energy efficient future.