Not so long ago, maybe a half a century to be fair, manufactured built homes or mobile homes were popular due to their affordable, expedited distribution and assembly aspects. Building in factories allowed lower income families and rural regions to build housing and form communities quickly and affordably; this was especially true in oil and gas or regions with high manufacturing capacity, cities like Detroit; mobility was a critical component, and delivery at low cost points a necessity.
The modernization of system’s built design came with many negative associations; stereotyping and financial constraints to name a few. Prevalent social and environmental factors also began to emerge; mobile homes lacked durability, economic stability (accelerated depreciation-higher utility costs, interest rates and terms) and contributed to social, as well as health challenges due to the wide use of formaldehyde (baking in tin cans), and a high incidence of deaths associated with fires. Still today these structures exist all over the US, in de-stabilized poverty-driven regions, native American pueblos, posing environmental, health and social challenges.
New building and safety codes were implemented by HUD and other agencies during the early part of the 1970’s era; formaldehyde was prohibited, financing constraints for older mobile homes that did not meet the new codes. In turn, the mobile manufacturing industry shifted to adapt. As technology and building science began to evolve, modular (international building codes) factory built homes were birthed and proven to be a cost-effective way to build in a controlled environment.
Modular, systems-built design delivers the promise of a high-performance, durable, affordable, and scalable product. Still market acceptance by builders and consumers alike, due to the negative awareness, lack of education and system’s built manufacturer’s inability to cross the barrier to mass high-performance, net-zero building components to cities and new-urbanism communities.
The systems built modular design industry is growing exponentially and proving to be the future of high-performance and conventional building. There are differentials between manufactured homes and modular system-built designed homes. Manufactured homes are typically trailers on foundations built to HUD code (Federal Regulations, 24 CFR 3280). Modular homes are built to standard conventional international building codes.
Although modular building is fabricated in sections at the factory, they are then fully assembled on-site, creating a better controlled, environment eliminating challenges extending the building cycle process to a year-long process, eliminating inclement weather condition cycles. Modular, systems built projects are faster to build, completion is typically 25-50 percent less time than conventional-built projects, reducing the costs due to controlled building and scalable economics.
While manufactured homes are considered to be affordable housing, older models can be some of the most expensive in the nation to heat due to energy inefficiency. High-performance manufactured housing uses less energy and therefore increases life-cycle affordability by decreasing operating costs.
High-performance housing is not only energy efficient, but also attractive, functional, water-efficient, resilient to wind, seismic forces, and moisture penetration, and has healthy indoor environmental quality. Achieving high-performance involves integrated, whole building design, involving many components, not one single technology. High–performance manufactured housing should also include energy efficient appliances, such as Energy Star qualified appliances. Energy Star requires ample insulation: 2×6 walls: R21, roof: R40, floor: R33.
The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has achieved tremendous results incentivizing Energy Efficient new construction and rehabilitation (203k) loans, included in their lending guidelines. Their efforts should be acknowledged and mirrored with other secondary market lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Even the Veterans Administration has made strides in advancing energy-efficient, and more durable housing.
FHA’S Energy Efficient mortgage guidelines allow borrowers to increase their loan amounts over the statutory regional loan limits. Homeowner’s can now include solar up to 20 percent of the value or the cost of the solar upgrade whichever is lower. The minimum down payment is 3.5%, on the base loan amount, meaning you can now finance 100% of the solar equipment. In addition, the FHA one-time-close is a perfect product for modular, system’s built homes. The allowable construction timelines on FHA loans is six months, which is prohibitive for most conventional, stick builders. .
The history of building science is an interesting story and great read, revealing how progressive our technology and building standards have become. It wasn’t an easy path, as Kevin Ireton’s 2012 publication explains, The Trouble With Building Science goes back to the beginning of green building. The article relates an historic timeline of the challenges and breakthroughs the building industry has experienced in the evolution of green building. In one instance, Ireton explains how in the beginning, building tighter buildings caused poor, or even toxic air quality and mold challenges. This event caused building scientists to rethink healthy indoor air quality, to establish healthy air quality ventilation measures and guidelines.
Modular manufacturing has also shifted to offer different components; products like standard insulated panels (SIPS), Fast Walls and other high-performance building systems are being utilized to cut building cycles and increase performance.
This market is fast emerging, making it more affordable due to the reduction in building timelines and scaling products. Affordable communities around the US are now possible due to the systems-built, controlled environment and advanced technology emergence. It’s even possible to build tiny or not so big home communities with system built design, further advancing affordable housing and better economic stability.
Many cities and regions and their citizens are highly challenged today. The biggest socio-cultural divide is affordability and younger populations entering the work force, unable to enjoy home ownership. This is evidenced by the millennial generation’s gap in affordability, major housing shortages-lower inventory, and an aging infrastructure and population. Many neighbourhoods are in need major revitalization, new infrastructure and should consider this model to reduce community disruption and displacement.
An article written by Construction Dive, Grown Men Playing with Legos issue; Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute (MBI) was quoted: Aside from a reduced schedule and perhaps those cost savings, Hardiman said the modular process also taps into the appeal of green building. “Modular construction is greener because the factory-controlled construction process generates less waste; creates fewer site disturbances as on-site traffic is greatly minimized from workers, equipment, and suppliers; and allows for tighter construction,” he said. In addition, like some of Panel Built units, some modular buildings can be disassembled and re-used, thereby reducing the need for raw materials and the energy expended from constructing a new unit.
The future of high-performance, controlled environment, system’s built design is upon us. It makes sense to build indoors and deliver homes faster, safer and more durable product. Could this be the solution for retooling vacant factories and creating new jobs and economic sustainability?
More resources: Manufactured Home Living News -Separating Fact from Fiction