Biden Plans to Make Manufactured Homes “Greener,” Sparks Fierce Affordability Debate
Spurred by a court order, the Biden administration is proposing updates to energy efficiency standards for manufactured homes that it projects will save “mobile-home” owners thousands of dollars and prevent millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere in the coming decades. But the new standards, due in May, have also sparked a fierce debate about costs, equity, and the future of manufactured housing, according to excerpts from an online report by The Washington Post.
The changes that the Biden administration has put forward include updates to insulation and windows, as well as heating and cooling systems.
PLAN WOULD HAVE A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON PRICES, SUPPLY, AND EQUITY
Some say the Energy Department’s plan goes too far. ‘We believe in the importance of energy efficiency,” said Leslie Gooch, CEO of the Manufactured Housing Institute, MHI. “We just don’t think this proposal is going to have the desired impact. And in fact, it’s going to have a negative impact on the supply of affordable, manufactured housing.
“To us, the primary metric needs to be the upfront cost of the home,” added Mark Weiss, president of the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory, MHARR. “Our concern is that these new requirements are going to make them substantially more costly.”
While the DOE proposal considers various alternatives to the rule, it features a two-tiered strategy in which manufactured houses with a sale price of under $63,000 are subject to less stringent requirements. The department designed the lower level – Tier 1 – so that energy-efficiency improvements don’t raise the cost of the home by more than about $750, on average. It estimates that Tier 2 would increase the price of a manufactured home by about $3,900 to $5300, depending on its size.
“I hate Tier 1. I think it’s a real equity issue, said Stacey Epperson, founder of Next Step Network, a sustainable housing non-profit. “These cheaper homes are shipped into the poverty regions.”
ONE-THIRD OF NEW MANUFACTURED HOMES ARE ENERGY STAR CERTIFIED.
Manufactured housing has long been regulated federally, Congress gave that authority to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1974 and its code for manufactured housing went into effect two years later. The last significant update to the code took effect in 1994. In fact, manufactured housing is the only form of single-family homes built to a national construction code, the HUD Code.
Manufactured homes use less overall energy because they are often smaller than a site-built. And nearly a third of manufactured homes shipped in 2020 were Energy Star certified, with some going beyond Energy Star – according to the Systems Building Research Alliance, a non-profit research organization that supports the factory-built housing industry.
Emanuel Levy, executive director of the Systems Building Research Alliance, compares the changes to auto-fuel efficiency standards. “What’s happening is as if the miles per gallon (in cars) were being raised to 100,” he said. “You’re cutting out the affordable buyers from the market.”
Congress has been attempting to improve the HUD standards for more than a decade. In 2007, it passed a law that gave the DOE until 2011 to release updated efficiency requirements for manufactured homes. But that never happened. Obama administration officials started the process but did not finish in time, and the Trump administration withdrew the proposal.
The government’s latest environmental impact statement is subject to public comments until February 28, 2022, and is likely to draw a slew of responses.