Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gliding Toward Green!

Manufactured and Modular Homes have come long way, baby!

History Lesson
If you happened to grow up in a Mobile Home park in the early 50's it was probably a lot of fun compared to previous sub-standard housing offered to waged farm and factory workers. These mass produced affordable homes were a fact of life in many rural communities. They meant home ownership and a lot more room for your buck. People lived in closer proximity to each other and were less isolated. In many ways they created a sense of community that felt more like a village where people looked out for each other, actually knowing and caring for their children and elderly.

What we didn't know then and we do know now is that Mobile Homes, now kindly referred to as Manufactured Homes, were quickly constructed with price in mind. Naturally corners were cut on things like materials. You were lucky if your roof lasted ten years. The real problems that have been identified since those early years have more to do with safety and health matters arising from those cut corners.

Hint: You know you have a Manufactured or Mobile Home when you note a red license plate affixed to each section. These registration numbers are recorded with Housing and Urban Development. If the home has been re-sided (and tags were covered) another label should be located inside the electrical panel. Once a home has been installed onto a privately owned parcel (rather than a rented lot) the title may be 'eliminated' to the land. If your home turns up elsewhere than its original location you have a problem. The fact it was moved indicates to lenders an increased risk of damage or unknown structural issues and you will have a very hard time getting a mortgage.

You see, a metal box welded to a metal chassis that has been moved down a highway and installed on a questionable foundation has a habit over time of becoming 'wobbly'. In some areas where building codes were a tad lax or didn't exist, these homes were set up by retailers in a hurry--actually set on crates or wooden blocks on dirt without proper tie downs. You could understand why the resulting photos after hurricanes show littered mobile homes strewn around like doll houses. Unfortunately people were in those houses what the time. In our area, snow loads could cause a poorly tied down home to topple!

Over time leaking roofs allow water to seep into the walls, soaking into the drywall, insulation and floors; building up mold and mildew and creating air quality and resulting health problems. Not to mention dry rot, followed by opportunistic insects...you get my drift. Many early Mobile Homes used substandard plumbing and electrical systems. In fact, if you have such a home built prior to 1978 it is practically unfundable due to the facts of it's lessened value. Things like roofs and siding tend to fall off or blow off. They had a certain shelf life. I hope I don't get any hate mail over this one (!)

Saying all this, Manufactured Housing was a giant leap forward from the dirt floor shanties many children in my rural area lived in. They served a very important purpose to help foster greater home ownership. In fact the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the FHA and Veterans Association (VA) endorsed Manufactured Housing and still do the majority of lending on these homes. There have been improvements since those early days with many companies providing a much greener and cleaner end product that is unquestionably more affordable.

Modular is Better
So-called Modular Homes were the first major upgrade on this model. Built in sections similar to a manufactured or mobile home, they are constructed on wooden floor joists just like a stick built home (not a steel chassis) and once installed on their foundations, they are classified as stick built. This is a real advantage for the homeowner as they do not tend to lose value over time in the same way a Manufactured or Mobile Home does. Assuming a Modular Home is correctly built and installed it should last as long if not longer than a traditional stick built home.

The Modular factory built and Kit or Panelized Homes offer both speed of installation and resource efficiency. Often built to Energy Star standards and many such homes feature "green label" design standards. For more on these trends visit the US Greenbuilding site: www.usgbc.org and search their database for Modular Homes.

Cost and Efficiency
These days, the costs of true custom construction elude most of us. Architects and builders are looking more closely at modular methods that can offer the options of mass production, clean factory (under roof) environments paired with higher quality design and materials. For one thing, being built under cover means you don't get your materials wet...a very good thing!


Factory built structures consume far less energy than standard buildings. In many ways, they deliver a cleaner product with less toxic materials due to modern prefinishing of floors and cabinets prior to installation. Common flooring and cabinetry emit VOC's (volatile organic compounds) including formaldehyde-laced particle board and dioxin off-gassing vinyl flooring which create health risks for residents, especially young children and the elderly.

Homes consume a vast portion of our energy...with heating and cooling using 20% of our national energy resources. Insulation is a big factor in saving energy. High performance green homes are 30 to 50% more energy efficient than “standard” homes built to code. They use less water and because are constructed without toxic building materials they are more pleasant and healthy to live in.

Enter the Glide House
A 'Glidehouse', designed by architect Michelle Kaufmann, has been selling throughout the USA and Canada in a range of floor plans and sizes from 672 to 2,016 square feet. The home has glass curtain walls, bamboo flooring, features nontoxic paints and uses carpet tiles and counter tops made from recycled materials. It features natural ventilation and maximized daylight, water conserving plumbing fixtures and offers consumers a choice of high efficiency energy appliances and heating/energy generating systems. The cost? From $120 to $160 per square foot!

Traditional home building can easily cost much more depending on your area and resources. We seldom see homes built for under $160 per square foot in our area. I know one very effiicient green builder reporting $135 per square foot-- but this is rare.

The one thing the Modular or Glide Home companies don't address in their sales pitches is foundation methods. Foundations are the very bedrock of any home and methods will vary with your soil grade (slope) and climate. True green homes should take into account Low Impact methods of foundation design....and there are many! After all, why cause more harm to the land than is necessary...we are only visitors here!

Hint: Enterprising builders who become familiar with Low Impact and Modular installation will enjoy a great end result and very happy clients. Endorse and support this worthwhile sustainable trend!

Go forth and prosper!


© 2007 susan templeton


Green Home Building