Manufactured housing is often considered an affordable option in residential real estate. These units are built in factories, then shipped and transported to the land they’ll live on. With 21.2 million Americans currently living in manufactured homes, this has become a popular option for those seeking affordable, permanent housing. New topic briefs from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), published in August 2023, argue that upgrading utility and energy components could provide households with healthier living standards and more affordable living costs.
According to the Manufactured Housing Institute, 61% of people cited affordability as the top reason this housing option appealed to them. With cutting costs top of mind, ACEEE said it’s important to improve utility and energy efficiency in manufactured homes as they can contribute to higher spending without owners even realizing.
Energy costs are 50% higher per square foot in manufactured homes than houses built on-site. Before 1976, manufactured homes were referred to as mobile or trailer homes and were only lightly regulated, resulting in insulation and sealing issues, wasted energy and even safety hazards. In 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) revised some safety and thermal codes due to Hurricane Andrew, but standards have been mostly untouched since then, and the data reflects this.
According to the 2020 Residential Energy Consumption survey, 47% of manufactured home households experience energy insecurity, and 36.7% said they reduced or did not buy medicine or food that they needed to be able to afford energy costs, compared to 15.5% of single-family detached households. Conditions are worst in rural areas, and low-income residents face the highest burden, according to a 2018 ACEEE report.
The new ACEEE briefs recommend state-funded retrofit or replacement programs that could assist in energy use, affordability and health outcomes associated with these challenges. The median household income of manufactured home residents is $35,280, with many unable to afford home investments or take on the debt to do so.
Some fixes are cheaper but make a big difference, such as air and duct sealing. A loose duct can leak up to 20%–30% of the air in the system, and these types of repairs not only cut utility costs but reduce exposure to heat or cold-related sickness. One example ACEEE points to is a retrofit program in Minnesota that allowed residents to save about $480 yearly through air sealing, duct sealing, insulation, lighting replacement and HVAC upgrades.
The report recommends higher, pricier fixes like HVAC replacement and electrification as updates with longer overall savings. Replacing outdated HVAC may reduce bills by 30%–60%, and switching to efficient heat pumps could save households $300–$600 a year, per the report.
New Department of Energy standards for manufactured homes are scheduled to take effect in 2024 and 2025, requiring moderate savings for new double-wide homes and small energy savings for single-wide manufactured homes, compared to 1994 HUD standards.