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After Irene, Advocates Design Efficient Mobile Home

About 560 mobile homes were destroyed or damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont. That spurred affordable housing advocates to take a close look at the state’s mobile home housing stock. Now, a more durable mobile home is being manufactured in White River Junction.

Inside a former trucking terminal builder Steve Davis and his workers are nailing shingles onto the roof of a new kind of mobile home.

“We’re really well insulated,” said Davis. “We’re double the typical standard on our insulation, everywhere!”

This is the first of ten mobile homes Davis is building.

These new houses are part of a pilot project that came out of the destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Irene.

“Tropical Storm Irene really showed us how vulnerable our mobile home communities are,” said Peter Schneider, an energy consultant with Efficiency Vermont.

Schneider said mobile homes are a key part of the state’s low-income housing sector, but they depreciate over time.

“They are poorly built structures for the most part,” said Schneider. “Many of them are very old structures that people are still living in and they are sort of beyond their life span.”

Schneider said the flood was a catalyst that brought together housing advocates, energy specialists and others to analyze the quality of mobile homes that are on the market.

Energy costs are key because mobile home residents spend more of their income on energy than other homeowners.

Out of that study, came a design for new kind of mobile home. It has the narrow, rectangular shape of other mobile homes, but energy costs are projected to be a third of what they’d be for a typical mobile home.  And they’re more flood resistant.

“We are going to be tying all of these units to the ground to either frost-protected piers or to a frost-protected foundation,” said Peter Schneider. “So none of our units are going to be sitting on cinder blocks and up in the air where they could literally float away.”

And they won’t be built in a flood zone. But building such a high-quality home isn’t cheap.

They’ll sell for about $90,000. That’s about $30,000 more than a typical new mobile home.

“That is a premium no doubt about it,” said Craig Peltier of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. “But it’s a premium that’s justified by the energy savings if you do an analysis over time.”

The Housing and Conservation Board is offering a $20,000 subsidy on each of the first ten homes. And there will be other subsidies.

The hope is once these first homes sell, the demand will grow and the cost will drop.

So far, four homes have been sold even before they’ve been built.

Nancy Cohen covers southern Vermont's recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. Her work is supported by the VPR Journalism Fund.
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