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Weather-Resistant Modular House Unveiled In White River Junction

There’s an unusual kind of house being manufactured in White River Junction. Built to withstand extreme climates and severe storms, the energy-efficient modular home will be more securely anchored to a foundation than the typical mobile home, and much less expensive to heat or cool.

It was unveiled at a press conference Wednesday at Vermod, the White River Junction company manufacturing the units.

When Tropical Irene swept through mobile home parks and other vulnerable sites, about 15 percent of the homes that were damaged or destroyed were modular. And mobile homes account for about seven percent of the state’s total housing stock. So after the floods subsided, affordable housing agencies got to  work on manufacturing housing that would be safer and better than those that were ruined.

Peter Schneider is an energy consultant with Efficiency Vermont, one of many collaborators in this pilot project, and he eagerly lead tours of one of the demo models.

“As you come through the door you can notice how thick the walls are,” Schneider said.

So thick that the home can be heated or cooled simply and cheaply with one ventilating system assisted by solar panels on the roof.  Most mobile homes sit precariously on cinder blocks, but this one will be more securely anchored to a flood-resilient foundation, and the roof is designed to hold up against heavy snow.

As sun shone through triple pane windows, the demo home drew praise from housing advocates. Efficiency Vermont has teamed up with a handful of non-profit agencies and builder Steve Davis to bring this new modular to market. Davis owns Vermod construction in White River Junction. He says there are three other similar homes in production, already sold, and ten more will be marketed as part of a pilot project.

And he’d like to sell even more than that.

“The deal is that with this home you can become a net zero home for almost the same money as building a typical everyday modular home,” Davis said. Each 66-70 foot single wide house costs $90,000--about a third more than the typical mobile home of its size.

But subsidies of up $30,000 will be available through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Efficiency Vermont, the High Meadows Fund and the Vermont Community Foundation.

Scudder Parker, Policy Director for one of the project partners, the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, says it’s about time that energy efficiency became more widely available.

“So here’s housing for folks that are working hard but not making a lot of money for seniors and it’s actually affordable for folks because you are counting how much they would have to spend for heating and cooling and all the systems in the house,” Parker said.

The first one will go to Joel Ferris, in Royalton. He’s happy with the modern kitchen, clean lines, sturdy floors, and the energy efficient features. While his current mobile home survived Tropical Storm Irene, he knows that modular housing need to be better built to withstand another disaster—or even a frigid winter.

“I watched all those pictures and for example, one place was Bethel, Bethel got hit, their trailer park got hit pretty bad, Woodstock got hit, I was damn lucky, really,” Ferris said in his new kitchen.

And he figures he’s also lucky to have such a nice new place to live.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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