- The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday adopted new energy efficiency standards for manufactured homes, also known as mobile homes, setting different conservation requirements for single- and multi-section structures to balance up-front affordability against long-term cost savings.
- The rules, including new insulation and sealing requirements, could save residents up to $450 annually on utility bills, DOE estimated. About 17 million Americans live in manufactured homes, which are constructed off-site as opposed to traditional stick-built homes.
- DOE's new rules have been criticized by both efficiency advocates, who argue the tiered standard is too lax, and home manufacturers, who say it will drive up costs.
The Biden administration this week announced new measures to ease housing costs and boost the supply of U.S. homes. Mobile home manufacturers, however, say the new energy efficiency rules will undermine those initiatives.
"The significant cost increases to actual manufactured homebuyers far exceed the speculative energy savings the rule claims will take place," Manufactured Housing Institute CEO Lesli Gooch said.
DOE said the rules will require new manufactured homes to meet standards based on the size of the home and the climate in which it will be located. The new rule is based on the most recent version of the International Energy Conservation Code, and DOE said manufacturers must be in compliance one year after it is published in the Federal Register.
“The rules will hold manufacturers of these U.S. homes to cost-saving efficiency standards, giving residents more comfortable living environments and a much-needed break on their annual utility costs," Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
However, the new rules must still be incorporated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development into its building requirements, said Gooch. The group's "top priority now is to persuade HUD to instead adopt MHI’s more balanced proposal," she said.
MHI had recommended revising exterior wall insulation requirements, duct system testing procedures and other aspects of the rule.
MHI's proposal "improves energy efficiency without causing great harm to manufactured housing affordability," and would better support Biden's efforts to address the housing supply gap, said Gooch.
Efficiency advocates are also displeased by the new rule, though they say it will lower the energy consumption of more than half of new units. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, manufactured homes will still be less efficient than site-built homes and smaller single-section homes will be allowed to utilize thin insulation and single-pane windows.
Single-section homes represent 45% of mobile homes built today, and the new requirements for them will be "only slightly stronger" than rules DOE previously approved in 1994, ACEEE said.
“This rule gives manufacturers the green light to keep building models with the same problems,” ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said in a statement. “It’s going to leave many of the lowest-income households paying painfully high utility bills for even more years to come."
With the new efficiency rules, DOE also announced it is supporting several initiatives to drive down manufactured housing costs, including the establishment of a loan-loss reserve to increase access to affordable housing. The agency said it will provide guidance and work with states "to develop replicable state models that ensure access to affordable, efficient manufactured homes."
Alongside the National Association of State Energy Officials, DOE said it will launch a Manufactured Home Energy Efficiency and Affordability Initiative to work on "improving access to energy-efficient manufactured homes across the United States, including tribal lands." Several states, including California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina, have already signed up to participate.