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Any super-insulated single wide, mobile homes?

Hap Mullenneaux | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

Sitting in a friend’s mobile home last night, I started to wonder why I haven’t seen a PassivHaus or Net Zero or similar manufactured single wide. Wouldn’t it be much easier to do the complete envelope in a factory? The quality of workmanship could be better maintained in the factory as well. If there was a pitched roof, the mechanicals could be under it. The standard single wide shape also gives you a lot of room for the volume of the space.
This is not an idle question. I live near a university that put in a mobile home park for supplemental housing back in 1983 and the trailers are well past their prime. Not sure they were prime to begin with.
Thanks, Hap

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Replies

  1. Doug McEvers | | #1

    Hap,

    How would you say the quality of workmanship is maintained in the factory now for mobile homes? They have moved a whole bunch of FEMA trailers to Minot, ND for the displaced homeownwers up there from floods this summer. I am sure we will here more about the performance of the FEMA trailers in Minot (9,275 hdd) this winter.

    That said, mobile homes are meant to be mobile (lightweight) and affordable. Superinsulating mobile homes may be a good idea but is the buying public ready to pay for this upgrade. Mobile homes are narrow so they can pulled down the road so 15" double walls would greatly reduce the interior width and space. The greatest problem with mobile homes is the skirting and cold floors, you would do well to design a quality skirting system for mobile homes that would be highly insulated and keep the wind from blowing through.

  2. TJ Elder | | #2

    There's some geometric disadvantage to the small size of a mobile home, in that skin area is large relative to volume. Getting to PH or net zero also depends on site, and that's not necessarily known or permanent for a mobile home. Rotating 90° might mess up the performance, if the sun shines on the narrow side instead of the broad side.

  3. Hap Mullenneaux | | #3

    Thanks for the responses. You have raised some issues but I think they can all be dealt with.
    1. Bad quality control in some manufacturing doesn't make it a given.
    2. Hopefully, we can design effective walls that are much less than 15".
    3. The person paying a lot extra for the energy efficiency is probably going to abide by the manufacturer's guidelines for siting the mobile home.
    Perhaps the biggest question is the one Doug raises about market. Who is the person willing to pay $100/ sq' instead of $50/sq' for a mobile home? In these changing times is there a new market for mobile homes that approach $100,000 but have extremely low future costs? The mobile home shape has a low perceived value. Can this be offset by the features of the unit, its finish, siting and landscaping? Hopefully.

  4. James Morgan | | #4

    Passivhaus and NetZero are probably not the right metrics for low-cost transportable housing, but your point is taken, Hap, that a major upgrade on current standards of mobile home energy performance is probably achievable at modest cost if applied industry-wide. Trouble is the market isn't going to make that happen without a mandate, any more than the auto industry was ready to take on the modest extra cost of seat belts as a standard feature before legislation made it obligatory. Energy's still ridiculously cheap, and I'll hazard a guess that most new product purchases are for the rental market, so reduced operating costs are a minimal incentive to the buyer.

    By the way, without appreciable thermal mass in the structure to take advantage of passive gains, site orientation is likely not much of an issue. And the insulation strategy would undoubtedly rely on high R-per-inch foam, not 15" of cellulose.

  5. Richard Patterman | | #5

    More likely to find superinsulation and net zero in pre fab housing than in mobile.
    Then the question is can you put a prefab in a moble home park?

  6. James Morgan | | #6

    "Then the question is can you put a prefab in a moble home park?"
    Mobile home parks tend not to welcome structures with permanent foundations, and many do not have the appropriate permits for any but movable homes: a mobile home, by definition, is built on a moveable chassis, whereas prefabs are generally installed on fixed foundations. But the real question is, at an average of $200/s.f or more for today's upscale prefab, why would you want to?

  7. Mike Eliason | | #7

    guys, you have to think contextually here - it may not be feasible, say - north of virginia. it could be possible in the south or anomalies like denver without reliance on 15" walls.

    joe giampietro's mini-b here in seattle is actually smaller than a trailer home, and given right site will meet PH: http://minibhome.com/files/2011/04/Mini-B-PH-Conf-Presentation1.pdf

    but i do doubt the feasibility given the quality & ridiculously low price points for mobile homes.

  8. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #8

    In the developed world we have millions of poor performing existing housing. Instead of mobile home advances we need to really dive into what I think is the number one issue as to getting the world to a sustainable livable ecosphere, existing housing.

  9. Don Grayson | | #9

    About the fact that it is a Manufactured Home, which I am sitting in one. They ONLY need to be built to a HUD Standard. That is the answer. HUD is the problem. Don Grayson, Dallas TX

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Hap,
    Since you first posted your question, there have been developments worth noting.

    Here is a link to a story describing a superinsulated single-wide mobile home:
    Next Generation Mobile Homes

  11. Jin Kazama | | #11

    If you need something to be "mobile" somewhat, the only construction method i could think of are SIPs.

    Uses the insulation as a structural member.
    But reaching PH ... maybe if you are allowed to install some insulation blocks to set the house one when it reaches destination .

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