US Manufactured Housing: Paradox & Opportunity


Distribution of Manufactured Housing In The USA, 2000.
Image credit:US Dept of Housing & Urban Development

Building green means building with smaller footprint: living within one's financial and environmental means, if you will. (TreeHugger is full of Lloyd's posts about the virtues of green "pre-fab" or manufactured housing, several of which are listed below.) With unsalable US mansions now being put to auction, as explained in today's NYT article, Mansions Go Under the Gavel, now would be a good time to look at the manufactured housing stock for some fresh ideas about how this aspect of green building might expand. The present distribution of US manufactured housing (the preferred statistical term), as indicated in the map, is surprising.

Discussion follows.Distribution of manufactured housing can't just be a matter of popular taste or of income. States with lowest occurrences of manufactured housing have zoning restrictions to keep it that way.

States with the highest percent of manufactured housing stock commonly are, coincidentally, coal-dependent, and, in large, part also are coal-producing states.

Southern states have the highest percent of manufactured homes, per HUD statistics from 2000:

10 States contain 50 percent of all manufactured housing units. These States include 8 Southern States, a Midwestern State, and a Western State. Florida’s 653,721 manufactured housing units represent 8.9 percent of all manufactured homes in the United States. Other States in the top 10 include Texas (606,443 units, or 8.2 percent of all manufactured units), North Carolina (494,555 units, or 6.7 percent), California (473,193 units, or 6.4 percent), Georgia (342,649 units, or 4.6 percent), South Carolina (306,312 units, or 4.1 percent), Alabama (269,000 units, or 3.6 percent), Tennessee (235,666 units, or 3.2 percent), Michigan (228,306 units, or 3.1 percent), and Arizona (219,350 units, or 3.0 percent).
Apparently, they're not made to last, which is a big non-green attribute:
The median year built for all housing units is 1969, whereas the median year built for manufactured homes is a more recent 1983. There are two possible explanations. First, manufactured homes may not be as durable as conventionally constructed homes. Second, the manufacture of homes to a national building standard in a factory is a fairly new activity.
HUD reported that manufactured homes are cheaper to own "by approximately $200 per month;" but, you have to wonder if that cost edge would narrow if units were made to last longer and be far more energy efficient.

The paradox referred to in this post's headline is that the market seems, thus far, to have been driven mainly by a desire to keep costs down and had little affinity with the promise of long-lived, high quality living space that could save money on energy bills: something you'd think would be important for those living on a tight budget.

Will government incentives be able to change that? At the very least, zoning codes offer a leveraging opportunity. Federally-backed lending criteria too.

Can the manufactured housing industry drive positive change and create a better image for itself? That seems to be the bigger question. The formaldehyde-filled trailer stereotype created by FEMA, following hurricane Katrina, became a PR disaster which is at least partly of the industry's own making. Only a serious effort at green re-design can overcome that obstacle.

Update: This occurred to me belatedlly. Do they even have manufactured housing in Europe; South America; or Asia? I never heard of it. Why not?

More prefab posts.
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