Trailer Treasure: Green Mobile Homes

Mobile homes use fewer resources and provide the flexibility in siting and size that many eco-conscious homeowners want.

| July/August 2005

When you think of mobile homes, any number of thoughts comes to mind, but “eco-home” isn’t usually one of them. Yet plenty of folks who walk their green talk aren’t in a position to bankroll a brand-new eco-home. If you want to own your house (maybe even mortgage free), eco-retrofitting a used mobile home just might be the ticket.

“You could go to a used mobile-home lot and buy a 14-by-70 foot home for $1,000 to $2,000, then invest maybe $10,000 in it, and you’d have yourself a pretty dang nice house,” says residential energy-efficiency expert John Krigger, author of Your Mobile Home: Energy and Repair Guide for Manufactured Housing (Saturn Resource Management, 1998). “I have a lot of respect for the way mobile homes use natural resources,” he adds. “They’re very lightweight, and they don’t require much in the way of materials. The average site-built house probably uses three times as much material for a given floor area.”

Another advantage is that, unless you’re in a park with narrow lots, you can orient your mobile home so the long dimension runs east-west. That exposes the greatest wall area to warming winter sun and cuts down on the amount of wall area facing the cold westerly winds and hot summer-afternoon sun.

Canadian mobile-dwelling innovator Andy Thomson has observed that people living in mobile homes can use from 10 to 100 times less energy and resources (propane, water, materials, and electricity) than people who live in site-built houses. “Mobile home codes don’t spell out minimum room sizes,” he says, “so you can be really space efficient, which automatically cuts down on material use, energy consumption, and impact on the land. They also use less water because fixtures are ultra-low flush, with low-volume delivery. Furthermore, mobile-home codes allow for more creativity in how you heat, cool, handle waste, and filter graywater.”

The catch is you’ll have to do some work. Even brand-new mobile homes aren’t very energy efficient and are notorious for outgasing formaldehyde and other toxic substances, so your best bet all around is to buy a used mobile and upgrade it. Before undertaking any projects, however, be sure to consult a good book or a qualified professional—and be very wary of existing mold and mildew.

High and dry

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