Tiny Tuesday: Zero Energy Modular

Today’s topic is a confluence of two types of efficiency discussed often in this blog: construction efficiency and energy efficiency. The former involves reducing cost to build and embodied energy, either by choosing a smaller building size or by using techniques like modular construction. The latter involves reducing the building’s environmental impact over its lifetime, through improved insulation and airflow and/or producing power on-site Now Vermont has a program to champion both strategies together. Not surprisingly, the organization involved is smart-building advocate Efficiency Vermont.

The Zero Energy Modular (ZEM) Program targets mobile home owners specifically, encouraging them to replace their current home with a high-performance modular home like those built by Vermod. Efficiency Vermont provides prospective buyers with an energy consultant for one-on-one guidance, as well as financing options that take advantage of the new house’s payback period to make the price competitive with traditional manufactured homes.

Read more here or here.

Saturday, May 5 is Green Up Day. Grab a bag from your town clerk and pick up litter in your Vermont community!

Tiny Tuesday: Rocky Mountain wee-Cottages

In Longmont, Colorado, a developer has found the sweet spot between tiny and conventional. Boulder Creek Neighborhoods is building a community of “wee-Cottages”, standalone groundbound homes that will range from 894 to 1354 square feet. As described in this Daily Camera article, more than 400 potential buyers have already joined the waitlist, even though the homes haven’t been built yet and sales don’t open until next month. A similar development in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood went on sale last year and had over 1000 buyers on the list for 30-odd homes.

The houses look charming and have great efficient layouts with an open floor plan below, bedrooms upstairs, a detached garage and a property manager taking care of the grounds. But I think the biggest draw here is the price tag. Metro Denver’s growth rate peaked in 2015, with a 2.8% population increase that year, but newcomers continue to pour in and real estate prices have skyrocketed accordingly. A traditional 2000-square-foot Denver bungalow on a tenth-acre lot goes for $600K to $800K these days, and that’s how a detached condo smaller than 1000 square feet seems like a great deal at $400K.

The Longmont development is located near the Longmont Recreation Center with easy access to highways and bike paths. 27 of the 102 homes will be fixed in the mid $200Ks for buyers who meet certain income restrictions; the rest will be sold at market rate which might mean bidding wars given their popularity. Condo maintenance fees are unknown.

Thanks to Brett Silverstein.

Tiny Tuesday: Manufactured vs. Modular

Mobile homes, despite the name, aren’t all that mobile. Though it’s built on a chassis for transport, a mobile home (also known as a manufactured home, which sounds more neutral) almost always has its wheels removed upon arrival at its final destination. The house is jacked up, then set down on piers on a slab or deep foundation. Since the chassis is not designed to bear directly on a base, there’s usually a crawlspace underneath.

A modular home is even less mobile. It’s built in one or more flat-bottomed pieces which are transported by flatbed truck. Once on site the modules are removed from the truck and anchored directly to a slab or deep foundation. Unlike a manufactured home, a modular home has no chassis, and can be placed directly on a base with no airspace between the ground and the underside.


Manufactured homes cost $35,000 to $55,000 new. Trailer parks make manufactured homes even more affordable – residents typically own their homes but rent the land. Unlike other real estate, manufactured homes tend to depreciate quickly, and this characteristic is a major driver of wealth inequality. Fortunately, homes built more recently hold their value better.

The reason for this is quality. Originally, there was no authority to regulate manufactured home construction in the US. Since the 1980s, HUD has managed codes for manufactured housing specifying everything from materials (no asbestos!) to foundations (making the homes less susceptible to frost and flood damage) to waterproofing (reducing maintenance costs).

Modular homes can be any size, but single modules that resemble manufactured homes (like the ones built by Vermod) start at $100,000. Since they’re not designed to be moved more than once, they are governed by the International Residential Code (IRC), and they appreciate over time consistent with conventional housing. A modular home typically has better insulation and air-sealing than a manufactured home (in part because there’s no airspace underneath), which reduces fuel costs and makes the annualized price competitive with a manufactured home.

But a lack of financing options means a modular home buyer needs to pay much more money up front than a manufactured home buyer. That makes modular housing a nonstarter for many people. Vermod is working with lenders to offer financing that can bring the cost of a modular home within reach.

All this and more was explored in a recent episode of Vermont Edition, which you can listen to here.