Energy-Efficiency Delays in Mobile Homes Drives Suit

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Sierra Club claims in a federal complaint that energy regulators are six years late when it comes to setting efficiency standards for mobile homes.

Popular among low- and middle-income families because they cost less than traditional houses built on site, homes that are manufactured entirely offsite account for approximately 6 percent of homes in the United States.

Unlike a prefab home, which usually encompasses homes that have some components built offsite, manufactured homes are built on a chassis and wheeled out from the production facility to their new owners who then hook it up to utilities and move in.

The Sierra Club, which is represented by Earthjustice in its Dec. 18 complaint, notes that the low construction costs are offset by the high cost of powering these homes up.

Indeed families in manufactured housing “spend about 30 percent more of their income on energy than the average U.S. household and roughly 66 percent more than families in site-built homes,” according to the complaint.

The Sierra Club notes that these costs are particularly burdensome for typical residents of mobile housing. “In 2015, the median household income of manufactured home owners was $32,000, less than half the median household income for all homeowners — $65,500,” according to the complaint.

Laying out some of the ways that builders can improve the energy efficiency in this sector, the complaint notes that more “insulation and reducing air leakage around doors and windows can reduce the demand for space heating and cooling.”

These types of energy-saving measures are usually required by state and municipal building codes, but the Sierra Club says “state and local jurisdictions are legally barred from applying such state and local construction standards to new manufactured homes.”

In accordance with a provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, however, the U.S. Department of Energy began developing the required standards in 2010.

The Sierra Club says the standards received input from numerous experts, including manufacturers and owners of prefab houses, the electric utility industry, state governmental agencies, and environmental and energy efficiency advocates.

Just before last year’s U.S. presidential election, the Department of Energy sent a draft of the proposed rule to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for final review.

“The draft final rule was received by OIRA on November 1, 2016, but was withdrawn from review on January 31, 2017, and has not been issued by DOE,” the complaint states, abbreviating the agency names.

This past Tuesday marked six years since the deadline set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 for the Department of Energy to enact the mobile-home efficiency standards.

The Sierra Club says the delays from Energy Secretary Rick Perry require declaratory and injunctive relief.

Without court-ordered compliance, the complaint states, “the secretary’s delays are likely to continue harming the consumer, environmental, and health interests of plaintiff and its members.”

Representatives for the Department of Energy and the Sierra Club have not responded to an email requesting comment.

The Sierra Club notes that 81,000 prefab homes were sold in 2016 alone.

“People who buy a manufactured home deserve a home that meets the same minimum standards for energy efficiency,” Earthjustice attorney Timothy Ballo said in an email.

“The Department of Energy is legally required to adopt minimum standards for energy efficiency in new manufactured homes, and more than 300,000 manufactured homes have been built since the deadline passed for DOE to adopt those standards,” Ballo added. “We can’t wait forever to start saving energy.”

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