Aging Mobile Homes Burden the Grid and Their Owners

Aug 22, 2013

Imagine spending half your monthly income on an electricity bill. That’s a reality for people in the Northwest who live in aging mobile homes. Drafty units built in the 1970s waste energy and can contribute to health problems.

In the rural parts of the Northwest, about 1 in 6 homes was built in factory. In Curry County on the Oregon coast, the concentration of manufactured homes is even higher. It’s about in 3. Many of the people who live in them are retired. Like Charlotte White, who is 64 years old. She lives in a single wide just off Highway 101.

White: “We have beautiful sunsets here. Even though it’s a little slice of the ocean it’s all we need.”

Inside White’s mobile home the first things you notice are colorful potholders hanging in the kitchen, and a rattling sound.

White: “It’s my washing machine. It spins off balance because the floor is uneaven because it’s rotten.”

The boards in the hall are spongy underneath White’s feet. She says the floor in the kitchen and bathroom has rotted too. White’s home was built in 1976. The same year the government adopted the first construction and safety standards for manufactured homes. Many people like White live in mobile homes that were built before the code was enforced. Or in homes that were built in the 1980s when the standards were still pretty lax. White’s biggest problem is the mold somewhere deep in the walls. She pulls open one of her closets.

White: “It’s on our clothes, in our shoes. Everything turns green. Something about the mold, it just doesn’t leave the fabrics. And then it’s probably something we’re breathing.

She’s concerned about her daughter who lives with her and has asthma. And she’s right to worry. Karen Chase, with Oregon Housing and Community Services says aging mobile homes can contribute to health problems.

Chase: “absolutely the indoor air quality has an impact on health. We’ve seen asthma rates increase, for example. We see the levels of indoor contaminants build up within homes that have inadequate ventilation.”

Chase is part of a group in Curry county that’s pulling together a fund to help hundreds of mobile homeowners pay for repair work and upgrades. One goal is to help residents manage chronic conditions like asthma and arthritis that may be triggered by the cold, the damp, and the mold.

Chase: “We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors. The quality of that residential housing really matters for the health of the people living in it.”

The initiative, called ReHome Oregon, will also help some families replace their mobile homes using loans that don’t require a downpayment and are backed by the government. Chase says modern units have a much longer lifespan.

Chase: “Over the years, the standards improved for factory built housing. Factory built housing is really built quite well.”

Replacing old manufactured homes with new ones should have another benefit: saving electricity. Factories in the Northwest have developed energy star approved mobile homes with better insulation and high efficiency appliances. Annette Klienfelter works for Curry County. She says by contrast, the mobile homes from the 70s and 80s are

Klienfelter: “Hugely energy inefficient. They’re sucking a lot off the grid. And that is the result of inadequate insulation. They’re loosing heat through the floor. Heat through the windows.”

Manufactured homes built before 1980 consume 53 percent more energy per square foot than other types of homes. That’s According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Klienfelter: “The heater goes off and you can feel the cold creeping back in.”

That’s Charlotte White, who we met earlier. White says in the winter, the electricity bill for her 1976 singlewide reaches 280 dollars a month. Her income from social security each month is just 361 dollars. I’ll give you those numbers again. Her electric bill is 280 dollars. Her monthly income is 361. White has a roommate to help cover the bills. Replacing her home with an energy star model could her bill in half. But White says she can’t afford the upfront costs.

White: “If I had enough money or collateral to get a loan I would, but I don’t. I know that I don’t. You kind of get stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

White hopes she’ll be able to qualify for reHome Oregon’s home replacement program. But there will be a lot of competition. Curry County estimates about 600 families are interested in getting help replacing their manufactured homes. And the County only has funding to replace 25 of them. 

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting