Manufactured homes have come a long way over the years, and a new initiative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is making them even better.

HUD is proposing a sweeping set of changes to its Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards. The updates will pave the way for manufacturers to take more modern design approaches to position manufactured homes as a partial solution to the current affordable-housing shortage.

“Manufactured homes are an important element of the nation’s affordable housing supply,” Julia Gordon, assistant secretary for housing and federal housing commissioner, said in a statement. “These proposed updates, when final, will help to expand the availability of safe and affordable homes that align with current design trends and construction methods.”

When the updates go into effect, manufactured housing could nearly be indistinguishable from site-built homes. HUD’s changes will allow for open floorplans, ridge roof designs, accessibility improvements, and higher-end materials that could help make these housing units an attractive and affordable alternative to conventional homes.

HUD makes way for tankless

Also included in the changes: gas-fired tankless water heaters. For years, if housing manufacturers wanted to include tankless units, they’d need to request HUD approval through an “alternative construction” letter outlining a number of compliance points. Now, tankless water heaters could become commonplace — if not standard — in pre-fab homes. It’s a welcome change as the manufactured housing industry strives for energy efficiency.

“The idea to have on-demand tankless water heaters in these homes is, far and away, the best thing that’s happened to this industry,” says Mark Phillips, owner and developer of Blackberry Hill Village, a new 55+ community in Berwick, Maine, just over the New Hampshire border.

In many ways, Phillips’ project is right in line with HUD’s efforts to modernize and gain wider consumer acceptance of manufactured housing. The double-wide homes have 5/12 pitched roofs, concrete foundation crawl spaces, and two-car garages. Inside, you’ll find many of the accoutrements of a custom home: crown and window molding, soft-closing cabinets, and stainless-steel appliances.

When complete, Blackberry Hill Village will feature 77 manufactured homes on 73 acres, bringing much-needed housing to the coastal community.

“Demand has always exceeded supply for several years here in the seacoast,” Phillips says. “The problem today is the product is limited, inventory is limited, and prices are high.”

Propane powers manufactured homes

Energy efficiency was a priority, Phillips says. The units come from Pine Grove Homes, which earned the 2022 Market Leader Award from Energy Star, signifying they’re at least 10 percent more efficient than those built to code. The homes feature Energy Star–rated windows and appliances, R38 insulation in the ceiling, R21 in the walls, and R19 in the belly. Each home is equipped with twin propane tanks, from Eastern Propane, to power the gas cooktop, furnace, outdoor grill, and optional fireplace. Compared with oil, it’s a cheaper, cleaner fuel source. Propane, Phillips says, was preferable to going all electric, too.

“All electric would be problematic,” he says, citing skyrocketing electricity rates. Phillips also likes that residents can shop around for a propane supplier if they so choose. “With propane, you’re dealing with an open and competitive market. You can choose who you want to do business with.”

Plus, residents with propane-fueled fireplaces will have an alternate heat source if the electricity goes out, he adds.

Because the market for Blackberry Hill Village is primarily retirees, Phillips wants residents to feel comfortable aging in place. That’s why the homes include accessibility features such as door levers (instead of hard-to-handle knobs), grab bars in the main suite’s bathroom, and raised toilets. Being on a sunken foundation also eliminates the need for multiple steps to the entrance.

Residents won’t have to mow their lawns, take out the trash, or clear the snow, either. Blackberry Hill Village takes care of all that.

Phillips says, “The whole idea here is to make it as convenient as possible for the residents.”

Top photo: Blackberry Hill Village in Berwick, Maine, will be a 77-home community featuring energy-efficient, double-wide manufactured homes. Each home is equipped with twin propane tanks.