Newswise — Affordable, easily constructed off-site and readily transported, mobile homes long have offered a way for people to own a home.

As a Mississippi State architecture professor observes, however, the very features that make manufactured housing affordable also can create long-term issues of expense and questionable returns on investment.

"The initial investment in the typical mobile home is significantly less than that of a conventional home, but the owner will probably incur enormous energy costs over time," Michael Berk said. "In addition to paying higher insurance rates, the owner also loses equity with the investment."

Through the Fred Carl Small Town Center in Mississippi State's College of Architecture, Berk is proposing a next-generation affordable mobile home that may alter current realities. He envisions units built off-site of insulated structural panels made from Mississippi wood products.

Berk said several companies now manufacture the panels, which incorporate two outside layers of wood with insulation sandwiched in between. With a super-high R-value they offer greater energy efficiency, he added.

Instead of metal or vinyl siding exteriors, Berk's mobile home would have wooden siding exteriors made of harvested, naturally finished cedar or cypress, both sustainable products. Also added would be interior walls of wood veneers that require no painting.

As a result of these factors, Berk said, the new structures would meet standard building codes and be qualified for conventional mortgage financing and homeowner's insurance.

He and Carl Small Town Center director Kimberly Brown currently are developing a proof-of-concept that will lead to construction of a prototype. With a grant from Jackson-based Mississippi Home Corp., the center also is completing a master plan for a mobile home park in the growing Northwest Mississippi town of Tunica, home to a number of major casinos.

"We're proposing to build mobile homes more solidly, weld them on-site to helical foundation piers for increased stability and incorporate the site into an overall sustainable design," Berk explained. "As a result, they would increase in value rather than depreciating and would help the homeowner realize energy savings over the life of the home."

Like current mobile homes, Berk's model could be pre-assembled and transported on state highways. Unlike their current counterparts, the next-generation mobile homes would offer clip-on "saddle bag" room kits that include porches, areas for washer and dryers, and other spaces that would expand the traditional mobile home envelope.

"The structure becomes open rather than fixed," Berk said. "Homeowners can add the clip-ons according to their own preferences and budgets."

Brown said that, in addition to porches, the outdoor design would include southern overhangs to protect from the sun in the summer and decrease energy costs; photovoltaic panels to collect energy for later use; and either shingle pattern or standing seam metal roofs, which she and Berk agree is "the smartest material for use in Mississippi."

Brown said indoor appliances "would be selected for their federal Energy Star ratings, including a ductless heating and cooling system and a tankless hot water system." An interior clerestory wall would promote air circulation and daylight throughout the structure.

"The thin, long shape of standard single-wide mobile homes actually makes them a perfect shape for cross-ventilation," Berk said, noting that his plan also calls for siting the home to take advantage of trees and natural ventilation.

"We propose to use specific tree plantings along the south side of the house and to design four separate exterior zones for parking, an entry courtyard, a private kid's play area, and a kitchen garden," Berk said. "The basic concept and strategy of current mobile home production and delivery is exceptional.

"Our proposal is to modify the end product so that the homeowner realizes benefits now and long into the future," he said.