If you wanted to upgrade a whole state's home energy performance, where would you start? For Peter Schneider, an energy consultant with  Efficiency Vermont, the housing arm of the state's first-in-the-nation energy efficiency utility non-profit, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), one way that makes sense is to start at the bottom — with some of the worst-performing homes in the state.

Schneider runs the State of Vermont's Mobile Home Replacement Program. The inspiration for the program came in the form of a disaster: the devastating onslaught of Tropical Storm Irene, which brought catastrophic flooding to southern Vermont. The storm washed out hundreds of mobile homes in low-lying trailer parks. As the state struggled to recover, Governor Peter Shumlin recalled, citizens and policy-makers had a key insight: "Why, for the most vulnerable Vermonters — the ones who are living in mobile home parks — would we go and put those mobile homes back the way they were, the same places they were, at the same height, with the same incredibly inefficient buildings? Why would we do that? They are cold in the wintertime. They are warm in the summertime. They take huge amounts of money to heat and cool when we know we are asking the folks who have the least, who struggle the most, to pay the biggest bill? It makes no sense." (See October 28, 2013, Rutland Herald story : "Vermod mobile home wave of the future," by Eric Francis).

The state's solution was to evolve a new generation of housing units the same size and shape as a traditional HUD-Code mobile home — but constructed entirely differently, with airtight super-insulated double-stud walls, state-of-the-art heat pump heating and cooling systems, and innovative "Conditioning Energy Recovery Ventilation" equipment that recovers heat from outgoing or incoming air as needed using a heat pump, not just a passive heat-exchanger core. (The CERV units, supplied by Illinois startup Build Equinox, also come with a sophisticated "black box" control unit that responds to indoor carbon dioxide or VOC content, exchanging air with the outdoors whenever indoor conditions warrant — but not if they don't.)

The advanced units were designed with input from existing mobile home residents by David Pill of Pill-Maharam Architects (Website - Profile). Schneider's job is to manage the mobile home replacement effort's technical requirements, program planning, and implementation. Steve Davis, founder of Wilder, Vermont, company VerMod, Inc., has the job of getting the units built and delivered. So far, VerMod has set more than 20 of the units, and is pumping them out at a rate of about one a month — for a price of about $105 per square foot at the factory gate, or about $140 a square foot installed and move-in ready.

JLC visited the VerMod plant in Wilder in February, and accompanied Davis on a trip to Shelburne, Vermont, to set a brand-new unit. For a look at the process, view the slideshow.