Update: Answering the call to affordable housing

Faculty and students in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction (MLSoC) and Virginia Center for Housing Research (VCHR) are analyzing sustainable, quality, and low-cost approaches to help solve the affordability crisis in Virginia and across the nation.

The VCHR is an interdisciplinary research center within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the official housing research and information center for the Commonwealth of Virginia. VCHR supports sustainability by testing the performance of green construction and studying resident outcomes by home energy efficiency. 

This project called “Innovations in Manufactured Housing,” is funded by the Virginia Housing Community Impact Innovative Demonstrations 2020 grant program. Virginia Housing helps Virginians attain quality, affordable housing by operating as a public-private partnership, delivering superior, long-term financial performance to optimize resources. 

Led by Assistant Professor Philip Agee as principal investigator the project will study and compare stick-built home construction and manufactured housing means and methods, as well as building performance outcomes like energy use and indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Since the costs of production continue to climb, there is an acute need to deliver quality affordable housing. Traditionally manufactured housing has been plagued with quality issues and the team is studying how changes in the design and production of manufactured homes can deliver quality housing at an affordable cost.

“Manufactured housing represents the largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the U.S., so increasing the supply of quality manufactured housing will help us more quickly address affordability and home ownership challenges in our state and nation than other housing supply approaches,” Agee said. “This study aims to test and demonstrate that the manufactured housing of today is a high-quality, affordable housing option.”

The Virginia Tech team includes co-investigators Assistant Professor Xinghua Gao and Andrew McCoy, director of VCHR, Beliveau Professor in the Department of Building Construction, and MLSoC Associate Director. The project also involves an array of public and private partners, including project:HOMES, which is a nonprofit housing provider that builds and provides weatherization services, as well as focuses on replacing aging manufactured homes in the metro-Richmond area. Partnering with project:HOMES, VCHR will develop a comparative analysis of on-site and off-site housing production. Specifically, the team will be measuring performance indicators on six stick-built homes and six manufactured homes scattered across Richmond, VA.

The team is currently in the planning phase, where they are developing baselines, reviewing plans, setting up experimental designs, and producing energy simulations to make predictions. Virginia Tech students in MLSoC and the Vecellio Construction Engineering and Management program are involved in the design and development of 3D models and digital twins of the homes using building information modeling (BIM), energy and indoor environmental quality simulations, and the development and deployment of building performance sensors. 

“This project is also a great opportunity for our students to engage with industry, demonstrate their skills honed here at MLSoC, and develop their professional networks,” Agee said.

Research projects such as these provide opportunities for investigators to deploy new technologies and ideas in actual buildings. BIM is primarily used in commercial construction, not yet tapping in the residential market, so the team is interested in discovering if the use of BIM helps drive quality and affordability in the production process.

Gao is currently developing an IEQ sensor that is almost one-third the cost of traditional sensors, which only measure one variable and are not connected to the internet. In addition to the price decrease, Gao’s sensor can measure five to six variables (temperature, relative humidity, motion, sound level, vibration, smoke) and connects to the internet. This will prove cost effective in building sensing technologies and sharing data.

The project could lead to improvements in manufactured home performance at lower costs of production. If achieved this would contribute significantly to the affordable housing production crisis.

MLSoC faculty are pushing the boundaries of knowledge with technologies and hands-on approaches to improving the quality of life within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world. Leading by example teaches our students the importance of service and to be leaders and problem-solvers. 

“This is an unmatched opportunity to advance affordable housing in partnership with our state and industry, while also bringing along students as active participants in the process. It’s the ultimate form of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve),” McCoy said.


Manufactured home BIM model