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Affordable Energy Efficiency

Housing is expensive across the nation. In many areas, rental housing is out of reach. Even in rural and other areas with a generally low level of costs, rentals are too expensive for too many families. Why focus on rentals? In reports from a variety of associations and the federal government, rental cost is used instead of purchase cost since, while mortgage payments are a similar drain on funds, the house purchased is also an investment. Rentals, meanwhile, are similar to food, fuel, and other essential purchases.

This is the thrust of a report by the NLIHC (National Low Income Housing Coalition), Out of Reach 2023: The High Cost of Housing. The report highlights the mismatch between the wages people earn and the price of modest rental housing in every state, county, metropolitan area, and combined non-metropolitan area in the U.S. This year’s report shows how high rents have combined with the expiration of many pandemic-era benefit programs to exacerbate the financial insecurity of low-income renters, leading to higher eviction filing rates and increased homelessness.

The central statistic of the report is its “Housing Wage”—an annual estimate of the hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes. Nationally, the 2023 Housing Wage is $28.58 per hour for a modest two-bedroom rental home and $23.67 per hour for a modest one-bedroom rental home.

Sixty percent of all workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the two-bedroom Housing Wage, and nearly 50% of workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the one-bedroom Housing Wage. Thirteen of the 20 most common occupations in the U.S. pay median wages that are lower than the two-bedroom Housing Wage, and 10 of these occupations, which account for more than one-third of the workforce, pay median wages that are lower than the national one-bedroom Housing Wage.

The problem is acute and widespread for the lowest-wage workers. In no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home. A full-time minimum-wage worker cannot afford a modest one-bedroom rental home in more than 92% of U.S. counties.

With such statistics in mind, developers are seeking ways to bring down the cost of owning a new home, making purchase instead of rental more attractive. One of the companies focused on this is Tennessee builder Clayton, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Using off-site production, Clayton has introduced a series of new houses, called eBuilt Homes, that are more affordable due to their energy efficiency.

Last year, more than 20 million American families struggled to pay their utility bills, with average residential electricity prices increasing more than 14%—double the rate of inflation—across the country. This financial impact on homeowner wallets is what inspired Clayton to launch eBuilt homes.

Built to the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home specifications, eBuilt homes can help homeowners save up to 40-50% on their annual energy costs with the potential to save thousands of dollars in energy costs throughout their homeownership. DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes are built inside a certified building facility and are designed with features that can offset up to 100% of the home’s energy use when combined with a renewable energy system, such as solar panels.

Every DOE Zero Energy Ready Home must meet rigorous efficiency requirements, making it less costly for homeowners if they choose to add solar in the future. eBuilt homes are built to accommodate a renewable solar energy system after purchase for even more savings.

With 39 facilities building homes to DOE Zero Energy Ready Home specifications, Clayton is the first single-family off-site builder to offer this level of energy-efficiency on a large scale. The move demonstrates Clayton’s commitment to affordable homeownership through lower energy bills and sustainability by building homes that consume fewer power resources, thereby reducing carbon emissions.

All eBuilt homes have enhancements that contribute to their energy efficiency, including:

The new eBuilt option is available on nearly all Clayton residential off-site homes. To deliver additional value to the consumer, Clayton will reinvest the credits received for building the certified homes to offset the cost of materials.

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