UVM Students Make Mobile Home Destruction Eco-Friendly

Mobile homes, while providing an affordable and accessible place of residence, often have a lifespan of less than thirty years. When these homes begin to fall apart and are no longer livable, home-owners are left with two options: pay the $2000 disposal fee to have the mobile home taken to the landfill and crushed, or abandon the structure. Most mobile home owners are thus forced to abandon the dilapidated homes, usually on their own property. Erin Makowsky, a senior, and Kendall Kahl, a UVM graduate, were approached by their Community Development and Applied Economics professor last year with an idea for a project. Professor Dan Baker, who has a long-standing history with the community of Alburg, Vermont, had been approached earlier in the year by the Alburg Revitalization Committee. It seemed that the growing presence of vacant mobile homes in Alburg was causing a disturbance in the community. The homes were unsightly to the residents of Alburg, as well as a hindrance to local merchants, who felt that the sight of the vacant homes turned away business. Baker turned around and presented the problem to Makowsky and Kahl, who agreed to take on the project. The project’s original aim was simply to look into a more environmentally conscious way of mobile home disposal. However, it soon grew into much more. Makowsky and Kahl discovered that, although it was not economically feasible to deconstruct a mobile home piece-by-piece, great improvements could be made to the process simply by recycling the metal parts of the homes. “One of our most interesting findings was that there was notable monetary savings in recycling metal,” says Makowsky. Despite the fact that the salvaging of metal from the mobile homes would save between 25% and 45% of the cost of demolition, this process would still require home owners to pay a hefty sum. This was often money that they simply didn’t have. Makowsky and Kahl were not discouraged. They approached several groups with their ideas, and ultimately received funding from the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alburg Revitalization Committee, and, perhaps most importantly, two local contractors who donated their labor and equipment. The project came together last spring when five mobile homes in Alburg were successfully deconstructed and disposed of. In a process Kahl and Makowsky affectionately call “demolition plus,” about 30% of the materials comprising each home was able to be recycled. These tended to be mostly metal parts, such as siding, frames, axles, and piping. When the five homes had been removed, the labor costs came to about $900 per home, while the cost of disposing waste totaled about $450 per home. Thanks to the generous donations of Irick Construction, Palmer Construction, the DEC, and the ARC, the owners of the mobile homes were only asked to pay about $200 towards the disposal. While many would have been more than satisfied with the results of the project, Makowsky and Kahl saw it as just a beginning. Six more homes are scheduled for deconstruction later this year thanks to the ongoing efforts of the pair and the continuing generosity of Irick and Palmer. Kahl stresses the importance of continually improving the process of “demolition plus.” Deconstruction of the next six homes will take place in a central location, saving money on transportation costs and increasing the efficiency of the process. Although there is no promise of future funding for the project, Makowsky and Kahl are confident that the growing interest and awareness in the community will make it possible to continue their efforts down the road. Makowsky points out that, “…there is a great need [for this sort of project]. It’s not something that’s being looked at or addressed in a large sort of way. It’s not only a problem for Alburg, but for many different communities.” The two express great interest in making this a larger issue, and possibly shedding light on ways in which mobile homes could be produced with the environment in mind. Although this is a long way off, Kahl believes that the benefits of “demolition plus” may point to a more recyclable future for mobile homes; “If we continue to use them as an affordable housing solution, it makes sense to put more thought into the materials we use to construct them and the means we use of disposing of them.”