They’re clean, shutterless and decorated with a rainbow of beige hues. They’re mobile housing built for future disaster victims and, so far, have safe levels of formaldehyde, according to the Associated Press.
The six newly designed homes – including one unit made by TL Industries Inc. of Elkhart, Ind., and a travel trailer prototype made by Texas-based Frontier RV Inc. - were rolled out last week by federal officials to replace the much-criticized travel trailers used in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The units – including one travel trailer – were built as part of a program to develop new disaster housing solutions for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
After Katrina, 1 million people lost their homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. FEMA sent thousands of temporary homes into the region only to learn later of high levels of formaldehyde, a chemical used in the glue for building materials that can lead to breathing problems and is believed to cause cancer.
The new models – which range in price from $45,000 to $75,000 – were toured by federal officials in Emmitsburg, Md. The trailers have been tested and meet FEMA standards for safe formaldehyde levels.
Students at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg will live in the units and test them for the next six to 12 months, said Jack Schuback, the FEMA official overseeing the project.
One thing they will watch is whether formaldehyde levels increase over time. Schuback said cooking and smoking can sometimes increase the level of formaldehyde in the air.
There is no industry standard for the amount of formaldehyde allowed in travel trailers. The government sets standards for indoor air quality for materials used to build mobile homes, not for travel trailers.
Government tests in 2007 found an average of 77 parts formaldehyde per billion parts of air in FEMA trailers issued after the 2005 hurricanes. FEMA’s standard for the new trailers is 16 parts formaldehyde or less per billion parts of air.
Getting these units built without using much formaldehyde was one of the challenges, Schuback said.
One of the prototypes – the D&D Hybrid park model – is two bedrooms, one bathroom with walls insulated with 100% sheep wool. The wool absorbs the formaldehyde, said Bill Hanblin, D&D CEO.
The Frontier RV travel trailer is the first to have a device that circulates fresh outside air into the trailer, said Ryan Buras, a housing program specialist at FEMA. This one-bedroom trailer is handicap-accessible with a bathroom three times larger than the typical travel trailer bathroom.
The government’s disaster housing strategy says disaster victims can be housed in trailers only as a last resort, even though Bush officials promised to never use them again. The strategy says that if mobile homes are used, they must meet FEMA’s new standard and disaster victims can use them no longer than six months.
A new federal government contract recently awarded to Frontier RV could mean big increases in production and employment levels for the Longview-based company, according to News-Journal.com, Longview, Texas.
“We have about 75 employees now, and that could easily double with this contract,” said Johnny Hernandez, president of the 7-year-old Longview RV manufacturing firm. Frontier topped a field of 16 companies vying for part of the federal contract and was one of four firms awarded portions of the bid, he said.
Hernandez said the initial phase of the contract is worth $2.165 million in revenues to Frontier with the potential during the five-year life of the contract being as much as $176.67 million.
“This contract comes at a time when our industry is in distress,” Hernandez said. “Discretionary spending has really slowed, and our sales have slowed.”
Hernandez said orders for traditional recreational vehicle dealer sales have resulted in production levels at Frontier of about two or three units a day since November. That is about half the normal five to six units a day the plant would expect to produce that time of year, he said.
“Financing is still really tight,” for retailers and consumers to borrow money for products, he said. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), shipments of towable RV trailers were down 71.9% in December compared with December 2007.
Meanwhile, towable retail sales totaled 5,465 compared to 9,095, a 39.9% decrease” in December, said Thomas Walworth, president of Statitsical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Beginning in May (2008), dealers began aggressively lowering new unit inventories,” Walworth said. That trend continued through the end of the year as the national economic recession hit the industry hard, prompting manufacturers to scale back, he said.
The contract awarded to Frontier is one of four national contracts by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is for the production of as many as 1,500 travel trailers a year for five years. Those units could provide temporary housing in emergency situations.
Hernandez said the contract, for a minimum of 100 units and a maximum of 1,500, could significantly increase production and Frontier’s payroll.
To win the contract, the company had to meet a number of recently implemented standards for temporary housing intended for emergency use, Hernandez said.
“We had to eliminate the use of formaldehyde-emitting materials, maintain continuous air exchange and have air-conditioning systems that meet HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) standards,” he said. Each unit also must meet handicapped accessibility standards, he said.
Hernandez traveled to Washington, D.C., in October to meet with federal officials about the new standards.
In March, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and FEMA toured the Longview plant.
“On April 7, they announced the five-year contract for up to 6,000 units a year divided among the four makers,” Hernandez said. Frontier has already received a firm contract to make the initial 125 trailers, he said.
This past week, Frontier shipped its prototype model to Washington for viewing by congressional officials, and Hernandez was to appear at a hearing on the quality standards of the new units.
“The units we’re providing are ones that we designed and came up with the materials to meet their requirements,” Hernandez said. “They’re a little nicer than what FEMA has used in the past.”
Each of the 34-foot units would have a retail price of about $28,000 if sold on the open market, he said, because of the special features federal officials are requiring, he said.
Those features include having a 5-foot turning radius for wheelchairs, cabinet and sink fronts that can be removed to make them handicapped accessible and shelving and appliances that are handicapped accessible, he said.
The first of those units are scheduled to come off the assembly line about June 10.
Once completed, each unit has to be tested by an outside independent testing firm, Hernandez said. Toxicology tests for volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and formaldehyde will help ensure the air inside the units meet federal guidelines, he said.
The units produced in Longview will be shipped to a staging area in Selma, Ala., where they will await the next hurricane, tornado, flood or other disaster responsible for destroying homes and sparking a need for temporary housing. Hernandez said he hopes FEMA will establish a similar staging, or storage area for the temporary housing, much closer to East Texas.
“We’re making a pitch for them to do a staging area here in Longview,” he said. With disasters such as Hurricane Ike that destroyed hundreds of homes in the Galveston area, having units available closer to the Texas Gulf Coast makes sense, he said.
The three other firms awarded FEMA contracts under the contract are in Indiana and Georgia.
They are TL Industries, Harbor Homes and D&D Disaster Services, according to a statement released by FEMA.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded four contracts for the manufacture of low emissions travel trailers.
Contracts were awarded to RV builders TL Industries, Elkhart, Ind., and Frontier RV, Longview, Texas, and two firms outside the RV sector, Harbor Homes and D&D Disaster Services.
Contracts were awarded following a competitive process, the agency announced in a press release.
FEMA intends to order a minimum quantity of 100 units from each contract award, with the ability to order a total of 6,000 units, divided equally among the four contracts, each year for five years.
In 2008, FEMA developed new, strict performance specifications for travel trailers with input provided to the Joint Housing Solutions Group from industry experts, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) , the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs. Included in these new specifications are requirements to eliminate the use of formaldehyde emitting materials; maintain continuous air exchange; venting and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems that meet HUD standards and; test air quality in units to ensure levels are below 0.016 parts per million.
This contract award represents the agency’s continuing commitment to identify a variety of housing solutions to supplement the array of solutions available to best meet the complex, disaster-related housing needs of states. Travel trailers provide a good resource to states with homeowners who have less than six months to repair their homes and whose property cannot accommodate other types of housing units, such as park models or mobile homes. Travel trailers are not ideal, or suitable, for those who need a housing solution for a prolonged period of time.
FEMA may authorize travel trailers for use as interim housing in declared disasters only:
- At the specific request of the state.
- On private property (i.e., not in group, community or cluster sites).
- For a maximum of six months’ occupancy.
- After the state has determined an acceptable level of formaldehyde for units prior to occupancy.
- If such units have air exchange controls that meet or exceed FEMA specifications.
Low emissions travel trailers are just one of the ongoing efforts of FEMA’s Disaster Assistance Directorate and the Joint Housing Solutions Group (JHSG), which is tasked with conducting research and outreach to the housing community, developing evaluation criteria for alternate housing and identifying potential housing options for FEMA.
The JHSG is surveying all housing options available and has the responsibility to evaluate and identify the safest and most appropriate housing options available to those in need during and following a disaster.