UltimateAir transformed this property into a passive modular rental on a shoestring budget.
Jason Morosko and his brother and business partner at UltimateAir, Inc., Jeremy Morosko, proved green building doesn’t have to be expensive. They blended energy efficiency with affordability on their most recent project—rebuilding a double-wide rental property as a prefab modular home on a shoestring budget, all while meeting passive house building standards.
UltimateAir is an industry leader in eco-friendly ventilation and air-to-air recovery. “We care about indoor air quality,” says Jason, vice president of engineering at UltimateAir. “That’s why I couldn’t morally condone owning terribly inefficient rentals.” The Morosko brothers were able to replace their outdated rental mobile home with a high performance, 850-square-foot modular house while sticking to their tight budget.
“Rarely do we see builders, especially landlords, take energy efficiency into consideration during construction,” says Luke Langhals, director of business development at UltimateAir. “The modular project built by Jason and Jeremy is a game changer—it encompasses good business practices and environmental stewardship.”
Sustainable HVAC Solutions
By using sustainable HVAC solutions, the Morosko brothers decreased the heat load, cut back on costs, and improved air quality and comfort. “There are three main things that influence the heat load of a building: infiltration, solar radiation, and conduction,” Jason says. “For air filtration, it’s nothing more than a change in building technique—making a more airtight building. But the cost for the other things add up. To address solar radiation, you need more expensive windows, and addressing conduction means higher insulation costs.”
The thermos-like building envelope and fiberglass insulated doors lower the modular house’s heating and cooling needs. The Moroskos also used triple pane windows to prevent drafts. For their entire heating and cooling system, all the building needed was one 9,000 BTU mini split heat pump.
UltimateAir’s Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) system provides fresh air year-round in the modular home while removing stale air. As a result, the inside air is healthier and creates a more comfortable living environment. Combined with airtight insulation and high-quality windows, this efficient ventilation system generates a heating and cooling load that is 90% lower than standard construction projects.
Passive House Methodology
Jason is experienced in passive house methodology. He’s worked on several passive projects as chief engineer of UltimateAir for more than 15 years—in fact, he began working at UltimateAir the day after he graduated high school.
After discovering Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) in the early 2000s, he was motivated to become certified and build a passive house for himself and his family. He now heats and cools the 3,200-square-foot home he built for next to nothing. “I was inspired by what they were pushing in terms of efficient design. I’ve been an avid promoter of the passive house building concept ever since,” he says.
Adam Cohen, one of the first certified Passive House consultants in the U.S. and founder and technical director of Build SMART, has worked with UltimateAir on several architectural projects, including the first passive public school in the United States—the Center for Energy Efficient Design in Rocky Mount, Virginia. “UltimateAir was always there to troubleshoot,” Cohen says. “Their team is really passionate about high performance and they helped us reach our sustainability goals with low energy consumption and high recovery.”
A Worthwhile Investment
After 25 years, the Moroskos’ energy-efficient modular rental unit will be worth a lot more than a traditional mobile home. “We could have just replaced the $5,000 trailer with a $25,000 trailer, but instead we were able to make a modular passive house valued at $80,000,” Jason says.
The Moroskos factored in energy efficiency in every step of the process, including their base project goals. “This modular construction is an example of a valuable long-term investment for the owner that also heavily favors the tenant. That is a clear ‘win, win’ scenario,” Langhals says.
The yearly utility bill is less than $1,000 for this modular rental, while most mobile homes have annual utility bills of $2,500 or more. Usually, for a single-wide mobile home, tenants have to pay their own utility bill—but this two-bedroom, two-bathroom modular house is offered at a flat rate that includes the cost of utilities. Utility cost savings will add up over time, helping the Moroskos pay back the initial cost to build the project. “It is still a tough sale as far as a rental business avenue because we had to spend a lot more money and take on more debt,” Jason says. “But the investment is worth it in the long-run.”
In the future, UltimateAir plans to focus on high-performance multi-family projects. They are looking into using other green technologies like solar energy and water-to-air heat pumps. “We’re the most efficient ventilation unit on the market, but there is no building code for ventilation in the state, which means the market is still small,” Jason says. “Until the market implements new building codes, the biggest traction we have is that Pennsylvania has implemented a low-income passive house building incentive.”
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency finances low-income housing projects for builders in the state. In order to get the project approved, the builder has to put in a bid toward a very competitive approval process. Thanks to the new passive house program in Pennsylvania, applicants gain more ranking points from meeting the rigorous sustainability standards, meaning low-energy projects have a better chance of receiving funding. UltimateAir currently has three multi-family passive house projects in the works and is hoping to tackle even more.
“In the end, we were able to offer a tenant that had rented an uncomfortable, single-wide trailer for the last eight years, a healthier, energy-efficient modular house at the same total annual price,” Jason says.