• Image Source NZ Herald (click on image for original)
  • 2023 Auckland Floods
  • Mobile Home / Tiny Home on Wheels
  • Future Proofing Emergency Housing
Open source News article for use by NZ media

flood-Resistant Mobile Homes

When the flood waters rise, and your home is ruined, you need immediate interim housing, but when the next 100-year flood comes two years later you need your interim housing to be habitable when the flood waters subside.

When Claude Lewenz, Mobile Home Association (MHA) Executive Director saw the Herald photograph of a mobile home that floated down the driveway onto a car, he was reminded of his first post-uni job: building floating docks for an in-the-water boat show. They used rigid foam insulation – the same used under the floor of a NZ factory-made mobile home. Because NZTA towing rules limit a mobile home to 3,500 kg, it was easy to calculate how much is required to make a mobile home float in a flood: 160 mm thick.

He rang MHA members, asking if they could offer a flood option. Not only thicker floor insulation, but also welded mooring rings on each corner of the steel chassis. “Yes” they replied. He then called Surefoot™, makers of steel footings that work like tree roots for foundations. They confirmed their contractors can easily install what work like dock pilings where the chassis would rise with the waters, but not float away. Even better, Surefoot™ is removable when need passes.

The only obstacle to this plan is government and local councils. Since 2017, they have been waging a war on mobile homes, asserting they are buildings, even though they clearly do not meet the fundamental legal meaning of building and structure. By definition buildings are real property (realty) fixed to the land, losing the independent identity of personal property (chattel). Mobile homes are chattel that can be here today, gone tomorrow, because they are not fixed to land.

The record shows councils bully occupants of mobile home and tiny home on wheels. In the few that proceed to MBIE determinations and then to court find government loses, but appeals are expensive and involve years of stress.

As MHA investigated, it learned Cabinet made an informal agreement they did not want US type trailer home parks in NZ. That trickled down to the bureaucracies as as a declaration of war on wheeled-forms of abode. Now with a new PM and a series of housing emergencies, that war must end. Government must embrace mobile homes as “not-buildings” forms of shelter.

Units can cost under $100,000, take two weeks to make in a factory, two hours to install on site and are simple enough that DIY types can make their own. Factory-made are called mobile homes; DIY-made are called Tiny Homes on Wheels, but in performance they are the same. The factory-built are standardised with engineer-approved design.

The war on mobile homes has seen MHA members cut back on production, with several factories forced into liquidation due to obstacles created by government. Those that survive need a completely different relationship with government.

MHA executive director, Lewenz reached out to MBIE’s Temporary Accommodation Services (TAS), proposing they consider mobile homes with the flood option to provide immediate emergency housing that can place families back on their land with adequate housing as they rebuild. TAS is taking it under advisement.

Lewenz also cautions government not to over-react in rebuilding. In Australian flood zones, architects design elevated homes* where the primary living space is above the most catastrophic flood levels. The same is found in the US**, especially along the coastlines prone to hurricanes. The building is elevated on strong piles, with the ground level using break-away wall panels for property that can be quickly removed such as cars or property not hurt by flood waters. As homeowners rebuild in flood zones, councils should support their efforts provided the living space is above the calculated flood level. And meanwhile, allow immediate parking of mobile homes as a permitted activity involving no building or resource consents.

Editors: See https://shelter.nz or call Claude Lewenz 027 629 3000. This 600 word article is released into the public domain and may be used without attribution.

The photograph of Andrew Marshall’s mobile home is linked to the NZ Herald web page and copyright is attributed to Elizabeth Binning / New Zealand Herald via AP

* https://www.lunchboxarchitect.com/featured/platypus-house-robinson-architects/

** https://www.greenbuildingsolutions.org/blog/how-do-you-build-a-hurricane-resistant-house and https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/21/how-to-build-a-hurricane-resistant-house.html