Chillicothe entrepreneur designs affordable housing for global warming

CHILLICOTHE – A Chillicothe entrepreneur is building affordable housing for the age of global warming.

Timothy Tobin, owner of Eagle Companies, has designed a super-efficient steel house that can be dropped on a semi and shipped anywhere. Units are priced at $110,000 for a one-bedroom, and can be combined and stacked to create a larger living space or multi-family housing. Equipped with high-tech construction materials and efficient appliances, the units use very little energy. The addition of solar panels, a $20,000 option, can take residents off the grid.

Modular for many applications

Tobin has been constructing modular buildings for a variety of uses since 1989. His clients include Caterpillar, Komatsu Dresser, the CDC and other governmental agencies. His buildings have been used as workshops in mines, housing for researchers at the North Pole, expanded housing in prisons, and quarantine facilities in border towns and at airports.

Tobin’s customers demand a lot from their buildings, and, as a result, he learned specialized building techniques. His steel units can withstand hurricane wind speeds of 151 miles per hour, and stay comfortable in temperatures from minus 40 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Those are qualities that could be in demand in the future as climate change warms the earth and increases the frequency and severity of storms.

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A project from the heart

A former plumber whose father founded Tobin Brothers Plumbing, Tobin transitioned into running Eagle Companies full-time as the business grew. Up until the pandemic he was very busy, but mandatory quarantines hit one of his main clients – the prison industry – very hard. Suddenly Tobin had time to pursue his own ideas, and Steel Rivet Industrial Grade Steel Housing Design was born.

Efficient housing is a heartfelt project for Tobin, who witnessed the effects of a warming environment while building units for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s research project at the North Pole.

“They asked for jacks for the units because the snow would get so high,” said Tobin, who, seven years later, in 1999, was shocked to learn that jacks were no longer necessary. “The snow doesn’t get that high anymore.”

A tour of efficiency

The one-bedroom unit open for tours at Eagle Companies’ Chillicothe manufacturing facility is made of red-painted steel bent, welded and riveted on-site. Seams are tightly sealed and the walls are packed with insulation.

“I’m gonna turn the air conditioner on – can you hear it?” That’s the heat pump, it’s quiet,” said Tobin while leading a tour of the unit. “It’s drawing outside air.”

Tobin opened a utility closet to reveal a dial monitoring the unit’s air pressure.

“That’s at zero right now, but in about three minutes it’s going to move up to about three or four, and that means the unit has been pressurized,” he said. “No matter how much energy you create, if your furnace has to run and run because your house leaks like a sieve, you’re not gaining anything.”

No fossil fuels power the unit. Only a small amount of electricity is needed to run the appliances, including a cutting-edge tankless water heater by Sunamp which uses high-performance phase change batteries. A solar panel system sized to power the unit can be added – if the owner wants to charge an electric car, an additional two panels will do the trick.

The space is finished with materials that do not off-gas poisonous chemicals into the air – acacia wood countertops and a wood-like flooring product Tobin ordered from Spain. The room design is simple and efficient, with windows on the front and back flooding the space with light.

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A mission for everyone

Tobin is working to market his new product with the hope that it will be purchased not only by individuals, but also by cities interested in building efficient, affordable housing. A model of what a multi-family housing development could look like sits on a table in the living room. Units are staggered in a way that creates both outdoor space and visual interest.

The creation of Steel Rivet was a mission for Tobin, who believes that correcting the climate crisis will require everyone’s participation.

“We are all responsible for confronting this climate crisis, and that sense of obligation factored into every decision we made in creating ‘Steel Rivet,'” he said.

Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.

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