Retired librarian Lynne Birlem says she got everything she sought in the modular home bought from Coastal Builders & Sons Inc. in Trenton. The Southwest Harbor resident’s priority list included energy efficiency, a first floor bedroom and full bathroom, hardwood floors, an attached garage, upscale kitchen appliances and shelves throughout. A porch also runs the length of the house. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

The rise of “green” modular homes



Lynne Birlem could have afforded just about any house she wanted when she decided to return home to Southwest Harbor.

Retired as head of school libraries in Wellesley, Mass., Birlem sold two homes in Massachusetts then bought a more-than-one-acre lot on Freeman Ridge Road in Southwest Harbor.

Instead of a stick-built home, Birlem, 75, settled on a modular she purchased from Coastal Builders & Sons Inc. in Trenton.

She chose the factory-built modular for the speed of construction, price and quality control.

“These are built under supervision,” she said. “Their reputation is based on the quality of their product.”

The house was delivered to the site in August 2014 and was completed by mid-December.

Birlem said she got everything she wanted: energy efficiency, a first floor bedroom and full bathroom, hardwood floors, an attached garage, upscale appliances in her kitchen and shelves throughout.

“I was a librarian after all,” she said.

The crowning feature of the 40-by-30-foot home is a porch that runs the length of the house with distant views of Somes Sound and Cadillac Mountain.

“I just tried to plan for graceful aging,” said Birlem, whose house also has two bedrooms and a loft media room on the second level.

The owner of Coastal Builders, Jim Scott, flew to Massachusetts to go over the plans with her. Birlem said she then was in close contact with Kim Scott and Joanne Sargent, a veteran in the modular home business, about the interior details.

The house is the most energy-efficient of the two lines Coastal Builders carries — the Prestige line, which is built in New Brunswick, Canada.

“I can hardly hear the wind blowing outdoors,” Birlem said.

In fact, the house is so tight that air exchangers are built in for circulation.

She said the land cost $100,000. Clearing the lot, putting in the foundation and purchasing the home, Birlem said, was about $450,000.

Joanne Sargent said “green building” — homes built to be energy-efficient and environmentally sound — is the mantra today in home construction.

She said building the houses in a factory also enhances the structural integrity.

“Building materials are not adversely exposed to the weather,” Sargent said. “Each module has to be strong enough to be transported to a home site and then lifted by a crane onto the foundation.”

Diane Knowles of Gouldsboro chose Coastline Homes in Ellsworth when she decided to build a modular home on a choice shorefront property in Sullivan.

Diane Knowles stands in the living room window of her new, 28-by-60-foot house acquired from Coastline Homes in Ellsworth. She looked at three ranch house models on the company’s lot and settled on a combination of them all. PHOTO BY LETITIA BALDWIN

Diane Knowles stands in the living room window of her new, 28-by-60-foot house acquired from Coastline Homes in Ellsworth. She looked at three ranch house models on the company’s lot and settled on a combination of them all.
PHOTO BY LETITIA BALDWIN

First she began looking at homes in the same price range as one she owned in Gouldsboro.

She couldn’t find anything that wouldn’t require changing a variety of things.

Knowles then began looking at land to build her own house. She found a beautiful waterfront lot on Silver Mine Trail in Sullivan that overlooks Taunton Bay.

“Literally right after I signed on the land I sold my house,” she said.

Time became a factor. Knowles shopped around for a modular and settled on Coastline based on price, delivery date and a willingness to accommodate changes she wanted.

She looked at three ranch house models on the company’s lot and came up with a combination of all three.

Knowles ordered her 28-by-60-foot house the first week of December and it was delivered to Coastline Jan. 16.

She and her boyfriend cleared the land. R.F. Jordan, which works closely with Coastline, did the site work and foundation.

Knowles couldn’t be happier with the results.

She has views out of the kitchen, living room and master bedroom windows of the three-bedroom house, two bathroom house.

“The house was perfect for the way the land is shaped,” Knowles said.

And she got all the extras she wanted — a pantry, propane fireplace, extra windows, cooking island that converts to a bar on one side and a higher pitched roof.

Coastline offers several lines of modular homes and recently added two lines for people with more modest budgets.

“The business has grown in different directions,” said General Manager Jeff Hardy. “We have branched out to meet everybody’s needs.”

“We can go from a $20,000 used mobile home (bought when customers trade up) to a $500,000 chalet,” Hardy said.

Sales Manager Richie Zerrien said each customer, more so now than ever, has specific needs and wants in mind.

Topping the list is energy efficiency.

“All the modular homes we carry are energy-efficient,” Hardy said. “And every modular is totally customized.”

Coastline Homes, which also has land available for prospective buyers, said many people are turning to modular homes for value, price and the abbreviated time frame between purchase and construction.

“Plus, the homes are built in climate-controlled environments,” Hardy said.

He and Zerrien — who each have 25 years experience in construction and/or modular homes — said their buyers run the gamut, from first-time home buyers to people downsizing in retirement or looking for a second home.

“We are also selling a lot of vacation homes,” Zerrien said.

Hardy said buyers often want “a lot of glass,” particularly if their house is to be located on the water.

“We are selling a lot of two-story chalets with hardwood floors, granite counter tops and farmers’ porches,” he said.

The exterior can be cedar shakes and shingles and wood clapboard in addition to vinyl siding.

They say buyers today are more educated about their choices because of research they can conduct on the Internet.

For now Knowles, who was looking forward to moving into her home soon, is having fun learning about the history of the area.

“There used to be silver mines here,” she said. “Ships came in. There was a shipwreck pretty much in front of where I put the house.”

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]

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