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Why a Chillicothe businessman thinks steel could be the future of affordable housing

Eagle's Steel Rivet model home, the attachment on the left is an expansion to the one bedroom model that adds a second bedroom and bathroom.
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
Eagle's Steel Rivet model home, the attachment on the left is an expansion to the one bedroom model that adds a second bedroom and bathroom.

In a shed on the outskirts of Chillicothe, there’s a home constructed entirely out of steel.

The one-bed, one-bath structure bears all the markings of its method of creation. Walking around the perimeter, you can see the line of the welds, fusing the corners, connecting the solar-paneled roof.

“We’ve learned how to make steel more friendly, make a steel assembly more friendly,” said Timothy Tobin, owner of Eagle Companies. “And you don’t really have to even…in our final assembly here, we’re trying to keep our costs down, but the panels and all this can be covered with carbonless siding and different things to dress it up even more.”

Eagle Companies Inc. Owner Timothy Tobin sorts through informational packets at the kitchen counter of his company's first "Steel Rivet" model home.
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
Eagle Companies Inc. Owner Timothy Tobin sorts through informational packets at the kitchen counter of his company's first "Steel Rivet" model home.

The steel used to construct the home is from the North Carolina-based company Nucor. Nucor boasts net-zero carbon status for its materials. A Mitsubishi Electric Hyper-Heating Inverter attached to the outside of the structure controls the internal temperature. Inside, water is heated by a compact thermal storage device made by the company Sunamp. Instead of fiberglass insulation, the walls are lined with mineral wool.

Tobin says all of the technology that gives the living space the same level of comfort as the typical home was chosen with low energy usage in mind. He gives a demonstration, flipping on as many lights and appliances, including the HVAC system, in the house as possible, then points to meters over attached to the breaker box. They read just about 5 amps total.

Tobin sees a lot of potential uses for these homes, outside of just their low energy use. One of them is an affordable source of housing.

“This is an option that should be considered versus conventional construction,” he said. “Its flexibility and its energy efficiency and its carbon footprint are all a part of its value.”

Tobin estimates, before laying the house on a foundation and attaching it to municipal services like sewer and electric, it costs about $110,000 to construct. He puts a two-bedroom model around $140,000. For an idea of size, Tobin says the two-bedroom model is about 1,100 square feet.

He further estimates laying the foundation and getting the home move-in ready with municipal services adds another $10,000 or so.

“I see more people coming through and thinking, you know ‘I thought our carbon issues and our energy issues were going to put a burden on us, or a lifestyle change,’” he said. “Well, it doesn’t have to. We just got to do more. We got to do more experimenting.”

The main living room of the Steel Rivet, with a view to the porch attached to the front. Tobin says it's important Steel Rivet's have all the typical comforts of a modern home.
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
The main living room of the Steel Rivet, with a view to the porch attached to the front. Tobin says it's important Steel Rivet's have all the typical comforts of a modern home.

Tobin sees the homes, called the “Steel Rivet” model, as different from things like tiny homes or RV living.

“I don’t prescribe to the tiny home thing only because it circumvents the government. It circumvents a lot of things that…it doesn’t fit,” he said. “It’s almost like [electric vehicles], yes, there’s a few people that would enjoy a tiny home, but the majority cannot.”

Another benefit of the Steel Rivet Tobin mentions frequently is its “environmental resilience.” The model, he says, can handle gale force winds, heavy loads of snow and intense seismic activity. The evidence, he says, is in the company’s history.

Prior to Tobin’s forays into a residential project, 35 years of Eagle’s modular buildings have been used as field officers, mobile workshops, communication centers, chemical storage and detention facilities for prisons. When asked about how he knows the structure is as resilient as he says, he produces a pile of blueprints from previous projects from locales with extreme weather all around the world, approved and stamped by engineers.

Tobin says exploration of the new avenue of residential buildings started with a desire to bring housing costs down and introduce ways to get closer to the United Nations’ 2030 carbon goals.

A look at Timothy Tobin in the kitchen of the Steel Rivet, you can see through the kitchen to the bedroom beyond, with the bathroom off the the left of the middle hallway and a maintenance room including a water heater to the right.
Collin Schopp
/
WCBU
A look at Timothy Tobin in the kitchen of the Steel Rivet, you can see through the kitchen to the bedroom beyond, with the bathroom off the the left of the middle hallway and a maintenance room including a water heater to the right.

“The cost had to come down for us, because we understood what the cost of conventional housing is and what the cost per square foot is,” he said. “And so we have, we had to offer this with options that would keep that cost down and make it still affordable.”

Long term, Tobin hopes carbon credits can become a part of the ecosystem: making low-carbon homes, obtaining credits, and selling them off to larger emission-creating companies to financially support affordable housing.

But, it will all need to start with someone actually living in a Steel Rivet home.

Right now, Tobin has a listing for the one that’s been constructed on Facebook Marketplace. He says it’s generated some interest from potential customers around the country.

“We’ve got a couple people, one coming in from Colorado, another group coming in from North Carolina, that are going to look at it and make that call, whether they’re going to proceed with it,” Tobin said. “And I think that one of them will.”

Whatever the outcome, Tobin believes in the product.

“There’s a lot of R and D here that we want to share with other people in other parts of the country and even other parts of the world,” he said. “To show that: ‘hey, if the assembly is done this way, this is the results you can get from it and they’re very positive.’”

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.