Can you build a great house for $20,000? (Tiny or otherwise?) A group of students at Auburn University’s Rural Studio challenged themselves to do just that with the 20K Project. Their goal was a house that anybody could afford and that anybody would want to live in, and they ended up building two with a developer outside Atlanta. Materials cost: $14,000 each.
The Rural Studio used a number of nonconventional construction methods. They claim the techniques improve the house’s performance or at least reduce the cost, though they admit many wouldn’t pass a building inspection. This Fast Company article gives only one example: the floor beams overhang the concrete-block piers, whereas usually piers are placed at the ends. I convinced myself that cantilevers do make the beam stronger by drawing the diagram below, which has four versions of a 20-foot beam with a uniform load; only the support locations change.
Note that the bending moment decreases when the main span is shortened, until the overhang gets too large. The Rural Studio optimized this main-span-to-overhang ratio, among many other items. I’d like to know what else they did differently.
Not content to simply build a cheaper house, the studio also asked what cultural changes could make properties more affordable. Most banks aren’t set up to offer a mortgage as small as $20,000, so someone who can’t afford to buy a $20,000 house outright has few alternatives. One bank has partnered with the Rural Studio to try and create a small mortgage product. Again, I’d be interested to read more details.
The houses look utilitarian but welcoming, satisfying a human need for home that other options at this price point – manufactured housing and rentals – can’t match.
Thanks to Elana Cohen-Khani.