Tiny Tuesday: 100% of the House, 10% of the Price

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.


Concrete-block piers leave an overhang on both sides of this pilot 20K House.

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.

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