For many people with modest incomes, trailers are the only real option for home ownership. But trailers deteriorate quickly and depreciate over time. Six years ago, the Rural Studio, a program based in western Alabama and run by Auburn University's architecture school, launched the $20K House Project, with the goal of producing a model home for $20,000. (At that cost, the resident's monthly payment would be about $100 under the federal Section 502 Direct Loan program.) Last month, a team of four postgraduate students completed the latest home, the 10th one developed by the project. (click below to read more)
The process starts each fall with research, as the students debate the pros and cons of previous designs. After months of planning, most of the construction is done within seven weeks, with $13,000 budgeted for materials and $7,000 for labor. "We're very close to a buildable model," says outreach instructor Danny Wicke.
The structure is a 26-by-26-foot square, with 530 interior square feet. Compared to a rectangular plan, a square provides the most living area while minimizing perimeter construction costs. It also keeps heating costs down in the winter, because the heater is in the middle of the house, and helps the building to look more like a house than a narrow trailer.
The exterior is made from durable corrugated metal siding and is built to withstand winds of up to 100 miles per hour. It's finished with metal trim, which is good for hiding corrugated metal's rough edges. Once completed, the houses are put to use: Local resident Joanne Davis moved into the house in June.
A lot of planning went into the porch. The team debated a hundred versions, screened and unscreened, with various types of handrails. In the end, it was designed to feel like an extension of the interior; the horizontal planks facing the inside of the porch give it an enclosed feel. It is similar in size to the living room, with the goal of making it a comfortable spot to catch a breeze in the summer.
A prime concern is keeping costs down without losing visual appeal. The team went with white prebuilt kitchen cabinets, bought for $837 at a local big-box store, to go with the painted white trim in the rest of the house. Another goal is keeping maintenance costs low, especially for heating and cooling. With trailers, electricity bills can run around $220 a month. A previous $20K house has a typical operating cost of $35 a month in the summer and $75 in the winter.