How to Build a House for Only $20,000 (Spoiler: It’s Not Easy)

published Mar 21, 2016
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(Image credit: Co.Exist)

For many years, architecture students at Auburn University’s Rural School have been working to create a home that can be built for only $20,000. That’s less than a lot of people spend on their kitchen remodel. But once the students finished designing the budget-friendly house, getting it built was even harder than they thought.

(Image credit: Co.Exist)

After years of experimenting, the students and their advisors created a one-bedroom house whose materials would only cost $14,000. But when they started working on getting their house built in an actual neighborhood, they realized that designing the house itself was only part of the problem.

(Image credit: Co.Exist)

The little houses were so innovative, with countless new details created by the students to save money and make the structure stronger, that local code officials couldn’t understand them. Initially, they rejected the houses on the basis of several details that they simply hadn’t seen before. The team’s solution was to create a sort of guidebook/assmbly instruction set for the houses, which would not only help contractors know how to build them, but also help code enforcers understand the structures’ ins and outs.

(Image credit: Co.Exist)

Another problem was financial: most banks won’t offer a home loan for only $20,000. So the team worked with a local bank to create a new mortgage product specifically with the houses in mind.

The last and probably greatest difficulty was how to provide a living wage to the builders working on the house. The folks at the Rural Studio have had to adjust their expectations a bit, and admit that they might have to expand their original budget of $20k to accommodate this goal. But you can still live in one of these beauties for much less than $20,000 — if you’re willing to build it yourself.

Read more about the houses at Co.Exist.