Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

20K House project aims to make home ownership more affordable


November 25, 2013

The 20K House project was launched in 2005 by Rural Studio (Photo: Tim Hursley/RuralStudio  20K)

The 20K House project was launched in 2005 by Rural Studio (Photo: Tim Hursley/RuralStudio 20K)

Image Gallery (12 images)

For many people, the chance of owning their own house is very slim indeed. However, the 20K House project by Rural Studio, an off-campus design-build program of Auburn University, aims to tackle this, and make house ownership possible for more people with an attractive and safe modern property for just US$20,000.

The 20K House project was launched in 2005 by Rural Studio in an effort to address the need for local affordable housing while offering an alternative to mobile homes. The price tag of $20,000 derives from what was felt to be the highest mortgage a person receiving Social Security checks could realistically afford to pay.

To date, Rural Studio has designed 12 different versions of the 20K House, each of which cost roughly $12,000 for materials, with $8,000 of the budget set aside for contracted labor and profit.

The houses themselves range greatly in size, shape, and materials used, but all sport a carefully-considered design and boast useful features such as a concrete safe room for protection from tornadoes, and passive cooling.

Rural Studio is currently raising funds to build eight new 20K Houses in the Hale County area, and the group is also aiming to change the 20K House from a project to a mass-marketed product. To this end, the organization is currently working on refining its production process, including ensuring the homes meet Federal Housing Administration standards.

Source: Rural Studio

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

IMO, this will keep the American dream from becoming a nightmare. It is way better than getting a house only to have it foreclosed on. It is way better than any mobile home could be. It also seems to be part of the small house trend.


So the assumption here appears to be that they would pay a mortgage on the home and rent a lot, as with a mobile home. This still becomes unaffordable over time, since the lot rent goes up. And the lot rent plus the mortgage would probably be beyond the means of those on social security even to start with unless there were two checks coming in.


It does not look any nicer or roomier than a trailer house without the advantage of being able to move it on little more than a whim.


most of those look pretty.....sparse.

BigWarpGuy - lol, what small house trend? People still want a bigger house then they can afford, there is no trend for the average person to move into a smaller home. Unless your talking about the hippy crowd, but that's a very small minority, hardly a trend.

I'd rather live in a small apartment or crappy trailer then this, so I could save up and buy a real house.

Derek Howe

Once out of the metropolitan area and suburbia (look at the pictures), some people own their own land but their homes can be a little worse for wear. These homes have no granite countertops or other signs of conspicuous consumption, but offer decent housing for decent folk. I have swung a hammer on several Habitat houses, so I applaud Rural Studio's efforts and wish them well.

Bruce H. Anderson

What sad responses!

MB, land is dirt cheap in the south so land to put it on isn't a problem. And likely on donated land.

Derek, what is your problem? This is so much better than a trailer is obvious. If you want to pay high rents forever that is your rather not smart choice.

I paid my place off in 5 yrs at $300/month including 2 lots in town in Fla.

So I've been living for around $200/month since it's been paid off including everything like food, heat, A/C, charging my EV's, my workshops, etc.

So go ahead and work your rear off paying all those bills you have and I'll be on my 34' trimaran sunset sailing with some pretty girls thinking about why people pay so much for near nothing and working your rear off trying to stay ahead.

So who is the not bright one, you or me?


I like the idea as something basic that could be modified and added to over time. But those steps don't need to be twelve feet wide.


I like the concept, but it needs more work. If the house could be constructed mostly of free indigenous structural material, like compressed earth block, and if the land could be doled out in long term leases by the government, this would have a chance. Oh, and get the price down to less than half. It might well become the current day equivalent of the 'poor farm' from days gone by when there were no real safety nets. Meanwhile, they already have this concept in production and distribution today. It's called a trailer park.


These may very well be the houses of the future. When the 1% finally own the 99%,there will be no other options.


What could make homes less expensive is reviving the method of preparing all the materials at a factory then shipping the kit to the build site.

Sears, Montgomery Ward and some other companies did that for a long time. One lasted into the early 1980's.

Gregg Eshelman

Purchasing bare land requires a much higher percentage of buyer's money (banks are not willing to finance more than about 50%). The same plot of ground with a (permanent) building on it can be financed as much as 97% (mobile homes with undercarriage removed, and the home permanently installed on concrete footings can qualify as a "permanent" structure). An intermediate class of structure, "modular" homes, also qualify for 97% FHA financing- so this is hardly a "new" approach, or idea. Manufactured housing (modular and mobile homes) uses the economies of mass assembly line production to reduce costs and provide consistent high quality, and despite the persistent, ignorant, "anti-trailer" bias, offers an affordable alternative to "stick-built," or "site-built" housing.


This is a great idea and a very good implementation. The house will consume a bit less in materials if the roof slope is made less steep. the savings will come in materials and, perhaps, a bit less labor and fuel to move the roof trusses and put them in place. Designers should strive to keep the mission simple: affordable shelter. Adding other objectives and requirements will mean that fewer people can afford the house.

Marvin McConoughey
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles