20K Initiative

What is the 20K initiative?

The 20K home project is an ongoing student-led, iterative research project at Rural Studio to develop beautiful, affordable, well-designed, and energy-efficient homes. The 20K Initiative is a faculty-driven expansion of this project. Its goal is to develop a scalable, sustainable, and resilient process for delivering these homes in underserved rural communities. The Initiative aims to address systemic issues underlying the housing affordability and inventory crisis through the replacement of the existing stock of substandard residences with beautiful homes that are safe, secure, healthy, and energy-efficient. Currently, Rural Studio is exploring two objectives: first, to scale the work and expand capacity and, second, to initiate policy and industry change. Ultimately, it is the Studio’s goal to make these products freely available for public use.

As part of the Initiative, Rural Studio is in the process of refining communication products for the design, procurement, and construction of four house prototypes. Over the next two years, these materials will be provided to multiple pilot project-partners to test the prototypes and further refine the communication materials. In the long-term, Rural Studio is partnering with educational and workforce development organizations to use construction of the 20K Home as a way to cultivate an industry of homebuilding to spur economic development in rural areas.

A key aspect of housing affordability is the secondary costs, or the costs associated with home operation and maintenance. The 20K Initiative seeks to analyze these secondary costs and couple them with the initial purchasing cost of the house to attain a more comprehensive picture of the real costs of homeownership. Harnessing this research, Rural Studio aims to work with industry leaders and government agencies to develop strategies and policies that facilitate a new paradigm of housing affordability. This “total cost” model will better protect the investment of lender, insurer, and homeowner while increasing rural health and prosperity.

Students continue work on the 20K Home to expand the product line of homes which, to-date, includes one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and accessible models. Future houses will also further integrate concepts of Universal Design, which creates environments that can be used and accessed to the greatest extent by all people, irrespective of size, age, ability, or disability. These concepts will broaden accessibility options, provide greater resilience against extreme weather, and allow homeowners to age comfortably in place with dignity.


Why is it called the 20K Initiative?

When the 20K Project began in 2005, the Studio challenged the students to design a home that could be built by a contractor for $20,000 (approximately $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for labor and profit). While students still aim to keep construction costs as low as possible for the nearly thirty homes built in the past thirteen years, the research has shifted to focus on the total cost of homeownership—striking a balance between initial purchasing cost of the house and the post-occupancy costs of operations and maintenance. 

Do the 20K Homes really cost $20,000?

Short answer: no. We are currently working to assess the material costs of the most recently constructed homes, though those costs fluctuate across time and markets. Our upcoming test-and-learn partnerships will provide us with more information on how markets and procurement methods influence the total cost of the house. 

How can I get the drawings and additional information?

More information is not available to the public yet, but you can get on the project update list by emailing us at rstudio.20k@auburn.edu. 

Can you build me a home?

Our students build homes for our local community in West Alabama. The 20K Initiative team is working to develop a network of partners who will be able to deliver the 20K Home to a broader audience and area. 

Can I hire you to design me a home?

Rural Studio is a research-based educational program; projects must align with our academic mission. We work with our local communities to develop projects that serve local needs. Rural Studio does not accept commissions for work outside of our educational mission.

I want to learn more about how you’re saving money and energy. Can you give me any building advice?

We do not currently have the capacity to respond to individual requests. 

I have an expertise that may be useful to you, how can I partner with you?

Send us an email at rstudio@auburn.edu.

Are any of the models larger than one-bedroom?

Yes, we are currently developing one- and two-bedroom models. We are responding to what we see as a gap in the availability of well-designed small houses. Many organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and USDA, have already developed larger high-performance house designs.

Do you have accessible models?

We have investigated designs based on Universal Design principles and models that follow ICC/ANSI 117.1 code. The four models we are currently refining through the 20K Initiative reference Universal Design principles.

Do the homes meet code?

Yes, the homes are designed (at a minimum) to meet the current International Residential Code. We are developing models that also meet various higher levels of performance standards including Passive House, Zero Ready, FORTIFIED, and HomeFree.

Will these homes work in my climate?

The current 20K Home models are designed for the mixed-humid climate of West Alabama. As the footprint of our houses expand, we will need to work with our partners to ensure that the homes respond to the climate and socio-cultural aspects of other communities.

Are you using safe building materials?

Yes, our homes are designed to meet the International Residential Code, which is designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public as it relates to the construction and occupation of buildings. We are also working closely with the Healthy Building Network to incorporate the HomeFree standards of material use and assembly.

How are the homes heated and cooled?

The homes are optimized for passive comfort, but include active systems as well.

How can I donate to this research?

You can donate at www.supportruralstudio.com or contact Melissa Denney at melissa@auburn.edu or by phone at 334.844.5436 to learn more about giving to our programs.

For more information, contact:

Natalie Butts-Ball 
Rural Studio Communications 

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