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!!!!!! How to solve the Affordable Housing Crisis

 
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I own a small business, called "Rural Land Watch" where we buy and sell rural land, primarily in Oklahoma and Texas. We've done fairly well, and we continue to build and to grow, and have been moving up into bigger and bigger, and nicer parcels of land.

Also, I happen to have a 25+ year career in commercial construction. I can build anything. My long-term growth plan is to provide solutions to the Affordable Housing Crisis. I've done quite bit of brainstorming and research into what makes a GOOD house, and why modern home construction is shit. I've used the blog "McMansion Hell" to identify specific elements of what makes modern homebuilding so shitty.

If I were to brainstorm up a short list of what I hope to accomplish, and the main criteria of what a "Good Home" should be, I could come up with a list of 5-10 things pretty quickly. Here's a list of 7 things I found in a blog article:

1. The home should be airy and well-ventilated  
2. The design of the interiors should be ergonomic  
3. The material used in construction should be of good quality  
4. The height of the ceilings should be between 10-12 feet  
5. The living rooms must have enough space for dining table & sofa placement  
6. Kitchen area should have enough space  
7. Quality fittings must be used

I agree with most of this list, in general, and natural building techniques would and could fill these gaps.

HOWEVER, and the big "BUT" to this whole conversation is: "Mortgage"

In my mind, a home has to qualify for a mortgage from a bank, to enable the majority of people can be eligible. I mean, I get it, I get it. This is Permies.com. Home of people who want to build their own homes, on their own land, with their own hands, and not be a servant to the banking cartel. I totally get that mindset. I also understand that most people don't think like we do.

So if I were going to condense the above list into a short "must have" criteria, I might think about: Energy efficiency, affordable, quality, and include "mortgage" into the mix.

If we take mobile homes on a piece of land, we can end up with affordability and mortgage, but we lose on energy efficiency and natural building elements.
If we include quality and mortgage into the mix, I can build nice quality homes for people, but then we lose the affordability component.
I have a good friend who wants to build earthen homes for people. Great on affordability and natural elements, but no mortgage ability.

Right now, my thoughts are leaning towards a modern interpretation of the old Dog-trot style homes. I like the idea of ICF with a stone cladding. So that would be very high on energy efficiency, and a person could get a mortgage, but it wouldn't be affordable to the masses. Which leads my thoughts to building luxury quality homes for people with money who happen to be concerned about the environment, but that doesn't solve the "Affordable' part of the housing crisis.

I've attached some photos of old-time dogtrot cabins for reference. So, imagine building a home in that style, with modern construction techniques. Orient the home to the sun properly, with high thermal mass in the structural walls, and plenty of air flow, and you can survive and thrive in the Texas summer heat.

General discussion encouraged. Am I trying to accomplish too much by thinking about the mortgage factor? Seems like an unsolvable knot. Maybe I need to define the problem a little better? Any input is appreciated.
 
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Dogtrot-Cabin.jpg
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What if you could define what qualifies for a mortage?
Having people with spare money invest into a fund that builds natural buildings and rents them and possibly sells them at an affordable rate over time of the new inhabitants like it?

Here I am still at the stage of figuring out what to build. How to build it will come after that. But good architecture is badly needed everywhere.
 
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Why not a modular design that begins with what ever is minimal in terms of your criteria but can be easily added to? For the sake of an example LR, bath, K, and BR.
 
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Tom, if I were in your position I would have a lender for my real estate business.  Next, I would talk to that lender about a construction loan.  

Then I would find out what qualifies for a home mortgage and make sure I built the homes to those specifications.

I saw some plans on Pinterest for modern dog trot homes. They can be nice looking with a modern approach.

What I don't understand is how it can be more affordable to build two houses instead of one, especially using natural building materials.

Can you help me understand this?
 
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There's one criteria that I have on my house-building list that I've never seen on anyone else's. I call it "Operational Efficiency".

Day to day, year to year, how well does the home actually function?

For example, I'm in Wisconsin. Frozen pipes are yearly risk. That risk could be minimized by positioning plumbing fixtures so that they're on interior walls, yet every floorplan I see has more than half the fixtures on the exterior walls. Even when the person designing it has lived in Wisconsin their whole life and knows full well what happens in winter. I'm sorry to have to point this out, but that seems like a stupid way to build!

I'm told it's customary to wait to plan out the HVAC system until the house is already half-built, then force the HVAC person to work around everything. Those of you in the industry, is that really the norm? Because again, I'm sorry, but it seems like a stupid way to do things. Plan out the utilities, including HVAC, in the early stages so you can adjust things to make them run more efficiently. That also gives you a chance to plan for future safety and maintenance issues. If a water pipe leaks, how quickly will the water reach an electrical outlet? If you need to replace something, how much damage needs to be done to get to it? There are ways to plan stuff out so that the future homeowner has an easier time dealing with stuff.

I'm trying not to rant here, but I've seen some maintenance nightmares over the years. 99% of them could have been avoided in the planning stages, if the designer had been thinking ahead.

And some things could be made more efficient that aren't actually "problems", but they are daily annoyances. Most dirty laundry is produced in the bedrooms and bathrooms, right? So why is the laundry room often so far away from both? If the fridge is near an entrance, groceries won't have to be carried very far. Little details, but they contribute to the overall efficiency of the home. That might not make houses cheaper to buy, but it might make them easier to own.
 
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Tim Flood wrote:

4. The height of the ceilings should be between 10-12 feet  

Why?
Why not? : harder to clean, harder to change light bulbs, heat rises so the sofa feels cold.
I have heard that houses do not meet human's sense of "protected shelter" when the corners are all square and the ceilings are all the same height, but so many homes I visit feel like they're all "show" and little "cozy" and I'll vote for cozy any day!

And wrote:

2. The design of the interiors should be ergonomic

I totally agree! We had 1 week to find and buy a house when Hubby got transferred. The kitchen "looks" lovely, but is extremely difficult for more than one person to work in. There are plenty of cupboards, but they're all fairly narrow, so once you put one large item in, there's no room for a second - just wasted space. The front door and hall is half way between the lower floor and the upper floor. There's enough room for a few pairs of shoes, but the coat closet is up in the upper floor hallway. It's as if they were trying to 'conserve space' by having the front hall double as a stair landing, but reality falls short and just about everyone enters through the garage door where coat hooks line the wall at two heights.

Ellendra Nauriel wrote:

For example, I'm in Wisconsin. Frozen pipes are yearly risk.

Yes, and I bet you've never seen a hurricane in your neighborhood! I recently did an online work-sheet for my Municipal's Planning Document. One page showed a series of pictures of potential "housing options". NOT one showed anything even remotely outside the box - North American suburbia from sea to sea, from the heat of Florida to the cold of Yellowknife in the Yukon. Some housing regulations help regardless of your local risks  - one of our risks is earthquake and some of the building techniques would help equally well if the risk was a hurricane or a tornado (solidly built central cubby with no glass possibly doubling as a closet or a loo). Before my current locale, I lived in Ontario, and bought a fairly efficient 2 story house with the kitchen sink pipes being the only ones on an outside wall (except outside taps with proper shut-offs in the basement, so they were fairly safe.) The builders didn't consider when the SHTF and you have a 5 day power failure, because trying to drain all or most of the water down to where it entered the house was a bit sketchy. Passive solar heating - what's that?

However, I don't "blame" the builders. They're trying to make money and give customers what they want. All the fancy magazines, commercials, TV shows demonstrate big, fancy homes with 4 bed and 4 bath (if not more) as if that's what we all should be striving for. We all need to challenge that mindset and if we know people house-hunting, try to get them to look at countervailing books like The Not so Big House by Susanka - it "looks" like a normal house, so it's a gentle introduction to people who might open their minds to a better approach to housing.
 
Anne Miller
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Jay, I am glad you brought up the height of the ceiling.  that was another of my concerns that I forgot to mention.  

I feel standard ceilings are much more affordable in building costs, heating, and cooling costs.

It is always best to go with standard building cuts such as 8' and 10' boards even if you are milling yourself.  This is because later on repairs might be needed and it might cost more or be inconvenient to have to acquire odd size boards.
 
pollinator
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High ceilings are great in hot climates. When I was a child, we would go to Brooklyn every August. My grandmothers apartment had 10 ft. ceilings. It was a life saver.

My childhood home had clere story windows, they are amazing for temperature control as well.

I really like the design of the post WWII housing that is so prevalent in California. It is very functional. Homes are 1000-1500 sf. Rooms are small but very usable. My only complaint is they had only one bathroom, which is a major pain. Although they were not well insulated, most people added that later.

I like straw bale building for insulation. And like others have mentioned pipes are best on interior walls.

Here in Oregon, one lender is more open to give mortgages for off-grid or alternative housing. Talking to lenders, particularly local credit unions might be a good idea.

 
Tim Flood
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Sebastian Köln wrote:What if you could define what qualifies for a mortage?
Having people with spare money invest into a fund that builds natural buildings and rents them and possibly sells them at an affordable rate over time of the new inhabitants like it?

Here I am still at the stage of figuring out what to build. How to build it will come after that. But good architecture is badly needed everywhere.



Yes, I've thought of that. If you could gather up enough like-minded people with deep enough pockets, I believe you could probably start an alternative mortgage company. Or you could even do owner-financing on one house at a time. But I am thinking this step is the macro, the BIG step - In my mind's eye, you have to build one or two, first, and proof the concept.
 
Tim Flood
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Anne Miller wrote:What I don't understand is how it can be more affordable to build two houses instead of one, especially using natural building materials.

Can you help me understand this?



Well, right. I see what you're saying. The dogtrot was originally designed before the advent of electricity, and the house was designed to create maximum air flow through the home to help keep it cool. It is my understanding that settlers would build one small portion first, to include the kitchen and living side on one half, and then later add the other side of the house, the bedrooms.

Now, we have electricity and a/c to keep homes cool, so the divided house isn't necessary.

I'm not sure how the costs of two small homes will compare with one larger home. I like the aesthetic of this type of home.

I guess that's a criteria which I should add - The home should look right, compared to it's surroundings. Aesthetics
 
Tim Flood
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Great feedback, all. In general, everyone seems to grok what I'm asking.

I really like the use of the word, "cozy"

If I could create homes that have that feel of Grandma's home - That kind where you walk inside and immediately feel "Ahhhhhhh......." inside.
 
pollinator
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This is a great subject! +1 apple

---

The high ceilings are a great idea that is worth considering for cooling, as I see the OP is in Oklahoma/Texas.  Yet like a lot of things this shouldn't be blindly adopted across the board, but rather only when it is appropriate to the location.  In colder areas standard ceilings (or shorter) may be better.  I'd lump that into what somebody also said, "Operational Efficiency".

IMO, I also think courtyards may be worth a second look for the same reason.  Ancient Romans and Indians (both definitions - in India and Native Americans in the Southwest) employed a cool inner courtyard shielded against the heat of the day by the structure itself.

---

The problem as stated reminds me a lot of the "three-legged stool" of engineering.  That is, you have the features: fast, cheap, and quality.  But you only have enough "wood" to choose two.

Another approach rarely considered, is to simply build a smaller stool.

In general, I think we've lost the virtue of small.  Not necessarily the "tiny house" thing in particular, but how to reduce your house's size and features down to the barest minimum and afford to do it right, as opposed to the McMansion mentality of huge but lousy.
Then, maybe down the road a couple of years, you could afford to add-on using the money saved through greater efficiency.
 
Tim Flood
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K Eilander wrote:This is a great subject! +1 apple

The high ceilings are a great idea that is worth considering for cooling, as I see the OP is in Oklahoma/Texas.  Yet like a lot of things this shouldn't be blindly adopted across the board, but rather only when it is appropriate to the location.  In colder areas standard ceilings (or shorter) may be better.  I'd lump that into what somebody also said, "Operational Efficiency".

IMO, I also think courtyards may be worth a second look for the same reason.  Ancient Romans and Indians (both definitions - in India and Native Americans in the Southwest) employed a cool inner courtyard shielded against the heat of the day by the structure itself.

---

The problem as stated reminds me a lot of the "three-legged stool" of engineering.  That is, you have the features: fast, cheap, and quality.  But you only have enough "wood" to choose two.

Another approach rarely considered, is to simply build a smaller stool.

In general, I think we've lost the virtue of small.  Not necessarily the "tiny house" thing in particular, but how to reduce your house's size and features down to the barest minimum and afford to do it right, as opposed to the McMansion mentality of huge but lousy.
Then, maybe down the road a couple of years, you could afford to add-on using the money saved through greater efficiency.



RE: Roman Courtayrd. Check out this pic. That idea is also rolling around in my head, good for hot climes.

RE: The three-legged stool. Yes, I agree that housing needs to be made smaller. So many of these McMansions are huge, and homebuilders jam the biggest house they can on the smallest lot, then you've got a house that's huge, and feels hugely empty inside.

Great thoughts!!
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Jay Angler
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K Eilander wrote:

In general, I think we've lost the virtue of small.  Not necessarily the "tiny house" thing in particular, but how to reduce your house's size and features down to the barest minimum and afford to do it right, as opposed to the McMansion mentality of huge but lousy.

It is cheaper per square foot for a builder to build a large house than a small house. "House Bloat" goes from common 1200 square feet houses in the 1950's to a builder telling me a couple of years ago that the house he was building wasn't "that large - only 4500 square feet" and I'm betting that didn't include the detached 2-car garage with livable space above! In the same period, the average family size has dropped from 6 or more to 3 or maybe even 2.
But what makes a small house livable in its climate, is designing it with flexibility and climate in mind. My current kitchen, has 3 exits and two have pocket doors and the third are sliding doors which allows me to control kitchen noises/smells/heat. It's a early 1980's house, and many houses no longer have that ability. But 3 doors in a kitchen is at least one too many as it turns it into a hallway rather than a working space unless those doors are perfectly positioned.
 
pollinator
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Tim,   I had to Google the "Dog Trot" house design.....never heard of it before you mentioned it, but I really like it!   Also understand now why it excelled in the southern States of the US and not the North.   I recall seeing a TV show on the northern prairie "L-Style" house....an example of the many abandoned ones around us shown below.  Maybe it's the northern equivalent to the Dog-Trot house.  Anyway, they seemed a pretty popular and efficient design, separating the mud/work/kitchen space from the bedroom/parlor space.  For those with livestock, it may not be such a bad idea to go back to times when the barn was fused via a breezeway/tack corridor to the house, thereby allowing for access to the barn during long stretches of cold weather.
L-house.JPG
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Jay Angler
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John Weiland wrote:

For those with livestock, it may not be such a bad idea to go back to times when the barn was fused via a breezeway/tack corridor to the house, thereby allowing for access to the barn during long stretches of cold weather.

There have been studies done regarding the distance the average fly will fly if it wants food, and directives keeping "animal poop" or "human poop" further from a kitchen/food processing area than that distance written, and most Health Departments won't like people trying to change that. I recall some of those studies were done by the US military so they knew how far the loos should be from the mess hall in temporary camps, and when the guidelines are followed, cases if intestinal bugs drop dramatically (in other words, this is a simple, low tech demonstrable action to protect health - not unjustifiable interference with human choice).

That said, building breezeways +/- tool storage/ workshop areas to provide a covered link to animal areas in some climates would make plenty of sense. Planning hedge placement, Hugelkulture mound placement, or similar, as wind management to shelter houses, walkways, and barns will help the whole process also. These could easily do double duty as warm spots to sit in spring and fall and to start plants in a slightly protective environment.
 
pollinator
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Tim, I think your idea has lots of merit.
I like the idea of internal plumbing.
Tall ceilings are so practical I dont understand the resistance to them, if cost is a concern build a smaller home.
But their value in hot climates is great.
Laundry near bedrooms is smart, but with a small home it may not be an issue.

I have always encouraged the modular system, it makes it affordable as you progress if you want to rough it a bit also.
As for mortgages, there is good debt [ housing] and bad debt [ travel] its so simple.
 
Jay Angler
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John C Daley wrote:
Tall ceilings are so practical I don't understand the resistance to them, if cost is a concern build a smaller home.
But their value in hot climates is great.

Yes - in hot climates! In Canada, not so much! Now we just have to convince "modern" people to build homes for their climate and environmental risks, rather than for the house they saw on TV (which with few exceptions, is far more house than people could manage without).

That said, as a person who builds things, sews, cooks, and gardens, as much as I adore a well-designed "tiny house", people with my lifestyle will probably do better with a "small house" and a *really* big workshop!    Seriously - we need more people to start "doing" things, rather than just being entertained by electrons and that requires workshop space rather than fancy living rooms.
 
John C Daley
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I think I have it about correct then;
Small home 100 sq M
Workshops 2500 sq M
 
Jay Angler
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Hubby agrees with your figures, John.

More seriously, I can remember reading "A Pattern Language" and the author stating that we need more "working housing" - small production products for the neighborhood produced in ground floor workshops with housing behind and above. I'd change that to food production behind and housing above. People will eat better if they have some fruit trees and veggie gardens on their own land. Some people figured that out with the Covid crisis last year, but I really wish more had figured it out 3 decades ago before our communities were filled up with big houses on tiny lots. Unfortunately, most communities actually consider having a "business" in your home to be a breach of planning rules.

Alternatively, I can remember seeing plans for solid small homes built in China which were sturdy enough to have serious roof gardens. Having the garden on top ensured better sunlight.
 
Stacy Witscher
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I agree completely, small houses, big outbuildings, at least for rural properties. Another thing that we are going to do on our property is detached bedrooms. That could be done in conjunction with the modular system. Our property came with two houses complete with separate septic systems. Oregon is quite strict about a lot of things, but a house by definition has a kitchen, after that things get more nuanced. So while our houses satisfy all the major rules, other building aren't examined so much. Our goal is to offer rental housing for others at cost, either in money or trade. Ownership isn't possible because of restrictions, but not everyone is looking for that.
 
Tim Flood
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This has turned out to be a great thread. Thanks for all your input. I've found a lot of great, like-minded thinkers here. Sounds like all I have to do is to go do it!!

I think a key takeaway is that all housing has to be local. I think the fancy word for that is "vernacular." Building with what you've got. Obviously, the dogtrot makes sense in Texas, but the "Little House" farm house makes good sense in the midwest.

Doing a little browsing at random, and I found these links. Maybe they can help add to the discussion.

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/10/12/there-are-3-different-kinds-of-developers?utm_campaign=meetedgar&utm_medium=social&utm_source=meetedgar.com&fbclid=IwAR0Vq7iu1UhO6MuF0nsOOnF_cZYth4fYBadV8-CSOW_3cDkeZhwsS7uQFnM
https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/11/1/how-to-be-a-small-scale-developer
https://www.incrementaldevelopment.org/
https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/9/24/thinking-big-about-building-small
 
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Hi, Your title is affordable housing crisis, and I ask affordable to whom? I'm not trying to rain on your parade, and there is no but here. Lets look at affordable housing in a different manner. I have friends from 146 different countries and most of them do not think we have an affordable housing crisis. To them we have a covetousness and greediness crisis. If a person makes a certain amount of dollars he can afford b dollars, yet he wants c,d,e,f,g,h...dollars and since he cannot afford all and everything it is called a crisis, most of my friends do not see it as a crisis. We here in America are actually wealthy even if we live in a 100 sq foot apartment. I ask why the landlords get to charge $1200.00 for that apartment and why do the taxpayers have to pay to help someone live there to support the greed of the land owner in certain cities?

I think what you really are asking is how to make houses better, for less money. I agree that the country is diverse in climate and topography and bugs. Every place should be allowed to devise what the bare minimum requirements are for themselves instead of a central government demanding what and how you have to build, which would make some things less expensive. We would also have more alternative shelters to live in. Did you know that Frank Lloyd Wright had an extreme amount of trouble getting his structures built because they didn't meat code. A small group of 300 people could alter local control over central control. Look up R.E.S.U.L.T.S. pac. 200 volunteers had the 2nd greatest influence in the US, and changed things in govt" because of the tactics they used. Maybe a Permies pac could do the same to make housing less expensive. If we are willing to put in the effort to change the mindset of the nation it can be done. Be persistent and it will take years, but finding the best building practices from around the world and having them introduced in the US means going against many of the people with money and power.
 
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I think the idea behind 'affordable housing' is having the best bang for the buck.
A certified passivehouse might be very cheap to run, but it's in no way affordable. A shack might be very cheap to build, but it's not a nice place to live, and the maintenance costs might be too high.

As many of you have already said, the specifics of the building will depend on the climate. Something you all have not said, is that houses are suited for specific family typologies. A family of four doesn't have the same necessities than a single person, or a person in a wheelchair. Some old houses were designed for extended families. Depending on who is going to inhabit the space, privacy is more or less a concern. With less privacy needs, more rooms can be multipurposed, less space lost in separations. If I live alone, I can use my dormitory as the dining room and hall, since no one is going to disturb my sleep.
Another thing that we usually forget is that our family typology changes with time. Both things combined mean that the same house is not optimal for the same person throughout his whole life.

A second thougth in affordability, it is that you seem to be considering only private homes for single families, and this is not the most affordable way to live. Consider a student residency case. All students have a medium sized dormitory where they can sleep, study and brush their teeth. Maybe they have a small table for visits and a fridge. Then they share everything else: kitchen, shower rooms, living room stuffed with a library, sofa, TV, laundry, etc. They need special rules for all that shared spaces, but we can say that it's cheap.
The evolved model of the residency, is the hotel. Hostels are cheaper, but they lack good common services. Hotels have these services, but, at least how I know them, they are intended for the voyager, the tourist, premium quality and thus they are overpriced. The closest to the model for bigger families that I've found is the intentional community, something like a co-op, sharing a big building for several families sharing common facilities. Having said that, I don't think this form of sharing should involve more than 20 people, lest cohabiting problems arise. Still, extended families have lived and can live this way again. It's not easy, but it's affordable.

Other than the consideration above, an affordable house to me is one that:
- I can afford to buy it without getting a mortgage higher than 30% of my earnings.
- I don't need to reform because the distribution is ill for my needs.
- I don't expend too much in commuting because the house is in nowhere hills.
- I don't feel like an alien in the neighborhood (wealth gap).
- I don't need to repair very often because the construction was poorly made.
- I don't expend half my earnings in cooling/heating because the design didn't consider the climate specifics.
- Maintenance is easy and cheap.

So, half the work of the developer is to figure it out who is going to live in the house, and build a house that is affordable for that person/family, and suits their more probable needs. The other half is building with safe and sound materials and techniques, and considering maintenance.
 
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Those old L-shaped farmhouses which are so common in northern rural areas are often a serial construction, not built that way from scratch. Surprisingly, the one-story "wing" is often the original house, with the two-story part and porch nook being added as the family grew and/or became more prosperous. I saw one a half-mile from me being dismantled stick by stick some years ago for reconstruction elsewhere; the one-story section was vertical plank walls covered with siding (a very old construction style), while the two-story part had typical stud framing.
 
John C Daley
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I have a mantra I use.
I call for small housing and it fits between tiny houses and 'normal' housing currently being built.
Affordable housing can vary of course with each person. Small housing does not.
Its modular designed, so as a family either grows or gets a bit more affluent additions can be made.
It discourages the extras that are extravagant and you may call it 'adequate ' housing.

But its start cost will be lower and Housing programs may be able to help.
Too bad if some people think its  not perfect, in Australia its what was built in the 1950's to house a growing population
and its better than a bridge or a card board box.
It could be a stepping stone from Dignity Village.
I hope people see the benefits of the concept.
 
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There are a great many astute observations and good ideas here, though I think the question of how to solve affordable housing and how to start a development company with a better social and environmental ethic, while connected, are perhaps separate issues.

That said, I think having little development companies that stress things like climate-appropriate housing, natural and locally-sourced (even in-situ) resource utilisation, and designing for adaptation and modular expansion would be a great idea. I think that it would be much easier if I could just go to my Permies.com directory and look up the mortgage broker/financer/developer in my area to locate a suitable property and provide me my laundry list of requirements to guarantee the success of the property and concern not only as a place for me to grow my family and lots of food, but as an investment for whoever is holding the mortgage, to ensure that it develops inherent value to generate revenue to pay off the mortgage.

That might be a piece of the puzzle. If those providing mortgages not only ran the numbers and chose the safe, boring bets, but ensured that "riskier" individual borrowers with unique requirements got what they needed to succeed, I know more of us aspiring landowners would be out standing in our fields right now.

I think that, especially in terms of stimulus, government-backed mortgages, loans, and lines of credit lent at prime rates would be an excellent value-building exercise. I think it would be analogous to governments spending tax dollars on necessary infrastructure projects during economic downturns. It boosts employment and consumer spending, even if it's just because they have enough money to eat and pay the mortgage.

For the political side of this, we should start a thread in the Cider Press.

I think that a business directory of lenders and skilled craftspeople and builders might be a good idea. If, for instance, relevant in situ building resources, from roundwood or millable timber to mineral resources such as stone, aggregate, sand, and clay could be valued and discounted from the liability on the project (the materials would need to be used on the build to qualify), it would probably shave at least some of the costs in some cases.

As windows and fixtures are some of the more pricey articles, having ReStores in this hypothetical directory would be useful. A builder with a rapport with such depots in their area could offer cost-saving measures to buyers, who would then choose between what used materials options exist first.

To this end, it might be a business opportunity, once houses are being built like this and there is demand outside of ReStores, to have a deconstruction company dismantle houses where they've been abandoned, to salvage everything salvageable, building materials included, where applicable. A developer could have a warehouse or depot (a quonset hut with a forklift and pallet racking on some land would do for the rain-sensitive bits, and pallets in the sun for most masonry and such) storing useful salvage. I would also be looking to collect sheet glass and panes from broken sliding doors and such, anything that could be repurposed as glazing for greenhouses.

I agree wholeheartedly that the specific design needs to suit not only the climate, but the specific building site and the personal need of the buyers. I like ceiling heights and surface areas in dimensions that accomodate 4' x 8' sheets, where possible. The less trimming to fit, the faster and easier the build, and the fewer the offcuts.

Living in Ontario as I do, and living in a humid continental temperate climate, we see temperature swings like few would believe. So as much as I appreciate a cozy little couch alcove in the winter, a central great room design with clerestory windows or venting skylights to release hot air in the summer might be just the thing, especially if a ceiling fan that can reverse directions for the seasons is included in the build.

For those of us not familiar with using a ceiling fan in the winter and think I've lost it, all ceiling fans used to be reversible. The idea is that while in the summer, you have the ceiling fan circulate air by blowing it directly at you to aid in skin evaporation, providing cooling, in the winter, the spin direction is reversed, pulling air up. As hot air is already at the top of the system, the cooler air being pulled upwards displaces it, forcing warm air downwards, allowing the owners to benefit from otherwise wasted hot air sitting just under the ceiling.

One design that I love is an A-frame or barn-style two-storey great room with loft design that is expanded upon later with a two-storey L-addition that comprises a central corridor to an exit and two large utility or workrooms on the main floor. The stairs to the original loft would offer access to the second story of the addition, allowing two more large bedrooms.

I have to admit that I love A-frames. especially the equilateral ones, even though they are inefficient with regards to the usable space they offer as compared to an open barn truss structure on the same footprint. But the latter option almost doubles the available square footage, and even if I had snow loads that heavy, I think I would find a better solution.

This is modular in concept, and could easily be built as a three-storey home, or be shrunk down to tiny home proportions, depending on the resources available and the needs of the buyer. Likewise, a second L addition could be glommed on opposite the first, offering two wings, again, in a variety of sizes.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention something many people here have probably seen before. I love the currently nordic trend of building four-season greenhouses around existing and sometimes heritage structures. I would definitely be building and insulated north wall and half-ceiling on the north side (northern hemisphere), but I can't think of anything better than a large greenhouse encapsulating an existing refurbished heritage farmhouse that still works for the owners, and including perhaps the barn or kitchen garden, or both.

Lastly, ATI hasn't been mentioned outside of a reference to passive solar. Where there are seasonal or diurnal temperature swings, we might consider an air-based heat pump solution, whereby an air intake at the roof peak of the structure blows air over a certain temperature under an insulated slab of stabilised rammed earth under the structure itself. Eventually, this would warm the slab, which would release its heat to the structure when it was sufficiently cold.

As to more out-of-the-box solutions to affordable housing, some of the most innovative concepts I have seen recently are a mix of both old and new.

I am sure you're all familiar with quonset huts, and how they were implemented as affordable housing in the post-war era. This is still an option in some places. As they are traditionally windowless except for the ends, I would favour tall, short sections with reused window walls on the ends, and maybe see if some light tubes can be installed on the peak or near it.

I have also seen some very interesting things being done with stacked sections of cast concrete pipe. Sections are stacked horizontally in layers and the ends windowed on the south side (northern hemisphere), with perhaps a wall of stacked shipping containers in behind, serving to connect several sections into individual dwellings of three or four sections, with flat floors and utilities including HVAC, wiring, and plumbing in the hollow forming the bottom curve. They might also provide a shared corridor between units, or just a foyer/cloakroom exit to the north side.

I think innovative materials use and reuse of conventional materials is key, though. We need ways to make sure that what we reclaim isn't toxic or otherwise dangerous to use, but apart from that, the more materials that should never have been discarded in the first place that can be repurposed with minimal energy inputs that we can use and not pay for, the wider the margins. It's literally mining "garbage," where the air quotes specify that it's the materials equivalent of "weeds," whose only crime is to proliferate where we make mistakes.

Great thread, though. Lots of great input. Keep us posted, Tim, and good luck.

-CK
 
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LOVE this thread. I am looking to move into the mountains in the southwest and build my retirement semi-natural home (I am no dogmatist, hence 'semi-natural').

I lived in Texas with weather extremes, without electricity and without heating and cooling, for four years after becoming disabled. I was preyed on financially by mortgage companies and insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies and was dirt-poor despite having been a scientist and computer engineer.  It was all stolen from me.  I understand alternative heating and cooling in a more intimate way than most.

One issue is I have is seasonality.  My needs in the summer will be very different than in the winter.  Here are two ideas I had that I have never seen discussed elsewhere. I want high ceilings in the summer and low ceilings in the winter.  I have thought about constructing some type of temporary loft over my living room with panels that could be easily removed or swung upwards and secured during the summer.  The loft could be used for sleeping areas for my grand kids or for temporary storage.

The other idea I had is the refrigerator. Why not have some type of panel behind the fridge that could be opened to the outside to create a cool-area for the fridge in the winter? With an area for cool-storage of fruits and vegetables? I can see lots of issues, like avoiding freezing,  but it is something I would like to consider more.  I don't like the idea of a cellar so much.  Not convenient and I am old and don't like stairs.  Also, we had a cellar when I was a kid and had so many problems with it leaking and flooding when it rained.  What a nightmare.  

I have thought a lot about the business end.  Coops, intentional villages, creative mortgages, etc.  I leave that to others to pursue as it really IS NOT my cup of tea.  And I hope they do pursue it, and soon.  Seems like we FINALLY have enough societal momentum to do so.  I have waited for this day for many years.
Thanks for the discussion, Tim.
 
Jay Angler
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Forest Viridiana wrote:

I want high ceilings in the summer and low ceilings in the winter.  I have thought about constructing some type of temporary loft over my living room with panels that could be easily removed or swung upwards and secured during the summer.

Interesting that you just wrote this. Yesterday my family and I were discussing the whole "high ceiling" thing and I mentioned that I recalled that at Wheaton Labs, one winter they used fabric as a "lowered ceiling" in their tepee. I had had a similar idea at one time that I hadn't acted upon as it hadn't been critical path, so we discussed how something like a fabric "roller blind" that went horizontally across a room in the winter, but rolled up against a wall in the summer might be a cost effective way to improve an existing situation. Your idea of panels that actually made for temporary living space has merit - so many homes are larger than really needed just to accommodate occasional guests!
Hopefully someone at Wheaton Labs will see this and know whether I'm remembering correctly or not, and how it worked out.
 
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The problem I see with modern homes is the size of certain rooms within.
It seems that some people have grand ideas about what they will be doing in those rooms. Those grand ideas are what increase the size and cost of homes.
For instance, I have seen on many "house hunter" type of show that a lot of people place a real value on the size (oversizing) of the bedrooms. This is just my opinion but in my eyes a person need only enough space to comfortably store ones clothes and to sleep. I have seen huge bedrooms with couches, reading nooks etc etc.
Which brings me to my next room, bathrooms/master bathrooms. I see huge bathrooms that could comfortably fit many people at once. At least in my opinion, rarely is a bathroom being used by more than two people and that is usually a husband and a wife within their master bath. All other bathrooms (children's, community) are historically used by 1 person at a time as no one wants their brother/sister in the bathroom while they shower or whatever. So a 1 person bathroom could be much smaller in that instance. Put the laundry in there and you have saved on the one use laundry room.
Different areas of the country have vastly different cost/square foot to have a house built. Lets say it costs $100/sf.  If you were to collectively cut 200sf of space from those 5 rooms ( in a 3 bedroom home with 2 bathrooms) that would save $20,000 dollars.
You pay for every sf whether you actually use it or just walk through it. For instance, in an open concept house, I have seen great spaces between the living room, dining room and kitchen. That is dead space that you are paying for. I'm not saying It has to be crammed together, I'm just saying to be more reasonable. In some friends homes, I have walked through some pretty expansive "empty space" as I move from one area to another within an open concept design.
Removing the dining room and adding a little more space to accommodate a table has the potential to save major sf. Take a 12 by 12 dining room out of the equation ( which is small by today's standards) and you have saved another $14,000.

Rooflines. I see all these rooflines with multiple hips and valleys. Useless, multiple, Decorative gables in the roofline are another area of high cost. There is a lot of time and lumber involved in constructing decorative rooflines. I would not know the savings on that but just think of the needed material,  time involved in framing, extra roofing material and you can only imagine the savings. I live in a northern climate where we get a lot of snow. Valleys only serve to collect snow and if not done properly can be the source of a leaky roof.

Kitchens and living rooms are where, in my opinion, you want to spend your money. That is where you will spend the majority of your awake hours with, again in my opinion, the kitchen being most important. Sure, Make them comfortable for your determined amount of usage but don't get crazy.Yes, Kitchens need to be slightly larger to accommodate a table.

Now add in the savings of the reduced the cost of heating and cooling, reduced lighting fixtures that save on electricity etc etc. and you have major saving on owning a house.

What I think is most important about building a house is insulation. I once heard someone say , " you pay for insulation once. You pay for heat loss for the rest of your life". No truer statement could have been said. Learn how to insulate and learn how to do it properly and you won't regret it. Do not trust that your contractor is going to do it properly. It is a rotten job that most hate and just rush through.

Some contractors are willing to work with some people and will let the future homeowner do some projects that will save additional money. Especially if they do not like doing them (like insulation). Usually, contractors hire an insulation sub contractor and then charge you (a lot), above what the sub contractor charged him. And all the contractor did was make a phone call to the sub contractor. I hope that is not confusing.

In my daughter/son in law's  home the contractor let us install the proper vent, insulate the house and wire it because we had the basic knowledge to do it with a little help sometimes for complicated runs like 3 way switches and the like.
We caulked each exterior wall where it meets the floor to keep pests and drafts from getting underneath and through to the interior. Bend down sometime and look under a newly constructed exterior wall and see all the gaps. You would be amazed.
We spray foamed narrow stud spacing as it is difficult to stuff regular insulation in them. We spray foamed behind every exterior wall outlet and switch.  We, not the contractor, hired a company to blow something like 24" of cellulose ( best in my opinion) into the attic which allows for some settling. You can even do this yourself by renting the equipment to do it. If you do, wear a proper dust mask. They have never had an ice dam on their roof and their house is never drafty. I have never lived in a hot climate but In my humble opinion, it is not taller ceilings you need to improve your comfort. I would think that improved venting and properly insulated attics are where the answer lies. Again, having never lived there , I could be wrong.

We painted the interior of the house. Anyone can paint. Might not be fun but you can do it. And it will save you A LOT of money. That alone I think saved them somewhere between $5-10K.

Again, Do not indicate you want to do some of the work before getting the estimate of the build. Let him give you the price and THEN ask about doing some work yourself. If he agrees then he should then start subtracting some of the cost from the original estimate. If you ask BEFORE you get the estimate, and he agrees to let you do it, he could realistically  just charge you the same price as if he was doing ALL the work and you would never know it.
If your contractor is not willing to let you do this, look for another. But I would caution you to use a reputable contractor. Don't just go with the lowest price. It may cost you in the long run.

My daughter and SIL did not reduce the size of their large home but they saved tens of thousands of dollars doing some of the work.

I would love to go on but this is getting very lengthy as it is. I know that not everyone will agree but I just thought I would give some ideas about saving some money if building a house is in your future.




 
K Eilander
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Last night I was catching up on some internet videos, and this episode of the Townsends history channel from last week reminded me of our discussion of climate-appropriate housing.

Oldest House in the Oldest City in the US


Particularly their discussion on the Galleria beginning about 1:58.  He mentions in Florida and presumably more equatorial regions, the staircases were historically all built on the outside of the houses for ventilation... yet even just a little distance North in Charleston South Carolina, their staircases were built inside.

 
Ellendra Nauriel
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Forest Viridiana wrote:

One issue is I have is seasonality.  My needs in the summer will be very different than in the winter.  Here are two ideas I had that I have never seen discussed elsewhere. I want high ceilings in the summer and low ceilings in the winter.  I have thought about constructing some type of temporary loft over my living room with panels that could be easily removed or swung upwards and secured during the summer.  The loft could be used for sleeping areas for my grand kids or for temporary storage.



Old wineries in southern states often included a tower. This served a similar function as the high ceilings, only more so. When the doors to the tower were opened, hot air would flow upward creating a chimney effect, and cool air would be pulled through the lower levels to replace it. These towers were essential, not just for comfort reasons, but because they created enough airflow to prevent CO2 buildup from the fermentation.

If a tower were insulated really well, including the door to the rest of the house, perhaps it could take the place of that high ceiling? In the winter, just close the doors to hold the heat in.
 
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hey Tim
Number 1 are you the same Tim Flood who lived in Meridian
that I sold a house for? If so I have the same email so send me a message there.
Next I just found out that the new 2021 building codes ave something in them to allow for cob construction. haven't checked it out but thought Id share that. should help on mortgage end.

Ron
 
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Rural Studio has had a project called the 20k house that they have been working on for almost 20 years now. Several of their designs have been similar to the proposed dogtrot.

http://ruralstudio.org/project_tags/20k/
 
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I'm surprised no one has brought up the cost of all the red tape involved in building a house. Part of the reason houses are built so big is because the building materials are the inexpensive part.

Around here, more and more things require engineering. It's an easy way to pass along liability, but engineering is not cheap. Owner-builders are now required to take an $800 course before they're even allowed to build.

We have a 12 x 16' house that we built for under $20,000 in materials. We didn't get permits for anything. If we'd built exactly the same house, but done everything legally we'd be in over $100,000.
 
Jan White
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Oh, and my $100,000 doesn't include water or power. We're a little off the beaten path so running power lines to our place would be at least $30,000. No idea what a well would cost.
 
Abraham Palma
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Kitchens and living rooms are where, in my opinion, you want to spend your money. That is where you will spend the majority of your awake hours with, again in my opinion, the kitchen being most important.


My son strongly disagrees with you. For him his bedroom is his kingdom!
 
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Sadly, permitting costs are highly locality dependant. We just finished converting an old church to a (much too big for us) house, and permit prices were very reasonable. This building was in town and needed to be fully permitted. Remodel permit was around $600, the permit cost to build a new freestanding garage was like $250. We were not allowed to do the mechanicals ourselves only because we hadn't lived in it long enough to count for an exemption. Now if you live outside of city limits you are only required to follow county rules, and wouldn't have even required permits for what we were doing. This was in TX.
 
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