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3 Examples of Making Housing Sustainable… and Affordable Too!

There is no question that sustainable housing is ideal for the environment. However, the cost to build an environmentally friendly single-family home or multi-unit dwelling historically has made it impossible for most people to own or rent one.

However, through a combination of government funding, technological advancements, and human innovation, that paradigm may be shifting. The three developments described below of how future housing might be both sustainable and affordable.

A Real House for an Affordable Price

If a government grant offered $20,000 to go towards the construction of a new home, would it be possible to create the entire home for that amount? Rural Studios of Alabama has been tackling that question for just over a decade. The result is an impressive display of sustainable home building, with several model homes developed using just $12k of materials and $8k of labor.

By paying attention to traditional designs such as overhanging roofs, a staple of Alabama home architecture for decades, Rural Studio maximized efficiency is their designs. They installed high ceilings to allow the heat to rise and provide the home with cross-ventilation. Furniture was placed to provide a reflective surface for better energy efficiency. The result are homes that instantly appraise for as much as twice their cost of construction.

A 500 square foot home may not be for everyone, and the $20k price tag does not include the cost of land. However, Rural Studios' accomplishments offer a concrete example of building homes that are both sustainable and affordable.

Are Tiny Houses the Future of Sustainable Living?

Tallahassee, Florida has a huge homeless population, with one of the driving factors being the area's $1,050 median monthly rent required to obtain an apartment. Knowing there had to be a better answer to the affordable housing crisis, a local businessman, who once paid for the construction of a homeless shelter, has proposed a tiny house community consisting of sustainable homes ranging from 250 to 400 square feet. The community, tentatively named The Dwellings, would offer communal spaces such as an organic garden and shared areas powered by solar panels.

While the tiny house craze is catching on nationwide due to several popular shows on cable television, not everyone in Tallahassee is on board with the idea. A common sentiment expressed by neighbors is concern over the demographics that a tiny house community might attract. Despite the expected "not-in-my-backyard" sentiments, simplistic living via 'tiny houses' continues to grow in popularity.

Tiny homes require less material to build and use far less energy than standard homes. Could this proposed Tallahassee community represent a viable and affordable future for sustainable housing? Would enough people really be willing to live in a tiny home?

 Saving Green by Going Green in Urban Areas

Recent housing projects in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and New York City take a different approach to sustainable and affordable big-city living. These apartment complexes, which offer both market rate and low-income monthly rents, take advantage of solar paneling to reduce the cost of heating water by 35 percent. Rooftop solar panels can also supply electricity to certain common areas of each building. The construction companies responsible for building these structures purposely placed large windows to provide direct sunlight for lighting as opposed to using electrical sources.

Each of these apartment complexes is located in a major metropolitan area with easy access to public transportation and the ability to walk to complete many errands. Other features include a large community garden, rainwater containers that collect and release run-off in a more efficient manner, and sidewalks created with permeable paving material. The green building features, mixed-income residents, and numerous indoor and outdoor communal features make these structures a unique solution to the growing problems of homelessness and environmental decay in heavily populated cities across the country.

How do you view the future of sustainable housing? Is reduced consumption and a simpler lifestyle achieved through tiny house communities the way forward? Or are smarter and more consolidated urban living spaces a more realistic goal? Sound off in the comments and share your thoughts.