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What is the Front Porch Initiative?

  • Who are we, and how do we fit into Rural Studio?

    We are a Rural Studio professional team that has been building a national coalition of partners to create a system-based approach to improve housing access. Our coalition includes organizations and institutions that work in all facets that affect housing access: financing, code, zoning, building resilience, access to utilities, healthfulness of building materials, you name it.

  • What do we do at Front Porch Initiative?

    We are a problem-solving initiative working on the challenges of equitable housing access. With our coalition, we find ways to reduce the barriers to homeownership. Our work also builds on the applied research on housing affordability performed at Rural Studio: We are focusing on increasing the financial stability of homeowners by designing homes with low maintenance, weather resilience, and minimal utility requirements. We have created a catalog of home designs that can be built by housing providers, and we provide them with technical assistance. Also, as we encounter new situations, we learn, and we bring that knowledge back to Rural Studio.

I’d like to build a home. Can you help?

  • Can Rural Studio students build me a home?

    Rural Studio students build homes within the Studio’s service area in West Alabama. Our Program takes on a small number of design-build projects that allow our students to learn deeply, preparing them to become thoughtful, well-rounded architects. If you are in our service area, contact our main office at 334-624-4483 or rstudio@auburn.edu.

  • Can the Front Porch Initiative build me a home?

    The Front Porch Initiative is exactly that: an initiative (rather than a development organization). But the team works with a network of partners across the Southeast who deliver homes within their service areas. Contact your local housing providers to see if you are eligible. These include Habitat for Humanity affiliates, community land trusts, and community housing corporations, for starters.

  • Can I hire you to design me a home?

    Rural Studio is a research-based educational program, and 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.

  • Can I get home plans, and will they be ready for my building site?

    We have a selection of case studies with detailed Rural Studio design drawings that can be used to create official architectural plans (site-specific plans). The case study text explains field adjustments made for specific construction situations. Every building site is different—soil, elevation slope, water flow, etc.—and local building codes vary. You will need adjust the drawings for your building site. Keep the overall design, though, because significant changes (moving windows, etc.) will change the efficiency of the home.

  • Why do I need to hire an expert? Aren’t you the experts?

    As an educational program, Rural Studio can provide design inspiration based on research, expert insight, and feedback from field tests of our designs. We also offer a solid basis for creating official architectural plans. You still need to have an expert—ideally, a Licensed Architect—make field adjustments to the design you choose. An architect will make sure your final plans meet local codes and are ideally suited to your home orientation and site, such as with a foundation type that is best for your soil, elevation, slope, water flow, etc. They can help make sure that adjustments to the design are sound and result in a safe, comfortable, high-performing home.

  • I want to learn more about how your homes are built. Can you give me any building advice?

    As we continue to develop our research, we will continue to update this website with resources about housing affordability and building technology. We do not currently have the capacity to respond to individual requests.

What about design and cost of these houses?

  • What was the 20K House? And why isn’t it $20K?

    The 20K House Project was a student-led, iterative research project at Rural Studio that focused on home affordability. When the 20K project began in 2004, we undertook the challenge of designing a home that could be built by a contractor for $20,000 (approximately $12,000 for materials and $8,000 for labor and profit), not including costs like septic systems. While we still aim to keep construction costs low, our research has shifted to focus on the total cost of homeownership. We aim to strike a balance between the initial purchasing cost of the house and the post-occupancy costs of operations and maintenance.  Learn more about the Product Line homes that we are offering to partners through the Front Porch Initiative.

  • How much does the house cost?

    Short answer: it depends. Material costs fluctuate across time and markets. Site conditions, like wastewater systems and the need for grading, greatly affect cost. Our ongoing field tests continue to provide us with more information on how markets and home delivery methods influence the total cost of the home. This question will never have a simple answer, but we still aim to keep the material costs low while designing for low post-occupancy costs (such as heating, cooling, and maintenance).

  • What’s so innovative about Front Porch Initiative homes?

    Our building techniques are standard; a contractor can easily handle building our homes. Our innovation is in our approach to the design and delivery of homes. Design-wise, we continually fine tune designs to create small, comfortable, efficient homes that minimize utility and maintenance costs. And we pay attention to accessibility for homeowners with disabilities. Delivery-wise, we are working with a whole system of partners to adapt ordinances for minimum plot and home size, put loans in reach (such as through a sweat-equity down payment), create incentives for resilient, healthful, and efficient homes like ours, and much more.

  • Are any of the house models larger than one bedroom?

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

  • Do you have accessible house models?

    We design based on Universal Design principles and models that follow ICC/ANSI 117.1 code. All four models we are currently offering through the Front Porch Initiative reference these principles.

  • Do the homes meet code?

    The homes are designed (at a minimum) to meet International Residential Code (IRC). We are developing models that also meet higher levels of performance standards including Passive House Institute US, Zero Energy Ready Homes, FORTIFIED, and HomeFree.

  • Will these homes work in my climate?

    The current Front Porch Initiative homes are designed for a mixed-humid climate, like that of West Alabama. As our reach expands, we will need to work with our partners to ensure that the homes respond to the climactic and socio-cultural aspects of other regions.

  • Are you using safe building materials?

    Yes, our homes are designed to meet the International Residential Code (IRC), 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 with the Healthy Building Network to incorporate HomeFree principles of material health.

  • How are the homes heated and cooled?

    The homes are optimized for passive comfort (without added heating and cooling), but include active HVAC systems as well.

I want to get involved (partner, offer expertise, donate)

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