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Students Design/Build 400 Sq. Ft. $20k House

Rural Studio is a housing project at Auburn University. Here’s a little bit about this particular project, the 20k House (Version 2).

The Outreach Program was conceived as a way to bring outside students and collaborators into the fold of the Rural Studio. It has evolved from individualized non-architectural projects to a team project. The Outreach students are embedded in the Thesis Studio and work to further the 20K House. One of the most challenging of all Rural Studio projects, it deals with the question: what kind of house can be designed for $10,000 in materials when the other $10,000 goes for labor costs and profit? Approximately four Outreach positions are available each year. Applications are accepted until the positions are filled. More information and an application is available to download.
~Outreach Program, Rural Studio, Auburn University

The goal of the $20K house studio is to bridge barriers in affordable federal housing programs. Architecture students get to develop home plans that can be built by local contractors to serve rural residents who have low or modest incomes and are unable to obtain housing through conventional financing.

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Frank’s $20k Tiny House by Rural Studio


400-sf-20k-house-02 400-sf-20k-house-04 400-sf-20k-house-05 400-sf-20k-house-06 400-sf-20k-house-07 400-sf-20k-house-08 400-sf-20k-house-09 400-sf-20k-house-10 400-sf-20k-house-11 400-sf-20k-house-12 400-sf-20k-house-13 400-sf-20k-house-03

Photo credits: Auburn University, Rural Studio, 20k House II


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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 49 comments… add one }
  • Deek
    July 4, 2010, 6:31 pm

    very cool- not sure about 20k though- or the front window placement….
    Nice pix however…


    • Cyndi Lopriore
      April 1, 2014, 4:51 pm

      I think that for 20K this is really great, lots of room and I’m sold on the beauty of that rear porch, today it may cost a few thou’ more, but still worth it if you have the spot already, 😀

  • tinyhousetalk
    July 6, 2010, 8:29 am

    I'm not an experienced builder yet but it looks like it was made inexpensively… Maybe $20k back when they built it in 2006? Window placement is strange and in general could use more of them but at least they've got the back porch.

  • tinyhousetalk
    July 6, 2010, 2:29 pm

    I'm not an experienced builder yet but it looks like it was made inexpensively… Maybe $20k back when they built it in 2006? Window placement is strange and in general could use more of them but at least they've got the back porch.

  • Dan
    February 26, 2011, 11:01 pm

    I like it. 400 sq feet is perfect, at least to me. Is there any way I can get plans for this?

  • February 28, 2011, 1:51 pm

    Hi Dan – the plans aren’t available for sale or anything but I’m sure you can reach the program director to try and get them.

    With the right attitude I’m sure they would give it to you. Hope that helps.

  • February 28, 2011, 1:52 pm

    Here is their contact info:

    If I were you I’d make a call, an email and send a snail mail letter. 🙂

    Newbern Campus //
    Rural Studio // P.O. Box 278 // Newbern, AL 36765
    T. 334.624.4483 // F. 334.624.6015 // E. [email protected]

  • creg
    March 16, 2011, 2:13 am

    I don’t understand why these tiny houses are costing $20k +.

    I thought the entire point was to save money. With that kind of money you can just afford a large house.

    • Lisa E.
      July 17, 2014, 12:52 am

      My parents purchased a colonial home of 1,200 sf for $18,500. In today’s market that house now costs is 1.5 million.

      I’m sorry, but there is just no justification for the prices today other than rapacious greed and it’s all tied to politics. We need to end this and get off the money-go-round. To just accept this is unacceptable.

      • Dominick Bundy
        July 17, 2014, 7:05 am

        I so agree with all you said..It’s all gone so crazy with the cost of things as well as these outrages salaries some get.. You hear of the minimum wage controversy. (and what it should be) how about suggesting a maximum income and limiting liquid asset as well)

  • jay
    April 2, 2011, 4:45 pm


    what do you mean by “large house”? I would love to see an example…

  • di
    April 22, 2011, 12:32 pm

    With less square footage in mind:

    *Eliminate porches and decks.
    *Try a peaked ceiling and lower the height of the building.
    *For additional light, try skylights and arched windows over French doors.

    *Eliminate excess furniture.
    *Try a multi-purpose daybed or futon couch.
    *Store wardrobe in pull-out boxes/baskets under the bed or couch.
    *Try a laptop computer to eliminate books, tv, a stereo, etc.

    *Eliminate excess kitchen appliances and shelving.
    *Try an under-counter fridge and washer/dryer on either side of the kitchen sink.
    *Try large cutting boards over the under-counter appliances.
    *To hide clutter, try a curtain rod and two small curtains under the kitchen sink.
    *Store a portable stovetop vertically under the sink.
    *Store stackable pans and dry goods in pull-out boxes/baskets under the sink.
    *Store dishes and glasses vertically on narrow kitchen wall shelves.
    *Store eating/cooking utensils in a jar/vase/basket.

    *Create a bathroom, with a grey water tank, adjacent to the kitchen plumbing.
    *Try a composting toilet, shower stall and small corner sink.
    *Try towel shelves over the toilet.
    *Store first aid/cosmetics in baskets on the shelves.

    Always thinking…

    • Nancy Sadewater
      December 13, 2013, 8:26 pm

      I for one like the deck and the screened porch- it expands your living space without the bugs. The gentleman they pictured in the home would most likely have difficulty with pull out boxes under the bed and couch and same with items in the kitchen area. I would have added more windows for good cross ventilation and an area for the gentleman to actually sit at a table for a meal. I have slept on a couch and/or futon for 5+ years – no thank you, the bed is by far more preferable. The purpose is different for him than it would be for you or me.

      • HUNTER
        November 19, 2015, 4:24 pm

        Nancy i totally agree. di must be into no comfort and/or barely living. as we get older some things look like a luxury but to be honest they help us, who have body difficulties ie: hands don’t work as well as when we were young, knees stiffness, bad backs etc etc. so you see what others consider as a waste actually helps us seniors get around and live as best as we can. stairs are a big difficulty , hard to open windows or doors. and my big complaint is low to the floor toilets. with both knees prosthetic’ s getting up off of low couches, toilets, car seats, low chairs etc, is a real struggle for me. Heart conditions prevent reaching up high. bending low has been long gone for years…so individual needs are important and easier in a small/ tiny house. Wisdom comes with years of living and learning. god bless…..

  • April 22, 2011, 1:59 pm

    Love your ideas Di. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Bonnie
    July 27, 2011, 2:05 am

    This house plan is obviously for a warm climate area. It wouldn’t work so well in my area. That being said.

    What I like about this house is the large living area for having guests over, and the large open shelves for storing anything the owner might want to have.

    Not everyone who is interested in small/tiny houses wants to through everything they have away, just to be housed.

    This gives them some decorating/storage/entertaining opportunities.

  • July 27, 2011, 11:03 am

    I agree Bonnie. For a lot of folks the really tiny houses are too extreme and require too much of a life change. But those who love it love it, haha.

  • September 15, 2011, 5:31 pm

    I really like the house. Sitting in a wooded environment or a bog or something, I think it would be quite cozy. 400 sq. ft. is bigger than my first apartment in NYC. I mean, the floorplan appears rather large! And a back porch as well? I live in rural Eastern North Carolina and that home is nicer than a fair amount of the folks not in need of federal subsidization. I think it is perhaps a bit idealistic. I also wonder why the waste of the “loft” space that is so well lit in the pictures. And what about the use of corrugated metal. If that were sitting on a cleared lot with full sun you would need sunglasses just to drive by. And speaking of lots. With acreage being what it is now, would the program also cover the procuring of land? Just wondering……

    ~ Drew,

  • September 15, 2011, 5:45 pm

    I think it was built for a senior so no loft is probably good here. Not sure if they bought the land for him, too?? Will have to check. But yeah- I would have taken half the square footage and gotten some cabinets. See ya, Drew!

  • -billS
    November 29, 2011, 12:22 am

    Very interesting. I like the simplicity. What DID you do with the loft area? Is it open space front to back on the screen porch? Any skylight from inside the space? I could see how this could work in a colder climate with the addition of a fabric type insulation on the walls like an all season yurt. I imagine the walls looking something like the utility elevator with the pads hanging on the walls but these would be thicker. In the woods or on the beach. I can see it both places. Great job!!!

    • November 29, 2011, 3:24 pm

      Thanks, Bill- glad you left your thoughts! I don’t think they’ve got any skylights. But yup, I like the “simpleness” of it too.

  • deborah
    December 25, 2011, 1:05 pm

    I like it a lol! Would have just had a loft over the bedroom area and left the rest with a high ceiling and an exhaust fan in the peak to take the hot air and humidity out in summer. Also, need an exhaust hood over the stove badly. Otherwise you will have a very hot/humid house and grease everywhere.

    Skylights are a pain in the butt. Too much heat in summer, leak, collect leaves and dirt that must be cleaned twice a year…I speak from personal experience here.

    As far as someone complaining about the siding, it could be painted very easily. I have a portable building here on our homestead that I painted ten years ago with an acrylic paint after washing the metal down with vinegar (to etch it just a bit) and it has never peeled, flaked, or bubbled to this day!

    I love the steps but you could save some $$ by making them a standard size. Lumber is always $$$.

    This style reminds me of the old sharecropper shacks still here and there in our sweet home Aabama where we live.

    Would have liked to see some more inside shots…

    • December 26, 2011, 8:20 pm

      A lot to learn from your insights here, Deborah, thanks so much. Glad you shared! Never realized the work involved with skylights.

  • Stephen
    August 28, 2012, 3:37 pm

    I’m so new to this,I have yet to learn how to figure sq footage (I have a general idea of szing cmpard to homes I’ve owned or rented,but that’s it)…is it figured by multilying lxw? By footprint? by interior volume? I wonder because I’m curious what the sq footage is on te 12’x24′ shed I’ll be moving “from here to there” next Spring and converting to living quarters for myself….

    thank you 🙂

    • sunshineandrain
      January 28, 2013, 2:29 pm

      Stephen, lxw is correct for square footage (outside dimensions), so your 12′ x 24′ shed is 288 sq ft. Hope this helps.

  • Stephen
    August 28, 2012, 3:39 pm

    PS: sorry,I forgot to add/ask…what’s the footprint (width and legnth) of this home if known,or did I miss it in the post? I ask because it loks cmparably sized to my shed…

    Thanks 🙂

  • Joe
    August 24, 2013, 10:51 pm

    Love this house. Just what I have been looking for. Can you send me more information? Can it be mailed to

    Joe Boon
    2705 Willow Rd.
    Apt. A
    Jonesboro, AR 72401


  • Fred
    September 16, 2013, 6:08 pm

    I recall reading about this Auburn University program five or ten years ago. At the time they designed and built about 6 of these low cost homes. Each one was totally different from the others, but the goal of each was to come in at under $20K. Even back then when this program was active, it was difficult to get any info from them, and they published very little on the net at the time about the finished homes. Their blog is at http://20khouse.ruralstudioblogs.org/20k and they have lots of build photos going back to 2010.

  • Deborah
    September 16, 2013, 6:55 pm

    I like the home with the screened in back porch. This means that the back porch could be enclosed later if desired. I too would have loved to see a loft used for extra space. I live in a HOT environment and would love what it would take to keep this place cool. Interesting that everyone talks about the house being 20K but we have to remember only 10K was used for materials. Now if I could only buy 10K worth of materials to get the same outcome with volunteers I would love it that much more!

  • ElTee
    September 18, 2013, 7:48 am

    With that square footage they could have easily given him a proper separate bedroom, or at least a wall with an open doorway (instead of a curtain). I’m also confused that they seem to have left under the eaves open right the way through from front to back, leaving it vulnerable to being taken over by animals & birds for nesting, I also question the logic behind lighting that space. It’s not ideal, better to have enclosed the front and back panels (or at the very least sturdy netting to keep out critters, they could have given him loft space, even if he couldn’t go up there himself, I’m sure he could have had someone else help with putting things up there, or just given an nice cathedral ceiling.

    There’s no sign of a bathroom on the pics and a distinct lack of windows. I can’t help but think 20k to build that seems excessive considering that it’s mostly corrugated metal (which probably isn’t the best for hot/cold extremes?). I feel the whole thing could just be better all round for the square footage (considering my own flat is only 50sf bigger & much better lay out). Though I do like the enclosed porch, it seems just a bit too big for the needs of a single person?

    • Doc
      December 14, 2013, 11:25 pm

      FYI, you’ll notice in the pic with the gentleman in the chair behind him is the toilet, so that curtain is for both the bed and bathrooms! I’ll take that large screened deck for eating out, sans bugs thank you very much! Like it a lot.

  • Libertymen
    December 14, 2013, 7:57 am

    Get rid of the huge front steps.and the covered porch entry in front.
    They do serve a purpose,but its way overdone.Devote less $ to those.
    The lifespan of decking is about 20 years and then?
    I like it overall.Put in more windows instead.

  • Brian
    July 16, 2014, 8:29 pm

    That’s a lot of house for $20K and I suspect it would cost a lot more in 2014.
    Love the corrugated siding and the space inside and in the back porch. I’d have one tomorrow for $20K LOL. Thanks Alex for finding this one. Cheers from Aus

  • libertymen
    July 16, 2014, 8:41 pm

    Eliminate the steps in front ,They are huge ,expensive and serve no purpose.A set to the side does the same thing.Why not screen the front and eliminate the porch in back,?Still needs more windows.Uncovered stairs have huge maintenance issues too,

    • katiei
      November 19, 2015, 8:52 pm

      My thoughts too. The money used for the steps could be traded for two small windows on each side for ventilation. I do however disagree with you on the front porch. Front porches are more than a protected place to sit. They offer connection to one’s community. I think a study should be done about how air conditioning has diminished community ties – everyone sitting inside instead of on the porch visiting with the neighbors.

      • Nerida
        April 4, 2018, 12:50 am

        Big issue for me is the kitchen. Why do so many architects think everyone eats out. There is no space whatsoever for for preparing food. Any of those open shelves could have been swapped out for kitchen work bench and cupboards. If you cant afford a roof over your head you cant afford to eat out thats for sure. Although if you are homeless there is no other option.

        I too am really curious about that open roof space. Did they simply run out of money?

        As to the steps at the front, I think that is another great space to congregate with friends and neighbours. An earlier comment referred to the lack of community now everyone stays in doors with their air con. running. The other thing front porches provided was neighbourhood crime watch. If everyone is out keeping cool and being neighbourly everyone is alos keeping an eye on what is going on and who belongs where, and who isnt where they should be plus loitering strangers.

        Its a great project/concept just this one doesnt do it for me on many levels but I do love the front steps and the back enclosed porch and that someone gets a roof over their head that they might not have otherwise.

        An interesting project.

  • Marsha Cowan
    July 16, 2014, 9:14 pm

    I am confused…is that whole attic open on both ends?

  • Sola
    July 16, 2014, 10:01 pm

    This small home has aesthetic appeal with the corrugated metal siding. Love the roof pitch and rear screened porch. Have a screened porch is a plus living in the south. Those skeeters can be pesky!

  • Linda
    July 17, 2014, 1:17 am

    All those steps could present a real navigation problem for those with restricted mobility. Since this was designed for a senior citizen and mobility generally decreases with age, a ramped side entrance would be far more practical. I did like the open interior, which looks as if it would work for those who use walkers or wheelchairs.

  • DFallis
    July 17, 2014, 10:46 am

    I’m relatively certain that construction labor was a factor in the price. My husband and I could build the same building for about a third the costs. The metal siding is not a detractor in the project. Many buildings use metal siding because it is much cheaper than other exterior materials. However, due to having a couple of metal buildings on our land, the heat of the siding might be something to consider. There are many other choices that would be no more expensive. Smart-Siding is a good match for someone looking to use a less expensive material. Then again, we live in the south and the costs of materials are cheaper here.

  • Missy Cady
    January 26, 2015, 12:49 pm

    Is the house insulated? Would it hold up to Upstate NY winters? How do I find the plans, or have the students build it for me? I love the screened in porch and the open area. There are changes I would make, but the outside structure I love!

  • Sandi B
    February 12, 2015, 11:02 pm

    I agree with those who say that $20,000.00 even with todays higher prices is excessive for this basically 4 walls and a roof building. The kitchen counter space is way to small, having juggled with this size kitchen in my RV for the past 12 years — never again — what a nightmare. A person needs some prep space and to be able to a least have room to make a sandwhich. The bedroom and toilet together is bad and no privacey if you have company for dinner or the afternoon. I fail to see where the materials used here would cost $20,000.00 or any where near.

    I had to go back and look at the pictures as I did not pick up on the rafters being wide open front to back — poor design/construction on many levels. While I applaud the thought and effort for affordable housing I think this greatly misses the mark. The reality and actual liveability of this are just not there.

  • Lori Olson
    February 21, 2015, 9:40 am

    Hi! I love this idea, with the students building the home & getting work experience. I would LOVE to know how do I contact this program, & apply for a house to be built for me. I am 59, & dis-abled, so cannot do the work myself. Please send me any info I may need to get this started..& What state is this in?

    Thank you so much…Lori Olson

    November 18, 2015, 7:22 pm


  • betty
    November 21, 2015, 10:07 am

    I sure that gentleman is just glad to have a home. Betty

  • Jen
    December 19, 2015, 2:51 pm

    I don’t see the bathroom. Is there one?

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