If you’ve followed the news lately, you know that we’re all on a ship heading into a storm: a global financial crisis which is impacting a wide-spread housing crisis along with millions of people being unemployed in the midst of an historic global climate change resulting in unprecedented natural disasters.

I’m a practical optimist which means I acknowledge there are problems, yet I believe we can meet these challenges. Anyone who isn’t already on the receiving end of these problems, should try to become part of the solution(s). I’m sensing that the demand for housing and the small simple sustainable house movement is really going to increase this spring and summer, and I want to prepare for that now.
I was inspired recently by the TED sponsored Cameron Sinclair presentation on open source architecture. I’d like to throw an idea into our collective brain trust to discuss in the weeks and months ahead.

I’d like to see the creation of a free small green house — or at least the plans and design of the home would be open source and in the creative commons. By harnessing the creative talents of the wide range of small house architects I know, as well as some LEED certified builders, and specialists in sustainable living and alternative power, I’d like to create a model small home.

As you already know, I greatly value, appreciate, and promote the creative work of the small home architects and builders out there. We need to continue supporting them. There will always be a demand for the valuable service they provide — offering creative solutions to each person’s unique housing needs. The many hours of labor and creative work they put into brining us solutions for structures is very valuable. The Free Small Green House would not replace their efforts, but it would be an alternative for those buyers who can’t afford an architect or an expensive home. This initiative will be an opportunity for these builders to get greater public exposure, and sell more homes and/or plans to those who want customized homes.

These are some of the features I would like to see incorporated into the Free Small Green House:

  • Affordable. These homes would be so affordable to construct, that they could be given away or sold at much lower than it costs to rent an apartment. Financing could also be part of this project to ensure that every person who wants a home can buy one (or qualify for a free one).
  • Attractive. The homes would be very cozy, safe, and pleasant to live in. They would be attractive. By no means would this be a low-budget undesirable solution to housing.
  • Help Ten Get One. I don’t actually know what the math would be on this, but the idea would be that you help ten people (let’s say) get a home, and then you get one for free. Help could be provided as labor, materials, and/or money. This would be similar to the Give One Get One initiative established by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) whereby people donate money to ensure a child gets a laptop computer, and the person donating gets a laptop as well – all for about $400.
  • Inexpensive and Easy to Construct. The home would be designed to use locally available materials, as well as used building materials that are available through freecycling programs or at low cost. The most effective yet most inexpensive materials would be selected. Labor costs are one of the largest expenses to building a home. When specialists are required and/or expensive tools, building costs go up considerably. So, this house would be easy for one or two people to assemble in a short period of time with materials that are readily available from local lumber yards.
  • Personalized. The homes could be custom designed. Using a web-based interface, the buyer (or future occupant) could choose from a variety of options (based on availability) for house dimensions, flooring, cabinets, windows, colors, etc. — making the home more personalized. The basic structure would be designed by architects, yet the appearance and some design features could be customized — so the dweller is the ultimate architect of their own home. The supplies database could pull from locally available materials. The personalization of the homes would be similar to ordering a Dell or Apple computer and selecting what configuration you’d like.
  • Power Efficient. The home would have low-power appliances and lighting, with solar power and small-scale wind power used to recharge a battery. These supplies would all be sourced locally at very low cost.
  • Sustainable. The home would incorporate principles of small-scale waste water management and gray water management.
  • Unique. The home would be in its design, use of materials, texture, construction, super mobility, strength, and weight — unlike anything we’ve seen before.

The goal is to provide a home design that is super affordable to buy and own, and super green. Thirty years ago, a desktop computer could cost as much as $5000. Now, a much more powerful (and much greener) computer can be purchased for about $500. It’s time that the cost (and technology) of housing became more affordable.

If you’re interested in this project, let me know, and contribute to the discussion here.



Gregory Paul Johnson, Director
Resources for
“Resources for Better Living”
E-Mail: [email protected]
Postal: PO Box 2717, Iowa City, IA 52244-2717 USA
Phone: (319) 621-4911