Karrie Jacobs' book The Perfect $100,000 House created quite a buzz when it came out in 2006. One of its many fans is Rich Reinhardt, a custom builder and a developer of the high-design community the Houses at Sagaponac in Bridgehampton, N.Y. After reading Jacobs' book, he decided to try and build a spec house for $100,000 on property he owns in Vermont.
Then he met Anthony Caradonna, a professor in the architecture program at Pratt Institute. Caradonna agreed to teach a fall 2008 studio course focused on designing the Vermont house. "Most of what we do at school is maximizing sustainability and affordability anyway," he says. "We're very interested in interdisciplinary courses." In return, Reinhardt will give Pratt a donation equal to the home's final construction cost.
Caradonna's students came up with 10 designs using affordable models such as Quonset huts, shipping containers, and panelization. At the final review, a panel that included Reinhardt and Jacobs chose two top projects. One featured a Miracle Truss pre-engineered steel and wood frame; the other called for SIPs. "They both just seemed really straightforward," Jacobs says. Caradonna and the students melded elements from each plan into one project, refining it over the next semester.
The resulting design is a simple box with a shed roof. It will be stick-built, with a foundation of insulated concrete forms. Due to the low cost of building in Vermont, as well as Reinhardt's expertise with standard stud walls, conventional framing turned out to be cheaper than SIPs. The originally conceived Miracle Truss framework was abandoned when the Pratt team's attempts to get in touch with Miracle Truss were unsuccessful. (The company is rumored to have gone out of business recently, and its website is no longer operational.)
The home's walls will be superinsulated against Vermont's freezing winters. And passive solar techniques, including a Trombe wall made with glass bottles, will also work to keep the house warm. Among the project's recycled and reclaimed building materials will be wood from an old Vermont barn, salvaged slate, and even discarded skis.
Caradonna's students are finalizing the construction documents now. Reinhardt plans to begin building the house this summer, possibly with their assistance. The project has already given the class a valuable opportunity to create a real-world dwelling for a real-world budget. "The early modernists were all about good architecture and high design for the masses," Caradonna says. "This project is about trying to revive those goals."