I know that many see it as a fool’s quest, but I long to see the barrier broken. Can “green” homes be built without subsidy for under $100 a sq. ft.? I am glad to see that there are folks out there working to do just that. I am especially interested in the work being done by the guys at EcoUrban Homes.
But… there are still several hurdles that are plaguing the pursuit. The most obvious to me is property prices. EcoUrban is working in St. Louis. With urban lots going for under $10,000, keeping the overall cost below $150,000 becomes possible. But what if you don’t want to live in Detroit or Cleveland?
Second, there is labor. I am encouraged to see more and more contractors and builders increasing their repertoire of green products and processes. But still, paying for skills in more sustainable building practices can be cost prohibitive. Some apparent “silver bullets” of sustainable building run into trouble with labor costs as well. I am a personal fan of earthen building because the basic materials are dirt. I have some basic building skills and a job that doesn’t pay much (so my labor is cheep). But for most, it just isn’t affordable to pay people for hundreds of hours of labor to ram earth or lay adobes.
Third, there are materials. It is still more costly to build smart than to build the “Home Depot Special”. (Home Depot is getting better about its products, and I am impressed that they are partnering with LEED to develop “Affordable LEED” housing.) Of course some of this is simple supply and demand. Until new products take over a significant market share they will be more expensive to produce and harder to find. But even prefabricated modular style homes falter, in my opinion, when it comes to material cost. In most cases it makes no sense to me to pay $50,000 to $100,000 for a modular shell that has to be transported to the sight, and then have to spend another $100,000 to various contractors to finish on location. Often I feel like the true cost of the materials is still not being represented in the final price tag. Yet, there are some people working to use actual sustainable materials and lower the prefab costs far enough to make modular a possibility.
Lastly, we have to overcome indifference toward the poor. Mostly, the “green” building industy is focusing on making money. I understand this, and at a certain level, endorse it. But, if we are going to make a real move toward sustainability it can’t be just for the rich.
Personally, I think the answer to the $100 a sq. ft. dilemma lies deeper in the cultural values we use to define home and our deeply guarded individualism. Maybe if we valued community and relationship in slightly different ways we could find answers to our housing woes without killing the planet.