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The 99K Small House Competition

Effective Living > Small House Society

Summary. Rice Design Alliance and the American Institute of Architects (Houston Chapter) are sponsors of The 99K House Competition. The goal of the competition is, “To create an innovative design for a small house that is affordable, sustainable, and energy efficient.”

The 2008 winner(s) are: Robert Humble, Joel Egan, Ben Spencer, Owen Richards, Tom Mulica, and Kate Cudney, with Hybrid / ORA, Seattle, Washington.

Five finalists were selected from 182 entrants proposing a sustainable, affordable house that addresses the needs of a low-income family in the Gulf Coast region. The five finalists will each receive a $5,000 award and the competition will move forward to Stage II.

From The99KHouse.com website…

The 99K House Competition Seeks To:

1. Broaden awareness of green building strategies applicable to affordable housing.

2. Generate and publicize examples of sustainable, affordable houses that can be built and sold for $99,000 or less.

3. Produce a creative, innovative design that can be replicated throughout the Gulf Coast region.

4. Construct an exemplary sustainable affordable house prototype on a specific site in Houston, Texas.

This two-stage, international design competition calls for a single family house with up to 1,400 SF, including 3 bedrooms and 1½ – 2 bathrooms, on a 50′ x 100′ site in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward. The winning design should be adaptable to a variety of sites in the area, including 33′ x 90′ lots and 40′ x 100′ lots. The construction budget must be under $99,000. Entry fee for each project is $99, payable by check, Visa, or Master Card at the time of registration.

Entrants should check the web site periodically for any announcements, changes, and other updated information regarding the competition.

Stage I:  

All entries must be submitted electronically by January 14, 2008. A distinguished jury will choose three finalists, each of whom will receive a $5,000 award provided that they commit to continuing to develop their design through construction documents.

Stage II:  

The three projects chosen for continuation can be refined and the winning entrants must submit construction documents before March 31, 2008. The same jury will review the resubmissions along with pricing provided by a Houston-area home builder. The ultimate winner, who will receive an additional $5,000 award, will be selected by the jury based on pricing, design, sustainability, and adaptability for reproduction in the Gulf Coast region.

As much as possible this will be a paperless, web-based competition; all entries must be electronic. Registration, Submission instructions, Schedule, Program, Submission Requirements, Rules and Regulations, Jury information, and Frequently Asked Questions and Answers are posted on the competition Web site. Jurors will come together in Houston to view submissions electronically. After the winner is chosen, an exhibition of selected entries will be mounted at the Architecture Center Houston, and a catalog including selected entries and details of the three final projects will be published. 

The City of Houston is donating a site for the house through the Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority (LARA) initiative. 


Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood, a residential area east of downtown Houston, is a low-income neighborhood characterized primarily by wood-clad, one-story cottages on raised pier foundations.  Established in the late nineteenth century, the Fifth Ward contains small-scale houses with a high ratio of public service amenities such as parks, schools, churches, and community centers. This area has seen recent decay through neglect of homeowners, which has led to many vacant lots and foreclosures.

The neighborhood was selected as the site for The 99K House Competition because the organizers believe that construction of one prototypical affordable house here will initiate neighborhood revitalization.  We hope our interest in this neighborhood will encourage low-income families who have left their neighborhood to return. The competition will also address the changing demographic of low-income families in the Gulf Coast region.

Prevailing building heights, massing, and residential uses contribute to a consistent and harmonious character found among the immediate surroundings and should be considered. 


Construction costs cannot exceed $99,000, as designated by Houston contractors who will provide pricing for the three final proposals. Organizers of the competition believe that this is a realistic budget, given local economic conditions. However, entrants must be aware that the 99K budget includes builder’s overhead and profit, all appliances, hardware, and finishes, and any additional engineering or architectural fees. Logically, hard construction costs of materials and labor should be in the range of $75,000. 


All entries should recognize that sustainable construction systems and materials will be considered by the jury, who will recognize that through efficient energy use, initial cost can be offset by savings in ongoing utility bills. Energy generated by on-site sustainable technologies can exceed ENERGY STAR® requirements, further contributing to lower overall annual operating costs.  

By site positioning, massing, and overall design, building elements can shade otherwise exposed exterior building materials thereby lowering exposure to solar heat gain and baseline energy demands. Exterior shading may also protect exposed building surfaces from ultraviolet light that deteriorates surfaces and increases maintenance costs. 

When applying low-maintenance material systems, higher initial cost may provide enhanced long term benefits. Other optimal choices for material systems are those that cause less pollution or contribute less to the non-renewable waste stream. Construction waste should be minimized. Materials and processes that yield a smaller environmental footprint have benefits to both the homeowners and the broader community.

Categorized as Housing

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com