Competition Program

The Sustainable Home Competition offers architecture students the opportunity to design a modularly constructed three bedroom, one and half bath home that does not exceed 1,070 square feet and $100,000 in material cost. The competition will have 2 primary areas of focus:

  • The inclusion of passive solar energy design techniques that can be affordably implemented. Whenever possible, these passive solutions should be adaptable depending on the home’s orientation. 
  • The inclusion of flexible interior layouts, exterior elevations, and modular construction components that allow for limited homeowner customization while maintaining the home’s affordability. (Consider different family dynamics and regional design characteristics)

In addition, the home must meet accessibility and universal design requirements and comply with “Design to meet Energy Star” standards (at minimum). Homes should be designed for optimal functionality in the student’s local climate zone. Four regional finalist designs (East, Midwest, South, West) will be selected.

What are Habitat houses like?
Simple, decent and affordable.
Habitat for Humanity houses around the world are built according to the same guiding principles:

  • Simple.  Habitat houses are modestly-sized. They are large enough for the homeowner family's needs, but small enough to keep construction and maintenance costs to a minimum.
  • Decent.  Habitat for Humanity uses quality, locally-available building materials. Habitat house designs reflect the local climate and culture.
  • Affordable.  The labor of volunteers and partner families, efficient building methods, modest house sizes and no-profit loans make it affordable for low-income families to purchase Habitat houses.

Habitat houses in North America
U.S. and Canadian Habitat houses are modestly-sized by North American standards. Habitat’s guidelines dictate that a 3-bedroom Habitat house may have no more than 1,070 square feet of living space. 

Habitat for Humanity’s commitment to build with people in need readily extends to those with disabilities. When possible, Habitat houses incorporate basic accessible design features, such as a zero-step entrance and wide passage doors and hallways. Houses built in partnership with families with disabilities include additional accessibility features.

Competition participants will design a Habitat house that is appropriate for their locale (East, South, Midwest, West). In doing so, the designers will face the stated criteria for a Habitat house: Simple, Decent, and Affordable.

Designs should focus on innovative and sustainable building solutions. Competitors are encouraged to use creativity and innovation in designing their sustainable home. The home must include the following spatial elements: Living Area, Dining Area, Kitchen, 3-Bedrooms, 1 ½ Bath; all within 1,070 square feet.

Habitat for Humanity house design criteria are defined by the following points:

  • The living space provided—excluding stairwells (except to a basement) and exterior storage—should not exceed 1,070 square feet for a three-bedroom house.
  • A three-bedroom house should have one full bathroom (i.e., sink separated from toilet and shower) and may have an additional half-bath.
  • Families should have the opportunity to choose decorative finishes for the house whenever possible.
  • A budget may be established with a predetermined limit (e.g., $1,000) to allow the family to personalize their home with features such as appliances, fencing, a shed, etc.
  • Each house should have a covered primary entrance.
  • When feasible, at least one entrance to the house should be accessible to people with limited mobility.
  • All passage doors, including bathroom doors, should be at least three feet (3') wide.
  • Hallways should be at least three feet, four inches (3’-4”) wide from rough frame to rough frame. If there is a door at the end of the hallway, the minimum width increases to three feet, seven inches (3’-7”). These standards allow for access by people with disabilities.
  • Further adaptations may be needed if a family member is disabled.
  • Houses should not have garages or carports.

Adhering to these design criteria supports Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build simple, decent, affordable houses in partnership with families in need of shelter. Adhering to these criteria also guards against inconsistency in construction and budget overruns.

Students should choose a site based on a city lot in their region (East, West, South, or Central) shown in the map below. North American participants are required to site their projects in their school’s city. The criteria for site selection include the following:

  • Size:  the site should be no larger than a typical single city lot
  • Context:  the site should be located in an easily accessible area of the city
  • Access:  the site should have access to public transportation such as light rail, commuter rail, subway, or bus

Site Development
Site Development includes site selection and planning, building orientation, landscaping, storm water management to preserve natural resources.

  • Orient the home on site to capture the benefits of passive solar heating and cooling and to take advantage of  natural ventilation.
  • Utilize methods of landscaping that emphasize water conservation and the use of native, drought resistant plant materials. Make an intentional effort to conserve green space and trees on the site. Practice proper fencing of tree root zones to lessen construction damage.
  • Develop landscapes that are resource efficient and require less maintenance, minimizing use of turf grasses.
  • Plant shade trees to help cool the home during summer months and allow for natural heat gain in the winter thereby lowering costs and improving comfort while providing an attractive and valuable landscape.
  • Protect topsoil and minimize disruption of existing trees and plants.
  • Follow low impact development practices. Create and follow a site management plan that outlines proper erosion control, conservation, and storm water management procedures. Following such a plan is critical for good neighbor relations, reducing silt into waterways (streams, creeks, lakes, rivers).

Refer to the International Building Code and local zoning ordinances, height restrictions, set backs, easements, flood plain requirements, emergency egress, and fire containment. Accessibility guidelines must be followed; refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with the principals of Universal Design.

Criteria for the judging of submissions will include:

  • Demonstration of compliance with all objectives.
  • Degree to which knowledge about materials, products, and installation contributes to a sustainable and successful housing solution.
  • Creativity and uniqueness of the design solution, with a strong emphasis on feasibility, affordability and constructability.
  • Demonstration of a successful response to economic sustainability, to basic architectural concepts such as human activity needs, pride of ownership, structural integrity, and coherence of architectural vocabulary in a regional and local context.

The competition is co-sponsored by The Vinyl Institute (VI) and the Vinyl Award challenges students to learn about building materials, specifically vinyl building products and systems in the design of The Sustainable Home. By utilizing vinyl products in the design of The Sustainable Home, designers will ensure the structure is not only cost-effective, but also energy efficient, durable, sustainable and resistant to weather exposure, among the many benefits offered by vinyl. Total prize money for the best use of vinyl is $2,350.

The objectives of the Vinyl Award are:

  • To encourage and reward design excellence at a small scale, which integrates function, aesthetics, structure, details.
  • To research, respond to and highlight the unique aspects of designing a home that serves the selected site and inhabitants.
  • To build knowledge about materials, products and assembly of primarily vinyl building products contributing to sustainable and safe design.
  • To investigate new building materials, systems, and methodologies.
  • To encourage designers to employ sustainable and universal design principles in all design work.
  • To develop awareness of the importance of comprehensive life cycle assessment thinking in the selection of all building materials, including recyclability, durability, low maintenance and other factors.
  • To understand the impacts of material selection on ease of use and installation by largely volunteer labor resources, function and aesthetics.

The Vinyl Award submission requirements are to clearly show and explain the use vinyl building materials in your designs. The submission boards should visibly show a knowledge and use of vinyl materials and the design essay should describing the most important vinyl concepts of the design project.

The Sustainable Home Competition Program (PDF)

The Sustainable Home Competition Poster (PDF)