MOTHER's Low-Cost Home-Building Contest: The Winners

MOTHER EARTH NEWS has chosen the finalists in our Low-Cost Home-Building Contest, with our six-member panel of judges narrowing the finalists to five superior home designs.

| March/April 1986

After months of agonizing deliberation, our six-member panel of judges has narrowed the finalists to five superior designs in MOTHER'S Low-Cost Home-Building Contest.  

MOTHER's Low-Cost-Home-Building Contest Winners

It sounded simple enough at first: We'd have a contest to see who could build the least expensive home. Maybe there'd be a first, second, and third prize, and the top entries could split $1,000 into $500, $300, and $200 awards. We'd have a six-member panel of judges — an architect, two professional builders, and a trio of MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors with various levels of building expertise — to bring a broad base to the scrutiny. Well, a year has passed since we announced the contest, and we can tell you for sure that it didn't turn out to be quite as simple as we'd imagined.

For one thing, there are big houses and little ones, and economy of scale certainly applies to construction: A 3,000-square foot home is much easier to build for less than $15 per square foot than is a 1,000-square-foot one. Initially, we planned to correct for this by limiting entries to houses of 1,500 or more square feet. The trouble is, the best way to limit overall home cost is to keep the dwelling small. Not wishing to eliminate any potentially interesting entries, we lifted that restriction. Then there was the question of houses built from trees on the owners' property. Should we throw in the cost of the land and, if applicable, the cost of purchasing a sawmill to cut the timber? And, of course, to some degree you do get what you pay for. A cheaper house isn't necessarily a better one; should long-term operating costs be considered?

As the 33 entries in the Low-Cost Home-Building Contest began arriving in April 1985, the need to weigh these and other considerations became increasingly obvious. In short, it became apparent that we couldn't simply divide material cost by square footage to pick a winner. Nonetheless, we were receiving some extraordinary entries. All of them represented ingenious ideas, but a few of the designs did stand out.

By July, our panel had made the easy decisions. We'd managed to pick out seven homes that were particularly inexpensive, innovative, and well executed. Getting from there to choosing the winner, however, proved to be an almost insurmountable problem. We simply couldn't agree. No question about it, personal taste had come into play. And, unfortunately, some of the opinions were so disparate that it would have been unreasonable to work out some sort of point-based ranking system and decide by averages.

The closest our six judges could come to consensus was to agree on which of the seven houses they'd like to see among the top five. And so it is: We've picked five winners and two honorable mentions. The five will each receive $200 in cash and will split the following contingency prizes by lottery:

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