A Hybrid "Prefabricated / Site-Built" Strategy for Sustainable Housing in Low-Income Communities

Open Access
Torres Arriaga, Claudia
Graduate Program:
Architectural Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
March 28, 2008
Committee Members:
  • David R Riley Ii, Thesis Advisor
  • Michael J Horman, Thesis Advisor
  • prefabrication strategies
  • affordable housing
  • sustainable housing
Low income levels and high unemployment rates in rural communities in the United States limit the ability of their members to access quality housing. These communities are restricted to manufactured housing methods, which have a low initial cost but are not durable or energy efficient, and thus incur high operation and maintenance costs. Moreover, being an imported solution, manufactured housing makes limited use of local labor and resources, in communities where employment and economic growth are greatly needed. Current trends in housing construction are demonstrating the long-term benefits of sustainable or “green” housing projects. At the same time, innovations in housing construction are promoting a quicker and more efficient delivery process, without compromising affordability or quality. However, sustainable housing solutions and housing innovations are still not available in low-income rural communities. Therefore, an effective integration of these technologies into a construction strategy, which optimizes prefabrication and local labor utilization, is required to develop better homes and create jobs in the communities themselves. With these considerations in mind, this research evaluates the feasibility of a hybrid "prefabricated / site-built” strategy that combines the economies of manufactured housing processes with the economic benefits of localized material choices and job creation. The study aims to identify the attributes of a hybrid strategy that can be replicated for large-scale implementation in low-income rural communities. The strategy includes a prefabricated technical core and a site-built envelope. The prefabrication of the core employs effectively scarce skilled labor in a mass production environment. On the other hand, the site-built envelope employs local unskilled labor, panelized systems or indigenous building methods, locally appropriate materials of high mass, and volunteer assistance, and is customized to meet occupants’ requirements. The study evaluated the design and construction of an affordable prototype home designed for a target low-income rural community: the Northern Cheyenne reservation. The research includes a rigorous economic analysis of the prototype home itself, and the new hybrid construction strategy. The results are intended to promote a clear understanding of the potential for sustainable housing to provide means for community development within low-income communities. By addressing simultaneously the environmental, social and economic considerations of sustainable housing, it is hoped that this research provides incentive for the construction of additional sustainable homes in these regions, in turn stimulating job creation, business opportunities, and economic growth.