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A $13,000 home: 'model' indeed

A model home built for only $12,840 has triggered a nationwide program to build 50 more. Rural America is supervising the program under a grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Construction techniques, not new technology, held down the cost of the three-bedroom house in Metcalfe, Miss.," reports David Knepper of Rural America, in Washington, D.C.

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"Success rests with smaller, simpler homes," he says of his design for the 660- square-foot house. One-bedroom plans contain 540 square feet. The plans, available for $10 to $15, are suitable for vacation homes or even starter homes for some families.

Construction plans begin with framing, which is spaced at 24-inch intervals instead of the narrower intervals used in some areas. Also, the house is designed to utilize the entire piece of lumber from suppliers, thus reducing waste and the custom cutting of raffers, joists, studs, and the plywood flooring and siding, Mr. Knepper explains.

Corners and intersections are connected with small metal brackets (drywall clips), he adds. One-layer horizontal 2-by-4s (plates) replace two-layer ones which are customarily used.

Basically, the idea is to minimize costs for a starter house, with the knowledge that the owner can later expand the floor space, add closet doors, or replace the kitchen cabinets with more costly ones.

"On the other hand, we didn't skimp with insulation or with walls or windows, " explains Knepper, who adds that the house takes full advantage of passive solar heating.

Knepper estimates that if a private contractor built the model house, the cost for materials and labor would be $18,000, plus the cost of the land. In the Mississippi house some labor was donated by the Delta Housing Development Corporation. However, Knepper says the plans are simple and should encourage people to do the work themselves.

Private contractors may still join several houses already under way for the 50-unit project, according to Knepper.

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"They get a fair amount of free publicity," he says with a smile.

Rural America assists participants who encounter any problems in sticking to local building codes, but applicants must obtain their own financing.

Knepper foresees construction commencing on more homes this summer, including sites in Jackson and Saticoy, Calif.; Yakim a, Wash.; Brighton, Colo.; Canaan, N.H.; and Denton, Md.

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