black-and-white architectural drawing of entry to Habitat house design contest

Habitat houses: Recognizing best-in-class designs

When a family builds a home with Habitat for Humanity, they build a strong foundation that helps them flourish. That foundation is a home that is affordable, durable, healthy and easy to maintain for years to come. 

From building resilient, hurricane-proof homes in Florida to prototyping with a 3D-printed home in Virginia, Habitat affiliates in the U.S. seek innovative solutions to local, pressing needs. 

The 2021 Habitat House Design Contest, generously sponsored for a second year by Simpson Strong-Tie, invited local affiliates to submit their home designs across a range of categories, including equity, multifamily, sustainability and many more. 

Click through to see these innovative designs.

Best in Accessibility

The outside of this Habitat Lakeside house might seem like your standard single-story home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. But the home was built in 2019 with accessibility and comfort as a priority. Construction manager Jon Hoffman highlights the wheelchair ramp leading up to the front porch, widened doorways to allow for easy mobility, an en-suite bathroom fully equipped with accessibility features and wired high-amp outlets to ensure power for the family’s energy needs.

Best in Affordability

In Grand Island, Nebraska — much like elsewhere in the U.S. — there is a dearth of affordable housing options. When Grand Island Area Habitat successfully lobbied the local government to reconsider zoning classifications, it created an opportunity to design smaller, more affordable homes. Construction manager Amos Anson says the new zoning law and designs allowed them to build an additional six homes.


This “extremely livable” three-bedroom, one-bathroom design intentionally includes a separate dining room and a larger front porch to allow space for building family memories. 

Best in Durability

By using warranty-backed, high-performance materials and appliances as well as a thoughtful design that builds on top of an energy-efficient crawl space, Blue Ridge Habitat sets up homeowners for long-term success.


“Our goal is to make our housing as affordable as possible, but also as durable as possible,” says Kimberley Wilt, Blue Ridge Habitat’s director of development and marketing. “We pass on savings to the homeowners throughout the time that they’re in their home. We do this by building quality homes that ensure the home is not only affordable to buy, but it’s also affordable to operate in the long term.” 

Equity in Design

Milwaukee Habitat is working to address one of the starkest Black and white homeownership gaps in the U.S. by making homeownership accessible for families in predominantly Black neighborhoods like Harambee. As part of its holistic neighborhood revitalization program, Milwaukee Habitat has plans to repair 160 homes across the city’s underserved northwest neighborhoods as well as build 90 affordable homes over the next four years in Harambee.


The two-story house model that will largely be used in these builds features simple, smart design choices that increase energy efficiency and cut out wasted space. Plus, it has an upstairs layout that is “universally liked,” says Chris Garrison, Milwaukee Habitat construction and operations director.

Best in Innovation

If you see local architects huddling around a home near Manhattan, Kansas, you might just be outside of what neighbors dotingly call “the solar house.”


Manhattan Area Habitat built the energy-efficient, eco-friendly and durable house with solar panels and a continuous exterior building envelope, says Josh Brewer, Manhattan Area Habitat’s executive director. “The combination of innovative design, the use of high-performance building materials and a prefabricated building process led to a house construction that was significantly less costly in our environment.”


The innovation of the home extends beyond the design itself; when the COVID-19 pandemic created construction labor shortages, Manhattan Area Habitat forged partnerships with local university and tech school students as well as local veterans transitioning into the workforce to train new homebuilders.

Best in Multifamily

Increasingly, in many locations, the cost of a home can preclude essential workers like teachers from living in the communities they serve. Habitat Roaring Fork Valley sought to address this issue through the development of a neighborhood in Basalt, Colorado, where more than half of the 27 homes have a schoolteacher in residence.


Twelve triplex and duplex homes are energy efficient and affordable, thanks to savvy design and partnerships with local entities including the school district and Pitkin County, which provided the land and financing for the project. According to Kristen Wilmes, Habitat Roaring Fork Valley’s executive director, the homes are net-zero, resulting in electric bills as low as $14 a month.

Best in Resilience

Habitat Hillsborough’s newly designed two-story, duplex-style homes are outfitted with hurricane shutters and fortified building materials like stucco to protect homeowners from Florida’s storms. They also qualify homeowners for significant cost savings on insurance rates. The affiliate has traditionally built single-family detached homes, though the success of the villa design and savings it offers families is changing the tide.


Ron Spoor, Habitat Hillsborough’s program capacity developer, says the affiliate — which already has plans to build another 18 of these homes — is committed to helping families build resilient housing. “Resiliency to us means thoughtful design that’s focused on the long-term success of the homeowner.”

Best in Sustainability

Gunnison Valley Habitat’s sustainable home design, inspired by adobe homes built by the Hopi Tribe in the southwestern United States, uses a recycled cellulose material for insulation.


The Colorado-based affiliate used widely available materials like clay sand, straw, water and burlap to create the drywall. The home also includes recycled solar panels. “As stewards of God’s green earth, we should be doing a better job at building and leading on how to build affordable housing,” says Julie Robinson, Gunnison Valley Habitat executive director. 

Affiliate Choice

Habitat Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg garnered national attention when they debuted a 3D-printed home in December 2021. In partnership with an in-state technology company, the Virginia affiliate employed a massive 3D printer to build a sleek three-bedroom, two-bath home. The 1,200-square-foot house was built in less than 28 non-consecutive hours.


Not only is the house quicker to build, says Habitat Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg CEO Janet V. Green, it’s also more resilient to storms and uses less energy. “If we can build these faster, cheaper, just as safe and have more energy efficiency, why wouldn’t we go ahead and pursue this kind of technology?”

Design of the Year

Sometimes, less is more. Pioneer Valley Habitat’s design of a “just big enough” house is making homeownership more accessible and affordable for families in Northampton, Massachusetts. The affiliate partnered with a local architecture firm to design a single-story, one-bedroom home that maximizes its square footage with an open living and dining area.


“This design focuses on the Habitat value that everyone deserves a decent place to live,” says Megan McDonough, Pioneer Valley Habitat’s executive director. “By building small, simple, energy efficient homes, that’s one way of achieving that vision.”

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Best in Accessibility

The outside of this Habitat Lakeside house might seem like your standard single-story home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. But the home was built in 2019 with accessibility and comfort as a priority. Construction manager Jon Hoffman highlights the wheelchair ramp leading up to the front porch, widened doorways to allow for easy mobility, an en-suite bathroom fully equipped with accessibility features and wired high-amp outlets to ensure power for the family’s energy needs.

Best in Affordability

In Grand Island, Nebraska — much like elsewhere in the U.S. — there is a dearth of affordable housing options. When Grand Island Area Habitat successfully lobbied the local government to reconsider zoning classifications, it created an opportunity to design smaller, more affordable homes. Construction manager Amos Anson says the new zoning law and designs allowed them to build an additional six homes.


This “extremely livable” three-bedroom, one-bathroom design intentionally includes a separate dining room and a larger front porch to allow space for building family memories. 

Best in Durability

By using warranty-backed, high-performance materials and appliances as well as a thoughtful design that builds on top of an energy-efficient crawl space, Blue Ridge Habitat sets up homeowners for long-term success.


“Our goal is to make our housing as affordable as possible, but also as durable as possible,” says Kimberley Wilt, Blue Ridge Habitat’s director of development and marketing. “We pass on savings to the homeowners throughout the time that they’re in their home. We do this by building quality homes that ensure the home is not only affordable to buy, but it’s also affordable to operate in the long term.” 

Equity in Design

Milwaukee Habitat is working to address one of the starkest Black and white homeownership gaps in the U.S. by making homeownership accessible for families in predominantly Black neighborhoods like Harambee. As part of its holistic neighborhood revitalization program, Milwaukee Habitat has plans to repair 160 homes across the city’s underserved northwest neighborhoods as well as build 90 affordable homes over the next four years in Harambee.


The two-story house model that will largely be used in these builds features simple, smart design choices that increase energy efficiency and cut out wasted space. Plus, it has an upstairs layout that is “universally liked,” says Chris Garrison, Milwaukee Habitat construction and operations director.

Best in Innovation

If you see local architects huddling around a home near Manhattan, Kansas, you might just be outside of what neighbors dotingly call “the solar house.”


Manhattan Area Habitat built the energy-efficient, eco-friendly and durable house with solar panels and a continuous exterior building envelope, says Josh Brewer, Manhattan Area Habitat’s executive director. “The combination of innovative design, the use of high-performance building materials and a prefabricated building process led to a house construction that was significantly less costly in our environment.”


The innovation of the home extends beyond the design itself; when the COVID-19 pandemic created construction labor shortages, Manhattan Area Habitat forged partnerships with local university and tech school students as well as local veterans transitioning into the workforce to train new homebuilders.

Best in Multifamily

Increasingly, in many locations, the cost of a home can preclude essential workers like teachers from living in the communities they serve. Habitat Roaring Fork Valley sought to address this issue through the development of a neighborhood in Basalt, Colorado, where more than half of the 27 homes have a schoolteacher in residence.


Twelve triplex and duplex homes are energy efficient and affordable, thanks to savvy design and partnerships with local entities including the school district and Pitkin County, which provided the land and financing for the project. According to Kristen Wilmes, Habitat Roaring Fork Valley’s executive director, the homes are net-zero, resulting in electric bills as low as $14 a month.

Best in Resilience

Habitat Hillsborough’s newly designed two-story, duplex-style homes are outfitted with hurricane shutters and fortified building materials like stucco to protect homeowners from Florida’s storms. They also qualify homeowners for significant cost savings on insurance rates. The affiliate has traditionally built single-family detached homes, though the success of the villa design and savings it offers families is changing the tide.


Ron Spoor, Habitat Hillsborough’s program capacity developer, says the affiliate — which already has plans to build another 18 of these homes — is committed to helping families build resilient housing. “Resiliency to us means thoughtful design that’s focused on the long-term success of the homeowner.”

Best in Sustainability

Gunnison Valley Habitat’s sustainable home design, inspired by adobe homes built by the Hopi Tribe in the southwestern United States, uses a recycled cellulose material for insulation.


The Colorado-based affiliate used widely available materials like clay sand, straw, water and burlap to create the drywall. The home also includes recycled solar panels. “As stewards of God’s green earth, we should be doing a better job at building and leading on how to build affordable housing,” says Julie Robinson, Gunnison Valley Habitat executive director. 

Affiliate Choice

Habitat Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg garnered national attention when they debuted a 3D-printed home in December 2021. In partnership with an in-state technology company, the Virginia affiliate employed a massive 3D printer to build a sleek three-bedroom, two-bath home. The 1,200-square-foot house was built in less than 28 non-consecutive hours.


Not only is the house quicker to build, says Habitat Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg CEO Janet V. Green, it’s also more resilient to storms and uses less energy. “If we can build these faster, cheaper, just as safe and have more energy efficiency, why wouldn’t we go ahead and pursue this kind of technology?”

Design of the Year

Sometimes, less is more. Pioneer Valley Habitat’s design of a “just big enough” house is making homeownership more accessible and affordable for families in Northampton, Massachusetts. The affiliate partnered with a local architecture firm to design a single-story, one-bedroom home that maximizes its square footage with an open living and dining area.


“This design focuses on the Habitat value that everyone deserves a decent place to live,” says Megan McDonough, Pioneer Valley Habitat’s executive director. “By building small, simple, energy efficient homes, that’s one way of achieving that vision.”

Habitat House Design Contest: Building a solid foundation

By design, Habitat for Humanity homes provide a strong foundation for families to flourish. During our inaugural Habitat House Design Contest in 2020, generously sponsored by Simpson Strong-Tie, more than 100 Habitat affiliates submitted their plans for sustainable, resilient homes to help families in their communities thrive.

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