What is the name of your solution?
Tackling housing instability with hyper-efficient homes
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
Novel building method to produce inexpensive homes with unmatched energy efficiency for marginalized communities in climate stabilizing areas
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Globally, 1.6 billion people experience some form of housing instability. Lack of adequate housing has catastrophic downstream effects on the individual, community, and climatic scales. Normal challenges of day to day life including securing food and water, obtaining adequate shelter, and accessing education and representation are all amplified without stable housing. Communities who lack this basic foundation for individual dignity find themselves unable to effectively advocate for themselves and their lands. Without communities able to self advocate, those lands, which are often in critical areas for climate stability, are then more easily coopted for destructive activities that run counter to achieving global climate goals.
Nowhere in the United States is this problem more pronounced than on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Tribal enrollment on Pine Ridge stands at over 40,000, while the housing stock is just over 1,000 with less than 5 new units built annually. Small, modular housing units often house up to 20 people at a time and the units themselves are in a state of extreme disrepair, leading to an extreme level of energy consumption for heating and cooling. This leads to increased financial insecurity which also contributes to the difficulty of self-advocacy.
Providing adequate, highly efficient housing to the people of Pine Ridge and other communities like it will not only immediately reduce first order emissions, it will serve to build the dignity and self advocacy required for them to protect their land -- which is situated within an area identified by One Earth's Global Safety Net as a climate stabilizing zone.
What is your solution?
We have developed a novel building method with the capacity to solve the housing crisis on Pine Ridge and the potential to address housing instability globally. Each structure we produce can be built within 24 hours, boasts unmatched energy efficiency, and carries a price point an order of magnitude lower than conventional building methods. Our structures are carbon negative within approximately 2 years of construction.
Our homes are made by using cellular concrete, a material composed of 20% cement and 80% air. With our method, cellular concrete functions not only as the structural material, but also as the insulation. In its liquid form, the cellular concrete is poured between two nested forms, each supported by air pressure. Once the structure has hardened, the forms are removed and re-used, making our method a zero-waste construction technique.
These structures may be built virtually anywhere. Their low cost and extreme efficiency make them ideal for any economic circumstance or climatic zone. They are tornado proof, hurricane proof, pest proof, are fire proof and they require as little as 500 Watts of heating in even the coldest conditions.
Our method is easy to train, and a unit consisting of a crew and two specialized trailers can build up to 5 - 400 square foot homes per day, making it eminently scalable. The round shape of the structure maximizes usable area per unit material consumed, and the domed top of the structure requires little maintenance and ensures longevity.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our ultimate vision is to impact the lives of those experiencing housing instability anywhere on the globe. Our immediate vision is to provide homes for anyone experiencing home instability on The Pine Ridge Reservation and other Native American Reservations in the region.
These populations are some of the poorest communities in the western hemisphere; they are chronically under served in many different ways, from high unemployment, to poor educational achievement, to lack of nutritious food, to contaminated drinking water, to substandard healthcare. All of these problems are exacerbated and in many important ways propelled by the perennial problem of housing instability on the reservation.
While the immediate impact of providing a home to anyone experiencing housing instability is easily appreciable -- the qualitative difference between having and not having a home -- the downstream effects of tackling housing instability can help to address many or all of the other problems these communities face.
Children learn better when they aren't shivering through the night; adults can better support their families and elders with the stability provided by a good home. Homes bring other, less obvious benefits. For example: without an address it is very difficult to cast a ballot, a chronic problem on U.S. reservations. Providing people with permanent homes therefore enfranchises whole new voting blocks who can then have their voices heard at the ballot box.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Reservation occupants are all painfully familiar with the ever-recurring story of outsiders coming in with "bright ideas" to "fix" all of the local problems only to have those ideas be patriarchal, unworkable, insensitive, uninformed, or even worse: scams.
Our team is well suited to promote this solution because when we arrived on Pine Ridge we did something that is shamefully uncommon: we asked what they wanted to see happen on their land. In response to this, Chief Henry Red Cloud asked us if we could attempt to develop a bare structure that could keep single families warm through the winter at a price point of less than $20,000.00 (our ultimate solution costs approximately $4,000.00).
Over the intervening years we have worked closely with Chief Red Cloud and many other prominent members of the Plains Tribes to develop our solution in a way that suits their needs from fiscal, to cultural, to environmental. Their input has been essential from day one and the whole impetus to tackle the issue came from them, not informed by our perception from the outside looking in.
In this way, our solution is not so much something that we are "delivering" to a community but something we have developed together, hand in hand with the community. Chief Red Cloud and his counterparts have encountered nothing but positive feedback when showing our pilot model to their counterparts from other tribes, and this fact is largely due to our longstanding cooperation.
It is our belief that no one knows the problems on the reservation like those who live there. Therefore it is our intention that the organization implementing the solution will eventually be fully native led and that the jobs created in executing our solution will be filled by locals.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Enable mass production of inexpensive and low-carbon housing, including changes to design, materials, and construction methods.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Westminster, MA, USA
Our solution's stage of development:Growth
How many people does your solution currently serve?
10 (pilot just finished)
Why are you applying to Solve?
While the price point of our housing solution is an order of magnitude below conventional building methods, a long term goal of having a meaningful impact on global housing instability (and climate change) will be capital intensive, necessitate the benefit of experience in areas such as scaling, regulation, and distribution, and require retaining an experienced, dedicated, and effective team.
Further, this is not a goal that is likely to be attainable by any single organization. The intellectual property that we own as it relates to our methods must be managed and spun out to other organizations in an effective way under a hybrid for-profit/not-for-profit framework.
While one reason we are applying to Solve is certainly financial in nature, we recognize that the value of the connections and experience that are available through Solve are actually more valuable than any one grant.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
What makes your solution innovative?
Our construction method blends architectural principles that have been used since ancient times with modern materials and technology to rapidly produce quality, highly efficient structures at a price point low enough to make our technology potentially disruptive.
There are several specific characteristics of our method that place it head and shoulders above other solutions:
1) Inexpensive: Each bare structure comes in at just over $10 per square foot.
2) Rapidly erected: We recently obtained funding for a custom built trailer that has the capacity to produce up to 5 homes per day.
3) Efficient: A mere 500 Watts of energy can sustain a temperature differential inside to outside of around 70 degrees F.
4) Livable: Each unit can be cheerfully appointed with all amenities included for around $10,000.00
5) Durable: The domed shape of the structure lends it durability and resistance to high winds.
6) Easily Trainable: The process is relatively simple, workers can learn to produce these structures quickly.
7) Versatile: Can be built anywhere a medium trailer can be hauled, requires only cement, water, air, fiber, surfactant, and a few gallons of diesel fuel.
Due to these seven points, we do expect that our innovation can change the market for low income housing. It is notoriously difficult to effect positive change in areas of housing instability. Removing the housing instability leads to better health and more dignity thus providing others trying to help in this space with a population more able to participate in helping themselves.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?
Our goal in 2022 is to construct 30-50 homes on Pine Ridge and other surrounding reservations. This work will focus primarily on housing elders and providing emergency shelters. We are building a relationship with veterans groups on the reservation to select 8-10 individuals who will do the work.
Our goal in 2023 is to scale up our operations by an order of magnitude. Each of the workers from 2022 will be intimately familiar with our method due to their work in 2023. They will each run their own crew. In this way we can scale the personnel aspects of our operation. We will continue our operations on these reservations until the problem has been addressed.
In 2024 and beyond, our goal is to use the knowledge we gained in on Pine Ridge to begin the process of "spinning off" our technology to other non-profits -- and even for profit entities -- focusing on housing underserved communities. At this point we will have a strong pool of individuals that are extremely knowledgable about our method who can help provide training and mentorship to these other entities.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
In the short term, our impact will be measured simply by the number of homes we are able to successfully provide.
Longer term, we will want to work with the community, MIT solve, and other organizations to capture the downstream effects of this transition from housing instability to housing stability.
What is your theory of change?
Our primary activity is construction of homes in this community where +80% percent of the population is experiencing some sort of homelessness. This involves obtaining financial resources, providing logistical support, and training locals in our method. The immediate output of these activities is to provide people with hyper-efficient homes of their own.
Primary short term outcomes of providing this output include improved sleep, warmth, ballot access, expertise in our building method, and financial stability -- financial stability in this instance is due to reduced energy bills in a locality where energy bills can be as high as $1,200.00 per month.
In the medium term, sleep, warmth, and increased financial stability lead to better health, better nutrition, better education, and more energy -- which translates in aggregate to enhanced community engagement. Ballot access leads to representation. Expertise in our building method can give rise to support businesses as more and more homes are built and also native owned businesses that have the expertise to employ our method off of the reservation on a for profit basis.
In the long term, health, better nutrition, and education lead to increased longevity and increased productivity. Health, education, and representation lead to self advocacy and policy change. Support businesses on the reservation lead to more economic activity on the reservation, keeping more money in the community, and native owned businesses that employ our method on a for profit basis off of the reservation bring money from the outside in thus reducing the current asymmetry in which more money leaves the reservation than comes onto the reservation.
It is also important to note that many of these outcomes are cyclically self-reinforcing. For example, more money on the reservation reinforces medium term outcomes such as better education, better health, and enhanced representation, those in turn can increase productivity, which can in turn bring more money to the reservation.
These downstream impacts will certainly require support and reinforcement from other organizations, and we are in partnership and discussing partnerships with various organizations whose missions align with various outcomes. For example, Chief Red Cloud is engaged in a program to teach locals about gardening. The combination of a home and gardening leads to better nutrition and improved health, which also reinforces self advocacy, longevity, and productivity.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
Our solution is in itself a novel technology. In the four years we've been developing it from the blackboard to reality, we have yet to have a discussion with an expert who has ever seen anything quite like it. However, the core technologies that enable our solution can be separated into two categories: modern materials and principles.
Materials: our solution would not be possible without relatively recent advances in industrial materials. This includes the ability to produce cellular concrete in voluminous amounts using Richway industries Crete-Foamer technology, the availability of textiles strong enough to handle the air pressures required and the hydraulic head created by the liquid cellular concrete, and the advent of fibers like Dyneema which allows for strong enough ropes to support the fabrics used.
Principles: the architectural and physical principles behind the dome shape are age old knowledge. These building techniques have proven their durability and reliability over the centuries.
It is the application of modern materials and processes to improve upon ancient architectural principles that is what inspired our solution and forms the core of our technology.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new technology
How do you know that this technology works?
We've proven that it works by building several prototypes and pilot homes. See pitch video and website.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
What type of organization is your solution team?
Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit
How many people work on your solution team?
2 people working full time 5 people working part time
How long have you been working on your solution?
What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?
By the time this application is under consideration, it is our intention to have a board managing this initiative which is majority controlled by individuals from the communities we will be working in. We've already discussed this possibility with multiple prominent, reliable members of the community who are interested in occupying a board seat.
Further, our intention is to employ individuals from the community in executing our solution and those individuals will have the opportunity to advance in tandem with the growth of our initiative.
What is your business model?
Our model leverages novel technology together with donations and grants to deliver suitable housing to those experiencing housing instability. The impact for our charitable beneficiaries is easily to contemplate: housing for those without it.
For the purposes of our charitable work, it could argued that our customers are actually the foundations and individuals prepared to open up their wallets and help solve the problem of housing instability on the reservation. In the short and medium term, then, our revenue derives from successfully using the funds they provide to address the problem and, importantly, effectively communicating that success to our supporters -- thus parlaying that success into additional, larger grants and donations.
In the longer term, we will produce additional revenue by licensing the use of our technology to for-profit businesses, these businesses are another type of customer. The value to them is the exclusive access to a technology which allows them to build structures at a price point an order of magnitude below current construction prices. A portion of the revenue from this licensing activity will be used to support InOurHands' continued expansion of charitable activities.
We provide our products and services by physically traveling to our beneficiaries, bringing the technology with us, coordinating logistics, training the locals in how to use our technology for themselves, and developing their ability to apply for outside funding themselves. In this way, each group of beneficiaries is provided with the tools they need to maintain and grow the initiative internally. Once this is accomplished, we will remain in close contact with each group of beneficiaries to provide whatever support is required.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?
While our organization will continue to seek grants, contracts, and public donations, we will also pursue an integrated revenue model and seek investment capital to improve the technology and scale for-profit activities.
The founders of InOurHands retain the intellectual property rights to the technology, and InOurHands has the exclusive right to use this technology for the purposes of re-housing Native American Reservations. This exclusive right puts InOurHands in a unique position to continue to raise grants and donations in order to fulfill its mission. Currently, we are seeking $1,000,000.00 in grants funding for our activities on the reservation in 2022.
The technology also has the potential to be disruptive in the low-income housing market due to its remarkably low price point and unmatched efficiency. It is the intent of the founders to pursue a for-profit model, licensing contractors around the U.S. and the world to be the exclusive providers of our technology. A percentage of the revenue derived from these for-profit activities will support operations using our technology on a charitable basis.
We have already encountered a significant amount of interest from businesses that employ seasonal workers, such as ski resorts, to provide affordable rental units.
In the mid-range market, our structures make excellent short term rental units. Our prototype has been on AirBnB for nearly a year and has already paid for itself 5 times over. These structures can therefore be built by homeowners in order to obtain additional passive revenue streams. A partnership with a short term rental company is a likely route to quick scaling.