Significant material resources are invested in and tied up in housing for long periods of time. Often the amount of resources initially incorporated into a house is greater than needed. Specifically, untrained builders tend to “over build” their homes, thinking that using more material will lead to stronger, more secure structures, when the reality is that this can actually compromise building integrity. Échale a tu Casa, a social housing construction organization in Mexico and the runner-up to the BFI 2013 Challenge, trains local citizens to build homes with a number of resource-saving measures. Échale was founded on the belief that housing is a productive investment for development, and that housing literally forms the scaffolding for healthy, vibrant communities. Therefore, their approach also builds local capacity and supports people's ability to flourish and solve problems.

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with leaders from Échale about their design approach as well as how their unique model, which was created to meet the needs of communities in developing regions, could be adapted to developed regions.

Échale’s homes reflect trends in home designs that conserve water, treat waste as a resource, and are more efficient overall. For example, the organization's home designs include systems for rainwater harvesting, waste bio-digestion, cleaner burning cook stoves and solar water heating. Échale’s architects and engineers train local residents to use efficient and structurally sound construction techniques that can reduce construction material mass by as much as 30 percent.

The homes are built using Adoblocks, bricks made on-site from earth, cement, and sun using a mobile manufacturing unit that Échale provides and trains community members to use. The mobile units can be dispatched on an as-needed basis, where and when construction is underway, enabling sharing of production capacity, and eliminating the need for building additional centralized units as well as the need to transport materials from one place to another. The thermally and acoustically insulated bricks deliver occupant comfort using less energy for heating and cooling, and do not require firing, as bricks or ceramic tiles do.

Échale combines these design features with services to build local capacity—and economic opportunity—for home building. Before and during construction, Échale provides technical training, facilitates access to financial resources, and provides equipment for construction. After housing work is completed, participants may launch a career in construction or pool their resources to purchase an Adoblock machine to manufacture blocks for sale or in future construction projects—further building the local economy.

Over the past 15 years, Échale has worked with communities across Mexico to build 30,000 homes and perform 150,000 home improvements. They plan to double the scale of operations from a rate of 5,000 to 10,000 homes over the next three years. To achieve this they will follow a social franchise model and offer financing products through a community financial model, beginning in one Mexican state, monitoring results, and exporting to another. They are also exploring applications for the program in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Ultimately, Échale hopes to reach audiences worldwide who could use their model to create local economic value and build human capacity in both developed markets as well as developing economies. Their systems-based approach can help communities use housing to solve complex and persistent challenges.