Want a Sustainable Dreamhome Design, for Free? Vote Now

FreeGreen, which distributes free blueprints for sustainable houses, is letting the public help choose the next design it will offer. That’s not just a marketing gimmick–it gets to the core of their business model.



FreeGreen, a start-up that offers free blueprints for sustainable home designs, is close to unveiling their next great design–and anyone can help them choose it.

Their so-called Who’s Next competition allowed anyone to vote on over 400 designs; today, the field was narrowed to just 12 houses. When voting closes on April 5, those tallies will comprise 50% of the score award to each house; the remaining points will come from a jury of professional architects. Most points wins. (Pictured above and below are two of the houses currently in the running–which we have to say are pretty handsome and as good looking as the best of the designs already offered.)

All of which sounds like something of a marketing gimmick, but for Free Green, the competition is actually a rather savvy business move, because they’re don’t really work like any building or architecture firm out there.


About 30% of the American residential market is built from pre-bought home plans, which usually cost about $2,000; meanwhile, hiring an architect to build a green home and source all the materials usually costs at least $20,000. (Hometta, which we covered before, offers green-blueprints for $1,000-$3,000.)

FreeGreen, by contrast, offers free blueprints that anyone can download and take to their contractor. How’s that?


They view themselves like a media company–and they sell advertising that appears on their site and on the blueprints. For example, their plans might call for a specific brand of recycled countertop or high-performance insulation. These have all been vetted by practicing architects and engineers–the founders are actually both–and these are boiled down into precise dollar savings over time. But the companies have also paid for that placement.

Everyone wins. Materials companies get advertising that’s more targeted than anything else–a big allure, since these firms previously had only a vague sense of how to reach their potential customers. (Ads in places like Dwell or Metropolis don’t really cut it, because so few of the people reading those magazines are actually in the market.) Consumers win, because the plans are free (membership to access some of the plans is fairly cheap; full-on custom homes are as little as $1,900). And the green movement wins, because the specific ideas–and the potential benefits–find their way away from just rich people and into the broader market.

Which brings us back to this whole home-design competition.

For FreeGreen, the trickiest thing is figuring out what designs people actually want. And that’s what a voting competition provides them. Pretty ingenious, all around.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.