(TNS) --Soaring rent and vanishing spaces recently have spawned the tiny house movement in many parts of the country, but one area architect was making small houses before small houses were cool.

Today, he wants to show just how cool those homes can be — all summer long.

Architect and energy consultant Doug Rye of Doug Rye & Associates is working on a project in Mulberry that, if successful, could lead to the construction of affordable, energy-efficient homes he’d like to see across the country.

Rye said he was inspired to start this project more than 30 years ago when he was asked to help build a house for a retired schoolteacher whose home was in disrepair. He and an architect associate designed a one-bedroom, 600-square-foot house that she could afford; the project, he said, left an impact on him.

“Although she only had a retirement income of $400 a month, she could afford the house payment, the taxes, the insurance and the utility bills,” Rye said. He said he felt “truly blessed” to have had a part in that and knew he would some day want to turn his attention to affordable housing.

Now 72, Rye is ready to take this dream to the general public. He believes affordable housing is crucial to the survival of small, rural towns and wants to provide this for as many people as possible.

“I have watched many rural towns decrease in population, lose their local school system and basically lose the town,” Rye said. “I have often wondered if a few new houses would have saved the towns. I have discussed it many times with my wife, and we decided that it was time to find out.”

The first step was to build a “spec house” in Mulberry, a property that can be shown to potential investors, namely mayors of other towns. This spec house, “The House That Any Family Can Afford,” was designed and financed by Rye and built in collaboration with Buddy Loyd of L & L Development with specifications that Rye states will keep energy costs as low as possible. These include spray foam insulation, triple-glazed windows to prevent air infiltration and a Marathon Water Heater with a lifetime warranty.

Rye states that the key to this plan is the geothermal heat and air unit, which, when combined with everything else, can warm and cool the house at a fraction of standard costs.

“The one thing that I tell people is, ‘The house you’re in right now, this house right here, will heat and cool for less than a dollar a day,’” Rye said. “There’s mobile homes and there’s houses within a quarter mile from (here) that, in this hot summer, will have electric bills up to $200 to $400. The average electric bill on this house is going to average somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 a month total, maybe $50.”

If this project is successful and receives enough funding, more houses like this will be built throughout the country, with multiple options available to accommodate as many types of clientele as possible. Rye said that he plans to sell these houses for as close to their construction costs as he can to ensure low prices. Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter supports Rye and wants more of these houses built in Mulberry.

“We feel like that, if people come by and see all of the advantages to (the house), then more houses like this will be built in our area,” said Baxter. “I’m the mayor that thinks of regionalism, not only just for Mulberry, but this is good for all towns. … We want more of these houses to be built in Mulberry. We just need people to come, look at the house, go through it, see the advantages to downsizing, see the advantages to living in a small space and a super high energy-efficient place.”

Baxter noted that low-income families would not be the only people to benefit from the project. Senior citizens and young couples looking for starter homes will also be able to reap the benefits of these affordable, energy-efficient houses.

“A lot of senior adults are wanting to downsize,” said Baxter. “They don’t want to collect a lot of things they collected over the years or keep it; they want to get rid of it or make it smaller and live in a smaller area. Your young millennials, they don’t want to spend money on utilities and big house payments and things like that. They want to use their money for new technology. … That’s where they want to spend their money, and so therefore, this (house) is ideal for people that want to use money a different way.”

©2015 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.