Thanks to reader JP for this link about a plan for open-source home architecture.
If the plan works, someday a consumer will be able to download buildable home construction plans and order custom-cut materials to make home-building a breeze, and much cheaper. The biggest obstacle will be the complexity of local building standards. But I can imagine local governments embracing the system if it allows them to input their unique building requirements into it as a filter. It might be a big money-saver for the town because every proposed building plan that comes through the system will already meet codes.
The thing that is missing from the downloadable architecture system, as far as I know, is the design element. I don't want to build a house that is nothing but a bunch of boring rectangles arranged over a foundation. I want a house that is designed with function in mind first. And for that I'd like to see some sort of "best design" subsection for the downloadable home plans.
I often think about how hard it was to design our current kitchen layout. Kitchens are a challenge because ideally you want everything to be next to everything else, which is physically impossible. Our biggest error was putting the flatware drawer in a place that guaranteed someone would always be standing in front of it when someone else needed a fork. It seems like a small thing, but design is about getting all of the small stuff right. I'd love to upload the design of our kitchen, after moving that one drawer, and see how it stacks up to other kitchen designs.
Current home design is all about appearance over function because consumers buy homes that look great while having a hard time imagining all the little functional flaws such as a lack of storage space, how sound travels, and that sort of thing. The big homebuilders and architects design for the camera, not for the consumer. When homes are designed to meet the best standards of function as voted by actual homeowners, the value of the typical home will skyrocket at the same time the cost of construction drops.
I predict that in twenty years nearly every house that exists today will be seen as a "tear down" because new construction will be cheap and new home designs will be extraordinary.
Imagine picking your house design over the Internet with the intention of doing much of the work yourself, perhaps with your own crew of helpers. You pick the design, pick the start date, and click BUY. From that point on, the system starts delivering materials according to a fixed schedule that the buyer can modify on the fly. You show up at the construction site in the morning and several Google self-driving delivery trucks are already waiting. Your construction-bot unloads the trucks and stages the building material where you want it.
You walk up to the pile of materials and use your smartphone to read the bar code and call up detailed step-by-step directions for what you need to do. You'll have exactly the tools you need because the system warned you a week ahead to be ready for this phase. If you don't own a nail gun, for example, that is added to your delivery at the same time as the materials.
I can also imagine that in this world of pre-cut materials we would see more of a snap-together building system that is easy for non-handy people to manage.
There is an enormous home construction/retrofit phase ahead of us, perhaps ten years out.