Traditional Architecture vs. HUD Multi-Family Housing Architecture: 5 Key Differences

By December 19, 2022Multi-Family Living

You are a land developer tasked with designing and building a HUD multi-family housing unit. You have some experience in traditional multi-family housing units. But you want to be sure that you understand all of the requirements and considerations for designing a HUD multi-family housing unit.

This article will provide an overview of the key differences between traditional and HUD multi-family housing architecture.

Definition of Traditional Architecture

At its core, traditional architecture is about creating buildings that are in harmony with their surroundings. The focus is on creating well-proportioned, timeless designs that are both beautiful and functional. Elements like symmetry and proportion are key, as is using natural materials whenever possible.

Traditional architecture is often associated with older buildings but can still be used in modern designs. In fact, using traditional elements in a new way can be a great way to add some character and authenticity to a project.

Definition of HUD Multi-Family Housing Architecture


Modern apartment building

HUD multi-family housing architecture is a type of design specifically created to meet the requirements of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD has several specific conditions that buildings must meet to be designated as HUD multi-family housing.

These requirements fall into two categories: initial requirements and life-cycle requirements. The initial requirements must be met when the building is first constructed. The life-cycle requirements must be met throughout the life of the building.

To meet these requirements, HUD multi-family housing architecture has a number of specific features that distinguish it from traditional architecture.

When designing a HUD multi-family housing unit, there are a few key differences that you need to take into account. They include:

Height Restrictions

Unlike traditional architecture, for one, there are height restrictions in order to comply with HUD’s Uniform Building Code. Ceilings must be at least 7 feet high in habitable rooms and restrooms. And at least 6 feet 6 inches high in hallways and storage facilities.

The building must also have an elevator that goes to all floors. You’ll need to ensure the elevator is easily accessible and there is an emergency power source for it in case of a power outage.

Type of Foundation

The type of foundation you use is important. HUD requires a slab-on-grade foundation, as opposed to a traditional raised foundation.

The two types of foundations commonly used in HUD multi-family housing developments are slab-on-grade and piling. Slab-on-grade is when the building is built on a concrete slab poured at ground level. Piling is when the building is built on a series of concrete piles driven into the ground.

The type of foundation you use will depend on the site’s soil conditions and the HUD development’s specific requirements. If you are unsure which type of foundation to use, you should consult with a professional architect or engineer.

Sprinkler System

To comply with the Life Safety Code, a part of the HUD Uniform Building Code, your building must have a sprinkler system.

In traditional architecture, sprinkler systems are not typically required, but in HUD multi-family housing architecture, they are required in all new construction. This is because the HUD guidelines consider sprinkler systems a life safety feature required in all new construction.

The main difference between the two is that in traditional architecture, the sprinkler system is designed to meet the fire code for the specific jurisdiction in which the building is located. In HUD multi-family housing architecture, the sprinkler system must be designed to meet the HUD guidelines, which are more stringent than the fire code.

For example, the HUD guidelines require that all sprinkler heads be evenly spaced throughout the building, regardless of the size of the building. In traditional architecture, the sprinkler heads can be spaced further apart in larger buildings.

Balconies and Decks

In traditional architecture, balconies and decks are commonly built as separate units from the main structure of the building. They are typically constructed using wood framing and decking with a concrete or stone floor. HUD multi-family housing units must be designed so that the balcony or deck is an integral part of the main structure of the building. This requirement is in place to ensure the safety of the occupants in the event of a fire or other disaster.

Types of Materials

When designing a traditional multi-family housing unit, you have a lot more leeway regarding the type of materials you can use. But with HUD multi-family housing, there are much stricter guidelines.

For one, all the materials must be approved by HUD. And while there are many options to choose from, they’re all going to be more expensive than what you would use for traditional construction.

This is because the materials need to meet certain standards for durability, fire resistance, and soundproofing. And while you can find products that meet all these requirements, they’re not going to be as cheap as your standard lumber and drywall.

Finally, your building must have certain accessibility features to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, all public areas must have wheelchair ramps, and elevators must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchair access.

What Happens if You Don’t Comply: Financial Penalties, Project Delays

If you’re not in compliance, you could face several penalties. First, there are financial penalties. The HUD could fine you for every unit that doesn’t meet their standards—and those fines can add up quickly.

Second, you could experience delays in your project. If the HUD finds that your plans don’t meet their requirements, they could put a stop to your construction until you make the necessary changes.

So it’s essential to ensure that you understand all the requirements. And consider them carefully when designing your project. By doing so, you can avoid any penalties or delays and keep your project on track.

How to Ensure You Comply: Hire an Experienced Architect Familiar With HUD Regulations

The first step is to make sure you hire an experienced architect who is familiar with HUD regulations. They will be able to help you design your project and ensure it complies with all HUD requirements. This is important because if your project does not meet HUD standards, you will not be able to get funding from HUD.

Ted Trout Architect and Associates can help you as a land developer design and draw architectural renderings to satisfy HUD requirements. We are based in Houston, Texas. Reach out to us today to learn how we can help.