(Translate this site)

Search this site

Search the bookstore

First aid for broken links

Low cost shelter from the elements

(...continued from How to Live Well on Very, Very Little)

Sponsor this page

This page last updated on or about 9-1-02
a - j m o o n e y h a m . c o m - o r i g i n a l

Site map

Site store

Site web log(s)

Site author

Back to How to Live Well on Very, Very Little...

Another cheap but functional form of housing can be built from local sand, bags, and barbed wire-- a technique under consideration in the developed nations circa 2000 for perhaps building housing on the Moon or Mars.

The method, called "superadobe", involves something similar to packing sandbags with local sand and piling them into rows forming walls, with barbed wire laid inbetween the rows for reinforcement and cohesion of the bags.

Dirt Domes Breakthrough in Emergency Housing, Photo Gallery, CalEarth, Emergency Shelter, Refugee, Shelters, Disaster resistance, Hurricane, Fire, Flood, Earthquake, Emergency Kit, and Museum Sandbag Dome Gallery are all web sites offering information or photos relating to the superadobe technique.

Another technique called "geltaftan" uses layers of plain local mud sprayed or painted over a metal or ceramic dome framework and one or more layers of metal mesh, which is then baked in place over a matter of days by hot burners placed inside, to result in tough ceramic habitats.

-- Lunar Colony Could Go Up Soon -- on Earth By Anton Ferreira; February 7, 2000; Reuters/Yahoo! Science Headlines; Possible contacts for more information include Nader Khalili, Cal-Earth Institute; Hesperia, California; http://www.calearth.org, and Mike Duke, the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, TX

Sustainable Architecture, Development, and Building Technology may offer more information and leads in this area.

In some cases combining the best elements of a mobile home and a large, passive solar heated garage might produce a better than average type of home for the cost (please see Low Cost, High Flexibility Housing).

A variation on the hybrid solar garage/mobile home concept would be to replace the recreational vehicle or trailer inside the garage with modular housing components like room or office cubes. Each cube could be dedicated to a particular function (such as being a kitchen, office, or bedroom), or else highly generalized, making for each cube being a complete miniature home in itself, much like certain modern sleeping compartments in commercial long haul trucks, the interiors of today's smallest travel trailers or campers, or the Pullman 'roomette' incorporating both bedroom and bath, as originally seen on trains. Such general living cubes would each usually include a combination shower/toilet closet in one corner, a fold-out sink, one or more fold up bunk beds, a fold up desk/table, and bench seats, as well as storage compartments including a clothes closet. A sufficiently large solar shell housing a sufficient number of general purpose living cubes could serve as a school dorm, hospital, barracks, employee accomodations, or low-income housing for individuals.

Individual cubes in some instances may be built primarily of used wooden pallets, such as are sometimes used as platforms to move goods about factory floors. Such pallets often are composed of a top and bottom layer of wooden boards, with a large gap between them to accomodate the forks of motorized fork lift or power lift trucks. This gap or hollow space could be used in cube construction to host the electrical wiring, plumbing, ventilation tubing, and insulation desirable or necessary for individual cubes.

Some links discussing small construction possibilities of commonly available pallets and similar elements may include Wooden Pallet Computer Desk -- Freebie, Emergency food storage The Pallet Root Cellar, and 3RBuilder.Net - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Affordable Housing

Another variation on the garage/mobile home concept would be a large warehouse offering harsh weather shelter to a community of mobile homes or recreational vehicles. Essentially an upscale trailer park with its own community swimming pool, day care center, and playgrounds, which reduced everyone's energy costs and risks from weather extremes. The huge almost flat roof would possess sufficient angle to collect rainwater runoff for a community cistern, and lots of skylights would insure the interior was well-lit during daylight hours. Inbetween and surrounding the skylights would be a vast expanse of photovoltaics, feeding electricity to certain supporting facilities for the complex. Note the surface area offered for solar cells on such a roof would dwarf that even the same size mobile home community living outside such a structure could possess. This same large surface area might at least sometimes collect sufficient rainwater and snowmelt to temporarily drive several small turbines to produce electricity, further adding to the community's resources. Supplementing the regularly spaced skylights in the roof would be a near continuous row of large windows running along the top of all the exterior walls of the warehouse. Strategically placed reflective panels hung near the ceiling of the warehouse could be used to insure the best possible light distribution within the housing.

Such a community could grow crops both inside and outside the warehouse structure. Hydroponics and mushroom farms inside perhaps, with more conventional farming activities (including animal raising) outside.

There would appear to be many more intriguing opportunities for self-sufficiency measures available to a community of this size, than smaller ones. One would be the use of methane digesters on a large scale, processing perhaps all the wastes from both farm animals and the people themselves to produce fuel gas to power auxiliary heating sources and more.

A great many techniques for both self-sufficient food and energy production require a certain critical mass of participants and resources to be practical and cost-effective. This type of community might be one way to achieve such critical mass. And due to its modular nature, such complexes might be built relatively quickly.

"Earthships" were a somewhat popular home construction idea among yuppies of the developed nations around the turn of the millennium. There's much to like about Earthship designs in theory-- but not in practice.

Everything I've personally seen regarding Earthships indicate these are a labor and resource intensive form of home construction which often proves at least as expensive as conventional construction methods (if not more so), although afterwards the homes might cost less energy-wise to maintain than traditional housing. Earthships may often sport radical appearances too. Earthships may not command the same level of resale value that more traditional homes of equivalent construction cost would. I'll say again: I like many of the ideas encompassed in the Earthship theme-- just not their typical implementation requirements.

Some earthship-related links include Earthship, Earthship Landing, What is an Earthship, Earthship, earthship liabilities, Earthship Article From PCM 22, and Google Search: earthship

Alternative House-Building Resources, Oikos Green Building Source, Oikos Green Product Gallery, ESB The Little House, The Great Straw Walls of China, and Sustainable Building Sourcebook may offer more information on this subject and related matters.

More possible links of interest here would include Online encyclopedia aims to make homes earthquake-proof, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HOUSING CONSTRUCTION TYPES IN SEISMICALLY-PRONE AREAS OF THE WORLD, The Geowall Consortium, and Geowall at The Southern California Earthquake Center.

Getting further out into the shelter possibility realm, there's ideas like those behind The Vacation Home You Store in Your Garage, and The Pod - Folding geodesic dome shelters [here's an alternative pod link].

There's one way to grow a home using little more than sea water, metal mesh or screen, and electricity. It's called accretion. The main catches of course include the considerable power generation and massive amount of sea water required-- and then the capacity to either remove the house shell from the sea after completion (and transport it to a new location) without damaging it, or otherwise arrange to permanently drain the area around the house afterwards, to make it inhabitable.

Mineral ions like calcium carbonate dissolved in sea water bond to the metal mesh to form something like cement. Depending on the amount of electricity supplied, and the size and thickness of the structure to be built, a self-assembling home may transform from a metal mesh wrapped framework to a sturdy housing in as little as a matter of weeks.

-- Book "The Millennial Project: How to Colonize the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps"[shop for this] by Marshall Savage, publisher Little, Brown, and Company, 1994

Such projects as this seem best suited for sea coastal areas, or the banks of large salt water lakes or channels. Arranging a structure the finished home can slide up from the bottom on afterwards might be feasible. Careful structural planning may be necessary with the initial mesh form, to reduce the risk of damage in later movement and transport.

It may be that designing large such homes should incorporate modularity. That is, create several smaller sections (or independent 'rooms') which can be combined into one larger structure later. The same techniques used to successfully assemble such components may also be suitable for repairing those which become damaged in transport.

Another alternative would be to create a deep artificial pond near such a large saltwater body which can be drained after construction is completed. Such a pond could be created most easily by digging a pit and installing a waterproof lining, then filling it via pump from the nearby body of water. However, as the minerals in the water must be continually refreshed to feed the accretion process, a robust two-way pumping of fluid between the artificial and natural bodies would be necessary for the weeks construction was underway.

Building an above-ground tank rather than digging out a pit to contain the construction water would be better in some ways for the eventual home site-- but would likely be more demanding cost and difficulty-wise.

Note that before engaging in such an arduous process the builder might wish to test the salt water available to make sure it has sufficient percentages of the minerals needed to feed construction.

Eventually the best construction method may come of a more versatile system whereby no enclosing pond or tank at all is required, but only a sprinkler and drainage system, pumping water to and from the nearby saltwater body on a continuous basis, bathing the metal mesh framework in an even manner. If necessary a large tent could enclose the entire site as well during the building process. Some years after that technique was perfected, it might even be possible to begin doing such projects nowhere near the ocean or other saltwater bodies, with workers (or automated devices) adding the required salt and minerals to freshwater as needed to feed the process. This would also greatly reduce the total volume of water required during build up.

If a solar or wind-powered array could be used to suitably electrify the process, the house construction itself could be done even more cheaply, in terms of consumables.

Please note that once you get beyond the basics of shelter and into the costs and long term practicality of same, you encounter many elements which are best addressed in the design and planning of a home BEFORE it is built, such as the various lighting, ventilation, sanitation, water supply, heating, and cooling measures employed. Almost all the best and lowest cost techniques and technologies in these fields are much more difficult and costly to retrofit to an already existing home, than they are to build into a home during construction. They are typically much more effective and useful when built in from the beginning, as well. The impact of a well-designed home on you and your family's health and happiness over your lifetimes versus that from an ill-designed house can be immense. So please include this consideration in your deliberations.

Miscellaneous unorganized links

The links below are some I'm considering for inclusion in one or more categories above, or other reference for future updates. Some of the links may end up being discarded later for reasons of broken URLs or others. So consider this list to be 'raw'; that is, not all of the sites will necessarily be good and valuable links for the purposes of this page. I include them here because (A) this is a handy place for me to personally check them out when I get the chance, and (B), where some of the links do prove valuable, having them here gives YOU the earliest possible access to them. I've included my personal first impressions on various sites too, where available.


If you have suggestions for improvements or additions to this page, please send them. You never know: it might be your idea that saves the world.

Back to How to Live Well on Very, Very Little...

Copyright © 1993-2008 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.