A $300 House
A $300 House (or -- 129 houses at average cost of $300)


Starting Point
Serious? A house for $300? 
Budget limit is $300 - OK, here goes! 
My approach tries to reconcile �

  • house designed for a family to live in for a period of time � a transitional-house, but a house.
  • Seriously, a $300 budget constraint
  • optimum health and welfare of the residents
  • real world availability of materials at site
  • high level of participation by the residents in building/running the community
  • max on-site manufacture and operation
  • a duty of care to the residents regarding issues of -- health, weather, crime, social, environmental.
  • minimize dependence on external financial or material aid for the house.
There are so many starting points and assumptions for a $300 house.

The Concept - A home - in A house and A community
My approach is to create a $300 house. It�s the �home�, where the residents live, but make them part of a community and in exchange for doing certain thing�s communally give them a better living space and many advantages for being in a community.
Obviously some functions of a house -- must be done -- in the house � the family living and sleeping spaces -- spaces that are about family, togetherness, sleeping, security, privacy, and intimacy. But some functions of the house can be provided on a communal basis, without severely lessening the total �home� experience for the residents � in this case the food preparation/main dining and bathroom and toilet facilities.
Given their budget, as well as the imagined circumstances of the residents, the potential for serious problems to develop if such a group is not managed carefully, it is possibly better that some functions, critically important to the welfare of the whole group, are provided and managed communally. For example, it is essential that clean water, well prepared food and high levels of personal and environmental hygiene be provided. It is desirable that things like electricity and fires for cooking are restricted/controlled or provided communally.
I believe this could be �sold� to the residents and they will become positively engaged with the sentiments and practice -- especially when they experience the results.

The basic structure
I use re-cycled shipping containers as heavyweight anchors for 3 taught steel wire ropes which provide the main structural elements along with strategically placed (low-load-bearing) simple height maintaining props.
Over the (3) support wires, specially designed, locally made, standard panels � such as; plain wall/roof panel, door/roof panel, window/roof panel, ventilation/roof panel and end-wall panels -- are draped and joined. The panels can be selected to provide accommodation for different sized families. The joined � and waterproofed � panels combine to make a tent-house -- with a gabled roof, end walls, screened doorway and a rubber floor.
Each of the anchoring containers is simply modified to house the communal bathrooms/toilets, or food preparation and or/other functions required for the residents of the houses.

I call them ........Tent-Houses
A Mom-Dad-2 children tent-house is relatively roomy with a total internal floor space of approximately 25 square metres (5x5 meters) or 270 square feet with internal ceiling height of approximately 2.4 meters (7�10�). Each tent-house shares common end walls, but, if greater privacy and increased sense of security is required between neighbours, a buffer space can be left open or used as storage for bicycles etc. According to available resources, and needs of the residents, the dividing end walls could be made from hard forms of wall paneling, or bamboo, or woven stick/thicket, or mud-brick or timber. Most can be manufactured on site.

Materials required for a Tent House
Steel wire ropes � each 20 houses requires 3 x 100 meter lengths of less than 1 cm diameter.
Tenting fabrics. It is possible to obtain large rolls of wall and roof tenting-fabric in various colors and characteristics � such as a water-proof sarking with highly reflective surface suitable for the roof, breath-able fabric for walls, mosquito netting or shade cloth from low to high shading values, open weave light-weight agri-anti-hail netting or even lightweight fish nets that can give added stability for windy locations.
Tent eyelets, cutting out tools, sewing tools, glue, clamps, usual hand tools, small fittings like turnbuckles, nuts and bolts, pieces of timber.
Used bicycle inner tubes even used car fan belts � cut to use as tie-downs -- and also wrap around the steel wire ropes to prevent chaffing of the tenting fabric � used as tensioning guy straps..
Lengths of bundled bamboo or 2x2 and 2x4 timber used to maintain the height of the steel wire ropes. They are low load bearing.
A light emitting diode light mounted in a reflective back plate, a simple LM107 type voltage regulator and a conductive cable clamp soldered onto 5 meter length of copper wire joined to one side of a simple, low voltage on-off switch. The other side of the switch is joined to a wire with an iron grounding spike at the end. At community level there will be a battery bank and charging system to support the lighting in each tent-house and around the community
The flooring is a definite challenge � the best solution I have is to mold one on-site, from crumbed re-cycled rubber (such as old car tyres). The crumb is pressed with a polyurethane binding agent. The crumbing can be done by occasionally renting/buying (not expensive) a garden type wood-chipper or by using a chain saw with some hand finishing. The mold can be fashioned from heavy hardwood timber placed on solid ground. A lighter timber mould can be used if placed on a flat concrete surface. The mould is filled with crumb rubber and polyurethane binding agent is added � the solid timber platen is loaded on top and the community truck or somebody�s VW is parked on top of it overnight.
Before the molded rubber floor sheet is laid the cleared, tamped site should be shaped to avoid water entering or lying near the house. The slightly raised house �earth platform� should be leveled using sand or similar and capped with a sheet of builders plastic extending beyond the house wall lines and ensuring the rubber flooring sits out of any fallen water and is always drained. The wall fabric sections are made over-long to allow rain etc to run off the wall and drain to the rubble drain and in all cases away from the tent-house.
Alternatively cement (expensive), timber, thatch are all possible. Sheet of builders plastic (5.5 meters x 5.5meters) to water proof the under floor area
I haven�t included furniture for the house but there are so many choices for fashioning good practical and even interesting furniture from re-cycled pallets, tyres, drums � you name it. I do see that making their own furniture is a great enterprise for the community to take on.

On site Manufacture
Most of the components that make up the tent-house are chosen because they can be obtained locally, quickly, and economically in a �raw� enough form and value-added by the community, on- site, as part of an organized activity.
For example, the panels of tenting- become standard items and can be made for �stock�. They can be cut from bulk rolls and sewn on-site. Different fabrics are chosen to suit the local environment and climate � e.g. reflective, waterproof sarking for the roof panel is sewn, glued, joined to a non- reflective section for a standard wall panel or to a section containing insect screening for a ventilation panel. Each panel is standard and easy to make locally. It is also possible to upgrade the manufacture to use treadle/electric machines and an RF plastic welder.
Experience has shown me that typically among such groups there is amazing personal skill and ingenuity available. The sense of security that being part of such a housing community will create will allow really clever and good results to be achieved.

The start-up of such a community is difficult, but a �soft start-up� is possible. The overall design of the tent-house can be simplified for quicker start-up of 60 houses in a community (growing later to approximately 550 people). The features and standards of the fast-start-up tent-houses can be later retro-fitted and upgraded when the community is better established. The residents of the fast-start- up community can be organized and engaged to build tent-houses for the expanding community.

Why Use Shipping Containers
Many other options were considered. They were chosen because containers are available all over the world. At first they appear costly, but in this application, because they perform multi-functions they are actually not expensive � and the containers we would likely buy are used and, even if dilapidated, serve this role very well. They are a dependable known � a potential manager might not be able to plan on what other resource is available in say Central Luzon region of the Philippines � but almost certainly there will be a shipping container. There is an existing system for handling and transporting it to where it�s needed. They are all of a standard design. From New York or the Antarctic a designer can work based on their known standard design.
The $300 house design project focuses on local self-sufficiency. However, by using shipping containers in the way proposed, all the necessary requirements for a community of 129 houses, accommodating approximately 550 people, could be sitting, packed in four containers ready for transport, and, all that is shipped (including the containers) is part of the community and used at site. Certainly they will be a superior product if prepared in the USA or Europe and will cost more but will still be a highly cost effective solution to an urgent transitional-housing need. Two iterations of prototyping/trialing in a USA setting would make huge improvements.
The modified shipping container in this concept serves several functions;
It houses the high traffic, hard-worked areas for bathrooms/toilets or food preparation in robust long life, and more easily cleaned/maintained spaces.
The shipping container�s role as the anchor for the steel wire ropes that hold up the panels of tent- houses is key to this proposal. It means many things � foremost that we can use �standard� panels of tenting fabric to make up a tent-house and this simple design allows manufacture by community members, on site,
Using the containers as anchors for the steel wire-rope system means the proportions of the living spaces provided for a family can be roomier at a much lower cost per tent-house. . A family of four in 270 sq feet or 25 sq meters with minimum 7 feet or 2 meters head room.
The containers are a (better) known, engineered unit, and robust enough to take the weight of sizeable water storage tanks mounted on the roof. Pressure in the plumbing system enables better showers, toilets, and kitchen function and means water can be sent a distance to hand-washing basins/cleaning stations around the community.
Importantly in a region like the Philippines, and others, where extreme weather events such as typhoons/cyclones are experienced, consideration would need to be given to where the residents could take shelter (the local authorities would most likely have no plan for them). A feature of this design is that the 40 foot shipping containers could act as very robust, short term, extreme-weather shelters. Empty they weigh almost 4000 kgs (~ 8000 lbs) each and have a combined floor space of 110 sq. meters (1180 sq ft.). It would be a squeeze, but possible, to shelter a community of approx 500 men women and children in 4 containers � ~ a man, a woman and 2 children to one sq meter � or 10.7 sq feet. If extreme weather was probable in the region of the community then at least one extra container should be provided � it can easily be used in day to day running of the community.
Such extreme weather would certainly damage the tent-houses but major elements of the community � bathroom, toilets, food preparation � not to mention the residents � would likely be undamaged and much of the flooring , steel wire etc could be recovered , repaired and re-used.
Additional roles for containers in this project are as safe-storage facility for community and individual valuables. It is also conceivable that in a large community a place might be needed to securely hold wrong-doers until state authorities can take over.
Placement of the shipping containers creates rows of tent-houses and an enclosed quadrangle; a recreation area for the approx 50 bordering families and in view of their family house tent. The area is approx 100 by 50 meters. It is a slightly reduced but realistic football field where games can be enjoyed by many. Access to this area is easily controlled so children are better protected.

Community Bathroom and Toilet facilities
Separate male and female bathroom and toilet facilities are located in modified 40 foot containers at the end of the row of tent-houses. It is fundamental feature of this proposal that key elements like the bathrooms and toilet facilities are not distributed throughout the individual houses but centrally located; servicing the whole community from high standard installations which can be controlled by the authority and maintained to an adequately high standard to ensure public health.
The shipping container is simply modified by fitting shower and hand basin facilities as well as doors , windows, benches, mirrors etc in one section and toilet facilities in another. The shower fittings can be derived mostly from garden hose equipment but it is likely that metal parts would be a similar cost. Cultural sensitivities need be satisfied regarding issues like individual stalls. The flooring needs to be removable / cleanable and a spare set kept for better hygiene. The capture and drainage and treatment of bathroom waste should be carefully considered � obviously it can be re-cycled for toilet flushing.
Toilets use about 4 litres of water per flush � a community of 550 people flushing 2 to 3 times a day will use a lot of water. The water storage tank for the toilets can be mounted on the roof of the shipping container (at zero extra cost). A simple modified bicycle/human powered water pump can fill the roof tanks and becomes a role for some residents.
A sewage treatment facility should be located an adequate distance from the housing. Remember Haiti and the impact of poor toilet hygiene! Adequate sewer pipes might be made using a garbage- bag type of plastic that is available in 6 inch diameter continuous rolls for low cost. �Double bagging� can help insure good community health for a very low budget

Community Food Preparation Facility
The kitchen / food preparation areas are also contained in modified 30 -40 foot shipping containers and enable the nutritional standard and hygiene of the community food to be adequately high. As well, equitable food distribution is more likely if food is delivered to, prepared by and distributed from a central responsible community facility. Eliminating the stampede at the rear of an aid truck with people fighting over hand-outs has to be a great improvement. My meal is your loss doesn�t engender a sense of community. Sharing and equity does and is way more efficient.
Cooking in a central facility will be more possible if the community food needs are fairly similar, and that is likely. Sharing the cost of a much used, good standard, central facility is a much better proposition than trying to supply and maintain many less-used individual cookers. The significant work of making-up and sharing out raw food supplies to individuals houses is saved. Fire safety is of course a major consideration also in centralizing the cooking.
The kitchen comprises simple burner rings, benching, washing up and preparation areas adequately screened against insects etc. If bottled gas was not available the alternatives could be found and the kitchen design modified.
Meals could be served at a counter and taken to a covered area with plastic tables and benches/chairs. If material is available the ground should be paved and fly screens provided.
Refrigerated storage of some food supplies is desirable as well as some drugs and medicine etc. Two types of refrigerators might be used � a kerosene or propane gas burning types -- subject to local conditions.
To store food, medicine, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and other �valuables� in a substantial building must be better for security.

The Devil is in the Detail
A lot of details need to be developed; I think it is all �engineering practice� stuff rather than deal breaking stuff � for example -- the �rigidity� of the tent-house can be improved by experimenting with different �end-walls� that maintain the spacing of the wire rope supports. A solid end-wall used in every 4th house for example might give desirable extra rigidity to the structure.
In the drawings supplied, for ease, I have exaggerated the size of the wire ropes and the size of the height- adjusting poles; the load of the tenting fabrics on the wire ropes needs to be confirmed but appears in order. The actual sizes of components need to be better determined (they will be smaller than the drawings show them).
How the tenting fabrics are joined and secured to the supporting wires needs proving but is a do- able.
The dimensions of the tent house needs refining. I have chosen generous proportions because the cost is not great but the benefits to the residents are.

The shipping containers are prevented from �creeping� towards the tent houses, causing the wire ropes to slacken, by three posts. One is used to mount the tent house ridge line supporting wire rope; the other two prevent the containing �turning�. Review of the container placement and these posts would be good. Again, it is fine tuning.
The tent house support wire ropes need to be kept taught for the tents to maintain good shape. Given they are extremely well anchored that should not be a problem. One variable design factor is the expansion and contraction of the wire ropes with local temperature change. The problem could be inexpensively solved, at site, when the local conditions are known. If the wires are connected to the shipping container via, say the front coil spring from an automobile, or a combination of a front coil spring and a rear leaf spring; enough to keep the ropes under tension and adjust to the range of local temperatures experienced. The shock absorbing effects of the springs allow �give� and damp the impact of wind gusting on the structures.
How well the house works is a matter of how much attention is paid to detail in design and manufacture. A house that leaks, or lets in mosquitoes, or is too hot or drafty is not a house for long and was never a home.
It is possible to use a tent-house in a range of climates and seasons. I am more familiar with countries like Indonesia, East Timor and the Philippines so have those settings in mind.
The role of the house above all is to keep the occupants in good �human conditions� � dry, private, cool enough/warm enough, protected even. So many design issues will be determined by the prevailing climate of the area (e.g. tropical, typhoon/cyclone area) and specific local conditions (e.g. open plain, north facing valley or other micro-climate). The tenting fabrics available offer solutions to a wide range of environments and can be quickly, economically, sourced in bulk.
A house means different things to different cultures. In the west maybe a look-at-me statement mansion is prized. In Asia �face� can be the expression of similar sentiments but can be utterly different in form. I believe it is desirable to use colors and other design features to �soften� the look of the tent-houses from the desperate appearance of some refugee/ex-army housing to something more family/child friendly and less depressing in appearance. It should not be patronizing or childish but the result of a genuine design effort. I suggest such things as numbering the houses (an organizational must) with large colourful numbers and/or sensitive use of cultural icons. As well incorporate low cost additional design-elements that simply look good and are interesting to the eye. Much is possible and the positive mood of the residents will repay the minimal investment many times over.
It is essential that the site for the community be chosen carefully (if there is any choice) and good site preparation be done. It is akin to nano-town planning and of critical importance. For example, each row of tent houses should be bordered with �rubble-drains� filled with suitable local material. By lowering the water-table and capturing roof run off near source the high traffic areas near the houses can be kept in the best condition. If the location requires the rain from the roof to be captured a gutter can be fashioned from sheet plastic and supported by an additional steel wire.
Plantings, bins, tidiness and many other low cost easily added and maintained features will ensure a sense of community.

Each house has internal electric light from a low voltage l.e.d. powered by re-chargeable battery system. The most practical re-charger is likely to be a modified conventional bicycle driving a car alternator charging car batteries. It is economic, practical, locally available, easily understood and charging the batteries by riding the bicycle(s) can be a shared community role. It generates low voltage DC, stabilized at each house (e,g,LM107) and uses a single-wire-earth-return system. Distribution is via the tent-house ridge line steel wire -- a house is �connected� by simply clamping a single circuit wire to the steel-wire. At the shipping container end the ridge line steel-wire is insulated from earth and the �lighting supply� connected. The house light is switched on and off via a switch mounted on one of the �height maintaining poles� usually near the door. The circuit is completed via a metal peg pushed into the ground (and kept damp in dry climates) or if too dry � another of the support steel wires can be used as the return circuit. The nearby community areas also have simple lighting for better �feel� as well as personal safety.

Community Water Treatment
Water treatment will be determined by what local resources are available such as, sand filtering with final charcoal filter system. As well a system based on 1 litre plastic soda-bottles screwed onto a simple, locally made, manifold holding 50 bottles could provide initial water treatment and storage.
For maximum hygiene there should be a basic hand-washing/cleaning facility located not far from each house. The water supply could use simple garden hose fittings and the �basin� one of many recycled materials.

Climate and weather consideration
If used in a hotter climate an extra two steel wires could support an additional layer of shade cloth for added protection in summer. A cooler or winter climate is certainly a challenge � for the design and budget -- a divided off living space in the tent-house can be lined with (fire-proof) wool insulating bats. The rubber flooring should provide good insulation from cold earth all year round and in most climates. The alfresco dining at the community food prep area might need a re-think, but doable.

A few words on budget and cost.
I have accounted for the cost of the house in two ways mainly. I identified sources of �real and known� materials and estimated amounts used in one tent house and allocated directly the cost of those materials to one tent house � the MD2 � mum dad and 2 children.
PLUS I costed the �real and known� community facilities needed/used by that tent house and totaled the number of tent houses using the facilities and allocated a portion to the total cost to each tent house.
So tenting fabric � I sourced and costed from Chinese suppliers, also suitable used wire rope I costed at around $1000 a metric tonne. The rubber floor I estimated the cost of the polyurethane binding agent but allowed little for the crumbed used car tyres used. The lighting system I sourced and costed the led�s etc.
The cost of the containers (unmodified) divided by the number of houses means that from the $300 budget each house needs to contribute $89 towards the cost of the containers provided.
The �unknown-it�ll be right on the night� stuff I think is a manageable smaller part of the total cost. In all cases there was no allowance for any labour cost.
Could I build this housing 129 community on average for $300 each � seriously, hand on heart, I think it is possible. Would I like Deloittes to audit my costings as they are right now � maybe not?

A few words about Community Organization
This community will only survive if it helps itself. In order to achieve better quality of life the residents need to organize a management team and look to taking responsibility for their living environment through specialist groups of resident groups such as :-
  • Water and sanitation specialist Team Food specialist Team Health care specialist Team Housing Development and Maintenance specialist Team Human Resources Team
  • Residents representatives

When I was 20 (about a century ago) I was in S.E.Asia, was night, in a city, and I was walking through the boonies; a Dad, a Mum and two children were settling down for the night -- on the footpath. That simple event has stayed with me � clear as. My design is for that family.
Thank you for the opportunity to present and good luck with all. Regards Ian Fraser 3 Nicholson Street
East Balmain 2041 Sydney, Australia IanFraser@sydney.net Home Office ph 61 2 9555 8587
Mob ph 61 420827143

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