Design Study – Underground Concrete Pipe Tiny House Concept

A little while back I came across information about a concrete pipe hotel in Austria and blogged on it here. It occurred to me that concrete pipe might make a pretty cool tiny house so over the weekend I drew up this concept. I actually tried to draw it in Google SketchUp but I’m still just learning that 3D tool so I did my best with a non-CAD 2D drawing tool I’m already familiar with. To see the full size drawing just click on the images.

The basic idea is to take a few sections of storm drain pipe, set them in a shallow hole and connect them with a concrete hallway structure. Concrete pipe comes in a variety of sizes. One of the largest standard pipe sizes is 12 feet in diameter and 8 feet long. I’m not sure what the exact pricing for these pipe sections would be but it seems that a few thousand dollars would buy four of them. Moving them around, building the central hallway and finishing it out would be the majority of the cost.

This configuration is about 360 square feet. It has a small bedroom, larger bath/utility room, little kitchen and living space. The entire thing is bermed and buried to take advantage of the thermal mass benefits of an underground house. I personally think concrete is the right material to use for any underground house. Since these pipes are engineered to stay underground their entire lives and contain high pressure fluids from time to time it seems that they would be the ideal material for an underground house. This diagram shows the concrete elements a little more clearly.

Natural light and claustrophobic spaces are probably the biggest challenge for any underground house. So for an underground house to be useful and comfortable there must be a nice balance between windows and dirt. Seems pretty logical to me, and I think I’ve done a good job balancing the two. Each room has a window or sliding door and natural north light would filter down through the Clerestory windows in the hallway section. I can imagine days where the occupant would want to pull the blinds, to block out the sun or keep in the heat so the clear story would be useful for keeping some natural light inside the house.

Plumbing and electrical systems would need to be run through the floor. The concrete would make putting outlets and overhead lighting a bit challenging but in-floor outlets and conduit would probably solve this little challenge.

Things that need more thought

  • I’d like there to be more passive solar qualities built into this design. The way I’ve drawn this only the living area gets south sunlight. The other three pipe sections get just a little direct sunlight. I may try another design that faces more of the concrete pipe sections south.
  • The custom hallway ads a bit of complexity to the building. I think in the next drawing I’ll try to stick to using pipe sections only and avoid any custom concrete work.
  • I have no idea what kind of foundation a house like this would be required. Since the pipes normally sit in a hold in the ground I’m assuming that’s all that would be needed as long as the lowest point was below the local frost line.
  • I also wonder if a local building department would have a hard time reviewing and approving the plans if someone actually wanted to build a house like this. I suspect they would want some kind of engineering review or stamp of approval.

Anyway… this was fun. I hope you liked it and I expect to post more ideas on underground, mobile, modular, and other crazy tiny house ideas soon. Photo credit (for the car in the picture) goes to Think. Very cool electric car that will probably be on American roads by 2010 or 2011!

Continue to part 2 >

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