Tiny Prefab Plans

exploded 3d overview 8x8

You might have noticed that I’ve not been posting much the past two weeks. I’ve been working every night on this panelized prefab design and finally have the free plans ready for you to see. The ebook version of the plans will be available soon too. The drawings are all complete; I just need to finish writing all the descriptions and instructions. The ebook contains dozens of illustrations that show all the construction and assembly steps as well as an 8×12 and 8×16 versions. Once the ebook is online I’ll adapt the design once more for the 16×16 House for Khayelitsha.

I think this little 8×8 building would make a great home office, micro cabin, or even a tiny house for the homeless. In fact the idea of finding a simple solution for housing the homeless is what got me started on this in the first place; but now that it’s ready for public consumption it’s clear to me that this approach could serve an extremely wide range of needs.

Tiny Prefab Plans v1.0

14 thoughts on “Tiny Prefab Plans

  1. SteveR says:

    Hi Michael,

    It certainly looks like a clever design and you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into it. Well done!

    I wish to make a few comments which I hope do not come across as critical. They are meant more to provoke thought and discussion.

    When I look at your plans, I am reminded of two books which I have read recently.

    The first is an obscure book I picked up at a second hand shop. It looked interesting but surprised me with its light hearted approach (it’s written in a comic book style) but persisting relevance, though written some 20 years ago. It’s called “Architecture for Beginners” by Louis Hellman. There is a chapter called “The Failure of Modern Architecture” which suggests, in a nutshell that buildings made for manufacturing efficiency ( ie: designed for machines)has never worked for people on many levels.

    The other book, well known Thoreau’s Walden is worth rereading and considering his thoughts on charity and philanthropy. Do ‘homeless’ people want to live in homes?…

    I’m reminded of a visit we made to Yucatan in Mexico a few years ago where the govt built everyone in this one village a concrete block kitchen house after a hurricane wiped out many of their vernacular buildings in the region. Only these locals completely ignored these new ‘modern buildings’ and instead quickly rebuilt the traditional stick and thatched roof structured buildings. The reason? While they seemed like a good idea to the bureaucrats and aid agencies who funded them they were overly hot and completely unlivable. Today they sit empty and unused and serve only as monuments to the innocence of those distant designers.

    Which is not to say that your design is not suitable for someone, somewhere. It appears to be both flexible configuration as well as material possibilities. In New Zealand plywood panels are prohibitively expensive and you might use a rough sawn board and batten exterior instead.

    Sorry to hijack the comments with so many thoughts.

    Keep the ideas coming.


    • Michael Janzen says:

      Thanks Steve… very good comments.

      I’m not sure there is a ‘solution’ for homelessness because there are so many reasons for homelessness… it’s not always about the house. There are also those that simply don’t see having no home as a problem and prefer to live that way, although I suspect this is not the majority.

      In any event I wanted to offer up a simply way for little houses to be constructed if someone was inclined to do it. For example with all the tent communities popping up around the USA with folks displaced by the economy it seemed like a simple solution could be useful. I can also see there being used as emergency shelters, cabins, and even backyard offices.

      I’ll take a look at those books; they sound like good stuff. I guess what I’ve tried to do here was take a little from SIP homes and blend it with DIY framing. A SIP home is probably far more efficient but hard for a DIYer to build. This approach is also more materials intensive that normal framing. So what it provides is a simple to build and easy to transport (flatpack, pickup truck, etc) and quickly assembled in the field with a hammer or cordless drill.


      • dizzyfingers says:

        Ijust read SteveR’s interesting comments and will get those books.
        The US is a big country, only some of which or perhaps very little, really, is suitable for living outside in a house built of what can be found. I did once approach a cave on the beach near Tillamook and found signs that someone was living there, and have spotted open-living “camps” in shrubbery along the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, I don’t know how these would work out in the winter, or in most places in the US in winter.
        I love the idea of a moveable tiny house — like a turtle’s shell — and think that if things get worse than they are now, which I expect, that many folks might eventually come to believe as I do that “owning” property is the last thing they want to own. I have many reasons for thinking this, not the least of which is that the US government believes it owns everything…(including us?!).
        My grandfather built himself a small house in an odd but appealing location and apparently enjoyed his life there very much, so the idea of alternatives to our cookie-cutter society aren’t foreign to me, and I’m not surprised at the idea that “architectural” homes of today are built to suit manufacturing or ease of construction, not the convenience and comfort of living in the buildings. We struggle everyday with the limitations and inconveniences of manufactured products from our clothing to appliances and fixtures in our homes. No one product fits all individuals just as no one individual is like any other.
        Your home designs fit the people who will choose to use them. Some will fit some folks perfectly, and some will be modified to work better. Most people who live in the US require shelter from the elements, but that problem is substantially different depending on where they live, and I think the adaptability and ingenuity of the people who use your designs will take care of whatever problems arise.
        I do want to comment on the shed roof and sun adaptation — moving the house so that less sun enters. Our stationary passive solar ranch has deep overhangs at the rear, enabling more sun to enter in the winter when the sun is “low” in the sky in the fall and winter and less when it is “high” in the spring and summer. I love this feature, and the overhang of your shed room could be adjusted to incorporate this advantage.
        Keep on keeping on. I love perusing your tiny homes’ floorplans and already am on-board regarding the advantages of a moveable tiny house. No more property tax, no mortgage, and complete freedom to come, go, and do what we wish when we wish with no extraneous attachments.
        I realize that only very indpendent and confident individuals will comfortably envision such a life. I hope that over the next couple of decades that many young folks will find the idea attractive, because I think the reinvigoration in the US of person independence and freedom is a must. Thanks for doing your part to ignite the idea and provide a practical solution for implementation.

  2. George says:

    I have been following your ‘panelized’ construction ideas with great interest. To some degree they run parallel to ideas I have mulled over for years, that is, a way to create modules in a garage that could then be transported to a remote site for quick assembly. I am concerned with the shallow roof pitch, though. I am from Canada and, of course, snow load can be a considerable concern for any structures. Have you given thought to alternative roofs with a steeper pitch? I am curious about whatever solutions you may have envisioned for northern climates.
    Keep up the good work and thank you for your efforts. They certainly have rekindled my interest,

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Hi George. The current roof is 2/12 and as you point out is a shallow roof pitch. I have been working on alternatives like that 12/12 on House for Khayelitsha. This approach to a roof is so simple that I wanted to offer it up first. Steeper pitches will require a bit more framing.

  3. George says:

    Thanks for the response. I will look forward to your 12/12 option if and when you might publish it. I do understand the reason for the low pitch for starters.
    I have also been curious about SIP alternatives and have looked to no avail for a DIY version and instructions. One of the things I had considered was a hybrid of your design with solid panels loose or glued within the framing of your components.
    Thanks again,

  4. Michael Janzen says:

    George… I actually noodled over the glued-up self-fab panel idea too but since there was a lot of engineering there I kept these simple and leveraged a familiar construction method to make it potentially easier to get approved by more building/planning departments… but I think glued-up foam/sheathing panels would be a great solution. They’d be much more like homemade SIPs and probably perform similarly.

  5. Michael Janzen says:

    EJ… not yet but I’m certain it would cost more to build this way than conventional framing. The benefit here is that it can be assembled in the field with not much more than a cordless drill.

  6. SteveR says:

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the response. I’m glad you took my comments the right way.

    You are right, the landscape for temporary shelter is rapidly changing and this may be a good alternative to the tent cities. Since it is relatively low-tech, the manufacturing and assembly could also spawn its own small business and job creation ( or perhaps job substitution – keeping current builders in work by shifting to new products).

    Btw, you might be interested in knowing that the moodular pre-fab panel method is already the current state of house building in New Zealand. These are not SIP panels though, just the wall framing. Framed panels are pre-built in factories for model X, arrive on a flatbed and the walls are erected on the foundation in a single day using a crane and a team of framers who nail gun it together. No sheathing is used( see previous comments on the expense of plywood). They put up house wrap and outside cladding. Insulation and wallboard added the traditional way.

  7. Laura says:

    I agree with Michael – as a former homeless person, I can attest that it is indeed “not always about the house.”

    But providing low-cost, clean and decent housing villages would go a long way towards helping many retain their dignity and a roof over their heads. The current govt. approach towards homelessness is to give slum landlords $35-100 a day for hotels, some of which demand that the family (usually lots of kids) move out during certain day hours. The govt. could build a small home using about 3-6 months worth of federal housing allowances, if the land and utility connections were already in place. It would be much cheaper to build independent housing for those who want a safe place to stay. This does not answer the problem of how to protect those who are either willfully anti-social or through not fault of their own mentally ill (including violent drug users, who may fall into either category) and who are not, for various reasons, able to live independently or in communities without supervision and/or sanctions to keep them from hurting themselves or their neighbors. I was homeless for economic reasons, and it was (thank God) very temporary, but it opened my eyes to how often we stereotype the homeless without realizing, as Michael says, that it’s a complex situation.

  8. Michele says:

    It is a nice idea and I love it. I like the idea of having just what you need, and less clutter. i would have to have my own, seperate from my husbands..lol. and also where could you put it? a piece of land still costs you an arm and leg, and the other alternative is renting a lot in a small house version of a trailer part– still very pricy

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Land can cost a lot and be hard to build on, but it really depends on location. I think the hardest part of making the transition to a sustainable life is figuring out where and when to move.

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