Tiny Panelized Frefab Houses For Charitable Giving

Sometimes building green houses seems to be a purely First World Problem. Housing, however, is a huge problem for the world’s poor. A number of architects do spend time drawing up designs for very low-cost small houses—and thinking up clever names for them. We recently covered the iShack and Hut-to-Hut concepts, which are design frameworks offered to slum DIY builders.

The Abod and the Habihut are panelized prefab designs that have now been put up in numbers qualifying as small villages. They favor a business model of getting non-profit charities to raise the money for multiple houses for a particular charitable destination, and shipping them there from factories in the US heartland.

Abod exterior

Abod exterior, via Abod Shelters

Ten Abod Shelters (pronounced abode) were installed on a Blessman Ministries campus for single mothers and numerous children in Makopane, South Africa.

Produced in Bondurant, Iowa, Abods are catenary-arched roofs of corrugated metal installed on rectangular concrete slabs or recycled rubber mats. Light streams in through translucent plastic corrugated panels that fit in place a a few of the metals ones. Modular end walls rigidify the shape, which is identical from one Abod to the next; but a wide variety of interior options have been worked out, as well as double-long and triple installations. All are tall enough to accommodate a cozy sleeping loft for the children. Quarter-twist fasteners hold them together, and can easily be undone so the shelter can be packed up and moved.


Abods, via Abod Shelters

A 120-square-foot Abod costs $4,900, or $3,500 in orders of 50 or more.

Fascinating geometric exercises from Bozeman, Montana, called Habihuts, have been shipped to Kenya and to Haiti. The Habihut website features a “Village In a Box” including Habihuts as water kiosks, a battery-charging solar kiosk, and several outhouses.


Habihut design, via Habihut.

The floor plan is a perfect hexagon while the roof is three squares at right angles to each other. Figure it out if you can. It’s a strong shape, and facilitates combining units as modules in larger buildings, beehive style. The translucent polypropylene walls and roofs come in 14 stock colors. The company takes great pride in their strength and durability, beating on them with baseball bats in their video and warrantying them for the first 5 years of their stated life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.

A 118-square-foot Habihut costs $2,500, or $1,995 in orders of 20 or 40. I have not found full spec sheets for either of these products, but I see that Abod photos show built-in features, and Habihut photos do not—possibly explaining much of the price difference. Both take less than a day to assemble or disassemble.

Abod interior

Abod interior via Abod Shelters.

For perspective, consider that in 2011, Jovoto and Ingersoll-Rand sponsored a contest for global slum house designs buildable for $300. On that kind of budget, designers favored small rectangles with single shed roofs, site-built from locally available materials—basically, the shanty most slum dwellers have been building for decades, but with improvements. The winner was not a floor plan but a grand schema exploring how this basic sloped cube can best be adapted to each of the third world’s difficult climates and circumstances.

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.

1 Comment

  • Reply April 10, 2013


    Interesting. However at a cost of about $236/sqm for a minimum of 20 units of the Habihut and a 10 to 15 year life expectancy, I feel there are better building technologies out there that can offer much better value for money. The Ecobeam building system is one such example. Aside from its Eco friendliness and versatility, the Ecobeam system also boast of a lower cost per square metre and has a life expectancy similar to a conventional sandcrete block and cement building. The technology was developed in Africa for Africa.

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