Modular cabin building material?


Here in Nunavut we have a hell of a lot of land that no one is doing anything with. You can build a cabin and squat on the land anywhere you damn well please. Most of these cabins are tiny and built out of reclaimed materials from the city dump. This obviously takes a lot of time and planning as you have to visit the dump regularly and be able to load these materials and finally drag them out to their final location over very inhospitable terrain, typically by ATV + trailer in the summer or by snowmobile + sled in the winter.

My idea is to be able to build a cabin using cheap, interlocking segments that will fit into either small trailers or sleds for dragging across the tundra. Does anyone know of any material that meets these requirements?

The cabins I am talking about are nothing more than four walls, a floor and a roof that are hopefully well insulated (although this is not a requirement). They are typically heated by small pot bellied stoves.

My ideal solution would be to make molds and make these segments here from recycled material; I know this is probably unlikely but any input is appreciated.

Shipping container? Pretty damn heavy though.

There are lots of shipping containers, unfortunately these are not easily dragged across the tundra. I need something modular.


Boards? Logs?

Board and logs are expensive as they have to be shipped up from down south. This is how most cabin are built currently, I would like to improve upon this with a modular building system, if something is commercially available.

Think about making a hut in the poorest area of Africa from cheap, commonly found materials and you’ll be on the right track.

Sounds like you want to build modular cabins locally from local materials. I’m not sure what you mean by modular that a shipping container doesn’t conform to. It sounds like maybe panelized construction where pre-made walls and roof panels are constructed. But something like that isn’t easy to construct out of simple materials. So what materials are available? You need wood, metal, or masonry for strength. Earthen materials like cob and adobe might be made from local materials, but aside from making adobe bricks, the materials would be gathered and formed on site. Anything with high tech materials is going to cost more than boards and logs.

Ideally, yes, local materials would be best. If I could melt down soda bottles and add a little sand or something into a mold and make stackable interlocking panels, this would be ideal.

However, I realize this is not realistic. What I am looking for are lightweight, interlocking panels that can be used to make a 50 - 100 sq ft structure that can be easily transported and erected at as low a cost as possible. Wood is currently used, but it is heavy and thus commands a premium unless you are willing to spend a lot of time scavenging at the dump. If some kind of foam or plastic based interlocking material exists (and maybe it doesn’t, this is why I’m asking) that is light it would be cheaper to ship up and thus cheaper to build cabins with as compared to wood.

The current market rate for a built, ramshackle piece of shit it >5000 bucks. For this money you have no rights to anything; if some dude decided to sit outside your cabin and declare it his, you have no force of law to get him out of there. All of these squatter cabins are designated as ‘communal use’ legally; this is typically interpreted as in an emergency or during bad weather all’s fair but it is possilble for assholes to claim whatever they want out in no man’s land.

A shipping container won’t work because you can’t drag it with an ATV over arctic tundra.

I would look into straw bale construction

ok, send me some straw bales :slight_smile:

Please take a look at this photo for a look at typical Nunavut landscape. Dragging a 1000+ large object is impossible unless you airlift by helicopter.

There are no roads to get here. Everything is either shipped up by boat in the summer or flown up.

Last post should read ‘1000+ lbs’

Think sticks and mud, and you better act while it’s still summer! :smiley:

Locate somewhere that has clay like soil, someone knows a spot I’d wager. You could use recycled glass/plastic bottles. Fill them with dirt maybe, or not, stack 'em up with mud with clay in between. You could even make a packed clay floor without too much work. I’d recommend sheet tin, like a sign, or something flattened to piece together a roof. Sort of like they build houses out of tires, it would have thick walls, but I bet it’d be insulating. You could always stucco over the walls if they are hideous, with the clay mixture. I don’t know how long it would last, but, who knows, you may be able to get something to paint on it to extend it’s life.

I don’t have any idea how to make doors or windows.

You might be able to shred soda bottles to make a reinforcing material embedded in earthen material. Like cob, but replacing straw with plastic fiber. You need some clay or portland cement to use as a binder. They would be heavy though. Maybe you could rent molds to make panels on site. Soda bottles can also be filled, then stacked and mortared together like masonry. Probably not much good for roofs though.

There are foam interlocking blocks. They provide insulation and become the form for poured concrete. They need to be reinforced with rebar for strength. It’s easy building, but based on the prices of seen, there wouldn’t be a great price advantage for the materials. You could manufacture the foam blocks locally, shipping in raw materials. It still might be just as expensive as wood or steel.

Now if you have some kind of insulating material available, steel structures are very inexpensive. Quonset style arched construction can get you much more than 100 sq ft for $5000. Common metal sheds would only cost a couple of hundred in materials, but would need some kind of insulation to do much more than block the wind in arctic conditions. That’s where soda bottles could work out. They can be shredded into fiber that makes decent insulation in a double walled steel structure.

What’s your container cost to Nunavut? Do you guys use AML or Northland? I think you could get everything you need for a straw cabin into one container.

If your looking for a cabin kit, I know a few people in Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales. The make cabin kits out of Yellow cedar and spruce, not to cheap, but it would be simple.

No pony in this show, I found it in a stumble upon session a few weeks back and I think they are just fantastic. If you delve deeper into the website, there are panels that you can combine in a bunch of different ways, they are made of expanded foam in molds so it fits the bill for lightweight materials, and it is both earthquake resistant and durable.

Might be worth it to hire a helicopter. Looks like you have lots of rocks and snow, both can be used for construction of a shelter.

What came to mind for lightweight modular was what children’s plastic playhouses are made of, which perhaps many are made from recycles plastic bottles.

I think shipping containers are going to be hard to beat in terms of cost since they’re already up there. They also have the advantage of being standard dimensions and materials. What I’m thinking is you come up with a standardized plan for cutting up an intermodal container into ATV-manageable pieces that can then be used to assemble pre-designed shacks. At the same shop that’s cutting 'em up, you can weld on the necessary brackets and fixtures so you can assemble the structures in place with just fasteners and hand tools.

So basically the same concept as the third-world junkyard shacks, but with a standardized junk source allowing for standardized design.


Would a Yurt work?

If there is a supply of old tires you could build a simple earthship type thing. Basically you pound dirt into the tires and stack 'emlike bricks.

Give this a try: Order about 400-500 100# bags used for rice or any other grain. They used to be made of burlap, but nowadays are made from a durable plastic. During the summer, use an ordinary shovel to fill these bags half-way, then fold over the empty part of the bag beneath the full half. Once you have made the first course of these “building blocks”, run two strands of barbed wire around the top of this course as the “bond” for the next course, which is laid in overlapping (“flemish-bond”) style. Ovals or circles are the best shapes. Clay soils work best, but pea-gravel could do ok as the filler. Taper as you go up to get a “beehive” effect. This may require some supports / shoring up on the interior (for peace of mind, at least). Install a stove and you’re good to go.
The ATV-able materials are the bags, a couple rolls of barbed wire, and a shovel. Where I live in the lower 48, thet entire materials cost would be in the neighborhood of $300 USD for a shelter that could get you through the winter.
There’s a name for these; they were designed to be used on the moon. Someone with better Google-fu could help me remember…