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  • WORLDHAUS: Idealab Invents Super-Cheap House That Could Shelter 1.5 Billion Of The World's Poor
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  • I have a hard time understanding the WORLDHAUS concept. I've built a functional house with utilities out of scrap construction material, and my only cost was gasoline for driving a truck around to dumpsters in suburban Michigan. 8x12 house for $200. There's nothing "super-cheap" about WORLDHAUS, even though people in the US think $100k+ is normal for a house. I live in a house now that cost me $5k, it's three stories, 1800 sq feet, made of 10000 bricks, thousands and thousands of feet of 2x10 and 2x4 and 1x4 lumber, hundreds of pounds of steel, a thousand feet of copper wire. There's a serious lack of scrapper imagination in the "cheap house" movement, and it's probably because the people making up WORLDHAUS and Hexayurt and shipping container houses aren't actually poor ($0 to $5000 / year cash income).
  • Dumpsters in suburban Michigan are much wealthier than dumpsters in some third world country.

    In all likelihood you'd have to purchase/make materials to build in poor countries since free building materials aren't going to be laying around free for the taking.
  • Definitely, definitely, partly true. Though the poor places I've seen are usually rich in stone, laterite, concrete rubble, brick, etc, and the cities have the cheapest scrap metal, glass, and plastic prices in the world. Most of what I found in the dumpsters was dimensional wood and drywall. The utilities are the core that I want to be able to buy for $20 or $100.
  • Only one or two people can build their house out of scrap. It's not a sustainable strategy.
  • Can't agree with that at all! The places where the Worldhaus is being advertized are already inhabited and built-up with ba-ba-billions of tons of existing materials, either slums (built from, what else, clay, mud, concrete, and scrap! -- scrap that houses a billion+ people on the planet) or rural regions built from materials near at hand (stone, soil, sod, wood, bamboo).

    All I'm saying is, I want to see the core utilties (light, electricity, heat, cooking, refrigeration, telecom, drinking water, greywater, blackwater, compost) for $100, fits in a small box, and instructions for how to make everything else from what's already lying around. I want to do this! Has it been done? It would be pretty awesome.
  • So...if a billion people already figured out how to build a house out of scrap, what good would those instructions be? Just give them the "utilities in a box" and let them run with it.
  • Yeah, I agree. Wouldn't "give them" anything, but you know, for the price, they can invest in it, and I would definitely buy "utilities in a box", that would be awesome. But I kind of want the instructions for myself! Always faster when the details of construction materials are formulated ahead of time. Some cultures have these formulas in mind already, and they work really well. I don't have that though! That's what the whole open source GVCS is about, right? Making it absolutely clear every little step of the way to the goal, even though it's probably all been done before, just hasn't been written down in one place.

    But yeah, a passive solar house, full utilities, $100. That is a heck of a goal. Has it ever been done?
  • Probably depends on what you consider a "house."
  • An important problem. Most people are satisfied with dark, enclosed,
    non-passive homes. In the rich places, these cost thousands of dollars
    to run each year. In poor slums they sometimes cost that much in rent! I
    don't have good examples of cheap passive homes, Earthships are really the only example I have and they're artificially labor intensive. But here are some examples of "houses" in general, most of them
    "built by hand" by the owners.

    There are pretty awesome houses/homes in these videos:

    Most of what Lloyd Kahn writes about --> houses:

    Some of these are homes:

    Always was fond of these:


  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    February 2012
    AJ, I love the cave house idea. It also brings my mind back to the idea of using the best and longest lasting local materials. I often marvel at the housing methods where I live which are almost 100% stick frame houses with the odd straw bale thrown in for good measure. I have loves the idea of earth-block building but even that in this area wouldn't make much sense, when the land is a huge expanse of solid granite just below the topsoil. It is hard to walk through the forests without tripping over large amounts of loose rock.

    While the initial workload is much higher a solid stone home or cave home will outlast pretty much any other building material. Given the incredible abundance of stone it would only make sense to see it use widely as an extremely strong and durable building material. I would love to see an open source granite saw or general purpose stone block cutter that could be used to turn rough stone into something more manageable, and something that could be used by one or two people. Here is an example of one:

    In terms of passive and inexpensive homes the low impact development style of building embodies this to a T. The Lammas building project in the UK has a great video series documenting their own ecovillage low impact building project. Here is a video about one of the members and the house they build with ready available materials on the cheap. Its not the mythical $100, but in all likelihood one could do it cheaper than was done here.
  • Seems too arts-n-crafts-ie. A creative person will always be able to figure out some way to use local materials to make a structure. Their process is not replicate-able because they have to teach you how to be as creative as they are.

    We need a few house building systems that don't depend on creativity. Like, the creativity has already been done, then we engineered the heck out of it, now any idiot with some time and money can follow the instructions.

    In my mind, it doesn't make any sense to target the "I don't have any resources at all" crowd ($100 house) because those people are going to have to depend on their own creativity. If they don't have it, they'll need to borrow it from someone, and there's just not enough to go around. If we move up a bit, to the people who can scrounge up $1000, then we can help a lot more people because they can all follow the same (nearly) identical set of plans.

    I houses are always fun, but one-off isn't what OSE is aiming for. We need an idea/plan that's so efficient and economical it works for tons of people just the way it is, without modification.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    February 2012
    Its unlikely that you will be able to find cheap universal materials in every location. And creating a cookie cutter house ends you up with the same housing issue you currently have where houses that are intended for warm climates are built in cold climates and vise versa. It would be better to focus on the modularity of house design rather than a whole unit. Designing a variety roof structures to be interchangeable with a variety of wall systems, and designing these varieties based on locally available building materials. So if you have four different roof designs and four different wall designs you would need a standard connection between roof and walls to make them universally interchangeable. Then a person just needs to pick the designs that can be sourced locally and they can build it in the most economic fashion.

    One of the great things about low impact design is that is that it doesn't require a huge area to be flattened, ripped up, or removed. The buildings are creatively placed to allow the existing natural features of the land to aid in the construction of the building. This process requires creativity, and I would think that most highly efficient low carbon building requires this.
  • Worldhaus is touting the $1k house number only because it expects the impoverished billions to be creative self-builders. Creative self-building is really only scarce among rich people.

    I would love to cut stone, I never have! That would be awesome. Similar line of thinking: I am huge into geopolymers. Gonna start that thread soon. The woodland house is really cool, but does miss the point. Need a modular core easily manufactured and tinkered with anywhere, and then the vernacular shell that comes from the local creativity. Just way more illustrated case studies of how to make passive solar structures -- I know of no good photos, videos, plans for passive solar using cheap materials other than earthships.
  • clever as Worldhaus might be, they're still in it for the money, which means they're still engineering in a profit margin.

    I think by definition "universal" materials could be found anywhere :-P but I get your point. It seems like OSE isn't going to be able to come up with anything ground breaking in terms of low-cost housing design. That particular discipline is as old as humanity. I think OSE's contribution will be reducing the cost of the house itself by integrating it into the entire independent village economy. So... not so much "cheaper" as "money is less relevant."

    I haven't been to India, but I suspect they're just as particular about what the homes they live in look like as anyone else. No one WANTS to live in an efficient little box that's identical to everyone else's box. People are WILLING to do so if they can't afford anything better.

    As nice an idea as low impact design is, I doubt it will be all that relevant to the eventual shape of the GVCS. In order to squeeze onto a small plot of land the villagers are going to have to make the most of the area. To me, that strongly implies enforcing a detailed utilization plan on the area's natural resources; not letting nature do its thing and impacting it as little as possible. You can only let nature be nature when you aren't putting a strain on its resources. OSE's plan is to wring as much productivity out of the resources in a given area as possible. Sustainable design will put a limit on how far the natural environment can be replaced, but it places no limit on how far the natural environment can be rearranged.

    You can't find information on passive solar? Or by "cheap materials" do you mean "not stick-built?" There's a lot of stuff here. Even free plans.

    It seems like a key tradeoff is that you might be able to build/design a shelter that could work well anywhere on Earth; either through high-tech elements or simple modularity. However, you aren't going to be able to ship the shelter or the parts to anywhere in the world for a price that someone willing to live in a cookie-cutter minimalist home is going to be able to pay. Even if you air-dropped an inflatable structure it would still cost too much. You could still finance them via charitable donations, but that's outside the OSE paradigm.

  • @Matt - I'm fairly sure there is no single building system that would work everywhere, because the materials available in a desert, for example, are not the same as what you find in a swamp.  I think what OSE can contribute to is a variety of cheap materials.  If you have a sawmill, you can make your own lumber.  If you have a CEB press, you can make blocks.  If we have a sufficiently wide set of machines to make different materials, then it comes down to just selecting what works for your area.  Given cheap materials and your own labor for construction, then that is about as low cost as you can get.
  • I agree. That's what I meant by "...reducing the cost of the house itself by integrating it into the entire independent village economy."

  • Not a single $100, $1000, or even $10k passive solar house in the "Build it Solar" or Wikipedia linkfest, except as always Mike Reynolds' earthship. Bunch of $20k-$200+k McMansions, and then "tiny" houses that aren't passive solar. PAHS and Passivhaus are awesome ideas, but I have yet to see adequate demonstrations.

    I don't mean to argue with you, I guess we're talking past each other. I was only posting here to see if it would draw anyone out who had built or documented what I'm pointing at, in contrast to the Worldhaus idea. Factor e Farm folks have failed pretty hard on this so far. $100 passive solar house with clever utility core, where are you???
  • Is any of this more like what you're looking for?
    Maybe passive solar just works better when the house has enough mass to store a certain amount of energy? A small house, with no or few interior walls, seem like it would heat up and cool down faster. That's just a guess, tho. I've never specifically researched passive solar.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    February 2012
    I honestly don't see OSE or the GVCS directly building houses. The open source machines are built to in turn build modules that could be assembled into a structure. It matters little whether the structure is low impact, high impact, urban sprawl etc. only that people have the resources to build and know-how to assemble the modules into a building. Because the local resources vary from place to place multiple module designs need to be made to allow for an inclusive and varied building system. You could look at the system in three modules: Foundation/Floor, walls, and roof. There's a small chart attached.

    Module building.JPG 50K
  • Cool. With domes you could even combine the wall/roof into one unit. Seems like you just can't get away from the need for a foundation, tho. Maybe add another category for "interior walls" since those don't necessarily have to be load bearing. Also, more categories like "plumbing" and "electrical" would help flesh it out.

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