"Homes-for-the-Homeless ‐ built by the homeless"
A design for small, low-cost demountable homes with full facilities (cooking, washing, shower and toilet).



•   Original Concept
•   Basic Layout
•   Prelim. + Planning

Main Panels
•   Floor Panel
•   Side frames
•   Bed-side fit-out
•   Table-side fit-out
•   Roof details
•   Front Panel
    • L Bed-support
•   Back Panel

•   Water Closet/toilet
•   Divider Cupboard
•   Hot-Water tank
•   Electrical/safety

•   Erection sequence

•   Major variations
•   Materials



© Plateau Group


This H4H design is available to any volunteer groups for non-commercial use, but please make a formal request.

Small homes for the homeless

Construction Factory, and Assembly Sequence.

The primary aim in this design was to create the cheapest possible, fully featured (toilet, shower, cooking and washing facilities) cabin which allows homeless individuals to live with dignity. For a range of reasons, homeless people need to live close to suburban or city centres, and near to shops and transport hubs. Local residents often object to having "shelters" nearby, which is the value of the cabin style and the demountability.

Outside appearance is probably important in having these cabins accepted by local residents, so you may consider weatherboard fronts, which could make them look more like fishing cabins and therefore more acceptable in suburbia.

You don't necessarily need the side and back cladding to match the front, so consider the external appearance from the front with, say, a half-dozen cabins in a line (to the point of carrying planter-boxes with flowers or shrubs to ensure they are not classified as homeless shelters.)

Also you need to consider how the regular postal mail will follow the cabin occupant if the homes are likely to be moved from one location to the other. There should be a simple redirection system registered at the local Post Office which would allow the homeless occupants as a group retain their same addresses. This is important for anyone dealing with job applications, government payments, and bank-accounts.

We apologise in advance for the excessive detail in the plans and what will appear to be the unnecessary accurate in many of the measurement.

The aim is to mass-produce these cabins. So the timbers would be cut to size off-site and delivered pre-packaged to the fabrication "factories" (probably a covered car park). Each panel and cabinet unit, would ideally receive a full component of timber and hardware so that the volunteer fabricators would be confident that the material that was delivered would be enough to complete the task.

Fabrication and cost constraints.

The main constraints in material costs, fabrication, etc. are:

  1. The cost of convenient land in a city or suburbs near to a shopping district are generally prohibitive.
      This led us to the concept that the houses should be easily demountable and moveable, so they can take advantage of various sites ready for development, or those large buildings targeted for demolition.
      It is amazing how many useful sites like this are available when you look for them. This approach to temporarily borrowing land, immediately ...
    • halved the cost of providing acceptable accommodation.
    • also expanded the value of the design into that of disaster preparedness, since a demountable cheap house can be easily stored even if only used occasionally (bushfires, etc).
    • also for annual back-packer/picker accommodation in farming and fruit-growing regions, where groups of houses can be quickly uprooted and transported 50 miles to a new location every month or so.

  2. Another important consideration is mass production.
      Every step has been taken to design for mass production. There's no reason why these couldn't be churned out in their thousands at a material cost of only a couple of thousand dollars each.
  3. If the houses are to be used indoor and outdoor in all weathers, they need insulation in cavity walls.

    We settled on glass-wool in the ceilings and side panels, and the use of discarded Coolite foam plastic (fruit boxes) which can be stuck to the cladding of in the front and back panels (where water is likely to penetrate).
      The insulation proposed is not ideal, but in such a restricted house size and air-volume it is probably entirely adequate. The electric hot-plate will quickly warm such a cavity, and the hot water can radiate heat for hours.

  4. If the houses are to be stored and transported on the back of a truck, the design must be more that of a caravan than of a conventional house.

    Some standard components (such as porcelain toilets) needed to be abandoned.
      This turned out to be a plus in terms of space saved.

  5. The labour costs of fabrication are usually greater than the material costs and the essential component needed to fit the building out.

    This all led to the creation of this flat-packed cabin design which could be made by unskilled volunteers and the homeless themselves.
      The highest cost is in the plywood, which is therefore used uncut as much as possible. Cheap form-work ply is often available in standard sizes.

  6. Unskilled volunteers and the homeless should not be using dangerous tools like circular hand-saws during the fabrication phase.

    It was therefore important to simplify the design so that the frame parts could be pre-cut and delivered as a package for each of the major panels, along with a detailed specification.
      We assume that some more experienced "supervisors" and groups from (say) the Men's Shed would undertake some cutting and packaging, and making the components (WC and water tank) that requires higher levels of metal-work or carpentry/joinery skills.

  7. The fabrication 'factory area' must be available without rental costs. It should only need electric power and some extension cords to run borrowed electric drills. We believe that any undercover space (parking area) or basement would be acceptable in most weather conditions.
  8. Working surfaces must be designed not to strain or injure workers.
      We suggest that, at a pinch, four milk-crates with a couple of sleepers would make it possible to fabricate the floor-panel at what amounts to bench-height. This floor-panel would then be used as a bench for making the other panels.

Assembly Constraints

  1. The most obvious is that, each of the six main frames of the H4H cabins must be light enough in weight for two men to carry and erected. The design modifications now include a way of holding the walls upright while end panels are added to create a stable box.
  2. The main constraint in most locations will be positioning the units near to a vertical 'sewerage drop access' point (or a septic tank, etc.), then running the plastic pipes back to the furthermost unit while giving the pipes enough slope to ensure the solids flush through. Fortunately, since the wash-basin/flush will be used also for food scraps, the pipes will probably be regularly scoured.
  3. If more than about six cabins are side-by-side, the raised-height of the toiled/shower wet-area is probably close to the limit of sewerage flow-slope needed. More units can be added to the far side of the cluster, by raising them on sleepers or cement bricks or blocks.
  4. The H4H cabins will likely be required both indoors and outdoors, and therefor in a range of weather conditions. They therefore need the component panels to lock together strongly and quickly. We have also added some ways of strapping the whole unit down to the ground to handle strong winds.
  5. In the more remote areas of Australia where there is no mains electricity and no piped use small storage batteries (but probably for limited cooking and showering), and use guttering for rain water harvesting.
  6. We believe that when erected inside an abandoned warehouse (or some similar factory building) where space is at a premium, it would be possible to stack a second layer of H4H cabins on top of the first. You'd need to provide ladder access and a plank walkway with a hand-rail which runs along the front overhang. (easy to do).
We believe that it should take two men about two hours to assemble, erect, and connect each cabin to utilities and the sewer (on average). When the units are being disassembled, it will probably take about the same time, since some parts will need to be cleaned.

Fabrication Sequence

We are making the assumption that these cabins will be mass produced, and that the major framing timbers will all be supplied pre-cut to specifications. The ply is generally to be used in full dimensions (at least along three of the sides) so this acts as a check on the squareness and size.

We suggest that if mass produced, you will need to establish an identification code (3 alpha, 3 numbers) to identify all components and ensure that they remain together. Unlike conventional houses, these are flat-packed and storable so keeping matching components together is going to be important. This shouldn't strictly be necessary if these units are mass produced in a real factory ... but this is distributed mass production ... and inevitably there will be minor discrepancies in sizes, drill hole position, etc. So it makes sense to have a standardised code-ID which is written in a permanent marker on to each panel and component.

1st - Step Box

We suggest, therefore that the first component to be made should be the simplest: the Step-Box. This doubles as the electrical and spare-parts box within the cabin. It needs to be 15 cm in height (half the raised floor height,) and is used as a step into the shower-toilet area.

It's very basic but, if made out of plywood-off-cuts, it will need glued-in corner pieces for strength. It also needs to house the electrical safety switch and distribution point, and is therefore hinged and notched in a particular way. The information is in the Component advice section under "Electrical".

The height should be 15 cms, and the step-width needs to be at least 20 cm (but, since it fits under the raised-floor overhang it can be 30 cm wide. The length could be up to 80 cms, but this is just a waste of useful space. We suggest about half of this.

It can be made from solid timber pine planking, reclaimed second-hand street-recovered furniture timber, or from new 10mm ply for both the top step and all four sides, and with a 4mm ply base.

Progressive storage

The reason why this Step Box should be made first is that it is needed to progressively store various items which are important to retain with this particular cabin. If you don't accumulate these items from the beginning, parts will go missing (for instance, a spare key for the front-door lock) and never be found. We also suggest that spare screws of various types and calibre be held here, along with some spare roof straps, etc. In the future, someone will be called upon to re-erect the cabin, and they may be in some distant location a hundred kilometres from a hardware store. Inevitably, this will mean a half-finished, and possibly unsafe job, just through lack of some essential screw orcomponent.

Also, you should add a little booklet (tied by string to a pencil) so that those who work on the fabrication can add their names as a permanent record of their involvement. This is just basic PR. The volunteers need to have formal recognition of their involvement.

Use a permanent marker to write the ID of the unit in prominent lettering on the back of the Step-box (the opening side), so that everything for this cabin stays with this cabin. And leave a Permanent Marker inside the box until the fabrication is complete so that this ID code is repeated on all finished panels and components.

2nd. Floor Panel

It usually makes sense to construct the floor panel next because this is fairly simple in design, and the finished panel itself (without the inflection) can then be propped up on four milk-crates where it becomes a comfortable height work-bench for making all the other panels.

3rd. Two Side Frames

These are mirror-images until the fit-out stage. They are relatively straight-forward until after the ply lining has been added. The work is repetitive, so these two side walls are good major components for new volunteers to work on and learn (ideally under someone who has more experience with tools). There's not much that can go wrong here after the timber has been laid out and marked: this is mainly a drill and screw task. All joints are butt type joined with two long (55mm) countersunk wood screws, so it is impossible to make a serious mistake. It is the way for complete novices to learn how to handle electric drills.

The fitting out will need more supervision and the electrical fittings will need checking.

4th. The Roof and Ceiling Panel

Again, this panel is fairly simple in design, but the rafters need to be notched on each end and that is definitely not for novice volunteers. The best and safest way to handle this single requirement for electrical handsaws is to clamp all 8 rafters together (special joinery clamps are made for this, but you can do the same with wedges) then use a sheet of ply to ensure everything is square. Now nail on a run of straight batten timber as a saw guide; set the saw to cut 30mm, then do a single run to establish the depth and extent of the notch. Run the saw across the ends of the rafters a few times, and the notched pieces will probably fall out cleanly when tapped with a hammer.

Then do the other side. Everything else is straight forward, until the volunteers come to adding the insulation and the corrugated iron.

5th & 6th. The Back and Front Wall Panels.

These definitely need some supervision. Adding doors and locks does require some experience.


Clearly the Divider Cupboard is fairly basic, but needs to be well-made and from new clean timber. The Water Closet has the appearance of complexity, but it is surprisingly easy. The Hot-Water tank and its cradle is a different matter entirely. But it depends on whether you choose to adapt an existing tank or semi-made container, or start from scratch. It would be great to braze all joints and fittings, but simple pop-riveting (gal pops) and soldering should suffice,

Erection and Assembly Order

This is just a guide as to how the units would be assembled on location into a comfortable cabin.

  1. Move the Floor panel in place and level it, if indoors. If outdoors, give the floor a slight backward slope (1 in 20 if you can) for rain run-off. This is why the feet on the back stub legs are removable.

    Up to six or more cabins can be set up in close proximity as a cluster even in limited space where it is not possible to move around either the sides or behind. This is often going to be necessary on abandoned building sites, etc. All tie-down and panel joining can be done from inside the units.

    If you have more than half-a-dozen cabins side-by-side you may need to raise those away on the high-side(from a sewerage drop-point, septic or storage system) to get enough flow-height. Old sleepers are perfect, and they are always useful to have around, also as outdoor seats and garden surrounds.

  2. Add the Bed-side wall panel, and lock it upright using the tab on the top of the floor inflection. Possibly also screw down this Side panel to the floor-panel in the unlined space at the back as you proceed and perhaps nail on a temporary prop or two (wind is the potential problem). The Side walls should be positioned to overhang the front of the Floor panel by 10mms. You will find that this has been set by a length of gal angle attached under the bottom plate of the Front-wall to span the door opening and sill.

    [Note: Don't add this Front panel now, but check it out to understand where the "overhang" fits.]

  3. Add the Table-side Wall Panel in the same way. You can now open the L-shaped Short Bed support and drop the Bed to give you a working table.
  4. Now add the back-panel from inside the unit. It has three screws on each side to lock the panels together using the metal angles. With three sides now erected, the box is becoming fairly stable.
  5. At this point you should to add the Roof panel and anchor it down at the back. You will need to fix the Roof back down to boths sides using the two-or-three short straps protruding below the last rafter of the roof These should now be screwed to the top-plate, and also (if you can) to Stud 7. FIXING
  6. Shelves should now be folded down, fixed with screws where necessary, and the table with its chains checked.
  7. You can now introduce the Water Closet. It sits on a horizontal support at a height of about 400mm from the ground. Screw it firmly in place top and bottom on both sides, into Studs 6 and 7.
  8. Also at this time you should add the Water Tank and make the hose connection, and also run the electrical cables back to the power source, and fit the safety-switch and power distribution point in the Step-box which is positioned on the floor directly behind the inflection on the non-WC side of the room.
  9. Now add the front panel, and include the front roof tie-downs. Also you can fold out the Bed supports, lock them together where the join, and drop the bed down.
  10. You still have easy access to the ground under the raised floor, so run your sewerage pipes now (you shouldn't need to glue them together).
  11. Add the shower tray and seal around the edges as much as possible. The shower output is separate from the plastic toilet pipes, and it uses a flexible disposal pipe which makes its own U-bend by drooping.
  12. Now add the Dry area of the raised floor.
  13. Lastly add the divider cupboard and fix it to kitchen bench and possibly the frame of the water tank. It is stabilised by the two curtain rods which pivot our from the top of the cupboard, to cross the shower-space and fit into two flanges fixed to the back panel. Check that the shower curtain hanging loops are in place, before locking the curtain rods in place.
  14. Check that everything works and that you have the key before closing the door.

      Last suggestions

      1. Virtually every second house occupied by an elderly resident in most suburbs has an old single-bed mattress that they are keen to throw-out -- and you will see plenty of them discarded on any throw-out night. For this reason, it is important to keep the bed size standard, even though it occupies so much of the main room space.
      2. The drop-down shelving behind the front-door needs a couple of "eye-screws" or hooks, with perhaps a length of rod (wooden or metal) between. It then creates a very useful clothes hanging space, out of the way, and ideal for wet overcoats, etc.
      3. While embedding the light fittings, consider the possibility of adding a cheap mirror to the table-side wall nearby. Even a small mirror will add to the impression of space. It will also be used for make-up, and for some of the less particular residents, it should trigger memories of an unbearded face. A mirror is probably a very cheap way to enhance the bareness of the rooms, and give an illusion of much more space
      4. As a last minute finish, you might get someone to run over each panel with a piece of course sand-paper, to just smooth down any rough edges. Some form of transparent, or semi-transparent lacquer is probably the best way to finish the ply surfaces, since painting probably requires two coats, and it will also mark easily or chip during transport.
      5. We don't think the interiors should be painted white or any very light colour. When stored and transported they are sure to get dirty.
      6. It has been suggested that many highly attractive posters are available for free. And that these could be stuck up permanently on some of the interior ply walls. I am not convinced that every with some of the choices made by my friends.