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


  • Basic Layout
  • Assembly

    Main Panels

  • Side frames
  • Bed-side fit-out
  • Table-side fit-out
  • Floor Panel
  • Roof details
  • Front Panel
  • Back Panel


  • Water Closet
  • Divider
  • Water tank
  • Shower-tray
  • Electrical


    © Plateau Group

    Stewart Fist
    70 Middle Harbour Rd.
    LINDFIELD, NSW, 2070
    +61 2 9416 7458

    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) that allows homeless individuals to live with dignity. For a range of reasons, homeless people need to live close to suburban or city centres, near to shops and transport hubs.

    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 design of a flat-pack panel unit which could be made by 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-unit at what amounts to bench-height. This floor-panel would then be used as a bench for making the other units.

    Assembly Constraints

    1. The most obvious is that, each of the six main frames of the H4H box-units must be light in weight enough for two men to carry and erected. The design modifications now include a way of holding the walls upright while the end panels are added.
    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 them 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 units 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 lifting them on sleepers or cement bricks or blocks.
    4. The H4H units will likely be used both indoors and outdoors and in a range of weather conditions. They therefore need the component panels to be locked 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, 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 units 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 home to utilities and the sewer (on average). When the unit is being disassembled, it will probably take about the same time since some parts will need to be cleaned.

    Assembly Order

    1. Get the floor panel in place and level if indoors, or give it a slight backward slope (1 in 20 if you can) if outdoors. This is why the feet on the back stub legs are removable. If you have more than half-a-dozen units side-by-side you may need to raise those on the high-side of the sewerage system to get enough flow-height. Use old sleepers.
    2. Add the bed-side wall panel, and lock it upright using the tab on the top of the floor inflection, and possibly a screw to join the side to the floor-panel in the unlined space at the back. The side wall should overhang the front of the floor panel by 10mms.
    3. Add the table-side panel in the same way.
    4. Now add the back-panel from inside the unit. It has three screws on each side to lock the panels together with the metal angles.
    5. At this point you should to add the roof panel. Fix the back of the roof panel down using the short straps screwed to Stud 7.
    6. You can now introduce the water Closet, and screw it firmly in place top and bottom through screws into both Studs 6 and 7.
    7. Also at this time add the water tank and make the hose connection,
    8. Now add the front panel, and include the front roof tie-downs.
    9. You still have easy access to the ground under the raised shower floor, so run your utilities and sewerage pipes.
    10. Add the shower tray and seal around as much as possible. The shower output is separate from the plastic toilet pipes, and it uses a flexible pipe which makes the U-bend.
    11. Now add the dry raise floor, and the step-box to make the electrical connections.
    12. Lastly add the divider cupboard and fix to the frame of the water tank, and also stabilise it via the two curtain rods from the cupboard across to the top of the back panel.
    13. Check 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 their unbearded face. This is probably a very cheap way to enhance the bareness of the rooms
        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.