Build a Small, Temporary Shelter For About $1,000

Would you like to build yourself a small, temporary shelter for a little more than $1,000? Keep reading!

| January/February 1985

Like so many other home builders, my wife, Sherrie, and I needed a quickly and easily built temporary shelter to live in while our permanent house was being constructed, but we wanted one that was sturdy enough — and of a suitable design — to be used later as a workshop, small barn or guest house. It had to be inexpensive, since most of our funds had gone into a down payment on our land; but with winter coming on, it also had to be warm and windtight. The question was, what could we put together with these qualifications?

A neighbor's garage, built with Starplate connectors, was our inspiration. After a speculative look at the triangular walls, Sherrie decided that the pentagon-shaped dome (actually a truncated icosahedron having 15 sides) had potential as a heat-efficient, cozy temporary shelter with a loft.

Now, the loft idea was intriguing, but, as far as I knew, Starplate buildings weren't designed to be 15 feet high, allowing for two floors. The 11 steel plates that come in the kit are designed to bolt to the ends of 6-foot 2-by-2s or 8-foot 2-by-4s. Could they handle 10-foot 2-by-6s?

We called David Hamel, engineer and inventor of the Starplate connectors to find out. "Nobody's ever tried building a house with them," he told us. But, we asked, if the roof peak was supported by an oak post, why couldn't it work? "Either that, or run a cable around the eaves to tie the five roof struts together," Hamel suggested. Otherwise, he didn't recommend anything larger than a 9-foot strut. We considered the risks and the options and decided to go for 10-footers.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Norm and Sherrie were fortunate to live in an area where the building code requirements present few problems. They needed a permit from the town in order to put up a building, and an inspector checked their wiring, but they had no other stringent rules to follow. Whatever you do, check with your local inspector — call the town clerk to find out who the correct official is — before making extensive plans or buying materials.]  

Frame, Footer and Floor

We used our VW camper to truck the struts to our building site: 20 10-foot 2-by-6s for the walls, and 5 12-foot 2-by-6s for the roof (the extra length was to accommodate the eaves). Drilling holes through the 6-inch width of the timbers, 1 ½ inches from their ends, was easy as long as we were careful to keep the drill lined up properly, and assembling the roof was like putting together an adult-size Tinkertoy set. In fact, the back-to-childhood nature of the construction attracted a number of onlookers who wanted to participate!

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