Build a Cardboard House

Dan Clancy and his family build a comfortable cabin using recycles boxes and other paper products.

| September/October 1976

"Ah, but there's more than one Way to build a cardboard cabin," says Dan Clancy of Martinez, California. Clancy—an instructor at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California—got the idea for a pasteboard mini-palace while conducting his popular environmental-biology course, Conservation Lifestyles, in the spring of 1974.

"One day While feeding my rabbits some lettuce that I'd scrounged from the back door of a supermarket," says Dan, "I noticed that the box given to me by the produce man didn't fall apart in the rain like ordinary cardboard does. So I thought to myself, 'Why not build a cabin out of this stuff right here on our little homestead?"'

(It should be noted—before we go any further—that although Dan, his wife Linda, and daughters Tammy and Lori, live only a few blocks from a freeway in suburban Martinez ... the Clancys have created a real rural retreat on their shaded, out-of-the-way, oversized lot. For the past four years, they've produced nearly all their own vegetables, meat, milk and milk products, eggs, and some fruit [there's little point for them to produce all the fruit they eat, since they live practically next door to a large orchard]. Dan and his family recycle almost all their own wastes [they installed an ECOLET composting toilet a year ago] and even pipe their used household water into an irrigation system. The Clancy homestead frequently serves as an outdoor environmental laboratory for Dan's classes at nearby Diablo Valley College.)

Once the call went out for contributions for the cabin, used windows, an old glass-paned door, a large pile of 2 X 6's, used plywood foundation forms, a carpet made from carpet scraps, nails, a brass doorknob, old packing crates, and other "junk" came in. "Almost everything was recycled," says Joann K. Johnson, one of Dan's student teachers at the time, "and we let the used materials we gathered determine the size of the cabin we built."

That cabin turned out to be an "almost" treehouse (one corner is supported by a living tree and the rest of the structure rests on stilts and concrete piers set into the ground) approximately eight feet wide and twelve and a half feet long. The little building's floor has a total of 102 square feet of usable space ... plenty of room for a queen-sized bed, an ample closet, and some furniture.

"Standard" framing techniques were used on the Cardboard Cabin ... except that, since the structure weighs so little, 2 X 3's (instead of 2 X 4's) were used throughout. Also, for the same reason, all wall studs and roof rafters were spaced two feet apart instead of the more usual 18 inches. Window openings are framed in with packing crate 1 X 4's and the windows themselves are hinged on strips cut from an old tire.

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