An $800 Portable House

With a little recycling and a lot of ingenuity, Bill Case built a portable house for $800.

| September/October 1980

When Bill Case told me that his combination house and pottery studio had cost him only $800 to construct, I was impressed. Then, when he pointed out it was a portable house as well, I was simply amazed!

"Well, I was broke at the time I built it," Bill explained. "I came to New Mexico in 1974 with nothing but my truck and the clothes I was wearing. The only asset I had was a friend's promise to let me use a piece of land he owned."

For an innovator like Bill, that offer seems to have been enough. He went to his pal's place at Canada de Los Alamos ... leveled some of the land with a hand shovel ... and—relying on his own ingenuity and an assortment of recycled materials—managed to pull a shelter up over himself.

"In order to earn a little pocket money, I arranged to haul trash from two motorcycle shops in Santa Fe," Case explained. "But instead of dumping the discards at the local landfill, I kept the material to use when building my house."

Crate Creativity

Bill, you see, had noted that many of the motorcycle crates were made up of a wealth of building materials. First, every one contained styrofoam padding in slabs from 2" to 8" thick. The enclosed bikes were also wrapped in a heavy plastic bag, and further protected by a stout mahogany frame. (Case figured that even the thick cardboard containers that surrounded all the other material would have some value.)

So, when he'd amassed enough crates, Bill combined them with a scrounged supply of scrap 2 X 4's to fabricate his home's well-insulated walls. The innermost styrofoam surface, of course, provides interior insulation. The next layer is a frame of cardboard-covered 2 X 4's (the paper product traps air pockets between the studs). Finally, plastic bags that once wrapped two-wheelers form a vapor barrier over the cardboard, and the shipping crate mahogany provides the exterior sheath.

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