For Less Than $35K, We Built a Quonset Hut Home

We built the shell of our unconventional, corrugated-steel Quonset hut home in less than two months.

| April/May 2009

Since MOTHER EARTH NEWS was first published back in 1970, we’ve dreamed of improving the quality of our lives and being self-sufficient. And after spending most of our careers in the city, we finally got our chance in 2005 when 13 acres in northwest Pennsylvania — 10 of which were once part of a cornfield — came our way.

Our first challenge was to erect a building we could live in during the spring, summer, and fall, and store our garden equipment in during the winter months. Eventually we expect to live in Pennsylvania year-round, but for now we enjoy exploring the South during the winters, leaving Pennsylvania after the harvest and returning in time for spring planting.

The corrugated arch-style building that we used is based on the Quonset hut. Originally a British design dating back to World War I, in the United States they were first manufactured on Quonset Point in Rhode Island during World War II in response to the need for lightweight, portable buildings that could be assembled without skilled labor.

The source of our 40-foot-by-40-foot building was SteelMaster, a company founded in 1982. Our building, an S Model, was manufactured out of 22-gauge Galvalume steel. One of the features I like about this type of building is the absence of posts and beams. The corrugated, arched wall design is self-supporting. The result is one large 40-foot-by-40-foot open square with an 18-foot peak.

To withstand wind and weather and secure the 30-year warranty, these steel buildings must be attached to the earth, either by narrow concrete footers along the base of both sides of the structure, block or wood walls erected to support the structure, or a concrete slab the full width and length of the building.

We chose to install a full slab featuring an 8-inch-by-12-inch perimeter concrete beam. This is called a “floating” slab, as it sits on a foot of gravel. Our building is situated on a slope, so water can escape from under the concrete slab should any get underneath. Inside the perimeter beam, the concrete is the standard 6 inches thick. SteelMaster provides approved engineering drawings customized to your needs, and they research and ensure compliance with all applicable codes.

9/28/2017 10:46:00 AM

I think a Follow up story would be of great interest. What you have learned? Changes you would have made?

9/7/2017 8:04:38 PM

Bill, the biggest limiter for A LOT of properties is the septic system. In MOST places (that aren't cities), you aren't even *allowed* to live on your property without it. WA State law forbids it with no exceptions (for permanent dwellings). So how is it that you are allowed to use a composting toilet, with the *option* of installing a septic system later on? (not sure how you can reply here so if you see this, my email is seguef att gmail dott com. Thanks!

11/8/2013 10:26:31 AM

As previously commented, you are living what I dream of. Well done!

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