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

quonset hut - steel house

The Hakanson’s Quonset hut-style home in Pennsylvania.


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!

susan friesen
3/15/2013 7:27:10 PM

Wow! Amazing project and such a huge difference this would make on our planet if everyone lived like would definitely decrease our carbon footprint. I also agree with the comment about pictures. It would be great to see many, many more pictures. When you describe would be great to see the picture that goes along with it.

gordon deisting
1/10/2013 12:01:10 AM

Hey! to Ray Duchesneau,No offence intended,But you are in your early 60's well I turned 60 and I'm not not DREAMING of doing it I'm doing that also.But with a building that future steel sold me 25'w X 40'L INSULATION for the metal also.Building and insulation about 18k.Also adding 25'w X 20'L wooden addition to also.Also that's not ALL,Also 14'w X 20'L green house on the south side for a green house to grow vegetables,Also in floor heating with outdoor wood furnace,Also solar power with Diesel Generator back-up power.And I'm gonna be sending pictures of the place when it is done in 2013.Well I know it HARD WORK but so is life.I got 900 acres a meagre amount of land compared to other over here.grow our garden,raise chickens,couple of steers for beef,and also pigs for pork.Well I as always said you want or dream something,SACRIFICE alot to get what you WANT.I gave up alot to get what I only dream about with no offence to no one.Keep on SACRIFICING get what you like.

earth child
5/15/2009 9:16:14 AM

I think it is an awesome and inspiring plan. For some of us though, the key is to use what you have now. I would also like to see some experiences of single people that have become more self sufficient. I am a single Mom with a small home and a little land. We have a garden and have planted some fruit trees. Mother Earth News and her readers are very encouraging. Thanks!

5/13/2009 6:40:38 PM

how come there aren't more pictures? i also find it hard to believe that the whole thing would be 35k. surely the cistern and every additional thing upped the total. also this dude had free help which really makes a difference. but i wouldn't buy anything from the amish after the story exposing their treatment of dogs; PA has the most puppy mills in the country and the amish run them and treat them very cruelly. i was appalled when i found out about that.

5/13/2009 1:16:24 PM

What about Insulation? In one interior picture I see the bare metal of the structure. Are you really planning on living in an uninsulated Sheet metal structure?

justin reed
5/13/2009 10:41:34 AM

We are looking into installing a high capacity cistern to capture and re-use sump water for irrigation purposes. i am a bit overwhelmed by the options and complexity of this system, do you have any tips? thanks

allen guimond
4/17/2009 11:23:08 PM

Hi, Great job on the house!Was all of this home built for $35,000?The foundation,Interior,Electric,Plumbing?I recently bought an acre in texas and would like more info,plans or advice. Thank you,Allen Guimond

ray duchesneau
4/6/2009 3:05:00 PM

What a great article! We are in our early 60s' now and have fantasized about living your lifestyle many times. Our garden is about 1000 sf. and we dry and can as much of our produce and fruit as we can (no pun intended). Just keep on keeping on.

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