3 August 2009, from Housetruck

I’m embarking on an exciting new project: to build a home on wheels, a land yacht, a mobile cottage, a housetruck. My goal is a structure that can be a full-time home and workspace, yet mobile enough to travel with. Instead of the fragile and toxic materials of a modern RV, I’m using steel, wood, wool, glass, paper, and cloth – a Victorian RV, if you will. The design emphasizes simplicity, durability, sustainability, and mobility. (Read more about my design philosophy and inspirations.)

View from the side

Looking towards the back door

Just inside the door

Standing at the kitchen counter

Sitting on the couch

Sitting in the bed

An Isuzu NPR truck, similar to mine

Originally, I had designed the structure as a trailer, to be towed from place to place by a rented, borrowed, or hired pick-up truck. However, my explorer’s soul won out, and I decided to make the house self-propelled. I considered a Dodge Sprinter, but finally decided on an Isuzu NPR truck (pictured, below right). The Isuzu is popular around the world, reasonably priced on the used market, very reliable, and plenty strong enough to carry the house. It doesn’t get great mileage, but its engine will easily run biodiesel and even waste veggie oil (with a tank and heater system).

Obviously, the size of a rolling home is an important consideration. There are legal factors (regulations on maximum widths, heights, lengths, and weight), physical truths (aerodynamics, the intuitive truth that the shape needs to be roughly rectangular), vehicular constraints (the capacity of the particular ‘host’ vehicle), human physiology limits (the right height of a ceiling, or the best size for a bed, chair, or table), aesthetics (modular systems and golden ratios), and, finally, personal choice (the best size for a kitchen counter). I spent a long time lengthening, shortening, then lengthening again, with various configurations of forms and functions, and finally ended up with a rectangular box eight feet wide, 14 feet long, and approximately seven feet tall.

The interior is minimal but comfortable and functional. The many windows allow plenty of light and air, in addition to the clerestory (‘mollycroft’) roof that runs the length of the structure [not fully drawn in these images]. A small desk in one corner allows for computer and paper work, and a couch on the opposite wall is for relaxing and reading. A generous kitchen counter lets me prepare food, and cabinets and drawers store supplies and gear; actual cooking will be done just outside the door, on a small propane stove that folds down from the exterior wall. A large platform in the rear supports a sleeping alcove with a full-size bed; underneath is more storage.

The usual array of RV ‘systems’ will be minimal or nonexistant: no fans, motors, pumps, or compressors will create a din or suck battery power. Tanks mounted underneath the house structure will store a good amount of drinking water, which will be drawn up by hand via a simple but sturdy brass cistern pump. Electricity from a battery bank also stored under the structure will power a few energy-efficient LED lights, the laptop, and a few other electronics; portable solar panels, to be brought out to where the sun is strongest, will recharge the batteries when the truck is stationary. Cooling will be provided by the passive ventilation of the windows in the mollycroft roof, and by the truck’s wheels: if it’s too hot, I’ll go somewhere cooler. In colder climates, a tiny wood stove will supply heat and simple cooking. A low-tech composting toilet and simple, portable shower finishes up the basic needs.

The first step in the building process will be constructing the steel frame that defines the floor, walls, and roof; a local steel fabricator in Silverton is intrigued by the project and will be creating this. Steel is heavy but strong, and I’m more comfortable with this method of constructing a house that will be jostled along the roads.

Plywood sheathing will then be attached to the frame to give it shear strength, as well as add to the weather protection. Finally, shiplapped Port Orford cedar siding will give the exterior a ‘rustic mining cabin’ look. Inside the walls, batts of sheep’s wool insulation will keep the interior comfortable in heat or cold. The interior wall panels will be Homosote, a sort of fiberboard made of recycled newsprint, and faced with an attractive burlap.

Although I plan to do most of the work on the shell myself, I’ll be asking various friends for assistance with constructing the roof, the windows, the cabinetry, and other furniture.

I’d like to make the housetruck road-worthy, even if not totally complete, by the beginning of November. If all goes well, our first major voyage will be heading east across the States, to arrive in Washington, DC, for Thanksgiving with my family.

I’ll be posting a journal here of the housetruck’s progress.