Since early 2002 when I was serving a small church as Minister to Students I have had a heart for disaster relief. While I have never personally experienced a huge disaster I have lived through 6 hurricanes, 1 tornado, 2 blizzards, and countless tropical depressions if notable strength. The uncertainly alone of the situation can be paralyzing. Mix that with actual, physical damage and the emotions can run high. It is overwhelming, at least. After you are certain your loved ones are safe you begin to think about what you have to do next; all your insurance provider, rescue your possessions, find shelter, find out the status of your employment, etc. We have seen in recent years the damage of Katrina, the hopelessness in Haiti, and now the impending threat in Japan. In each case hundreds of thousands were (and are) left with no home, no change of clothes, no food, and no hope. But with communities like the Tiny House community and advocate groups like ShelterBox and TentsToHaiti offering temporary shelter and supplies there is a glimmer of promise for post-disaster situations. So as I prepare to donate my own resources to helping my brothers and sisters in Japan, I can’t help but to think what brilliance is waiting to be exposed in regards to temporary housing for the Japanese people. It might also be a good time to review the history of tiny houses, temporary shelter, and their roles in modern day distaster relief.

Shelter 2.0

According to their website, “Shelter 2.0 is really a product, a project, and a vision.” The lodging is a computer-cut design for a multi-purpose structure that can be flatpacked and then shipped most efficiently. It can serve as a transitional home (anywhere in the world) or as a clinic or classroom or possibly even a utility building. The key though is that it is digitally fabricated making for perfect cuts, angles, and joints. During the catastrophe surrounding Haiti just at a year ago Shelter 2.0 modified itself to use 3/4″ osb for the ribs instead of ply. The cost ranged from $500 to $600 dollars in materials. I have not been able to find a number as to how many were used in the Haiti project.

the HabiHut

“The HabiHut was created to replace the canvas tents that are currently used to house families displaced by disaster or conflict. The requirements demanded a structure that must have long life, rigidity, light weight, ease of assembly, disassembly and reassembly, innate strength, permanence, resistance to wind, rain and fire, economy, expandability and be constructed of materials able to withstand the harsh environment often found in disaster areas. The result is The HabiHut.” (as written on HabitHut’s website). The HabiHut can be shipped, unpacked and assembled quickly. Each unit weighs less than 400 lbs (182 kg) and can be constructed with minimal labor in fewer than 2 hours as they are constructed of high-density, UV resistant polypropylene copolymer panels that will not crack, peel or fade. The supporting frame structure features high strength extruded aluminum that will not rust or deteriorate. The life expectancy of a HabiHut is 10-15 years and each unit comes with a 5-year warranty. All parts are interchangeable, so future repair is convenient.


Hoping to serve 50,000 families in need each year, ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and lifesaving supplies for families around the world who are affected by disasters at the time when they need it the most. They have currently mobilized toward Japan. Aside from providing blankets, basic tools, some cooking equipment, and basic instrument of survival, the heart of ShelterBox is a disaster relief tent for a family of up to 10 people. It is custom made for ShelterBox by Vango, one of the world’s leading tent manufacturers, and is designed to withstand extreme temperatures, high winds and heavy rainfall. Internally, each tent has privacy partitions that allow recipients to divide the space as they see fit. ShelterBox operates primarily off of donations and is a great fundraiser for groups and even individuals. Each ShelterBox bears its own unique number, and the company monitors exactly which donations are spent on which boxes.

the Katrina Cottage

Perhaps the most famous of disaster housing is the Katrina Cottage – a cute, yellow, 308-square-foot house originally drawn by cottage designer Marianne Cusato and expanded by South Carolina architect Eric Moser. The original model is a that of a “Grow House” that would over time be expanded to a bigger house, or maybe even just provide a rear guest cottage to a new house to be built at the front of the lot. Building supplies can now be mass-purchased at Lowe’s for just at $15,000.  The cottages have been dubbed “the dignified alternative to the FEMA trailer.”

The Life Cube

Perhaps not the most affordable form of disaster shelter is the Life Cube created and manufactured by LifeCube Inc. The Life Cube is the only tent system with an integrated, hard-surface floor. The cube is made from durable hard plastic, the shipping container serves a dual purpose by unfolding to create a sturdy 144 square foot raised platform. The shipping container also comes with integrated steel hoops that unfold to allow easy maneuverability over the most challenging terrain. Optional packages include an electrical system with 12-volt battery, solar panel trickle charger, lighting, electric pump, and communications station; propane system with cooking stove and catalytic heater; and infrastructure system with table and telescopic uprights for wind support.

What are your thoughts on the tiny house community as a form of disaster relief? How would funds be raised to purchase such units? Are they truly affordable for disaster relief or to change tent cities into sheltered communities?