Living Off the Grid in a Mail-Order Home

Drew Kelly Photography

By Les Christie

House Arc may look like an egg-shaped antidote to McMansion mania, but this small mail-order home was really designed as a way to quickly provide housing to victims of disaster.

"We wanted to see how we could produce a house that would fit into a flat packing container that could be shipped to communities in need, like New Orleans after Katrina," said architect Joseph Bellomo, who worked on the modular home for 2½ years.

The result was House Arc, a 150-square-foot structure of hollow steel tubes. Not only can the 3,000-pound modular home withstand high winds, it can also be boxed into a 120-cubic-foot freight container and shipped off to its next destination.

House Arc is designed to be put together like a piece of Ikea furniture, according to Bellomo. In other words, anyone with moderate carpentry skills should be able to assemble it. If the home is no longer needed, it can also easily be taken apart and shipped somewhere else.

The curved design is so strong because it works like an arch, spreading the weight of any load, such as the pressure of a strong wind, across the surfaces rather than allowing it to concentrate on one spot.

For Bellomo, it was important for the home to be practical yet also attractive. Disaster victims are often relegated to substandard housing conditions, packed into trailers or even tents for months after they lose their homes, he said.

Bellomo was inspired to create the modular home after he made Bike Arc, a steel-arched shelter that riders could lock their bikes into.

Even though House Arc has a footprint of less than 100 square feet, it's roomier inside, thanks to walls that bow out and 9-foot-high ceilings.

The cozy mail-order home can also be added to a backyard to expand living space, say as a guesthouse. Or it could be used as a cabin in the woods.

But the cost is still high, at a base of about $55,000. However, Bellomo wants to automate the production process, which should cut the price at least by half, he said.

Options for the modular home include plumbing, ceiling fan and solar panels for the roof. At this point, customers would have to arrange for these installations themselves.

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