Modern house construction assumes everything is in one place, the living room, kitchen, bedroom, den, storage. However, if we divide all or most of this functionality out, it is possible to retain the same quality of build, while reducing the cost and "footprint" drastically as well as the time and amount of materials required to build the structure. One of the core functions of a dwelling is to provide a safe and secure place to sleep at night. If we start with this and work out from there, it should be possible to come up with a functional dwelling, with less cost, materials, and time to build, which then opens up this basic requirement to many more people.
One of the ideas that has emerged since this design has been in the process of development is that of harmonic growth, without energy or material debt. That is, the goal is to design a living system that a person can start on at almost any point, given the materials and skills they currently have, knowing that the parts that they construct or gather will fit into the system as a whole. It might be not unlike a turtle building it's shell as it grows, using only the materials within reach or that of a snail which constructs its shell or a sea creature that does the same. Having the ability to obtain a decent nights sleep (the goal of the sleeping structure) enables one to better face the next day, ready to build the next component of their living system, or to move out into the community and contribute to others. Likewise, if there is a contraction of resources, space or another unexpected event occurs, there is systemic, known retreat that can be made into using less space and resources, while retaining a living and working knowledge of the entire system.
The "footprint" of a single person sleeping is about thirty inches wide by about six feet long. To give this structure a standard outside dimension, we will aim for a standard sheet of plywood or four feet by eight feet. This outside dimension will also fit in the bed of a standard pickup truck which is sized to carry four by eight sheets of plywood. The minimum wall width we can obtain using standard building materials is four and a half inches. This is three and a half inches of a standard two by four and a half inch side for half inch plywood. Although we may use a different wall construction, this gives us something to work with. If we need a different wall thickness for a greater R value or a more solid construction, we can work outwards from the core inner dimensions we obtain from the minimum inner dimension calculated.
Forty eight inches subtracted by double four and a half inches leaves thirty nine inches ( 48 - 9 ). Thirty nine is more than we need for the width. This gives us room for a nine inch shelf on the outside wall. As we want to allow slightly more room for stretching out and as this is accomplished mostly at the knees and arms, we can place a small, solid cupboard at the foot and the head of twelve inches wide, leaving the middle remaining open, underneath the shelf.
At the foot of the bed, which we will extend to six feet, five inches, we have room for a ten inch shelf, or rather a solid cupboard. With the interior stretching to thirty nine inches, we can rough out twelve inches on the left for an electric hot plate or kettle by which to heat a hot drink, always nice to have. To the right of that, with twenty seven inches remaining, we can allocate a full fifteen inches for a compact sink with a faucet and a drain. This can be hooked up to a standard garden house for a temporary connection, or more permanently as climate requires. This leaves an even twelve inches on the right for a spot to collect the odd dish, coffee cup, etc. Pretty handy so far, and hardly any space used!
Underneath, I envision the space underneath the kettle or electric hot plate to be reserved for a single twelve volt marine battery, vented to the outside. The space underneath the sink will be required for plumbing and "sink type" stuff, dish brush, dish cloth, etc. The space on the bottom right can be used as needed, as it will also be recessed underneath the solid based cupboard on the right.
Walking through the bottom length to the right of the sleeping area, we have a solid based cupboard forming and L shaped cupboard at the "foot" of the cabin on the right side of twelve inches in width. Moving up to the head of the bed to the right of the sleeping area, is a cupboard identical to the one at the foot, twelve inches in width, by ten inches deep. The remaining space will be open for the sleeper to stretch arms and knees underneath, or to store a bit of extra gear.
Moving up one notch, we want to be sure the occupant can see all around this micro cabin. There is nothing worse than being wakened in the middle of the night by some snuffling noise and not being sure what it is. Therefore we are placing a window on each side to allow the occupant to look out. A standard sliding shed window is 35 x 17 x 2 1/2". The same window can be used on all four sides and the sliding window means that all of these can be opened for ventilation. On the right side of the sleeping area twelve inches from the ceiling will be a shelf on either side of the window. The window will be balanced between the bottom shelf and the ceiling, leaving at least two inches above the bottom shelf and about that much or more below the ceiling. This would also leave room for curtains, if needed. All windows would be placed at the same vertical height for visual consistency.
Now, the main difference between this micro cabin and a regular dwelling is that its size precludes a regular door. We don't want to have the occupant crawl through a micro sized door, that would be too awkward. So we are going to borrow an idea from a pod cabin developed with a different overall appearance that had most of the roof and the wall on one side lift up, with a curved profile. Instead of having the roof lift up as a hatch here, we are just going to make a generous sized door that hinges on the top. As we want the occupant to feel secure at night, we will leave twelve inches at the head of the sleeping area and an identical twelve inches at the foot. The remaining entire wall will swing out and up (piano hinges may be used to aid as a rain deterrent, this will have to be determined upon construction). We want to leave about a two inch rail on the floor of the cabin so that nothing falls or rolls out. This will also allow the occupant to open up the door/wall to their left upon waking, then turn to their left and swing their feet over the side, with the door/wall providing protection from the rain and elements. A window will also be centered in this wall to allow the occupant to look out before opening the door/wall.
Now we have to consider the outside. As we had already determined that the total outside height dimension would be about four feet (perhaps 4'6"), we realize that this is too low if placed on the ground. Therefore we are simply going to place the entire sleeping structure at three feet off the ground. This will immediately removing the sleeping structure from the reach of ground roving critters, raccoons, skunks, a wandering coyote, bugs, etc. and make it a little more difficult for larger sized critter, whatever species they might be. With the sleeping structure raised off the ground by three feet or 36", we realize this will not make for nice sitting when the occupant swings their legs out in the morning. So we are going to borrow another idea and add a generous patio to this side of this micro cabin!
This changes the flavour considerably. In my own experience crawling out of a tent at ground level in the cold damp morning with dew on the grass is rather ungainly and uncomfortable to say the least. But to swing out of bed and be faced with a generous length of patio is another story. As 2" x 6" planks are cut to 5 1/2" we can easily fit three of these (with cross pieces) underneath the micro cabin for storage and transport. This provides a patio area eighteen inches off the ground of 7' wide (the width of the cabin, less space for the feet, which are tucked in underneath) by 12' (the depth of the cabin is 4' x 3).
To maintain a clean, weatherproof and long lasting structure, the cabin could be constructed out of cedar. Other materials could be used (pine for instance), but cedar is pleasantly aromatic, has a desirable aesthetic appeal, is resistant to bugs and moisture and is easy to work with. For strength and ease of construction, the outside for corners will be built with 8' lengths of 4" x 4" cedar posts, placed at the four corners of a 4'x 8' space, with all construction happening inside of this. As was mentioned, the sleeping space will be raised 3' off of the ground. As the height of the sleeping structure is ~4' 3", this leaves 9" above the "roof" of the micro cabin. At this point we are going to borrow a third idea from the many found from an online search. This is, that we are going to construct a separate "Webb Space Telescope" type roof structure which will appear as a straight sloped panel with the higher part over the patio and the lower part behind the cabin to the right of the sleeping occupant. The lower part will extend about 18" past the cabin, providing a nice size eave on that side as well as allowing room for the storage of firewood under that eave, for instance. The roof structure will be no more than 3" in width and will mirror the patio construction. Three panels of roof at 7' x 4' will allow a roof to be created of 7' x 12', just like the patio. The difference is that the roof will be raised and sloped to allow for rainwater to drain off the back.
As the top of the sleeping structure is only 7' and 8' is the standard, the roof sloping from the back to the front will provide 8' or greater of standing space for the part that it covers the patio. As the roof is covering the (now secondary) roof of the micro cabin and extending 18" beyond, the remainder will extend about 6' over the patio. As the patio extends 12' away from the micro cabin, half is covered and half is not. I feel this is a reasonable compromise. As bugs are often a problem in the summer months, the patio sitting area underneath the roof could be closed in with a screen, leaving the rest open to relax in the sun.
Power can be supplied by a 100 W monocrystalline solar panel available for a reasonable cost. The one found measured 47"x 22"x 1 3/4". This would fit neatly on the "foot" of the cabin. To reduce south facing exposure and to provide maximum solar exposure to the panel at the same time, the solar panel will be placed at the "foot' of the cabin, and the cabin oriented so that the foot or the short end faces the sun. This is south in the northern hemisphere (the location where the cabin is being developed). With the foot of the cabin facing south, this means that the door/wall is facing due east, the "back" of the cabin is facing west and the "head" of the cabin is facing north. This will help minimize any uncomfortable warming or light in the daytime at the occupants head if they are resting there during that time. That means also that the occupant will turn and face the rising sun when they swing out of bed in the morning. This works out nicely and maximizes the use of the space among these different needs and dimensions (shade, power, morning sun, etc.).
Water is supplied to the interior via a faucet. If hot is not available, then cold only will be served. If need be, the water can be heated or warmed as needed with the kettle or hot plate. The flow of the faucet will be reduced from that of a standard house faucet due to the miniaturization of the entire structure. The type of faucet that serves reverse osmosis water from and under the sink canister is envisioned. The drain should flow to a waste water catchment for semi-permanent installation or an approved sewage system for a permanent installation. Biodegradable soap should be used.
Waste should flow from right to left, being placed near the door/wall so that it is easy to pick up when leaving the unit. The cupboard below the kettle will then have to be used for that, moving any dishes, coffee cups or mugs, plates, bowls, etc. to above the kettle, not below as had been envisioned earlier. The trash cupboard should be lined with a hard, washable plastic liner. Perhaps this could be installed as flat pieces with the corners sealed with silicone. Inside of this could be the single trash bin or a dual bin with the left side for dry waste and the right side for compostable waste.
The widespread availability of wireless internet means that the full range of experience the internet brings can be a part of this micro cabin. For the serious working time, this would mean a suitable business grade laptop or nano computer. Each consumes only 19 volts and so would work well running off of the solar power that is stored in the single marine battery. I have successfully used a nano computer which can be envisioned as the innards of the laptop without the battery and monitor. It is lightweight and packs more punch per unit weight and size than the typical laptop. In addition, as the keyboard and monitor are separate, these can be swapped out if needed. Additional monitors can be added (directly via the HDMI and DVI ports) and indirectly via a USB to VGA, DVI or HDMI adapter. These should give plenty of screen space as needed. The nano computer will work with a Bluetooth keyboard, which can also be used with a tablet and smartphone. It will also work with a wireless keyboard and mouse.
For relaxing and watching after work hours, the south facing side could be outfitted with an HD monitor that is swung up and out of the way when the window needs to be used as a window. It would have to fit above the sink and kettle, setting these up should then take the hinged action of the monitor into account.
A micro cabin can be constructed with a much smaller "footprint", both literally and ecologically, yet retain the essence of the typical dwelling. This includes a secure, dry place to sleep, a moderate amount of power for light duty use, the ability to boil water for coffee or tea, a sink with running water, and a moderate amount of storage space. By extending the living space with a patio (half of which is covered and screened and a collapsible, but solid roof, more of the amenities of "home" can be provided. Since, overall, fewer materials are used, the quality of these materials can be improved while still retaining a reasonable total cost. Finally, the cube like construction of the micro cabin means that a number of these "pods" can be added together as needed, either separately for people living separately, or together for a nuclear family.