Path of Construction - House in a Box

by : Virginia Wherland

Need a new summer home or home for your in-laws? A Katrina Cottage might be just the thing. Developed in response to one of the worst natural disasters this country has ever seen, these sturdy little go-anywhere homes are now available at the retail level and are providing a range of unexpected alternative housing solutions as far from the Gulf Coast as Minnesota. The good design of these adaptable cottages make them attractive to people looking to develop vacant land, build a modest home or add value to an existing property. Uses include:

- lake front house or mountain home

- place to shack up while building a larger residence or building on undeveloped land

- income generating guest house or rental

- practical in-law house or house for returning children

- student housing

- they also make fabulous green homes for people looking to reduce their environmental footprint.

The concept of buying your home in box isn't new. In 1908, you could buy a house kit out of the Sears cataloged for as little as $107. It's estimated that 100,000 DIY homes were picked out of the cataloged, delivered by train and assembled by eager families between 1908 and 1940 all across America.

All the plans and materials for a Katrina cottage can be had for as little as $30K, but the house requires its own foundation and in most cases - a professional builder. Still, the average cottage can be up in less than two months and some can be up in less than a week. Though some of the award winning designs take up a scant 400 square feet, they're designed for expansion. Over time, the small homes can be added on to.


Created in response to the need for emergency housing after hurricane Katrina hit the southern United States and the gulf coast, the cottages were meant to supplant the ugly and impermanent FEMA trailers that filled ravaged cities and outlying areas after the storm. More than 200,000 homes suffered major damage and 50,000 homes were obliterated by the storm. Because the devastation was so widespread and the need for housing so great - proponents of the Katrina Cottage movement realized that if speed in rebuilding were the main priority, "revitalizing" the devastated historic communities of the south would leave behind a landscape that lacked style to say the least.

Sparked by discussions at the Mississippi Renewal Forum in 2005, designers quickly got to work on the problem: designing a house that:

- could be built for as little as it costs to provide a FEMA trailer

- could be built quickly

- could stand up to hurricane force winds, earthquakes and other natural disasters

- met all international building codes

- could be delivered as a manufactured house, modular house, kit house, panelized house or as a site built house

- and above all - it had to look good.

The first designs emerged just months after the storm in 2005. In sync with the architectural traditions of Louisiana and Mississippi - the classic details, nine foot ceilings and quaint front porches elevate these mini-homes far above the tin-can ambiance of the FEMA trailers. They can be produced, transported and erected in a timely manner. Easy and cheap to heat, steel framed and concrete lined, they can also withstand almost anything you can throw at them including 140 mph winds and a ton of snow. Combine these qualities with their recent availability online through Lowes stores in the US, and we may be seeing a lot more of these mini-homes in years to come.