Fold-Up Homes Travel With You (Oct, 1952)

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Fold-Up Homes Travel With You


TODAY’S home designers have reached into the seven seas, borrowed an old habit from the turtle, and come up with houses you can carry with you. The result is compact, demountable, low-cost portable homes which come neatly packaged, ready to be hauled down the nation’s highways—perhaps even behind the family car. And although they can be knocked-down or taken off their foundations as a unit, and moved and re-erected by the amateur carpenter, none of the comforts of “permanent” living have been sacrificed. They differ from trailer homes in that systems for connection to permanent plumbing and electrical lines are built into the cores of these fold-up or demountable packaged homes, which may be placed on concrete foundations if such permanency is desired.

The portable home idea got a shot in the arm early this year when Ralph R. Kaul, special adviser to the U. S.’s Housing and Home Finance Agency (the HHFA), sent a hurried call for help to the nation’s designers. The job was to set up emergency and defense housing. Looking back upon the tarpaper shanties of World War II, which have become the eyesores of 1952, decision was that the job this time was to build something better. The outcome was the demountable house.

But while these portable homes were primarily designed for emergency housing, which could be moved to a new location as production needs changed, Mr. Average Citizen suddenly (and happily) finds himself with a wide variety of mobile and portable homes from which to choose.

Demountable homes can be stockpiled for disaster housing. Or farmers can set them up for seasonal workers. Or you can now buy that choice lot in the mountains or way out of town where labor and material costs are sky-high, and have a low-cost home trucked out to the site. Best of all, instead of returning each year to the same old cabin on the same fished-out lake, you can spend each vacation where they’re biting best—and in your own home.

Definition-wise, there’s a difference between “mobile” and “portable” homes. “Mobile” houses come off the production line, can be moved to faraway places, but they aren’t designed for frequent relocation as are the “portable” or demountable houses, which are the knock-down, set-up type—and readily moved.

Almost all these homes cost less than $8000. have two or three bedrooms and from 500 to 1000 sq. ft. of floor space, and can be moved to a new site for something like $1000 for tear-down and set-up expense. Experts say that at long last the missing link between the trailer and the permanent home has been found. They mean, of course, the demountable house.

Of eight demountable units tested by the Government, one of the most interesting is Transa-house from whose center-section (really a trailer), piano-hinged panels unfold into a neat 500 sq. ft., two-bedroom unit—complete with built-in bathroom, kitchen and utilities. The cover illustration and Figs. 1 through 3 show some of these houses, completely set up, being unfolded and being carried on a trailer.

Transa-house is a product of Transa-Housing, Inc., subsidiary of the Kit Mfg. Co., Inc., a longtime maker of house trailers. The Transa-house model shown in Fig. 1 will cost the consumer about $8000, the government about $5000 (because of quantity purchases). The house folds into a 8 ft. 4 in. x 38 ft. 8 in. package, is mounted on a double-axled trailer frame, and can be pulled behind a pickup truck and is narrow enough to be towed down the highway without special permits. Relocating will cost the homeowner about $1.23 per sq. ft. (a little less than $625 for each move) and require less than 200 man-hours. On one recent test, this Transa-house was folded into a highway-size package by four men in an hour and a quarter (including removal of furniture, picket fence and potted plants) and was reassembled in 2% hours after a 100-mile haulage.

Like the seven other Government-previewed demountable homes, Transa-house is a prefab, assembly-line job, which contains insulation (protection from minus 20 to plus 110° F.), wiring, plumbing and heating ducts. For his money, the home-owner gets a 7 cu. ft electric refrigerator, a 22,000 B.t.u. kerosene heater, a four-burner butane range, double kitchen sink with Formica top, inlaid linoleum, Venetian blinds and a completely outfitted bathroom, including tub and shower.

Transa-house’s core is a 37 ft. 8 in. trailer containing the built-in bathroom, kitchen and the center-section of the living-dining room (see Fig. 3). Two living room and two bedroom wings unfold on piano hinges from the core unit.. Wheels and trailer hitch are removable. The complete, roadable package includes 21 permanent and 8 removable panels (usually stressed plywood), the latter stored inside the trailer on racks during transport. Exterior panels may be of 24-gage stainless steel, aluminum, plywood or redwood lapboard or other material.

Assembly in hours, with four men on the job, is simple. All that’s needed is a screwdriver, wrench and a hammer. First, the roof of one of the four folding / wings is raised on its strong, very rugged piano hinges and temporarily braced by a couple of 2 x 2s. Lifting the roof panel exposes a hinged floor and exterior wall section, which is unfolded upon two floor-supporting jacks (Fig. 1A). Next, the exterior wall, complete with window, shutter and glass, is unfolded (Fig. IB) from the floor section (to which it likewise is attached by a piano hinge). Wall and roof panels are bolted together. Exterior sidewall panels are now removed from their storage racks inside the trailer and are bolted to the standing end-wall (Fig. 1C). When all panels have been erected, Transa-house is ready for the family (Fig. 1), with exception of front and backporch steps and a patio roof, which don’t come with the house. For real permanency, a prepoured concrete foundation replaces the jacks.

Structurally, Transa-house is more stoutly built than many of the low-cost tract houses currently being constructed. It has to be stronger because the folded unit concentrates 11,000 lbs. upon the trailer frame and floor members—which is one reason for the all-welded, 7 in. channel-steel frame.

Interior panel framing is of white fir with studs every 16 inches. The 2-1/2 in. plywood floor, over which linoleum is laid, is solid—has none of the usual “trailer give.” The two, 9 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 6 in. bedrooms take standard double-beds and a divan bed can be set up in the 20 ft. x 9 ft. 8 in. living room—enough sleeping accommodations for a family of six.

All that’s necessary after assembly is to hook up the cold-water connection, electrical system outlet and city sewer pipe. These connections are built into the core unit.

For good run-off, the Transa-house’s roof slopes about 1%. And, unlike some earlier prefab homes, Transa-house is tightly sealed against rain, wind and dust. All panel seams and junctures are compression-sealed with composition rubber which is then faced both outside and inside with aluminum or wood molding. These houses also have venting above the kitchen range (Fig. 3A), cross-ventilation in all rooms, pre-installed dome lights in most rooms, and a self-contained electric hot-water heater with 12-gallon storage tank. While Transa-house isn’t on general sale at present, its manufacturers expect to offer it to the public in the near future. Right now Transa-Housing, Inc.’s assembly line is geared to government contracts.

Of the other demountable homes now being marketed, Unishelter is a portable home made by Pressed Steel Car Co. of Chicago, a railroad car manufacturer plunging for the first time into the housing field (Fig. 7). It is a two-bedroom, 800 sq. ft. prefab job, composed of two stressed-skin plywood units. Each 40 x 9-1/2 ft. section can be joined on the home-site for a variety of floor plans. Unishelter’s estimated cost is $8,000 for quantity production, and $1.21 per sq. ft. and about 200 man-hours are required for its relocation.

The Bergstrom expanding house (Fig. 4) is the brain-child of designer Carl V. Bergstrom (see page 92 of our June ’52 issue for another Bergstrom creation). The one shown here is a two-bedroomer with car-port, costs about $7,000 and is currently being built by Knox Corp., Thomson, Ga., and by Gresham Construction Co., Santa Clara, Calif. The Bergstrom demountable house is trucked to the site as an 8 x 32 ft. x 10 ft. 6 in. (high) package which expands into a 25 x 32 ft., 800 sq. ft. dwelling. This home within a package is extremely portable; and, like Transa-house, can ply the highways without special permits. Tear-down and set-up costs are about $2.25 per sq. ft. and involve 355 man-hours.

The core unit—the package—contains the completely equipped kitchen and bathroom, plus a furnace. Additional walls and interior partitions (all factory pre-fabbed) become the panels of the portable package. Some other Bergstrom features are stressed-skin plywood; counterflow-heating plant; insulation based upon Montana and Alaskan weather extremes; either double-strength window glass for standard conditions or Thermopanes (or storm windows) for colder climates. Bergstrom says that his demountable, portable house (Figs. 4, 4A and 4B) has a life expectancy in excess of 30 years and more built-in quality than today’s average FHA in- sured dwelling.

Acorn house, by Acorn Houses, Inc., East Acton, Mass., is a hinged, 2-bed-room, 800 sq. ft. folding and demountable portable dwelling (Fig. 5) which folds into a neat, roadable 8 x 24 ft. package. The house’s panels (both interior and exterior) are plastic-impregnated layers of corrugated paperboard covered with stressed-skin plywood. Its builders estimate its cost at about $8,500. Relocation will take a maximum 200 man-hours and cost $1.12 per sq. ft.

South Bend house (Fig. 8), being turned out by South Bend Fabricating Co., Seattle, Wash., contains three-bedrooms, 984 sq. ft. and costs $8,400. An interesting feature is that the wall, ceiling and roof panels come hinged to roof a two-bedroom, 858 sq. ft. unit (Fig. 6) built around an 8 x 24 ft. core to which prefabbed panels are attached at the erection site. The Nicoll house will cost about $7000. Knock-down and set-up will require some 334 man-hours and cost $1.58 per sq. ft., which also includes pre-poured concrete foundations.

Since the initial previews of demountable homes this spring, an eighth pre-fab house has been added to the government’s list. This is the offering from Home Building Corp., Sedalia, Mo. (see Fig. 11). This 3-bedroom, 855 sq. ft. Home Building house has frame and curtain wall construction, with its modular wall panels assembled around a factory-completed utility core section. Floors, walls and interior partitions are made from laminated plywood. The house falls within the $8,000 bracket, and relocation on sites up to 100 miles from the factory will require about 300 man-hours and $1.40 per sq. ft. Actually, in a recent demonstration disassembly and reassembly after a limited haul took 200 man-hours. This home uses a perimeter-type heating system.

Mobilhome, made by Mobilhome Corp., Bakers-field, Calif., and its 18 licensees in 8 (mostly western) states comes in a variety of floor plans and exterior finishes (Figs. 9 and 10). Mobilhome is a production-line house, set-up and ready to be moved to pre-poured foundations. A typical Mobilhome has 3-bedrooms, 1,045 sq. ft., costs about $8,250 (with two bedrooms, as low as $5595) and has built-in aluminum sash windows, exposed-beam ceilings, hardwood floors and car-port. You can order your Mobilhome today, expect it to roll off the production line within 14 to 30 days, compared to the average 6 to 12 weeks now required for on-site construction of an identical house. As its name implies, Mobilhome is “mobile” but it does not “fold up” and thus requires road clearances and a truck for transport. Typical relocation costs would be about $1.12 per sq. ft., 300 man-hours for a 100-mile move.

What many a prospective demountable home buyer wants to know, of course, is how much skill is required to knockdown and set-up a house. Can you do the job yourself? “Yes ” say the designers. They go further, claiming that even amateur carpenters with little or no previous experience can do the job nicely. A typical time study of the Bergstrom house, which required a total 204 hours to relocate, shows that tearing down is probably the easiest part of the job. Demounting and packaging on truck takes 44 man-hours; hauling 100 miles takes 8 man-hours; laying new foundation and utility leads, 54 man- hours; removing house from truck and reinstalling on new foundation, 59 man-hours; landscaping, laying walks, etc., 23 man-hours; and total supervision time takes 16 man-hours.

The one big question remaining is whether these houses, good as they are, will qualify for FHA financing? Ralph R. Kaul, the Housing and Home Finance Agency’s special adviser for demountable homes, answered this question when he said, “The houses in the trial run program include some which meet FHA standards and are currently under the mortgage insurance program. In fact, some of the systems have been ‘beefed up’ to take racking and jolting in transit and actually exceed the in-place structural requirements for housing under FHA. However, some of the homes employ special techniques or materials which have not yet been considered or passed on by FHA.”

The smart money is betting, however, that more and more prospective home-owners will begin to carry their homes with them.

  1. Stephen says: August 16, 20125:37 am

    The trailer in figure 10 is the sort of thing that requires roads to be closed ahead of it, which means negotiating with the police before you can move your transportable home to another site. It would be very good for a quick installation, but I don’t think once it was up it would be moved very often.

  2. Toronto says: August 16, 20128:00 am

    On “Top Gear” (the original version) they once did a ‘caravan weekend’ where they made their own RVs. Hamster’s was an expandable trailer very much like this. If I recall, it either fell over or caught fire or both, which is somewhat typical of their home-made stuff.

  3. Hirudinea says: August 16, 201212:44 pm

    @ Toronto – I remember that, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this model did the same thing.

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