Quonset Huts: Great Idea for a Tiny House

I remember as a child traveling in the car with my parents in the direction of what are called the Foothills in Yuma, Arizona. Yuma, situated on the Colorado River on the border with California and a stone’s throw from Mexico,  was only around 14,000 people at the time and surrounded by a true desert landscape. As we passed along the road toward the barren mountains to the east of Yuma, we would pass the Marine Corps Air Station where flyers from around the world would come to learn military flying. During World War II, the base was an Army flying training center. It was at this time Quonset huts were built for shelter for the troops training at the base. The huts remained there at the time of our passing by. These semicircular buildings seemed like a wonderful, exciting place to live, especially for a child enamored with their inimitable look.

The Quonset hut got its name from the place they were first manufactured, Quonset Point, at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville, Rhode Island on the east coast of the United States. The design came from a structure very familiar to those in the British Commonwealth called the Nissen Hut used during World War I and designed  by Major Peter Norman Nissen. Later during World War II, the design was improved upon and became the Romney Hut in Britain and the Quonset Hut in the United States. After the war, many in Britain, the United States and elsewhere were either torn down, used for commercial or agricultural purposes or converted to housing, with housing being the smallest percentage of reuse.

The biggest advantage of the Quonset Hut and its other manifestations is the speed at which the manufactured shelter could be constructed. Six men could construct a Nissen Hut in about four hours, with a slightly longer time for the other iterations. The reason for the quick construction time results from the simplicity of the parts and how they go together. In the basic form, the Quonset Hut is made of a curved form covered in corrugated steel. To make the walls and the roof, one only need repeat placing metal panels to a curved frame.


Quonset Hut at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona

Of course, the World War consumed materials, shipping, manufacturing and man-hours. So the design of the Quonset Hut had to be one that used as few of these things as possible. For the very same reasons, the Quonset Hut today requires a lot less money to purchase than any other sort of residential structure. Much like the geodesic dome and the A-frame, since the roof and the walls compose the same architectural feature, maintenance is also reduced. Large amounts of space are easily covered with this semicircular building and the addition of doors and windows do not amount to anything close to difficulty.


Quonset Hut in Arizona



Is the Quonset hut a modern building? Actually it is a product of the mid-century and has clean lines and a basic form. It uses modern materials and modern techniques for production and construction. It does not require traditional carpentry or building methods. It lends itself to open spaces, without the fractured nature of other types of housing. Missing, however, are the extensive use of glass and the close relationship between indoors and outdoors. Yet not all modern dwellings and structures during the mid-century professed to perpetuate the two concepts. Some Organic and Brutalist architecture ignored the aesthetic of walls of glass and extended outdoor areas. Not all modern design can be defined by just an International Style such as found among the works of Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson or Richard Neutra.



Singleton House in Los Angeles, California by Richard Neutra 1959

So, can a Quonset hut look and feel modern? Here are some examples:


Quonset hut designed by the Charles and Ray Eames Office in 1951.


Robert Daniels House by James W. Fitzgibbon, completed in 1950. (This image was made after extensive renovations that included a new roof. The old roof was corrugated metal.)

Although technically not a Quonset hut, the Robert Daniels House was constructed using the hut frame and shows what can happen when following the basic shape. The addition of stone, leaving the frame exposed and uncovered on the side allowing large areas of glass, brought this semicircular building to a modern aesthetic.

Robert Daniels House with the corrugated metal roof.


Interior view of Robert Daniels House


Arc House in East Hampton, New York by Maziar Behrooz Architecture.

Obviously, the arc of a Quonset hut can vary in height and width creating different looks and designs. The frame can be exposed to make glass areas more available. Additions and the use of natural materials can add contrasts to the dominating semi cylindrical roof.


Office building for Tangipahoa Consolidated Gravity and Drainage District No. 1 in Tickfaw, Louisiana.

Some random examples:













As one can see, the design possibilities of a Quonset hut are enormous. The construction of a modern dwelling using the semi cylindrical form is indisputable, while at the same time avoiding the expensive, traditional building techniques and materials. Innumerable companies sell kits and materials for Quonset hut construction, which are found widely on the Internet. A little imagination and not a lot of money can put together a modern Quonset hut home.

As for the Quonset hut as a possibility for a tiny house, the idea of a scaled down version from what we have seen above should take very little mental effort:

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out, that as a modern tiny house, the Quonset hut is easily adaptable to a modern structure as well as a small or tiny house. For those interested in a tiny house, the Quonset hut should very much be considered.

Quonset Huts Book
Quonset Huts and more style=




Big Solar for Tiny Houses


Off the Grid in a Tiny House


The Cost and Practicality of Solar Power


Modern Tiny House



A Comparison of Energy Sources

Before anyone gets all excited about going off the grid and telling the traditional energy companies they are no longer needed, let’s look at a comparison of different energy sources.

Now, before doing that, let’s note that the desire to go off the grid with a renewable energy source like solar does not come down to just cost for many people. Some have ecological and environmental concerns. Others just like the idea of not being reliant on a company or agency which, not only will impose a cost, but also possibly rules or regulations. So for many, cost is not the only determining factor.

Unfortunately, solar, wind or other renewable sources of energy have become a religion to some, so one must take a jaundiced view of information on these sources. In fact, one can find information that actually states that wind and solar provide the same or less expense as conventional sources. This is patently untrue at the moment. However, a realistic view can be made up from rather clear information found from credible authorities. Also, figures can be skewed a bit due the relatively heavy subsidies that solar power might receive depending on the location.

Another recent factor to consider is the dramatic decrease in the cost of fossil fuels and the emergence of natural gas as a strong competitor to coal and other fuels for electricity generation.

Table showing costs as computed by the Department of Energy in 2014:


Power Plant Type Cost


Coal $0.095-0.15
Natural Gas $0.07-0.14
Nuclear $0.095
Wind $0.07-0.20
Solar PV $0.125
Solar Thermal $0.24
Geothermal $0.05
Biomass $0.10
Hydro $0.08

(Solar PV stands for Solar Photovoltaic.)

As one can see, over a 100 hour period, the cost of solar amounts to $12.50 while coal spends $9.50 and up and natural gas $7.00 and up. (It should be noted that this article only applies to the United States. Other countries’ energy expenses are generally much greater than the US.) According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory the average cost per watt for solar PV installation is $3.60.

Nevertheless, computing the expense of Solar PV is highly individual depending on location, local government and the type of system used. Showing all the various abstruse calculations does not clarify the purpose of this article. Leave it to say that solar is in general between 40 to 60 percent more expensive than the cheapest fossil fuel.

Types of Solar Setups Affecting Expense

The simplest solar PV setup contains a solar panel, a charge controller and a D.C. device or devices. In order to run A.C. devices, an inverter becomes necessary. A simple setup has limited application and delivers nothing at times of little or no sunshine. Storage batteries deliver electricity at night and during inclement weather. Batteries are by nature direct current devices, supplying usually 12 volts at various amperes depending on the size and cost of the battery. Generally a battery bank will set one back quite a few dollars, but is less expensive when purchased as part of a system.

For the purpose of this article, we will assume that the devices powered include a modest sized refrigerator, a television, a computer and attendant objects like a router, lights for a house around 300 sq. ft. and a small air conditioner with the occasional use of a washer/dryer. Appliances like the stove and heater can utilize propane. So we will need a system that can furnish a number of comforts and entertainments 24/7 during the night as well as during stormy, overcast days. If you are not located in a area like myself, the desert southwest, you would probably want a backup generator for those times when sunshine becomes hard to obtain.

Appliance Wattage List


Refrigerator 1200 watt-hours /day
Television Between 215 and 350 watts
Computer and Router 80-270 watts
Air Conditioner 1100-1600 watts
Washer/Dryer 300-400 watts
Lights 80 – 160 watts*
Miscellaneous 200 – 600 watts/day#

*The lights are low voltage CFL bulbs.

#This would consist of things like a toaster or electric shaver.

Obviously, items such as the television or washer/dryer are not used continuously. The trick in computing the amount of electricity needed is to determine the watts consumed per day. If one washed clothes on a Saturday only, dividing the watts used by seven will give one the answer. The above example table shows the variability of computing an overall number.

Besides the load needed for a tiny house, location becomes a very important matter. Living in Palm Springs, California one would expect to collect significantly more solar power than someone living in Portland, Maine. Check out the Solar Energy Map at the Department of Energy which gives the watts per hour per feet squared per day.


The Solar System Size

For a system that includes the above appliances and electrical devices, the number of a kWh system will be somewhere between 86 to 232 kWh in a location with 5 peak hours for 30 days per month. This is for an off-grid system.

To get a rough estimate of the size of the system one would need, follow this link or here.

A lot of information is available on the Internet as well as calculators for the size of a system. A simple search for “solar size calculator” will give a tremendous number of results. Many companies include this as a resource on their websites.


Of all the sites that I have reviewed, the expense for a basic off the grid system starts at around $3500 for a very tiny house to up to $8000 for a small cottage sized dwelling in a location of sufficient sunshine. Depending on the factors, the cost can rise several thousand dollars. Now, this whole discussion only suggests solar for an off-grid system. A system can accept some power from other sources such as from the grid or from wind or gas generators. So a mixed system is less expensive. Nevertheless, individual needs as well as installation can lead to greater cost.

The life expectancy of solar panels figures into the equation. Most panels are warranted for 25 years with the expectation that they will produce at least 80 percent efficiency during this time. Other components such as inverters and charge controllers may not last as nearly as long. Batteries require regular replacement. For an interesting article on batteries for solar power systems click this link.


The reason this article is of such a general nature is because of the tremendous number of variables involved with solar energy production and differences in the various cost factors. The competition from solar energy companies leads to the most obvious notion of checking around for the best deals on a solar system. Ask any seller whether you qualify for a tax credit or subsidy or any other advantage.

The feeling of not being beholden to anyone for one’s power is tremendously alluring to many people. Not having to pay a monthly bill leads many to take the plunge and invest in a power source that gives them a greater feeling of freedom.

solar power