Sunday 23 January 2011

The Hide

The modular sousterran idea is all very well but I have to survive somewhere until I have planning permission to build it. I can't afford to rent, so I'm pretty much going to have to live – while I'm at home, at any rate – on my land. This design exercise is to see what is the cheapest and least conspicuous living space I think I can cope with through two winters. Cheap obviously means small, but surviving through winter means reasonably well insulated.

This design is fundamentally based on my present bed, which is an IKEA loft bed with a desk and bookshelves underneath – a quite cosy and comfortable working space. I started from there and thought, 'OK, how much more do I actually need'. A design constraint is the spacing of trees in my wood. They've mostly been planted at pretty exact two metre intervals, although the rows don't precisely align. I can, of course, cut trees down – it's my wood, and, furthermore, it needs to be thinned – but in the interests of hiding the hide I don't want to cut too many down. It won't be good for the planners to know I'm living on site while I'm applying for permission to do so.

The plan is a hexagon of side 1200mm – basically, that's the biggest hexagon I can fit onto two sheets of plywood. I could get a bit more space by using a 2400mm cuboid, but cuboids are ugly and that's 25% more wall. Also, it's easier to fit the hexagon into the wood than the cuboid, which would definitely need trees cut down.

It's beneficial to have the cabin off the ground to avoid damp. Having it head-height off the ground means you can use the area under it as sheltered storage. There should be no need to kill the trees that support it, two poles lashed crosswise to four living trees should be fine.

The downside of the hexagonal plan is the bed ends up an odd shape – it is 2400mm long on its long side, but only 1040mm wide and only 1200mm long on its short side. It's big enough, I think, provided any concubine is friendly!

The hide as designed has a wood stove for heating and basic cooking, but there is no lavatory, bathroom or laundry – those facilities will be available in the Void. A stove is quite expensive, of course, but I think it's essential.


My idea is to construct the hide as two modules and six roof panels off site, under cover, transport those modules to site without their insulation and final outer cladding, erect them, insulate and clad them. The module structure will be primarily WBP plywood with softwood framing, assembled using the wood epoxy saturation technique, so pretty durable. Insulation will probably be 100mm fibreglass felt, although if I can find something more ecological that I can afford I will. All panels, including the floor, will be insulated.

The rear module will contain the built-in desk, bookshelves, cupboards and  bed. The front module will be considerably simpler, containing the bunk ladder and wall cupboards. The modules will bolt together – the reason for applying cladding on site is that the cladding will cover the bolts. Also, of course, the unclad modules will be lighter and easier to manhandle.

The cladding will be tongue and groove softwood weatherboard painted with an olive drab exterior preservative paint, but nevertheless is not expected to have the same life expectancy as the core structure – it can be replaced if needed. In order to prevent nailing the cladding on from breaching the encapsulation of the epoxy-protected core structure, sacrificial 25x50mm strips will be bonded on for the cladding to be nailed to.

It would be much simpler and cheaper to make a lower, hexagonal roof. Making the roof conical is an architectural conceit. The roof will almost certainly have to be cut on site to make room for the trunks of the supporting trees. It is built as six panels each having a flat sheet of plywood as its inner surface, a flat plywood soffit board, and an outer surface planked with tapered softwood planks. Between the inner and outer surface will be insulation as on all other panels. Some arrangement for ventilation will be made at the eaves. One of the panels will have an aperture designed for the stove pipe to pass through. After the hide has been erected the roof will be covered with tarred felt, and the final top cone, probably of stainless steel sheet, will be fitted.


The hide described in this paper really is small, and in cold wet weather is bound to be claustrophobic. Nevertheless with a small wood stove in a small and well insulated space it should be cosy, even in very bad weather, provided the door fits well! In better weather, and to entertain anyone, it needs to be extended, and this can most simply be done by providing an awning. An awning to provide a 5 metre square sheltered outdoor space would mean felling four trees.

It's probably not possible to provide a cludgie in the wood as the drainage ditches all connect back to the Standingstone burn and are sufficiently closely spaced I doubt you could get the requisite distance from running water. I'll check this, because some sort of loo would be a good thing.

A stove of the sort used in yurts would provide adequate basic cooking; in practice except for baking bread I don't often use an oven. For more elaborate cooking we will probably eventually have a cooker in the Void.

I'm not sure about electricity – some form of light is going to be necessary in winter, otherwise it's going to be a little grim; and it would be nice to be able to use my little laptop without having to go up to the Void every day to recharge it. But solar panels are not going to work in the wood, and mains is not on for all sorts of reasons. Even a small wind generator would attract attention.

There's obviously nowhere near enough storage space in this for all the clothes I use regularly, or all my tools, computers, books and things. This is minimalistic, temporary living, and most of my gear will have to be stored in the Void.

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