News Treehugger Voices Boxabl Reinvents the Foldable House It is a mix of modular and panelized construction in a shipping container footprint. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Updated August 12, 2021 10:16AM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Boxabl Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive In 1947, American architect Carl Koch designed a folding house for Acorn Homes. He wrote about it, asking: "...how much space, of what shape, and how divided up? Here there was a handy necessity: if the house were to be portable by truck, no section of it should exceed a width of eight feet. The question then was what part of the house might be designed, sawed, folded or otherwise compressed into eight foot widths and what might not?" Folding House, 1947. Carl Koch "It seemed reasonable that one such section, 8 by 24 feet, should comprise the core of the house: the kitchen, and bathroom, plumbing heating and the like. The reasons were several; For one thing, eight feet is a good width for a kitchen. For a second....the stringing of pipes to widely separated areas, and the innumerable, individual tasteful ways of hitching them up have raised plumbing fro a craft to a fine, expensive art. For a third reason, to anticipate a point, it's hard to fold a bathtub." Lloyd Alter This mix of 2D panels and 3D core is an idea that makes sense. It made sense to me in architecture school almost 50 years ago when I designed a summer camp that was folded out of a shipping container; the kitchen and bathrooms were in the box, and everything else folded out and was covered with a tent. Boxable Patent. US Patent Office And it's a pretty good description of Boxabl, as described in the patent application made by Paolo Tiramani, Galiano Tiramani, and Kyle Denman: " In one aspect, those patent documents pertain to fabricating wall, floor and ceiling components in a factory that are folded together into a compact shipping module, and which are then transported to the intended location and unfolded to yield a structure, where the folding and unfolding of the components can be facilitated by the use of hinges. Koch could never get his folding house into production. He had thousands of letters from interested buyers, offers of land, requests for "four thousand units in the next three months." But he could never pull it together. "Over the next year or so, we followed down as many leads as we could. But we were beset by the same problem we had begun with- the chicken and egg: without a demonstrated product, no capital, no plant. Without capital and plant, no product to demonstrate......a trip to the moon was easier." Boxabl has not suffered this fate and has built a large factory in Nevada. It is getting ready to deliver its houses by the thousands. Boxabl The 375-square foot-Boxabl Casita, its first product offered to the public, is a clever design that folds up to the footprint of a 20-foot shipping container so it can travel anywhere on a standard lowboy trailer economically. Boxabl The half of it with the kitchen and bathroom ships in 3D form, while the wall and floor panels fold out to enclose the open space. Boxabl Just like in the 1947 Acorn, you then move out the closet as a room divider between the sleeping and living area. Boxabl I will do my usual complaint that a 375-square-foot unit doesn't need a 36-inch wide fridge. Had the company used Euro-sized appliances it might not have had to throw the washing machine in the middle of the room. Boxabl The permanent dining room table that is an extension of the kitchen counter makes no sense, with those uncomfortable stools. But those are minor interior design quibbles. Boxabl You get a lot for $50,000. "Boxabls are made from steel, concrete and EPS foam. These are building materials that don’t degrade and will last a lifetime. The walls, floor and roof are structurally laminated panels that are much stronger than the average building." We have always disliked gypsum board or sheetrock because it melts at the sight of water, but it's cheap. However, Boxabl doesn't go cheap here: "Boxabl doesn't use lumber or sheetrock. The building materials won't be damaged by water, and they won't grow mold. This means if your Boxabl floods, the water drains out, and the structure is undamaged." It also apparently don't skimp on the insulation. Boxabl "Boxabl buildings are extremely energy efficient. In fact, they use a much smaller air conditioning system than a traditional home. This is because the high R value insulation, tight building envelope, and limited thermal bridging." There are the usual exclusions that will drastically limit the size of the market, as I found when I was in the tiny green prefab business; finding land and, getting approvals and connecting services is expensive and time-consuming. "For $50,000 you get a house. What's not included in that price is your land and site setup. This can include utility hookups, foundation, landscaping, permits, and more. Depending on your location and the complexity of your site, this cost can range anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000." Boxabl However, the market for Boxabl is a lot bigger. Here is a house as a product that can be delivered quickly and go anywhere, and could be deployed for instant hospitals or emergency housing in a hurry, and we are likely going to be having those more often. Boxabl Boxabl appears to be only available as a single box now, but it has big plans for the future, including bigger units. Boxabl It also has plans for multifamily designs. Boxabl And even a McMansion with dramatic Corinthian columns, dentils, and cornices. Boxabl Critic Kate Wagner will love this. Boxabl Boxable has built the Goldilocks of housing. For many years, we have complained about shipping container housing because the spaces inside were too small. We complained about modular construction because when it came to transportation, the boxes were too big. By mixing the best attributes of modular and panelized housing in a transportable footprint, it may well be that Boxable gets it just right. Carl Koch would be impressed; I am.