Affordable, durable, and distinctive, Quonset hut homes have been gaining popularity among the eco-friendly and DIY crowds. Despite their origins as drab, drafty military structures, these buildings can provide first-rate comfort once fit with modern amenities and creatively decorated.
Although they’re cheaper to build than most traditional houses, the costs tend to add up quickly once you start work. If you’re considering one of these homes, understanding all the steps involved in construction will help you establish your budget.
How the Quonset Hut Home Began
A Quonset hut is a semi-cylindrical structure made of corrugated galvanized steel. The design is based on the British Nissen hut, developed in 1916 by Major Peter Norman Nissen for use as barracks and other military structures during WWI. Nissen himself took his invention on the road and eventually patented it in the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
The American version came into being in 1941 when the United States Navy needed lightweight, easy-to-assemble buildings that could be shipped anywhere. The first of these buildings were manufactured at Quonset Point at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Davisville, Rhode Island, which lent its name to the huts. Fittingly, the word Quonset is derived from an Algonquian word used to indicate a “small, long place.”
During WWII, around 160,000 of these huts were constructed, ranging in size from 16 by 36 ft to 40 by 100 ft. After the war, they were sold off to the public, and many were turned into storage buildings, shops, and homes. These buildings had the benefit of being economical to produce and easy to construct, but comfort wasn’t one of their strong points. Even among military users, they gained a reputation as chilly and drafty in cold weather and stuffy in hot weather.
While some original Quonset huts are still in use today, most of the Quonset hut homes being built now come from kits designed for long-term residential use. Improvements in insulation and ventilation make it possible to get the classic Quonset hut look while still living in comfort. These homes still aren’t widely known, but they’re gradually gaining popularity as part of the alternative living trend that includes tiny homes, shipping container homes, and bus homes.
Four Styles for a Variety of Needs
Quonset hut home kits are available in four different shapes to meet the needs of different climate demands and aesthetic preferences.
Q model – As the traditional full arch, military-style building, this model is designed to maximize structural integrity. Its simple geometric appearance provides a relatively blank slate for modifications. It’s also the cheapest style of Quonset homes.
S model – This model combines high, straight sidewalls with an arched roof. The roof lets heavy rain and snow slide off easily, making this model a good choice where those conditions are common. The high sidewalls increase vertical space, allowing you to use more of the interior compared to a Q model. Its combination of durability and maximum space has made it highly popular with Quonset hut home builders.
P model – With its high sidewalls and peaked roof, this model comes closest to looking like a traditional house. The roof is still arched enough to shed rain and snow effectively, but it offers the aesthetic appeal of a gable roof. On the downside, the P model is slightly more expensive than the Q and S models.
A model – Because this model looks so similar to the P model, the two are often grouped together. In fact, some kit companies offer A/P model Quonset homes. In the A model, the roof is arched, but with a slight peak just like in the P model. The walls, however, make the difference. Although they’re largely straight, they’re angled slightly inward. This creates an arching shape somewhere between the shape of the Q and the S model.
If durability and weather-resistance are priorities, but you want something with more structure than a simple half-cylinder, this might be the model for you. Prices are comparable with the P model.
Benefits for Your Budget, Your Safety, and the Environment
As you’d expect from a military structure, practicality is one of the Quonset hut’s main strengths. A big part of that comes from their low cost compared to traditional wood frame or masonry houses. Cost varies greatly depending on the size of the home and any extras such as dormer windows, as well as the type of accessories, such as doors and windows, you choose.
The cost of the kit isn’t the total cost, either. In addition to delivery costs, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of a concrete foundation at around $5 to $10 per sq. ft., as well as wiring, plumbing, and insulation at between $5 to $12 per sq. ft. Not keen on the idea of erecting the house yourself? Hiring a contractor is an option, but it will cost you between $5 to $10 per sq. ft. All told, it’s possible to build a comfortable home for around $35,000 if you go easy on the extras, and you’re willing to do most of the work yourself.
Ease of construction is another thing that makes these houses so pragmatic. They’re ideal DIY homes, requiring only bolting the parts together. A team of four people with basic construction experience can have a Quonset hut home put together in just a few days. Kits provide all the parts for the walls, but you’ll need to arrange for the foundation, insulation, and utilities yourself.
Quonset huts were designed to withstand extreme weather conditions. The arched form provides structural integrity that holds up against heavy snow, hail, and gale force winds. The galvanized steel exterior resists rust and corrosion.
The huts are among the most fire-resistant buildings around. The exterior can prevent an interior fire from spreading to nearby buildings and will come through minor fires with little more than a layer of soot. If a wildfire sweeps through your property, a Quonset hut home will do a much better job of protecting your belongings than a wood frame house, although such extreme temperatures can weaken the metal walls. The walls of these homes are usually guaranteed up to 40 years, but a Quonset home’s average life expectancy is around 80 years.
For innovative would-be owners, the design freedom a Quonset hut offers is a big draw. With no interior structural supports to get in the way, a Quonset hut gives you the freedom to design the interior layout exactly as you want without being forced to work around load-bearing walls or beams.
Among the eco-conscious, Quonset homes are favored for their relatively low environmental impact. When properly insulated, these homes are highly energy efficient, maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature without much additional help from the heating and cooling system. Windows can be sized and oriented to take advantage of sunlight and shade, depending on the requirements in your climate. It’s possible to find Quonset hut home kits in which the exterior walls are made primarily from recycled steel. Once the home is no longer needed, the steel walls can be recycled.
From their modest military origins, Quonset huts have evolved into a practical option for eco-friendly, hands-on homebuilding. If the simple arched form appeals to you, a Quonset hut home might be one of your best choices for homeownership on a budget. Just remember to include the cost of the foundation, insulation, and utilities installation when you’re deciding how much to spend.