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A picture of a house.

The UMD Natural Resources Research Institute's ready-to-assemble house was displayed at the Home and Garden Show in the Minneapolis Convention Center earlier this month.

Thinking inside the box

UMD researchers develop unique housing hybrid

By Mark Cassutt

March 3, 2006; updated March 8

Call it thinking inside the box, but researchers at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) have developed a unique concept in ready-to-assemble, bio-based containerized housing that provides a new solution to rapid response housing crises and rebuilding disaster zones. It's called House3 (house cubed).

The House3 concept relies on computer-driven programs to streamline homebuilding. The result is a container-like structure that can be unloaded and assembled--in hours--into a two-, three-, or four-bedroom finished shell. When it comes off the truck, train, or barge, a few container walls are removed to reveal wall and roof panels that are slipped into place and secured with a mallet. Everything from floor to roof is shipped in the container, which itself becomes part of the house. Electrical and plumbing systems can be built in according to local building codes. House3 can be configured in many ways at many price points and adapts to a wide array of building materials.

"If we can move this forward with the help of the vibrant Twin Cities construction industry, there's nothing I'd like better than to see these containers on a barge heading down the Mississippi to New Orleans," says Donahue.

"NRRI's mission is to find new ways for Minnesota's natural resources-based industries to be competitive, and the key is innovation," says Pat Donahue, director of NRRI's Market Oriented Wood Technology Program, who developed House3 with his staff. "If we can move this forward with the help of the vibrant Twin Cities construction industry, there's nothing I'd like better than to see these containers on a barge heading down the Mississippi to New Orleans." Donahue and his NRRI colleagues, along with several Twin Cities business people, are planning a fact-finding mission to New Orleans in April to explore applications for the concept in the Gulf Coast region.

While the concept of containerized housing isn't new, House3 is wood-based and can be easily disassembled and stored. Although mobile, unlike most mobile homes, it can be transformed into a permanent structure that increases in value on the site.

The House3 concept is receiving enthusiastic attention from state government agencies, disaster relief organizations, large government contractors, and private investors. The House3 project is currently looking for interested licensing, manufacturing, and distribution partners (patent is pending through the University of Minnesota).

For more on House3, including photos, see the NRRI Web site.