Emergency Shelter From Wardrobe Boxes




Introduction: Emergency Shelter From Wardrobe Boxes

About: EE, retired

Are you tired of spending the night in a tent or the local super dome, waiting for your new trailer from FEMA? Well, don't hold your breath. Instead, build this nifty shelter from cardboard or other rigid sheet material. Because it is one piece, it sets up quick, folds down flat, and is mass producible. This is all possible because of pleats. Yes, pleats! The pleats let otherwise wasted material strengthen the structure and automagicly shed rain water. No more taping, tarping, or shingling in the field to keep the rain out. Just set up the structure and you're done! (OK, you also need to hold it down some way so it doesn't blow away.)

Besides emergency shelter, this structure could also be a playhouse, dog house, temporary work building, astronomy observatory, deer blind, EMI shield enclosure, ice fishing house, orbital habitat, green house, bullet proof enclosure, animal shelter, fire shelter, Burning Man habitat, and so on. All portable, cheap, and quickly erect-able. Just change the size and shape to meet your needs and select the appropriate materials. Variations of this concept can also make solar concentrators, dish antennas, and domes (maybe the world's first one peice, fold up dome!)

The example shown here is a very basic seven sided yurt type structure, made with Home Depot Wardrobe boxes, Gorilla tape, and spring clips. The wardrobe boxes are convenient because most of the creases needed for folding are already there.

Patent Pending. More variations to come, showing additional features and options. Thanks for your interest.

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Step 1: Materials and Tools Needed

Home Depot Wardrobe boxes (4) - about $10 each new. I used left overs from a recent move. The Home Depot boxes have the same dimensions on all four sides. U-haul boxes don't. You can use boxes with unequal sides, but it changes the design a little.

Gorilla Tape (15 feet) - Any kind of reinforces tape will probably work, such as duct tape.

Spline Roller tool (1) - Normally used for pressing in the spline on window screens, it is also good for creasing the card board at places that need to fold.

Spring Clips (7) - a convenient device for holding the structure together.

Other tools you may find useful - tape measure or yard stick, markers, scissors, knife, Elmer's Exterior Wood Glue

Step 2: Cut Open the Boxes

Cut the taped joints of all the boxes to make four flat sheets of cardboard. (all measurements are in inches)

Step 3: Cut and Crease the Roof Section

Cut two of the unfolded box sheets as shown in the diagram.  The blue dashed lines are new creases that you will score with the spline tool so they fold precisely. 

Step 4: Assemble the Cardboard Sheets

The roof sheets glue or tape to the wall sheets by overlapping the bottom flaps of the roof sheet with the top flaps of the wall sheets. Tape the vertical joint, shown by the red line, on the front and back of the sheets. This is a folding joint, so leave a 1/4" gap between the sections so the joint folds easily in either direction.

Step 5: Final Assembly

Fold the creases a few times to limber them up. The illustration shows the sequence from folded-down to fully erected. Notice that the end sections overlap to achieve a weather seal without additional taping. (You could make an eight sided structure without the overlap, but additional sealing will be needed to keep the rain out.) The spring clips go at the top of each pleat and one on the floor at the bottom.

Step 6: Completed

Here is the completed structure.  Just add boxes to make it larger.

Step 7: Other Stuff

OK, now you have a shell, but it takes more than a shell to make a shelter a home. Here are some brief notes to start your thinking from. This is incomplete, so you will need your imagination from here on, or wait for future installments of this instructable.

1. Water Proofing - Cardboard falls apart fast when wet. Paint it with some kind of roofing paint or put a plastic laminate on the outside. Or use a material that is water proof (see materials below).
2. Doors and Windows - Use framing windows for RV's or just cut flaps in the sides. The obvious place for the door is in the overlapped wall section where the strength is greater.
3. Floor - Make the bottom floor flaps longer to get complete coverage. Or use something removable like a plastic sheet or Coroplast.
4. That Hole in the Top - The roof may be extended all the way to a point. The hole comes in handy for ventilation and lighting. Either way, the roof needs a cap at the top to keep the rain out. Use translucent material for natural lighting. Include a vent for ventilation.
5. Materials - Corrugated cardboard folds easily, but needs water proofing for outdoor use. Coroplast is an amazing material: water proof, inexpensive, light, and durable. You may need to cut away one layer of material to make creases that folds neatly. I use a Dremel with a cutting tool. Making wider cuts makes folding easier. Plywood or foam board may be used, with many advantages, but more tape is need to hinge everything together.
6. Number of Sides - 3 or more. 4 sides for the traditional square. The more sides, the rounder and more yurt-like the structure.
7. The bottom of the pleats in the roof must slope outward to drain water to the outside of the structure. If you change the design, do some calculations to make sure the pleat slope is correct, or build a model from paper to check the design.

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    5 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Awesome Idea, and just need to add polyurethane Spray to waterproof is all. Works great. Made a newspaper boat, and sprayed it with polyurethane and it worked great!


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Waxed Cardboard. Like the kind of boxes used for veggies.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yes wax helps. Sometimes they laminate one side with plastic to waterproof. Paint also work.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Very nice design concepts. I can see this as an alternative to a flimsy camping tent for wet weather camping or extended camping trips. More of a semi-permanant structure. Of course it would need to be made out of something other than cardboard boxes for that type of use. Very nice job developing an idea! Hopefully this can be a catalyst for other people to explore this concept.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your comments. My next instructable shelter will be made from 4'x10' Coroplast sheets, a step up in durability from cardboard. Every material has its advantages and disadvantages, and the material selected will be a compromise between these for the given application. Cardboard may fall apart in damp weather, but it may be advantageous to have a material that can be recycled, composed, or burned for fuel at the end of its life. Coroplast degraded under ultraviolet light, which could be a benefit if we don't want the stuff cluttering up the environment for the next century.