OccuPod - an Old Storm Drain Pipe Turned Into a Warm and Comfortable Living Space!

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About: I am a Physics and Creative Tech Double major at Berry College.

For a semester long project, my group was given an 8 ft long by 6 ft diameter storm drain to turn into a Prototype living space. The target audience that we chose to build this for was the Homeless population however, it does not have to be limited to that demographic.

The idea behind this project was that it would provide nightly shelter for those living at a homeless shelter which has limited space in housing. Instead of buying more housing, the shelter could provide more living spaces with these drain pipes. The pipes feature wood on inside walls to provide a warmer feel, a bed that can be changed into a chair while also being completely removable in minutes. There are LED strips running between the boards at the top, windows at the front & back, and cargo nets to provide storage next to the bed. At the back of the tube is an electrical compartment which houses a car battery which powers not only the LED's but also a USB outlet and two CPU fans embedded into the back wall. The battery is charged by a small solar panel that is mounted on top of the pipe.

In this Instructable, I will show how we built this project. This was a very time consuming project that took about 14 weeks to complete working about 8-15 hours almost every weekend. The total cost of this project comes in at about $3,100, these drain pipes cost about $2,000 and we spent about $1,100 in materials alone. This cost excludes the cost of tools which we used lots of and we actually got the pipe for free so maybe you can get lucky and find one for free as well.

Keep in mind that this was a Prototype built for a class and that not everything is done perfectly.

Some of the skills used for the build

  • Woodworking
  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Welding
  • Wiring
  • Coding an arduino

Some of the tools used for the build

  • Circular Saw
  • Table saw
  • Hammer impact drill
  • Regular drills
  • Table Saw
  • Jig Saws
  • Belt sanders
  • Crawl-bot CNC router (Not necessary)
  • Paint brushes
  • Spray cans
  • Basic MIG Welder

Materials used for this build

  • Pine wood
  • Steel 1in x 1in square tubing
  • Acrylic Sheets
  • Tyvek Sheets (Not Necessary)
  • Nylon Sheets and Straps
  • Car Battery
  • Wiring and various connectors
  • PC fans
  • Solar Panel
  • Various other electrical components

Step 1: Step 1: Mounting the Interior Boards

To begin the project, we transformed the bleak looking pipe into something much more welcoming by mounting a bunch of 8 ft x 7.55 in x 1.5 in pine boards with Tapcon concrete screws.

First off we painted the wood with a water tight seal & stain two-in-one. We did this so that the wood provides a warmer color but also allows us to wash the tube by pressure washing it. Then we had to cut off 2 inches off the end of the boards to make them fit perfectly into the pipe.

To mount them we used a scrap board and clamps to hold up the board that we were currently working on (as can be seen in the part 1 video). We pre-drill the holes into the wood with a wooden bit and then used an impact drill with a concrete drill bit to pre-drill the hole for the Tapcon screw.

One of the biggest obstacles when doing this was trying to avoid drilling into the re-bar inside the concrete of the tube. This process took much longer than expected and became very tiring when working in the confined space with multiple people, however it was definitely worth it. It completely transformed the look and feel of the pipe.

Step 2: Step 2: Hanging the Bed

We chose to go with a hammock style bed because it is quick and simple to adjust, remove or change into a chair.

We started by sewing together two sheets of nylon with a sheet of Tyvek in the middle to create a composite layer. Our thought was that the nylon would provide strength and resistance to being cut while the Tyvek would keep the nylon from stretching too much. However this didn't work as one layer of Tyvek was not strong enough, it tore at the seams when we sat on it. This could be improved if more sheets of Tyvek are used but is not necessary as two sheets of nylon worked pretty well.

The bed was hung by using anchor bolts and some Nylon buckle straps. The Nylon straps were sewn into the anchor bolts (as shown in the video) as well as onto the sheet of Nylon. The straps attached to the sheet had the buckles, however this could be done either way.

Not shown in the video are the two additional eye bolts added at the end of the tube that allow the bed to be turned into a chair. Also not shown is the climbing rope that was attached along the top sides of the tube to help with getting in and out of bed. This was done due to the choice of audience but is not necessary. It was also just attached with eye bolts that were drilled into the wood.

Step 3: Step 3: Adding the Front Door

To begin, some square tubing was cut and welded together to create a bracket for the door. We had some old rusty square tubing laying around that we had to clean up before we could use but it worked great! The pieces were mocked up, cut and then welded together. At the back side of the piece were smaller brackets that allow the mount to be attached to the tube with more Tapcon concrete screws (this entire process is shown in the video which is better at describing what I mean).

Then once the bracket was in place, the door was cut out of a 1/2" thick piece of plywood. To know where to cut, we traced the inside of the tube against the sheet of plywood and cut that out. We also stained the plywood to keep the color of the wood used in this project consistent. Since the tube has a rounded edge where we wanted the door, the fitment was sort of tricky. So we cut the door oversize and then mounted it. To mount the door we used three door hinges attached with nuts and bolts. Once it was mounted, we trimmed the remainder off with jigsaw and a belt sander until it closed all the way.

Step 4: Step 4: Building an Electrical Compartment

Before building the electrical compartment which will house the car battery and other electrical stuff, we tested all of the components that we gathered. This was done to make sure they work but also get an idea for all the pieces we had and where we would put them.

In the part 3 video, you hear me talking about planning to put the electrical compartment at the top of the box which can also be seen in some of the early renderings we produced. We ended up changing that so the box would be located at the bottom. This was done to save on head room and to eliminate the risk of a 25 lb car battery from falling on the occupants face.

That being said, we used the rest of the plywood sheet to scrap together a functional box that would hide the battery as well as a lot of the wiring, the solar panel controller, the LED controls as well as PC fan controls. The top of the box offers a place to set down a device and charge it overnight. The front of the box (when accessed from the back of the tube) opens and closes for easy access to all the electrical.

Step 5: Step 5: Adding LED's and Windows

We wanted the tube to have both natural light as well as a source of light for the night.

Using the gap in the wood to place the LED's made for clean look, the wiring and LED strips were hidden while remaining functional. The LED's came with a remote that allows the user to change the brightness and color of the LED's. We found that a light orange provided the most welcoming feel. The white is actually too much light when the brightness is turned up all the way and can be annoying. The were placed to the sides so that light was still distributed throughout the tube without blinding the user when he or she was laying down.

For the windows, we used some thin sheets of acrylic which were cut into the shapes of the windows. The front windows filled in the gaps created by the front door bracket while the back window covers almost the entire end of the tube. The back window is almost the same size and shape as the front door. It also hinges on another metal bracket similar to the front door bracket and can be moved to access the electrical compartment while also doubling as a emergency exit for occupants. Above that metal bracket sits another piece of plywood which will later be used to house the PC fans.

To make OccuPod more private, a reflective film was added to the acrylic windows before they were mounted. This film works by reflecting light which works great throughout the day, but it is not truly one way film as we had thought. The idea was that it would always be reflective to the outside, however this is not the case as it will be reflective to the side with more light. During the day it works great but at night , if the lights are on, the occupant cannot see out. This is one of the biggest issues we ran into when building our Prototype.

Step 6: Step 6: Adding the Remaining Details to Finish the Build!

In the last part of the series we finish the build and we start off by showing how to attach the solar panel.

The panel is mounted by using a concrete anchor bolt in combination with a camera swivel mount and another piece of square tubing which is JB welded to the back of the panel. The wiring for the panel is very simple, the positive and negative of the panel are connected to the positive and negative of the controller which is then connected to the battery terminals.

We also show how we cleaned up a lot of the wiring in the video and we install the fans. The fans are controlled by an arduino which uses a pulse signal to power them. There is also a potentiometer on top of the electrical box which can be used to control the speed of the fans.

The fans are included to provide airflow in the summer months as the concrete soaks up the heat from the sun during the day. This heat is released at night which can be seen in the provided thermal picture.This is great in the winter months but could make for a very warm night in the summer.

Special Thanks to Zane Cochran at HackBerry Lab at Berry College for helping us and guiding us as we built this throughout the semester!

Also a huge thank you to Katy for being a awesome group member and making this project come to life!

And thank you if you have read this far and watched the videos!

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    79 Discussions

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    kathynv

    7 days ago on Step 6

    I know that this is a prototype, and I love the idea you had of using existing drain pipes to shelter the homeless. To make this into a workable shelter, you would need to use a larger diameter pipe, probably in the 5 to 6 feet in diameter, so the person would have secure space for their worldly goods. Then, you could put a floor in the pipe, so there would be storage space. Another thought is perhaps stacking these, perhaps 2 or 3 high, to utilize the space for more homeless people. Sanitary facilities could then be located nearby, so the people could keep clean. Something like a camping facility.

    I think it was a great project, and hope it gets the Powers That Be thinking about other ways to house the homeless. Congrats on a job well done.

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    abog

    2 months ago

    Thank !!! It's fine !!!

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    Rituguptascs

    3 months ago on Introduction

    This looks cool and futuristic and all, but I would have to give it a pass. I think I might just faint if I were to even stay in there for just a single day. It does not get adventurous with the old claustrophobic me.

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    CameronRobertson

    3 months ago

    This looks like it would be extremely mobile if you needed to move your things about too. I reckon that a cube might be a better option, but for homeless people who are on the move, this could be a great solution…

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    larry03052

    Tip 4 months ago

    You might consider a wheeled cradle with hitch that would allow a unit to be trailered behind any car. I dunno about shipping regulations, but double-trailer trucks suggest you might even be able to tow two at a time in tandem. The wood interior would be less problematical if the lining was laid out flat, finished side down, with leds installed, and then duct-taped together into a cylinder than can just be slid into position. By positioning the boards slightly apart (say 1/8") they would automatically form a tight cylinder as soon as they were rolled.

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    gkeys409

    5 months ago

    Maybe these would be cool to have already set up in a camping situation... they could be several around a fire pit set up at a National Park (ie: to rent). As for putting homeless in a drain pipe... I don't think so. And... watching all the wasted materials, time and effort had me wondering if they would need a planning class first... it's called pencil and paper folks!

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    sgbotsford

    5 months ago on Step 1

    Another starting point for this sort of shelter: Large diameter sonotube. Because they are cardboard, they have some small degree of insulation already. Diameters up to 5 feet.

    If building a shelter with these, stand them off 2-3 inches from each other, and fill the void with styrofoam if you need to keep them warm. Individual units can be locked.

    A cheap solution to homeless housing would be to have A bunch of these stacked two high, and a shower/bath/laundry unit that fits in a seacan.

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    chronocide67

    6 months ago

    A hinged wooden platform would have made a better space for sleeping and sitting, think Japanese futon, while allowing storage beneath that could be locked.

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    mrpesas

    6 months ago on Step 2

    For the bed, switch the buckle and straps around. Mount the metal buckle piece to the wall and sew just the straps to the bed. This will allow the bed to be removed and washed in a regular washing machine without the metal buckles bouncing around.

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    woodlab

    6 months ago

    Creative and cool. But let me play devils advocate...
    1) price per square foot seems high.
    2) as a solution for homeless, is it...insensitive to house them in drain pipe intended for waste?
    3) how practical are these in large numbers?

    6 replies
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    aebewoodlab

    Reply 6 months ago

    Culverts are used for more than waste, and it can be painted or stained.
    And insensitive vs need?

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    woodlabaebe

    Reply 6 months ago

    That’s why I said I was playing devils advocate. I can imagine someone somewhere making this argument about the optics of this as a mass solution. My only point of impracticality is cost. Mass solutions need to be cheap and easy.

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    pozawoodlab

    Reply 6 months ago

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought this was rather insensitive. I'm sure the author/maker had no ill intentions, and I certainly don't want to turn this into a political discussion, but this is poorly suited for the homeless. And for that matter, the author/maker probably had no intention of it being used by homeless. The professor in charge of this project, on the other hand is probably the insensitive one.

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    JanoschS1poza

    Reply 6 months ago

    Yes, you guys are correct, it is expensive especially if the labor was calculated. We spent a ton of time building it and the labor cost alone would probably double the cost.

    We definitely thought about whether it would be insensitive or not throughout the semester and tried our best to make it feel as welcoming as we could. This project like you guys said was built for class as a exercise and will never be put into use, however our professor is not insensitive. He gave us the pipe and told us to turn it into some sort of living space/shelter for the audience of our choice.

    The big issue with these is that they weigh around 10,000 lbs so they are extremely difficult to move. They can be stacked which is pretty cool and I've seen some really cool concepts of that.

    tubes.jpg
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    woodlabJanoschS1

    Reply 6 months ago

    I love the idea of turning wasted space into usable shelter. I’ve long wondered why we don’t have pop up clear plastic tents we could deploy in cold environments for day shelters. The greenhouse effect would provide a very tolerable temp during the day.

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    trimbanditwoodlab

    Reply 6 months ago

    I don't think it is insensitive, but I think it is not a practical solution and for the cost, you could build something MUCH more livable with more space and headroom. So it seems like a fun exercise(make this drainpipe livable) but not practical as a real world solution.

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    oldestgeek

    6 months ago

    Excellent concept and prototype!

    One thing that concerns me is having a car battery, or any other battery for that matter in a confined space and in close proximity to the occupant, especially during the discharge of the battery.

    3 replies
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    JanoschS1oldestgeek

    Reply 6 months ago

    Thank you so much!

    Are you worried about the battery starting a fire? What exactly do you mean by the discharge of the battery?

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    JanoschS1oldestgeek

    Reply 6 months ago

    Oh wow we never really thought about that. That’s a good point!

    We were planning on using a deep cycle marine battery for the build since they handle the inconsistent charge from the sun better over the long term. However we just had a car battery laying around at Hackaberry so we used it for our prototype. The fans would probably help disperse some of the fumes if there was an overcharge but it is still a very enclosed space for fumes. I definitely wouldn’t want to be in there if that was going on.

    Thanks for pointing that out!