by Milton "Skip" Johnson
By oneself; alone. Used as a stage direction.

How big is big enough? Surely big enough to stand and stretch, big enough to have a separate toilet and shower. Big enough to have room to sit and talk or play cards with a friend or two. Probably big enough to have a dedicated place to sleep, not necessarily a separate room, this is after all, a home for a single guy. Finally, big enough to prepare a meal or cup of coffee without moving stuff around. Big enough implies a place a little bigger than Atkins elegant little ‘Retreat’, but not much.

‘Solus’ is my take on a space that’s just big enough. The basic spiral shape and general construction concept are from a little studio design I worked up for myself a few years ago to get in under a flood plain rule change at the house. It didn’t get built, my wife didn’t think it was that good an idea and actually neither did I.

The basic concept is for a simple raft style platform, barrel supported (polyethylene please) framed and decked with treated lumber supporting a spiral enclosed space built in a simplified stitch and glue format covered with an ‘exterior insulating finish system’ (EIFS). A layer of foam insulation covered with a fiberglass (very open mesh) reinforced synthetic stucco.

The basic ‘shell’ of the house is fabricated from 16” wide panels of oriented strand board (OSB) or plywood if preferred, though I think that the screened side of the OSB varnished would give the interior a very warm appearance at little cost. For stitching, I’d recommend copper wire inserted from the inside and left in place. For glue, use a standard construction grade applied from outside. Start by erecting interior walls and sleeping platform. Start erecting wall panels at the high side and work around, the top of each panel tapers 2” so prefab cutting, drilling can be done for those so inclined. The central circular skylight section is prefabricated and installed with temporary braces until roof panels are installed. Add stiffeners to top of panels and 1x2 roof web pieces. Roof panels are screwed and glued in to place and everything should stiffen up admirably, it is after all a shell structure.

Ventilation is handled by the two doors (standard storm doors with screened, sliding glass panels) and by vents at the skylight. The skylight itself can be a simple blow molded piece of plastic, an elaborate faceted wood and lexan piece or a piece of plywood screwed in place. Additional light and vision would be provided by square portlights made from 8”x 8” x 3” clear acrylic glass blocks in simple treated 1x4 frames. Location and number to be determined by sitting around inside and cutting square holes until satisfied.

Once portlights are installed, begin exterior finish. Apply a layer of 15# roofing felt with roof mastic followed by 1” to 2” of foam (depending on latitude). A few mechanical fasteners should be used at the top of the panels and at the end of walls. Be sure to incorporate the valley edge at the top of panels for a built in gutter. Fair the foam, if desired, and then apply the adhesive coated fiberglass reinforcing mesh over foam. Trowel on a base coat of acrylic stucco and stand back. Embellish to suit, nothing, eyebrows over portlights, ribs, scallops, castellated battlements, regular architectural profile shapes (wildly out of scale on a 130 s.f. structure) are all possible. Make sure it all drains and remember an EIFS system is not terribly impact resistant.

The choice of systems will vary depending on individual preferences, finances and circumstances. I would certainly recommend propane for cooking and probably refrigeration. Electrical systems would start out with shore power with a minimal 12v system for lights fans and communication stuff. Add battery capacity and generating capacity when you cut the cord, so to speak. Heating and possibly cooling will depend on location, There’s good ventilation and canopies (large umbrella?) would be standard issue. A mini charcoal briquette fireplace fabricated from an old stainless steel glass pack muffler and tailpipe would be a nice masculine touch. Water collection off the roof would be easy with everything coming off the small roof at one spot. May be a little weighted diverter would allow a little water to run off roof before starting to fill tank. The toilet could use one of the 55 gal barrels as a holding tank.

The whole assembly could be considered a trimaran with a surprisingly good volume to wetted surface coefficient. Once the miniscule power required for the weight and wetted surface was calculated, sanity would return and we would recognize that any good breeze would overpower a vessel that is biased toward the house side of houseboat. That being said, a 5 to 10 HP outboard would be able to easily change our address any reasonably calm day.

Costwise, I took the phrase “a few thousand” to mean “about three”. Anything less would be really tight, anything more could be rolled into better fixtures/equipment or put to other uses. Unspoken, but assumed is that since it was boat building that helped get our hypothetical unfortunate in this mess, he will provide the labor to build his new home. Virtually all the materials for Solus come from the local building supply emporium. New 55 gallon polyethylene barrels are about $20.00 each locally. Some of the internal furnishing and fittings would come from camping or camper sources. The only expensive marine hardware required would be….nothing.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of doing something to spite another, but on the other hand, I think that Solus would stand on her own as a unique, easily built floating home eminently suitable for a guy to live for as long as necessary.

Solus Statistics

LOA   22’-0”
Beam   14’-0”
Displacement   3900# freshwater
Draft (full load)   11 ½”
#/” immersion   500#/”
Bridge clearance   14’-0”


Deck and structure   4.0#*275 1100
Walls   2.5#*405s.f. 1013
Roof   2.5#*132s.f. 330
Interior walls/platform   360
Furnishings   320
Subtotal   3123#
Remainder for Payload   777#

Drawings: (click to enlarge)


Cypress, Tx (outside Houston) Current boat the 'Bionic Log' 16'8" sit-on-top stripper, have about a 18 month habit, 8 boats in 12 years.