Versatility of Portable Cabins: From Flood Shelters to Sleepouts

Apr 11, 2023

In the aftermath of natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, people often find themselves without a place to live. In such situations, temporary accommodation is necessary until homes or farms can be repaired.

New Zealand has recently experienced a few major flooding events, particularly in the Auckland region. In response, the government has been considering options for providing longer-term accommodation for those displaced by flooding. However, in the short term, portable cabins have been a popular solution for providing temporary accommodation. In this blog, we’re going to explore why.

Below, we’ll look at what portable cabins are, how they can help provide temporary shelter, and why floods are a common issue for farmers across New Zealand.

What are portable cabins?

Portable cabins are small, self-contained structures that have been designed specifically to be easy to move. This includes arriving at site to be put together, and also moving post-construction. One of the best things about portable kitset structures is the ease with which they can be transported from one place to another even after being put together.

Portable cabins or sheds are commonly made of wood, steel or aluminium, and come in a wide range of sizes and designs. In this article, we’re mostly focusing on cabins, which are ideal to use as sleepouts, outside offices or studios, and also as temporary accommodation.

One reason portable cabins make good temporary accommodation is that they are quick to build and ready for use more or less as soon as they arrive. This makes them ideal for those who need shelter fast to get out of a bind, as there’s next to no wait time for moving in. This versatility and speed is why they’ve been able to serve those who need temporary shelter after a disaster well, but they do have some other advantages too.

For instance, they’re durable and built to last. As an example, we only source the best materials for our portable cabins, so they’re able to withstand the harsh weather that can be common after a large storm, and are substantial enough to live in. This durability can be a huge plus, both for comfort while using a cabin as temporary accommodation, and for versatility—once new permanent accommodation has been sorted out, it’s easy to repurpose an existing portable cabin to use for something else, because they can be moved quickly and fill a need elsewhere.

They’re also budget-friendly. When disaster strikes, it can be hard to manage the costs of rebuilding and repairing. By investing in a portable cabin, you’re able to quickly manage a major issue without breaking the bank, and focus on other costs before dealing with any big repairs or replacements that your permanent accommodation might need.

Flooding in New Zealand

Floods are the most frequent and costly natural disasters in New Zealand, and this has always been the case. It’s well documented that early European settlers were often caught completely off guard by how much rain could fall in New Zealand, and how quickly rivers could rise as a result. Many of New Zealand’s broad, gravel-bed rivers are particularly difficult to predict, because they seem very shallow but can become dangerous quickly during a flood.

Most floods in New Zealand occur due to intense rainfall or persistent rainfall. Occasionally, large snow melts can overflow rivers or lakes, but it’s more common that a frontal system or tropical cyclone will bring large amounts of rain into the waterways. Very large cyclones currently only reach New Zealand rarely, but general opinion on this is changing due to recent events.

Flooding can also be caused by normal weather systems. Because New Zealand has a very mountainous landscape, these normal weather systems can be accentuated as moisture is pushed up and over elevated terrain. This is why the west of the Southern Alps is one of the wettest places in the whole world, seeing up to 13 metres of rainfall annually in some areas.

Floods also occur when landslides triggered by severe weather or earthquakes block rivers and streams. When a natural dam forms in a river, water backs up upstream, and when the dam eventually breaks, floods can occur downstream as the pressure is released. Because earthquakes are fairly common in New Zealand too, flooding caused by slips is a very real threat to a lot of farms across the country.

Brief but intense rainstorms can also produce flash floods—these are unexpected, and often short, but can be very powerful and dangerous. The recent Auckland flooding consisted of a number of flash floods around the city, many of which cut off roads without warning.

Flooding can also cause “debris flow”, when flood water picks up dirt, plants, and other debris, and can become like the consistency of flowing concrete. These debris flows were observed in some cases around Auckland to be responsible for knocking out bridges, and otherwise causing a lot of damage to public infrastructure.

Why are portable cabins ideal for temporary accommodation?

Portable cabins are perfect when it comes to temporary accommodation because they can typically offer a wide range of short-term living options. As far as temporary shelters go, they’re one of the easiest and most comfortable solutions available.

After all, they’re already used as self-contained living spaces for many people on a more permanent basis, used as sleep-outs, off-grid accommodation, and more.

The variety and versatility available means that there will be a few things to consider when making choices about which cabin to invest in—they come in a range of sizes and shapes, and have different layouts as well. It’s best to consider how many people you’ll want to temporarily shelter when choosing a cabin.

Portable cabins like those we have in our range are ideal in disasters for a range of more specific reasons too:

Easily transportable

Our kitset cabins are all delivered quickly for construction, and most can be easily moved after construction by hiab truck if you want to relocate them later on. This makes them valuable as a quick solution for those who need it most, no matter where they are.


Because portable structures are built with versatility in mind from the start, they can be used in almost any way you like. They’re ideal for accommodation, but also could be used in conjunction with others to set up temporary medical centres for very isolated areas that are struck by disaster.

You can also place them on your property before a natural disaster occurs in places that you know will not be affected by flooding. This is a great way to plan ahead–having a flood shelter already in place will let you manage the difficulties of recovering from damage much easier, and could help keep you and your family safe.

Many portable shelters are also available for animals specifically, so farmers are able to invest in flood shelters for their livestock too.

High Quality

All of Outpost Buildings’ kitset cabins are 'Built Tough' using skid mounted H3/H4 treated timber, and designed to meet (and exceed) the New Zealand building code. Because the cabins are often used as sleep-outs, they also have to be substantial enough to keep the elements at bay and provide a safe, warm place to sleep. You can trust the quality of the materials used and the construction to offer both comfort and security.

The materials we use also don’t require a lot of maintenance, so areas that have been badly affected by natural disasters can use a group of portable cabins as temporary housing for long periods of time if needed.


Building a cabin can be expensive. You have to source materials, invest in labour, possibly deal with consents and compliance—it’s not always easy to get quick accommodation built cheaply.

Outpost makes it easy with our kitsets. They arrive with all the materials you need, and most of them can be put together easily–our cabins are an advanced kitset, so we’d recommend a hired tradesperson assembles them according to the instructions supplied.

Easily personalised

Finally, you can easily personalise a portable cabin to be used however you want. Everyone’s section of land is different, and so every cabin will need to fit into a different space and play a different role.

Portable cabins can be used as a template to expand upon by adding amenities like plumbing, insulation, furniture, electricity, and so on. This means you can fit the space out to suit your budget, and make changes to it as your requirements change or if you decide to relocate and repurpose the cabin later.

Where can I buy a portable cabin?

Portable cabins can be purchased from a variety of sources, including online retailers and local suppliers. It is important to choose a reputable supplier who offers high-quality products that are suitable for your needs.

Outpost Buildings is a leading provider of portable cabins in New Zealand. We offer a range of self-contained accommodation options, and our cabins are designed to be durable and weather-resistant, making them ideal for use in flood-prone areas.

Talk to the team today about what you’re looking for, and we can help you find the right solution for any accommodation issues you may be facing in the fallout of a natural disaster. With the right portable cabin, you can have a comfortable and secure place to stay while you wait for your home or farm to be repaired.

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