Well, I have begun. Hear me out - don't click away because I'm using a container - I have to do most of the things that a tiny house does because I'm insulating on the outside. So you can learn from my early mistakes and hopefully keep yourself out of trouble. Also, hopefully people with more experience than me will weigh in and perhaps keep me out of trouble. I have to lay out the site, dig and pour piers, lower the container onto the piers after insulating the bottom of it, cut door, window and other holes, insulate the side and roof of the container, put on a roof, attach siding, install a tiny wood stove, install running water and gray water systems along with appliances, and build one or two interior walls. So as you see, just because I got a shipping container doesn't mean I have a ready made tiny house.
How's it going you ask? I'll tell you my mistakes thus far so perhaps you won't make them also. The first thing I did was hire a guy who said he knew what he was doing to design the container - I already knew more than he did because of my research and so we parted ways. For instance, a shipping container is the epitome of a tight house and he had no ventilation system thoughts. So that was it for him Plus he didn't listen to me he just wanted to use his ideas and not build it for me the person living in it. That's a bad sign. Secondly, I thought I had hired an architect to design and draft plans for me to follow. She flaked out. It was hard for me to want to spend $1,000 she was asking for but I can see already that if she did a good job it would have been well worth it. My third mistake was in not replacing the architect but it's difficult to find people that will do plans for a container house, especially in a tornado zone And one that will be insulated on the outside and so need a roof etc. Why am I insulating on the outside? Two reasons -I'm hoping to leave the interior metal walls and ceiling unfinished so that there are not places where mold can hide because of condensation and I wanted more protection from tornado-borne missiles and attaching siding on the outside will I hope accomplish that.
It's very difficult for one person to measure distances over about 5 ft with a tape measure, so, you'll either need friends or a partner or relatively mature children or you'll need to hire someone. I had friends come by and help me set up batter boards so that I could dig the piers exactly where they need to go. I jumped the gun and dug a second pier based on my math and it was 10 inches off. With a container you want the corners to be centered on the piers, above the weld plates that you will weld the container to. I wish I had checked my math with somebody with more experience than me.
I did hire a builder/carpenter who had bigger better jobs come up and ditched me after telling me he'd help me on the weekends but dodging my calls every weekend. I am 10 minutes from a town of 400 people and 30 minutes from a very small city and even though I visit with the neighbors and ask for suggestions it is difficult to find tradespeople who want to drive that far. This is probably true in all rural areas.
So, my friend came by for 2 days and we used a water level to set the batter boards at The final height of the piers. Just Making a rectangle with even diagonals took me 3 days because My memory is not as good as it used to be and I've got notes in too many separate places. I'll talk about that in a bit. And The layout for the piers is still not perfect. But it's good enough. I hope. Yes, you can find everything on YouTube but it takes time. And you better have internet where you are building or take notes and have a good memory if you don't. Anyhow, my friend was impatient and I was floundering so I cut her loose before we got the string lines for the piers square. The next day my friendly local road grader who's done some dirt work for me stopped by and held the dumb end of the tape for an hour.
About organization. It's of primary importance. For instance, I have a how to build sheds book that tells me how to get that foundation square but I didn't remember it on the days when my friends were here because I was busy feeding them etc. So if there had been a line in my container notebook that said "look at the shed building book to square the foundation" It would have saved me a number of days and emotional wear and tear trying to figure out who to get to hold the other end of the tape. Don't make fun - one of these days your memory may go too. 😬🥴 But, if you have time to sit around and daydream then do it in an organized fashion - not like me! Get a fat binder and binder tabs and break it down into sections and the order in which things need to be accomplished, and the materials that you want to use and what their model numbers are and what size is they come in and good luck if you're in the middle of a pandemic in finding those items. Sorry, that's just my dark sense of humor.
My ex had been thinking of buying a camper to refurbish the way he wanted it and he was glad to hear from me that that was a super bad idea because he, like me, is not a project person. Can you tell? Moving on.
The piers are dug and I have sonotube to get them above ground level. The next problem I've created for myself is that I wanted my French door / window to come out near ground level but it's not going to. One of the piers on that side is 15 inches above ground level. That's what I woke up thinking about at 5:30 this morning. I don't want there to be steps, I want to come out onto a flat surface. So my choice is add a deck -at what cost?- and I would need to go ahead and dig and pour the piers for that when the concrete truck is coming out for the other piers. Or, I could somehow build up the soil there but that sounds expensive and like a lot of work. Or, I can ditch all the work I've already done with the batter boards and the pier digging and find a new flatter location. So again, an architect or a mentor would have been good to keep me out of this quandary. And that's where I am today and this missive is already very long so, if you have any better ideas to solve my most current problem please feel free to share.
I have done a lot of measuring without helpers. It can be done with a few tricks. For lengths up to 6' those folding rules can be good. For longer lengths, finding or making ways to anchor the end of the tape is essential. If you have a cordless screw gun (you really will need one if you don't yet), you can drive a short screw perpendicular to the measuring direction and hook the tape on the screw head (they have a slot for that purpose on the end tab). Just keep tension on the tape as you are winding it out to the other end of the measuring distance. If there is nothing to drive a screw into, have some stakes and a hammer on hand to make a quick anchor point.
Two tape measures can make it much easier to square things, and you will likely find it useful to have a short pocket sized tape of 12' or 16', and a big long one at least 25' or a 50' or 100' wind-up tape. Start from one line you want for the square and measure say 12' along it and drive anchors at the ends. Hook the two tapes to the ends of the first line and measure 9' at right angles and 15' along the hypotenuse (a 3-4-5 right triangle}. Where the two tapes meet at the right distances is a perfect right angle. (Adjust the lengths to fit the space you are measuring.)
Your french door situation needs some more information to be able to give good advice. Is it on the side or end of the container? Are both piers on that side/end well above grade? How much minimum clearance do you want under the floor? Enough to crawl under, or will it be sealed off and never accessed? How much does the ground slope, and is the surface convex or concave? A concave surface will tend to concentrate runoff, and you would really want a diversion swale all around the upper side. If you can dig down 6" or a foot along the high side to make the ground slope away from the footprint for at least a couple of feet in all directions, and lower the ground at the high side floor, you will likely be able to use that dirt to raise the door area so there is not much drop. This would get the whole house a bit lower to the ground, which is probably a good thing for tornado resistance. You probably don't want the door to be at ground level because that would put a large part of the floor on the ground and in danger of rusting. You would want to raise the ground for a few feet outside the door, gently sloping away, and make a wooden apron to connect that to the door. You want something solid for an entry mat anyway, not grass up to the door. A photo of your pier layout with some description of door locations would really help.
Anne, thanks for the reminder about those measuring sticks.
I've attached a photo showing the corners of the container and the door locations and the berm that's 100 ft to the south of me and the fact that the slope is high on the southeast and low on the northwest and continues on past the container so that any water that did run would run past the container not gather there. I'm going to close in under the container with expanded metal lath to keep out critters but to allow airflow to prevent mold and condensation. My lowest pier is 6 inches above ground level on the southeast corner plus the container corner is 4 inches tall in addition to that 6 in for a total of 10 in off the ground at the lowest point. In the photo each corner shows how many inches off ground level the top of the pier will be. And where the French door and another door will be. On the east side I'm going to keep the container doors and build a wall inside of it with a door and a window and then the container doors can shut over that.
So my concern is on the north side where the French door opens out. I want that to be my patio area and I don't want to have to walk down a number of steps to get to it. I think one step is enough and then maybe mice and snakes won't wander in to the house. But I'm not sure about raising the ground level with soil there because there is still some ground level above me to the east/southeast. If I get out there today I'll take a picture and post it.
Have you already spoken with whatever concrete company you are using for the container piers? It's very possible they have a minimum order amount and your four piers might be less than the minimum anyway. If that is the case doing some extra piers for a freestanding deck wouldn't be a issue, but instead a solution. You can also consider throwing some scrap together in small enough to move squares for stepping stones. If you have to buy the concrete, might as well use it all.
A deck would be the way I would go, rather than having your eventual exterior siding at grade. In fact having your container home up a little higher even could be beneficial as well, being easier to get to any utilities run up through your floor. Something will go wrong eventually, and having access is always beneficial. Even if the benefit is just being able to find someone willing to go under there to fix it.
It sure is frustrating trying to figure out the whole binder full of things at once.
This is my process, I am a Civil Engineer so it may have been taught to me over time.
- I use wide paper 900mm to sketch and doodle ideas with a felt pen
- I use an A 4 spiral backed not book with 250 pages with a medium ball point pen.
- I try and record all the final concept and draw a line through the abandoned ones.
- I write a rough list of materials need and rough cost
- I do a critical path analysis of the project
- mark out, find tools, dig holes, sort formwork. etc
In other words determine which steps need to be completed before the next starts.
These can be expensive. I would find fill and build up the ground to about 4 inches below where I want the surface to be.
I would box out a slab using 4 inch timber as the formwork, and hold it in place with 18 inch T-posts. It must be level or sloping just a bit to drain.
Screw the timber through the holes in the T-post.
Get the delivery of concrete for the slab and the foundations in one order.
Get somebody to help finish the slab surface look at a lot of You tube videos on the subject.
A slab of beer may be the cost for help.
Odd having the big door/window on the north instead of the south - it will get no sunlight all winter, but some on summer mornings and evenings. Maybe the view is much better? Or do tornadoes come from the south/southwest?
Digging out even just a few inches along and under the southeast side and corner would allow the floor to sit a few inches lower and pile dirt in front of the french door as well, which should get you the grading you want as well as diverting any runoff from under the floor. The less water flowing under the house, the easier it will be to keep it from rotting or rusting.
I agree with the idea of forming for slabs before concrete delivery. You would probably want at least a small one at the end door, as well as being useful at the french door. Make them slope slightly away from the house. You will need a few concrete tools to make the surfaces look decent, but you could probably get by with a concrete trowel (different from a mason's trowel, big and rectangular) and a homemade screed made from a nice smooth piece of wood that reaches across the smaller dimension of your slab. A piece of 1x4 or plywood a foot or so long with a 2x2 grab handle screwed to it would do for a rarely used float.
Kit Hart, The concrete company will come out for my little project. I had thought of some other things that I could use extra concrete for, but not pavers - good idea. Yes, if I'm going to build a deck I need to go ahead and get the piers done now with the rest. Plumbing will come out the bottom so it's possible that at some point yes, I will have to get down there.
John C Daley, Thanks for laying out your process for me. That is generally what I do but I will take the time to organize my notes better since I've already figured a lot of things out.
Here's my rough list so far:
Container Project Flow
1. Level piers, install sonotube
2. Decide whether to order solar laundry dryer and where to dig hole for it; figure out where holes for fence around trash would be-distance-order posts
3. Order concrete
4. Order siding, ,
5. Design bathroom wall with pocket door, order materials
6. Hire help for concrete pour
7. Pour concrete
8. Buy AC/heater, ERV, convection microwave, refrigerator, burner, plumbing fixtures, kitchen sink, washing machine, kitchen cabinets, dishwasher,
9. Find a welder
10. Paint and seal the floor
11. Order siding and roof materials, & (wood framing), buy end door and window
12. Hire or lease forklift 3 days before setting the container in order to insulate the bottom
13. Notify electrician of timeline for container to be set
14. Cut holes in floor for plumbing? Insulate bottom of container (glue, foam, Hardie board - ugly / cheap, expanded metal lath, paint?, sealer? Metal screws? Glue! PL loctite
15. Set the container and weld it.
16. Order insulation
17. Electricity hooked up to container
I hesitate to go ahead and pour a slab there. At some point I'm hoping to make soil cement and that would be a good place to use it. I don't want to get too tangential with other projects as everything takes me so long and summer is coming.
Yes, tornadoes generally come from the southwest. The road is to the south with a busy corner which brings a ton of dust as we get southern winds often. And the view is to the north. I'm not comfortable with digging down on the southeast corner to make the whole thing less high on the north side. I've already done so much work to get the piers to be able to be level and everything takes me so long that I think I'll just live with it for now and maybe do a filled patio later. I don't want to get too distracted from the main event.
I appreciate yours and everybody's input because it increases the ideas I can choose from and it gives me ideas to push against if that makes any sense. When I know what I don't want, I often then know what I do want. 😄🙄
Yes, I am planning on using the French door cut out as a shutter. Any thoughts about how best to do that would be appreciated. It will be more complicated because I am insulating and siding the outside. But that's how it is. I thought about making it into two doors that would be easy to handle, or one big door that swings closed, or perhaps a slider. I need to be able to lock up also and I want to be able to close myself in if it might be a tornado-ey night.
How did you insulate your end wall and what siding did you use on the exterior and on the interior? Do you know how thick the wall ended up being?
I had to look up Jack studs, that's a good thing to know because I may end up building this end wall by myself. I'm not planning on putting any intrusions into the container for this framing though I might get some l brackets welded to screw it too. In addition, I will use a product like PL loctite to glue the studs to the container.
The door shutters if you split the panel and welded 3 hinges each side would require extensive welding. The slider idea would require a top and bottom deep channels. You could easily drill and install wheels then add bolted or weld 2" angle iron to both sides for stops on the verticle door edges.
Your end finished wall will be roughly 5" with siding and say sheetrock on inside.
I did 2x4 framing R13 batting vapor barrier and sheetrock. I have a dual venting system one for the shell and one for interior that is a convection flow. I also have a forced flow if needed using a 12v 4" Attwood blower on a prototype swamp cooler I designed.
I'm taping sheetrock currently 36 sheets installed.
Fyi the interior of a container is tapered to the top due to the top steel box bar. Interior top is 1"+ narrower than your bottom interior measurement.