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jason smith
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Just found this great forum while searching for rocket stoves and decided to join up for some advice from those much wiser than I.

I've seen a ton of pictures online, and even a few youtube videos, of various homes built from shipping containers. Where I work I see lots and lots of the large 40 foot high cube containers (40x8x9.5) coming in and out of the loading docks. Each time one rolls in i can't help but imagine them as large hollow "lego bricks" that can be used to make any size structure i want depending on it's intended purpose. Lately my head has been buzzing with all sorts of off-the-grid living, homesteading, prepping, self sufficiency... all that sort of stuff. I've become somewhat obsessed with it if I were being honest with myself. I've come to the conclusion after years of thought and notepad sketching that I need to stop paying the landlord and get myself situated into a more comfortable lifestyle.

Step 1 in my plan is to build myself a shipping container home.

I fully realize that it's not a minor undertaking, I have a general idea of what I'm getting myself into but I have no idea on the specifics or cost range and this doesn't seem to be something I should jump into blindly. I think the best way to start here is to just toss out my ideas and look to you all for any advice or tips I can get on the best way to do things...

Here is the basic design I came up with.



The finished building winds up being 40x40. Once the boxes are in place, all the containers get "welded" together using plates and various appropriate anchoring (like welding the feet to plates which are re-bared into poured concrete columns). At this point, once the containers are joined as one, I would do the following...

PHASE 1 (primitive living if necessary)

*single peak standing seam metal roof
*remove all interior metal walls creating a wide open space (40x40)
*build walls behind each of the 5 doors (facing southwest?)... from left to right they would consist of 2 sections of glass block and a window, then a section for a front door and glass block, then two more sections of glass block and a window.
*reinforce openings (with square metal so the container remains rigid) on side/rear walls for more windows then cut openings for windows and a back door in the center container (cut off wheel or plasma cutter)
*stud the inside with 2x4, and spray with expanding foam insulation
*spray exterior with supertherm ceramic "paint" (http://youtu.be/FRq4UJLqLDI)
*doors, windows, keys

at this point i've got a warm roof over my head, and i can wheel in my pellet burning rocket stove (gathering materials to build that now) and a few window AC units and live a simple life hauling in water and using an outhouse if i need to save up money...

Ideally I'd skip right to the next phase with no hiccups, but without crunching numbers i have no idea where i'd be within my budget (around 100k for total project).

PHASE 2 (comfortable living)

*well, septic/leech bed
*rip out plywood floors, pour in concrete over pex for radiant heat
*centrally locate my pellet fed rocket stove and convert to a mass heater
-box in the rocket mass heater with stone and run air handling system through the box to feed the house
-2 copper coils/radiators for floor heating and plumbing)
-radiant floor plumbing under concrete floor mass (heated by the rocket stove mass heater)
*solar water heater (to use for hot water in the summer when the mass heater isn't in use, and for solar heat gain)
*bathroom and kitchen

At this point I'm comfortable, and I'm where I am now with respects to living situation... wide open floor plan minus the landlord and the crazy heat bills. From here i'd move onto phase 3 as funds and time were available but there would be no real rush, i could do everything else at my leisure.

PHASE 3 (future homesteading goals in no particular order)

*section off bedroom(s) and other rooms
*rain collection from metal roof
*tie hydro thermal cooling (pond, slab, in ground?) into the under floor radiant system and mass heater box (air handler)
*whole house fan
*solar electric system

after that the house is done and i can start saving up for a "web4deb" aquaponics dome and some chickens and rabbits

So am I crazy to think I can get through phase 1 and 2 under 100k? Are my ideas solid or is it just all wrong. If anyone see's any glaringly obvious downsides to anything I just described please let me have it. That whole fail to plan/plan to fail is my fear so I'd like to iron out all the wrinkles before I even start looking for land. I have a few places in mind, but I'm not going to set my heart on anything until I know my plans are even realistic. frankly the cheaper i can build to phase 2, the more land i would be able to afford so I sorta need to get a project budget in mind before I can figure this all out. Like I said, the primary goal is to finish phase 2 but if my 100k is only good enough for phase 1 I could make it work. I just need to get out in the country and get away from the crime and grime I'm constantly dealing with and start working twords a home of my own instead of lining my landlords pockets.

Thanks in advance for any replies, I'm sure I forgot to include certain things in my description, so I may go back and edit this post later.

 
wayne stephen
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Hello Jason , I can not speak much about alternative building practices but welcome to permies . Keep posting .
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Jason,

Welcome to Permies!

Whatever comes of this, I hope you keep posting, because I know many folks are thinking about SCA (shipping container architecture.) I am a traditional builder, so what I can offer will be about project planing, and general guidance, while helping you ask good questions to think about. We use shipping containers for our historical frame transports, especially from Japan, so I understand them structurally. Now we can get into you primary burning question...100K budget.

I have to say it sounds achievable, however, I do have more questions first:

Does this price include the land?

Do you have a source for shipping containers?

Do you really like the look?

I have seen some beautifully designed shipping container homes that not only did I really like but they had great esthetic value as well. The problem is, most do not, especially when it comes to resale.
Do you intend on having any kind of resale value?

Are you doing the work or is someone else?

Do you have a PE or the engineering skills to work out dynamic loads on the structure after you remove its internal "structural walls?"

You get a weather proof box with SCA but you still have to build all the conventional mechanicals that go into any home (or at least some of them.) Have you done a "side to side" comparison with other building forms?



Lets get through these Q&A and then we can go one?

Regards,

jay
 
Mike Leo
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I do know that while shipping containers look incredibly strong the way they stack them up in storage to use for building they often need substantial structural reinforcement even before you start the conversation about removing walls, which might be a painful proposition in itself just based on the amount of hours with a plasma cutter needed.

In your proposed design you would be balancing the load of the roof all the way across all the "open space" and the walls of the containers which are much weaker than the corners would be bearing much of that weight, probably requiring heavy beams to hold up the roof, even more so if you're in an area with more than token snowfalls.

If that's the design you envision you might be better off comparing the pricing of your heavily modified shipping container design with the cost of just erecting a post and beam support for your roof and putting up metal siding (perhaps cut from your surplus shipping containers). Whether you are reinforcing the shipping containers with the supports, or throwing metal siding on the existing roof and supports the engineering and design is going to be pretty much the same.

Which means by the time you get there maybe building an open concept log or cob home might achieve your goals even easier.

One last piece of advice, if you plan on building alternative make sure your proposed building site doesn't have code restrictions that will make your build more difficult, or laws that will make any difficulty finding insurance problematic. You will probably also find that financing alternative buildings can be an issue as well, because when you can't just resell the property like a conventional home banks don't feel comfortable "taking the risk."
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Welcome.

They look awesome, but they do have their downsides. Buy already insulated ones if at all possible.

If I were to do it, I would build them like the attached picture. only four containers and an open courtyard in the middle, could be kitchen garden if the over-roof has enough glass.


container.jpg
[Thumbnail for container.jpg]
 
jason smith
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wayne stephen wrote:Hello Jason , I can not speak much about alternative building practices but welcome to permies . Keep posting .


Thanks for the welcome, and I have a feeling I'll be posting here quite a bit.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Jason,

Welcome to Permies!

Whatever comes of this, I hope you keep posting, because I know many folks are thinking about SCA (shipping container architecture.) I am a traditional builder, so what I can offer will be about project planing, and general guidance, while helping you ask good questions to think about. We use shipping containers for our historical frame transports, especially from Japan, so I understand them structurally. Now we can get into you primary burning question...100K budget.

I have to say it sounds achievable, however, I do have more questions first:


Oh wow, perfect guy to talk to then, thanks in advance for all the Q&A. to keep things simple i'll go ahead and reply to the rest of your questions in blue.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Does this price include the land?

no, but here in NW ohio land isn't all that expensive. a few friends of mine have gotten corner lots of farmer fields for good prices. i wouldn't be placing this near other houses, it would be sitting off by itself somewhere in the middle of nowhere that had access to lots of sun (for future solar projects) and open wind (for wind projects)

Do you have a source for shipping containers?

yes, the company i work for imports around 50-100 of them per year filled with various products from china. when it gets close to project start time i would simply let my logistics manager know to order the next 5 40 foot high cubes as "one trippers" (brand new containers) that would stay here after they are emptied. this increases the cost of the companies shipping, which i would then offset, this gets me the containers at a song (one trip "new" containers for around 2k). i'm also fortunate to be sandwiched between 3 major customs clearance ports and an inter-modal right down the road, so if the work connection dries up i have contacts there (hope this helps people sourcing containers)

Do you really like the look?

i do, very much so, but what i'm seeing in my minds eye would have no signs of shipping container on the inside yet still hold that container look on the outside

I have seen some beautifully designed shipping container homes that not only did I really like but they had great esthetic value as well. The problem is, most do not, especially when it comes to resale.
Do you intend on having any kind of resale value?

i think once i finish parts of "phase 3" i'll either grow old and die in that home or i'll rent it to someone i know/trust if i had to relocate. once it's built, it's mine forever. that being said... what i'm planning would be just like a traditional home on the inside with a vertical siding look on the outside. the equity would be there for a loan based on the plans i'm drawing up... it should be a very nice looking house that will outlast most houses built today. i think a proper presentation to my lender friend along with carefully chosen "proof of concept" pictures/videos and i should have no problem.

Are you doing the work or is someone else?

yes/no/and all parts in between... . i've got some skills and knowledge that i'd be putting to use, and i've got friends who do this sort of thing for a living (iron workers, fabricators, auto body repair, etc...). what i can't do myself or pester my friends into helping me with (over beers and pizza of course) i would hire out to local guys. i'd probably hire out the shell to get all 5 containers in place without relying on friends to donate time. this way i get that roof over my head as soon as possible. the rest can be farmed out over time as i can afford it, as i can beg it, or as i can do it myself.

Do you have a PE or the engineering skills to work out dynamic loads on the structure after you remove its internal "structural walls?"

no, but i plan to place as much of the load as possible onto the 4 corners of each container. the beauty of shipping containers is they are designed to have all their weight carried on the posts. the roof would span from the doors to the peak and then to the back wall of the containers leaving an open dormer above the 40x40 open space. i'd be using that open dormer for the whole house heater to exhaust into. there would be no snow load weight on the side walls at all the way i hope to build this thing. there would be some weight on those interior wall spans, but only the weight of the bars themselves and what little weight goes into the drop ceiling, lighting, air ducts, and insulation. they should be able to handle that, considering the rigid frame of the container is still fully intact... only the corrugated wall's would be removed which prevent the container from a banana or canoe bend when they pick it up by the corners at the docks. this thing won't need to suport loads that way once it's welded to plates on concrete posts.

You get a weather proof box with SCA but you still have to build all the conventional mechanicals that go into any home (or at least some of them.) Have you done a "side to side" comparison with other building forms?

by mechanicals i assume you mean plumbing, electrical, lighting, duct work, etc... if so that is something i can do myself. i've done all of them and would have no problem with it... but i'm sure there are certain things i wouldn't be able to do because of the federal/state/local code pirates

>




Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Lets get through these Q&A and then we can go one?

Regards,

jay


hope those replies shed a little more light on what i'm thinking/planning... and again thanks in advance for all your help, i was hoping to find someone here that builds houses that can tell me what i'm doing right and wrong so i'm happy to see you picked up on the thread.

Mike Leo wrote:I do know that while shipping containers look incredibly strong the way they stack them up in storage to use for building they often need substantial structural reinforcement even before you start the conversation about removing walls, which might be a painful proposition in itself just based on the amount of hours with a plasma cutter needed.

In your proposed design you would be balancing the load of the roof all the way across all the "open space" and the walls of the containers which are much weaker than the corners would be bearing much of that weight, probably requiring heavy beams to hold up the roof, even more so if you're in an area with more than token snowfalls.

If that's the design you envision you might be better off comparing the pricing of your heavily modified shipping container design with the cost of just erecting a post and beam support for your roof and putting up metal siding (perhaps cut from your surplus shipping containers). Whether you are reinforcing the shipping containers with the supports, or throwing metal siding on the existing roof and supports the engineering and design is going to be pretty much the same.

Which means by the time you get there maybe building an open concept log or cob home might achieve your goals even easier.

One last piece of advice, if you plan on building alternative make sure your proposed building site doesn't have code restrictions that will make your build more difficult, or laws that will make any difficulty finding insurance problematic. You will probably also find that financing alternative buildings can be an issue as well, because when you can't just resell the property like a conventional home banks don't feel comfortable "taking the risk."


yes, thanks for the input and i because i've covered a few of those points above i'll just retouch them to save reading...

the interior walls will support no real load, in fact it would be rare that a person would ever walk on them once the roof is installed, that being said they should be fine as part of the rigid box frame system without the load bearing corrugated walls. the exterior walls however will be supported with box tube metal framing to lock them in place prior to cutting the openings, this would be far stronger than the way they were prior to cutting and wouldn't result in even a temporary loss of structure.

the roof load would be placed squarely onto the corner posts and not the actual walls. those posts are designed to hold 8 containers fully loaded with product (tons and tons) so i hope i'm right in thinking it would be able to handle the snow load.

aside from that... yeah i'm worried about the building codes myself. seems like it's getting harder and harder in this country to just go off on your own and be left alone by government on all levels. i'm hoping all of this can fly, and i've got a lot of digging to do on making this building up to code (united states, NW ohio).

trying to take this one step at a time and i figure i'm better off going in with plans and drawings and proof of concept and asking what's do-able than i am just pitching an idea to a guy.

R Scott wrote:Welcome.

They look awesome, but they do have their downsides. Buy already insulated ones if at all possible.

If I were to do it, I would build them like the attached picture. only four containers and an open courtyard in the middle, could be kitchen garden if the over-roof has enough glass.



yeah i like that design, it was one of the first ones i was thinking of using... the only problem i had with it were the way there would be that odd open door on the corner of each side. perhaps it's my OCD but i like things to look even. the other problem is it constricts the design with those 4 interior posts. you are kinda held to building your interior walls near the corners to hide the posts or be restricted to living your life in shades of 8 feet widths.

here's another design i was thinking of, the idea being to make the openings between the two containers 40 feet wide so you could close off the ends with containers (6 containers total instead of 4)



i've got a million other designs sketched up, a few of them would be fantastic if i had a huge budget, but this home needs to be simple and "upgradeable"
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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For simple (cheap) and upgradeable a big limit will be your roof trusses. 24 foot span are pretty cheap, 32 not so much, bigger than that you can get expensive fast depending on the roofing used and snow load requirement.

Most I have seen convert those end doors to windows/doors with hurricane doors.

8 foot wide is a really narrow room, so single-wide setups are challenging. Tiny houses address this in various ways, take notes of the ones you like.

That barn design is a good one for a barn, but it puts the living spaces closest to the elements.
 
jason smith
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yeah perhaps i should throw a few sketches out here so you guys get a better idea of what i'm thinking...

here's a horrible mspaint drawing for now until i get more time to do it better justice



as you can see all the doors of the containers are facing the same side, and are then glass blocked in around windows and doors. this side of the house would be facing south west (i think) for the best solar gain during the winter.

from there i'd be able to cut in more windows along the sides and back walls but each of those would need to be framed before they are cut with square metal tube.

i'd probably paint the inside of the container doors white and connect them with a removable bar that connects them but allows them to pivot in unison (like a window shade) to track the sun. leaving them on allows me to close them during the summer if i ever want to cut the sun out or secure the building for when i am away for extended periods of time. i know that sounds kinda goofy lookin but it has the added benefit of allowing me to use the doors as large wind scoops to direct a draft into the house. no sense in wasting them.

i'd also use the metal i remove from the inside walls of each of the remaining containers (a total of 8 walls that are aprox 9 foot by 40ish feet wide) for constructing lockable drop down awnings and a back porch, possibly some low cost out buildings as well (chicken coop, rabbit pen, solar dehydrator, etc...).

 
jason smith
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thought i should post some quick details about the option i decided on for the foundation and just bounce this off those who would know if this is correct or not...

if i'm building this without a basement, but with a crawl, i think a post foundation would be acceptable, here's a few MS paint's on what that would look like (again for you guys to critique and possibly to help others)

the posts are poured, then a plate with rebar welded to it is pressed into the wet concrete, then the plate is leveled and the whole thing is allowed to cure

like this:



once cured you drop the containers onto the posts and weld them to the plate... like this:



 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Jason,

I may end up asking you more questions, than actually giving you answers, but hopefully the questions will help you form your own answers.

Everything you are showing me seems plausible, (I'm not sure if it is the best choice from a "man hour" perspective, but that is relative and subjective.)

I don't know you well enough or truly comprehend your skill sets but I would say you definitely need a PE to sign off on the project, I would recommend Ben and "Fire tower Engineers" and his team. I have been in the "trades" for over 30 years, and I still turn to them for my "backcheck," on many projects. You are not doing anything that unusual, but you are combining elements that are normally not, ergo you need to really be careful of your load dynamics and moment inertia.

I think you would benefit from downloading the most recent version of Sketchup for 2013 and using it to design, plan, and think through your project. It is worth your effort to learn this very intuitive CAD program.

It looks as though you are considering some "passive solar" aspects. IMO most often this is a wasted effort in most architecture as the sun can warm in the winter but also bake the structure in the summer, so you are in a state of managing this passive system often in ways that are not worth the effort in most designs I see. Fenestration can make or break a good design not only in function, but in energy efficiency as well. I design for function and aesthetics, and one cannot be allow to outweigh the other. A simple attached greenhouse or solarium can do all the functions of "passive solar" fenestration while still allowing the architecture to be independent to a great degree from that space as it applies to HVAC. You also get the benefit of this spaces other potential functions.
 
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