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umbrella container home

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So I've been researching on different alternative buildings such as container homes earthships and what not. During my research I came across John haits book on the PAHS umbrella home. I haven't finished it yet but I can't help but think about how I could design my own home. For awhile I was thinking about burying a container but I've read many things stating that containers are not designed to withstand the weight of being buried which makes sense. Now the other night I had a thought of what if you turned the container sideways so it was in the shape of a diamond and then buried it? Would the container be able to withstand more weight since the corners and edges are thicker? Or would you still need to build supports to prevent from caving in? If it were to withstand the weight my idea is to lay out 5 containers in the shape of a star and either get a 6th to tear apart and reassemble to connect all the containers together to make a main room in the middle of the star. If this is plausible I would have the bottom of the star facing the south and place windows on the bottom 2 containers lIke you would for an umbrella home. I know in John haits book he's stated that you need between 7 to ten feet of isolation ground, with having a star shape I would fill dirt between each point of the star which would me more than ten feet at the outer edges of the space between the star points with this would You need ten feet of isolation ground on top of the containers? Or could you do with less having an umbrella over the whole structure? Also I know the PAHS system works better with 6 months of summer where I am going to be building is in alaska where summer is not 6 months so I was planning on having a rocket heater to keep my home a little more cozy if needed. This is all just a thought I had and I'm just looking for input from outside of my box. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,

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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Hey sklar, welcome to the forum. I like your ideas and have had some of them myself to some degree. I saw all those millions of pounds stacked on freight ships in container stacks multiple stories high, very strong! As you said though, it is when you apply loading on the sides that problems occur. The way these boxes are constructed is strictly for horizontal perpendicular loading on the corners. The sides are just thin corrugated steel. If you buried one in a diagonal position, the load would still not be distributed in the way it was designed for, and not be safe for any amount of time.

Don't worry though, there is a way if you still want to use shipping containers. Here is a link To an article at container auction.com. They explain the most cost effective way to bury a container is using gabion baskets filled with rocks, or more expensively poured concrete.

Although as they say in their article, if you want to cover the top with earth you will need a truss system that interfaces either with the gabions or the corners of the container, since the roof cannot handle a distributed load like soil. And at that point you've pretty much built an underground home so there is not too much of a need for the container anyway.

After my researching this topic I started to think shipping containers only really make sense if you have a lot of them free, already hanging around where you need them. Buying them, moving them, retrofitting them for livability, and other things that go along with them make them a very high energy undertaking, even though it appears to be recycling on the surface. I could see myself using one as a temporary storage shed or garage, but most likely not more than that.

Good luck!

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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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I agree with Zach. If you are still determined, which is fine, you could look for steel arch culvert that matches the width of your container or retaining wall. The arch will bring the weight to the edges, so you won't be buckling the walls -- theoretically. With steel culvert, you need to follow the backfilling instructions meticulously to avoid catastrophic collapse. Once it is loaded, it should be fine.

Will you be dealing with permafrost? If you need to build for it, do your homework and ask the locals for advice.

You might be able to get PAHS to work for you at that latitude if you boost the Summer heat input with trombe walls or some other solar collector (air or water), piping the heat directly to the insulated mass. You may also need to insulate your mass below, especially if you have permafrost. Maybe a thick layer of rock and gravel, then insulation, then compacted earth. There is a specific name for it, but it escapes me.

Rather than trying to put a lot of mass on the roof, you might opt for a superinsulated roof, covered with a thin, lightweight (relatively) green roof. Maybe superinsulating the entire umbrella would be a good idea.

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