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A tale of two shipping containers
December 9, 2012 7:35 AM   Subscribe


 
Oh dang, for a hot minute there I thought it was going to be a shipping container love story!
posted by Mooseli at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


The builder's blog is here. Aaaaaand, I'll just leave the motivation over here (the builder's other blog).
posted by andorphin at 7:43 AM on December 9, 2012 [16 favorites]


That's amazing. Though if I were building my own place in the woods, I'd still go with the dome home.
posted by subbes at 7:45 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to build something out of a shipping container. I once visited a friend in Humboldt County who had a pair of containers buried under his chicken coop, where he... erm... practiced horticulture. It was just such a cheap solution to the problem. His house (waaaay "off-grid" in the woods) was a kit that was originally intended for making a garage for heavy plant. I love this kind of adaption of industrial materials.

But yeah, this build... wow... interesting fabrication but the decor is staggeringly bad IMHO ;)
posted by samworm at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mooseli, isn't it though? They moved in together and everything!
posted by heatherann at 7:48 AM on December 9, 2012


The decor scares me, but I was convinced at "Taj Malodge".
posted by ztdavis at 7:55 AM on December 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


End times are a good motivator. I wish projects on my house happened with that kind of alacrity.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I did get that prepper vibe when I saw pictures of hundreds, if not thousands, of cans of food.
posted by squorch at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


I love how it seems like he just drew the desired connecting partition in magic marker, waited a bit and then lifted out the wall protractor to use as an awning, like Wile E Coyote drawing a tunnel on a wall of rock. I want a marker like that.

Maybe the Q division can provide some kind of industrial acid pen like the ones they use to get into bank vaults.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kind of neat, but I don't really see what benefit the shipping containers provide, since he had to install framing all along the walls anyways.

And I can't tell if this is in a snow-prone region, but I would be somewhat concerned about the load bearing ability of the container once a giant archway is removed from one side.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:11 AM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to wonder what, if any, the cost savings were, using two containers as your frame, as opposed to framing-up the home using traditional methods? Especially since he basically framed-up the walls anyway, in order to insulate the place.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:11 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The second container he dropped off was 3' away from my other one and I guess that was a close as he could get, but again a little ingenuity and I got the two married.

Container marriage is the first sign of end times! Run!
posted by orme at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2012


Shipping containers are wicked cheap for what they provide. Basically the cost of shipping them back to China empty compares unfavorably with the cost of just bulding a new one in China, so the empties pile up in the US and if you're anywhere near a port city you can get a 40 footer delivered for a couple thousand dollars. Meant to carry 50,000 lb payloads and stack 10 high they are ridiculously overbuilt compared to normal construction techniques. Cutting openings in them compromises them a bit but properly anchored down they will laugh at weather events that would flatten a normal structure. Just the thing to ride out the End Times, or if you're afraid of tornadoes.

(I put a lot of work into ideas like this a few years ago. Then the housing market collapsed.)
posted by localroger at 8:14 AM on December 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


So cool! Then I saw the dead deer over the bed.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:16 AM on December 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think doomsday preppers like these containers as shelter as I've heard they are 100x stronger than timber frame construction, fire proof (provided you don't line the inside with wood I suppose), EMP-proof if setup properly and pretty cheap and easy to come by.
posted by ill3 at 8:16 AM on December 9, 2012




I wonder about his just placing it on leveled ground. Seems like there should be a slab or at least compacted gravel under that thing, especially where he has it raised on concrete blocks. If he only needs it to last one year though, who knows.
posted by orme at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


On cost savings, one thing to note is that you can live inside it while you work, and traditional framing is more complex, with layers of siding, house wrap, and sheathing. Also, the structure is partially earth-bermed for warmth, which is easier to do with rust protected (that white gunk in one of the pics) steel walls.
posted by hanoixan at 8:21 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


The decor scares me

I was surprised by the decor, I was sure it was going to end up as something from Unhappy Hipsters. I've never been inside a shipping container, would they not need to insulate the interior face of the container wall? Looks like they left it bare in a lot of places.
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:22 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to wonder what, if any, the cost savings were, using two containers as your frame, as opposed to framing-up the home using traditional methods? Especially since he basically framed-up the walls anyway, in order to insulate the place.

Yeah, I was really wondering about that. I wonder why he spent so, so much money on all that lumber for all his walls? Seems to me it would have been much cheaper, and just about as good, to fill the spaces with insulation, and then put drywall on top.

I guess he had to do the full lumber framing on the inside, with normal spacing and all self-supporting, because it would have been hard to attach the lumber to the containers without punching holes through the metal, potentially causing leaks later on.

Another thought that occurs is that partially burying the containers might mean a later rust problem. Regular exposed metal you can paint whenever needed, but if it's buried, once the paint degrades, there's no easy way to replace it, and the rust will start. Good for insulation value, maybe not such a hot idea for long-term viability of the structure.

Wonder how much it cost him, in total?
posted by Malor at 8:23 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Especially since he basically framed-up the walls anyway

He saved the costs of bracing (his framing doesn't have to hold up a roof truss), moisture barrier, sheathing, siding, roofing, and a metric crapload of trimwork. Framing only accounts for about 10% of the cost of standard frame construction. Making it waterproof where all the pieces fit together is a surprisingly brutal chunk of the expense, due to the fitting labor involved.

Also, shipping containers are hermetically sealed (at least before you start cutting openings in them) and they don't need a foundation because there's a tough steel sheet under that original wood floor.
posted by localroger at 8:26 AM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


It looks like he used some kind of very serious coating on the part of the house that he buried, like Rhino-Liner or something. Doesn't look likely to degrade any time soon.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:26 AM on December 9, 2012


Wonder how much it cost him, in total?

I'd say 20k if I had to guess.
posted by hanoixan at 8:28 AM on December 9, 2012


The builder (I believe, but maybe not) addresses all of these questions and other questions in the reddit on the same subject:

lol @ all the assumptions in the comments here, gotta address a few.

this is considered a house, many people build homes out of these shipping containers, as you can see from the pictures they are framed in, wired, plumbed, and finished just like a standard stick built home.
in many cases the outer coating on these things is first done with a super-therm stucco application (credit card thick layer is roughly R-20), then painted. they provide excellent insulation once you have studded and insulated the interior walls (most people use closed-cell expanding foam instead of rolled fiberglass).
it makes a lot of sense to use these containers to build a "normal house" because the cost is about %25 less than traditional framed homes and you wind up with something about 100x stronger. if you just google image search "shipping container homes" you'll find a large number of homes built like this. some of them look like they are made from containers, some of them you'd have no idea unless someone told you (again for about %75-%80 the cost of a stick built home).
the interior wood is fine, if the exterior was shot with super-therm stucco (as it appears to have been) then you aren't going to have condensation issues. unless you are boiling water and taking showers 24/7 the air between the inside of the shipping container and the inside of the walls is not going to become saturated with moisture enough to cause any sort of moisture problems.
people complaining about the "interior" of this thing like it simply has to be some "minimalistic" "modern" bullshit because it was built from a container are hilarious. the beauty of using containers is that you can stack them up and build them out like giant lego bricks, then finish them however you want. you aren't stuck with any one exterior or interior just because you decided to use a different material for the walls.

to recap

it's not cheaper to build a regular house, there will be no mold issues, it's insulated better than your house, and it's probably 100x stronger than your house.
posted by newpotato at 8:29 AM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


This would make a good premise for one of those contest shows on TV.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:36 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shipping containers are wicked cheap for what they provide.

I get this, but I can't honestly think of a scenario where "what they provide" would be of any use. You could build a house that was 1,000,000 times stronger than a wood framed house, but I just can't see how that would be of any benefit.

Just running through a list of potential "hazards":

Blizzard - Wood frame is fine, no benefit.
Thunderstorm - No benefit.
Lightning strike - Maybe, I guess?
Earthquake - Wood seems to survive ok.
Hurricane - No benefit, windows still would be damaged, wood house would still survive.
Flood/storm surge - No benefit.
Tornado - Ok, I'll give you that one, but chance of one particular house getting hit by a tornado is incredibly low. Plus your windows and interiors are still trashed, and a basement would have been safe enough.
EMP (???) - No benefit, you just cut giant holes in your faraday cage.

Is there some disaster that I'm missing?
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:37 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I can't tell if this is in a snow-prone region, but I would be somewhat concerned about the load bearing ability of the container once a giant archway is removed from one side.

I've read (online) that the walls don't actually provide much support. It is all the strength of the corner posts and frame. Even without walls at all, a container should be able to support multiples of its weight, so snow load shouldn't be an issue.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:38 AM on December 9, 2012


Does the metal expand and contract with heat/cold?
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another thought that occurs is that partially burying the containers might mean a later rust problem. Regular exposed metal you can paint whenever needed, but if it's buried, once the paint degrades, there's no easy way to replace it, and the rust will start. Good for insulation value, maybe not such a hot idea for long-term viability of the structure.

They're made of Cor-Ten steel.
posted by octothorpe at 8:43 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically the cost of shipping them back to China empty compares unfavorably with the cost of just bulding a new one in China, so the empties pile up in the US

If that's true (this source says not really) somebody is missing a major business opportunity, which is to build shipping containers that are more specifically designed to become components for housing or other kinds of buildings. For example they could have knock-outs for doors, windows, plumbing etc. Anyway, see some interesting other uses for them in that same link.
posted by beagle at 8:45 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone comment on a) whether these things are required by law to meet building codes (I'm guessing yes) and b) whether this construction appears to meet those codes, and if it doesn't, why not?
posted by Rhomboid at 8:45 AM on December 9, 2012


I can't find any mention of whether he used a "food grade" shipping container or not, and my understanding is that your standard non-food-grade shipping container is chock full of pesticides and chemicals that make converting it to a home a really bad idea, even if framed in and insulated.
posted by Challahtronix at 8:46 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


a super-therm stucco application (credit card thick layer is roughly R-20)

R-20 from something so thin? Sorry, but this does not sound believable.
posted by orme at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there some disaster that I'm missing?

You are glossing over an awful lot of risks. Safing a house against, for example, hurricane force winds costs extra, so it's usually done only in places where hurricanes are expected. Put a San Francisco house with no hurricane clips in New Orleans, it will lose its roof in the next storm. Put a New Orleans house witout the extra earthquake bracing in San Francisco, and plan not to be in it for the next earthquake.

Basements are safe in a tornado if you're in the basement. What if you're asleep?

Also, the containers are much safer for lightning than a normal house for the same reason cars are -- the metal conducts the charge to ground and it won't catch on fire.

It's not completely safe to bury a container -- I did a lot of math on this, after measuring some actual container corrugations (this isn't part of the container spec). Half-berming as the OP seems to have done would be OK. Snow load could be a problem.
posted by localroger at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2012


The interior wood walls is a scandinavian design thing -- if I remember correctly when you're in a place with long winters and not a ton of windows, you cover the walls in a light wood to brighten the place up and warm up the looks through wood. Plus, you can hang a picture anywhere since you don't need to really find a stud.
posted by mathowie at 8:50 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was the best of designs, it was the worst of designs.
posted by mule98J at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


Rhomboid: "Can anyone comment on a) whether these things are required by law to meet building codes (I'm guessing yes) and b) whether this construction appears to meet those codes, and if it doesn't, why not?"

Looking at his plumbing, no, it doesn't meet International Plumbing Code (considering he's a prepper, maybe that's on purpose). It's well done, but drainage-pattern fittings (sanitary tees vs. regular tees; wyes and 1/8-bends for branches) were not used, and it looks improperly vented. The macerating toilet was a nice touch, though.

However, outside of municipalities, there are often a complete lack of inspections, code requirements, code enforcement, etc.
posted by notsnot at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2012


a) whether these things are required by law to meet building codes (I'm guessing yes)

This depends entirely on where you are bulding and the mood of your local inspector. Most states now have statewide UBC, so yeah, but if you have enough acreage there is often an exception for "farm structures." A few states still don't have statewide code; the Mississippi county clerk where I was considering moving actually laughed at me when I asked about requirements. There if you have 1.6 acres and install an approved sewage plant you can put up anything you want. And the only sanction on that requirement is that they won't run power to your property if you don't comply; they won't actually show up with a bulldozer to raze a noncompliant structure.

Some title deeds prohibit trailers, although you could put up a storage shed from Home Depot on those same properties and get it hooked up to the utilities. Some inspectors would, in a rural area, just shrug and let the OP go even though it should be code and they'd find a bunch of stuff wrong in a more densely populated setting. And some inspectors would -- shocking, I know -- look the other way for a friendly donation.
posted by localroger at 9:00 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are at least three businesses in the NOLA area that aggressively advertise used containers for sale, and I know of an outfit that turns 20-footers over into turnkey hunting cabins for delivery throughout the Southeast.
posted by localroger at 9:03 AM on December 9, 2012


R-20 from something so thin? Sorry, but this does not sound believable.
posted by orme at 10:47 AM on December 9 [+] [!]


Not even a little bit believable, I think...all that comes to mind is aerogel and I don't think it's a) available, b) sturdy or c) affordable.
posted by werkzeuger at 9:04 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I were building a sea-can home I'd sand-blast the interior first... easier welding and cutting. I'd think about building an exterior straw bale insulation wall instead of framing the insides if I were out in the middle of nowhere. I'd also build a bit of a sloped sheet metal roof to help the snow slide off in the winter. Building with a sea-can saves a lot of work if the size works for the application. I plan on building a shop with one before I try anything crazy like a house.
posted by glip at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


a super-therm stucco application (credit card thick layer is roughly R-20)

R-20 from something so thin? Sorry, but this does not sound believable.


He never said you have to use the smallest dimension of the credit card.
posted by Behemoth at 9:06 AM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Cool. Lost me at Thomas Kinkade.
posted by sutt at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good workmanship and ingenuity. Respect!
posted by Argyle at 9:11 AM on December 9, 2012


I'd love a seacan home, but that decor was horrible. I just knew it would end up like that when I saw the latticed door and windows. Something contemporary would fit better with the bones of the place.
posted by arcticseal at 9:12 AM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark!

Also, I guess I missed the move from "Survivalist" to "Emergency Preparedness Expert" to "Prepper". New thing learned!
posted by jscott at 9:16 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


You are glossing over an awful lot of risks.

I disagree. My point wasn't that any house anywhere can withstand anything, but that a wood framed house built with regards to the applicable local disasters can survive approximately as well as this shipping container house.

I will grant that the shipping container is better if you are worried about tornados while you are sleeping and/or lightning strikes. But that's sure not a very convincing list, to me at least.

I've read (online) that the walls don't actually provide much support. It is all the strength of the corner posts and frame.

That's pretty cool.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I laughed at the back window, one corner right on the sloping ground. Gonna leak.
posted by RedEmma at 9:20 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


But that's sure not a very convincing list, to me at least.

In my case, it was my wife who wanted a tornado proof house if we were going to move to mid-Mississippi. Tormados are like a reverse lottery; not many people lose, but those who do have a distressingly low survival rate. Also, even if you get to the basement it's not necessarily all that safe if the house gets shredded and dropped on you down there.

It is pretty much impossible to design a truly tornado proof house with standard construction materials; tornadoes destroy houses by pressurizing them -- tornado force winds going through an open or broken window or door can generate 1 to 3 PSI interior pressure. Houses are not designed to withstand such forces and making them do so would be very expensive. For the shipping container, those forces are trivial.

I know one survivor who built his next house out of cinder blocks, including interior walls. And he was still unsure whether the roof would stay on if it happened again. (I did the math. It wouldn't. He's since moved out of tornado country, so it didn't bother him much to hear that.)

Anyway, in the end it became much harder to turn over our current house and we realized that it did, in fact, survive Katrina and anything it wouldn't survive would probably put a serious crimp in everything else for hundreds of miles around as well, so whatever.

So maybe you're comfortable living with the risk of tornados, but I know at least one person who isn't.
posted by localroger at 9:36 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shipping containers are wicked cheap for what they provide. Basically the cost of shipping them back to China empty compares unfavorably with the cost of just bulding a new one in China....

This is also true in the developing world, and thus containers are often re-used as semi-permanent living or business structures that are much more durable than buildings constructed by traditional methods. I learned that while living in Burkina Faso. But we don't have a port, so they're still a bit rare. On the other hand, as I discovered on a trip to Dakar, Senegal, in places with ports where they are more widely known, they have become so popular that there is a thriving industry for metalworkers using corrugated tin to make homes that look like shipping containers!
posted by solotoro at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


So cool! Then I saw the dead deer over the bed.
Yep, as you scroll down this is where it went from "cool adult pillow fort" to "8 pounds of ugly in a 5 pound sack".

Also, I was disappointed not to see Valchek’s surveillance van.
posted by blueberry at 9:46 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


the cost of shipping them back to China empty compares unfavorably with the cost of just bulding a new one in China

The cargo ship has to go back to China though....
posted by miyabo at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2012


Couldn't we just make a mansion out of it instead?
posted by ODiV at 10:15 AM on December 9, 2012


It's an interesting project well executed (for what it is) but then again I like wood interiors.

Some thoughts though on the legality and viability of such a project. Some of this is going to be Canada specific so may not apply everywhere.

Shipping containers used as buildings are advantageous in that they are immediately weather tight. If you have no construction experience and/or need immediate shelter and/or need to stretch your building project out over a long time this is a significant win. Left exposed to the weather a good coat of paint over proper preparation will last several decades and is easily renewed with a spray gun.

Drawbacks: The steel skin acts as a air/vapour barrier but unless you put your insulation on the outside (thereby negating the big advantage of a shipping container) the vapour barrier is on the wrong side. The process pictured is basically the worst way of doing it. The poly vapour barrier is a weaker vapour barrier than a sheet of steel. Moisture will transpire though it and though every joint and hole (even is sealed with acoustical sealant which the builder didn't do at least on the stud faces).
  1. Because of this vapour will move from the room;
  2. through the poly;
  3. through the fibreglass insulation;
  4. be unable to get through the steel so it'll condense on the relatively cool steel instead;
  5. then the now liquid water will wick into the fibreglass where it will be held in constant contact with the steel and the wood keeping them damp because the water can't get through the plastic.
It's a recipe for mould and rust. If you are going to insulate a steel container on the inside use spray on foam.

Also no insulation is R-20 per mm; at least nothing you can actually use cost effectively for building. The only thing that comes close (because of how they game the testing system) are radiant barriers and those are very situationally specific. So just a thin exterior coating isn't doing anything besides possible rust proofing.

Containers are very strong and ones that maintain their structural integrity only need to be supported in the corners. So you don't need anything underneath though it is common to use gravel to provide drainage an a relatively inhospitable place for rodents. Cutting windows like shown is generally acceptable is kep to less than about 10% of the wall area. Cutting a huge hole (on both sides of one of the containers no less) is less acceptable. To see this in miniature take an empty steel food can. Place it on end. observe that you can stand on it without it collapsing. Now cut a big hole on opposite side of the can and try standing on it. with a big enough hole it'll collapse. And containers are worse than cans because they are flat and don't have the curve of a can to help with rigidity. The wall corrugations are the only thing holding the roof up. Usually you'd use steel beams to compensate of which I didn't see any in the pictures.

So that means that snow loads are maybe going to be a problem on this building. An unmolested container will handle several feet of wet snow but this container won't any more I'd bet. May not be a problem for this owner.

On the windows: One of the basic rules of construction is you don't want to rely on a sealant (silicone or whatever) to keep rain out. You want the structure to shed water outwards even if the silicone fails. One of the problems with steel containers as housing is it is tough to do this in the corrugated sides without welding in a frame. Can't tell if the builder featured did this.

Rust proofing the exterior if it is going to contact the ground is also a problem. Probably one is best off with a bitumen coating of some sort covered with a drainage material of either crushed drainage rock or a dimpled membrane. Doable but not cheap generally. Also as mentioned up thread containers are not constructed to withstand distributed inward pressure like that exerted by earth. The builder is probably fine but actual burial can be problematic depending on the slump of the earth and depth.

Also his plumbing and electrical isn't to code; common with amateur builders who figure everything is OK if it works.

I'm a little surprised at the taxidermy hate. Is it a general stance against hunting or just the display that offends people?

Regular containers have an unfortunately low height dimension though you can mitigate that by using the less common high cubes.

localroger: "shipping containers are hermetically sealed (at least before you start cutting openings in them) and they don't need a foundation because there's a tough steel sheet under that original wood floor."

I've owned a few and none of them were sealed otherwise they'd explode Oil-Can when heated and the wood floors didn't have any wood underneath. Obviously they aren't all made by the same people so YCMV.

orme: "R-20 from something so thin? Sorry, but this does not sound believable."

It's not. It's a marketing misrepresentation of a special case at best.

miyabo: "
The cargo ship has to go back to China though....
"

It'll be carrying coal, lumber, and nicely compact steel. Really the equation is the cost of slicing up a container to fit in a container to send to china is more than the price of the steel in china + the revenue from selling the container. I'm surprised really that a few west coast ports don't have container shredders.
posted by Mitheral at 10:17 AM on December 9, 2012 [29 favorites]


This is almost totally uninformed, but: won't having a metal skin on your house make it get really, really hot in direct sunlight?
posted by codacorolla at 10:28 AM on December 9, 2012


Interior decorating by Sportsman's Guide (TM).
posted by boilermonster at 10:30 AM on December 9, 2012


Is that a taller shipping container than most? The ones I've been in seem a little low for ceiling fans to be advisable.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:32 AM on December 9, 2012


Having ridden a forklift through the rotted wood floor of a couple shipping containers, I can tell you they're not all built with solid sheet under there. I like this idea, but it's definitely more along the 90's Arizona desert militia style than my personal taste. Time and experience with so-called rust proofing products and condensation that drips down interior walls have also showed me exactly how that would work where I live now (Oregon), humidity and most importantly - relative humidity and thermal differentiation between indoor and outdoor surfaces plays a much more prevalent part in my understanding of home building these days than it did when I lived in the Valley of the Sun. That's why I always laugh when I see these Southern California concept homes where it's some slab of enormous, unreinforced mud-crete with a greenhouse of windows stapled to it, and they call it eco-friendly.

Seeing what that interior condensation ol' Mitheral mentions does to properly code-built buildings made out of breathable materials, I can definitely see the insulation in there softening into a billowing mold spawning reef in under a decade, slowly killing everyone who lived in it with mysterious respiratory disorders. Still a fun idea to reuse all those cheap steel boxes that are stacking up everywhere that still has a functioning dock.
posted by jarvitron at 10:38 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the houses I used to build in the older versions of Garry's Mod, using shipping containers from HL2.
posted by Evernix at 10:41 AM on December 9, 2012


I’m not sure why all the arguing about whether this works or not, this is not the first time this has been done. People have been making houses out of these things for years. They make those offices for construction sites out of them.
posted by bongo_x at 10:50 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, your novel, self-built, cost-effective, environmentally friendly home made with re-used materials as the base is cool and all, but the Internet doesn't like your taste in decor so obviously your efforts are wasted and this project sucks.
posted by schroedinger at 10:51 AM on December 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


> The cargo ship has to go back to China though....

Also, loading several thousand containers onto a ship takes a long time, time which the crane could be better spent unloading another cargo ship.
posted by fragmede at 10:53 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love how the dead-deer room is themed with deer prancing on the sheets. It's like, as you rest in your bunker post-human apocalypse, chill out in the zombie deer room.
posted by angrycat at 10:54 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here is a redditor's highly skeptical take on shipping-containers-as-homes: "From someone who has explored this: DON'T."
posted by zardoz at 11:13 AM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't disagree with the redditor's point but most people encapsulate rather than remove. It's cheaper because it's part of the fit out process. If you freak out when relaxing on a pressure treated deck then a shipping container isn't for you but otherwise stripping to bare steel is unwarranted.
posted by Mitheral at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you do decide shipping container dwelling is for you, make damn sure you get the original flooring out of there first - & you need to use hazmat equip & processes when doing so. It is heavily impregnated with highly toxic insecticides (prevention of bug transfer from Place A to Place B while in its shipping role).

That said, it's a great framing shortcut that can be skinned with whatever material you want once insulated. For me, I'd do a hybrid approach with a couple of containers spaced apart rather than sistered, with a stick built common area between for light & more space.
posted by yoga at 11:35 AM on December 9, 2012


It's a recipe for mould and rust. If you are going to insulate a steel container on the inside use spray on foam.

This a billion times. Unless he installed an active ventilation system i.e. a fan, this house is going to unliveable in a couple of years. I mean, maybe he's hoping that the fiberglass will act as a optimal medium for filling the walls of mold as some sort of structural insulation, but otherwise... it's going to be real bad in there, soon. Even with a fan I think it's not going to work out in any temperate climate.

Also,he didn't didn't bother to put down vapor barrier under the building or seal the bottom steel (went straight for the truck to his footings) or use gravel for drainage. If the mold doesn't kill him, the steel floor is going to rust out beneath him.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the welds holding the two sides together end up breaking after the ground freezes (see above drainage issue.) He'd have been better off living in a wood shack and it would have been cheaper too.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:44 AM on December 9, 2012


(actually, if the ground freezes he's fucked anyway because he didn't insulate the floor at all.... not sure what climate he's in)
posted by ennui.bz at 11:51 AM on December 9, 2012


I can't imagine a steel container is full of much of anything once empty and pressure-washed.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:04 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, loading several thousand containers onto a ship takes a long time, time which the crane could be better spent unloading another cargo ship.

That's assuming the containers are empty when sent back to China. China imports, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2012


China imports, too.

Not nearly as much as we do. The trade imbalance is the single biggest reason for the container glut.
posted by localroger at 12:21 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised it's not worrh shredding these to small-chunk size and/or refining them. We ship a lot of ore to China, and it has only a fraction of metal content by comparison. How can easily-recycled steel not be as valuable as ore?!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:25 PM on December 9, 2012


Is there some disaster that I'm missing?

Time.

You want to build a place you can give to your grandchildren, you overbuild.
posted by mhoye at 12:26 PM on December 9, 2012




The decor took me by surprise, too. Not at all what I would expect from a shipping container house with big arcs cut out.

I can't imagine a steel container is full of much of anything once empty and pressure-washed.

It's the wood floor that I'd worry about, not the steel sides and top.

The low ceiling would be the killer for me -- a bare container is fine, but if you frame in and insulate it it would be like one of those basements where the ceiling brushes my head. Great for shorties, crap for me. And unless he has great shading from trees, there's no way there's enough R value in the ceiling to prevent it from turning into an oven on a sunny day.

The one design for shipping containers that I really like is for a shop, where you put two containers 20 or 30 feet apart as sidewalls/storage and truss in a roof across the gap. Here's a commercial version of that, though I've only seen home-built ones in person.
posted by Forktine at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looking over the guy's blog it seems like there is a hella lot of grinding and welding, hours and hours of hunching over a cutting wheel and breathing through a mask. Wood is pleasure to work with.
posted by LarryC at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2012


I love the idea of an underground home, but I would go with this: Formworks.
posted by Toothless Willy at 2:04 PM on December 9, 2012


this one, in flagstaff, is rather more impressive.
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:15 PM on December 9, 2012


Things I'd have done differently if this was my project (other than the, uh, deer head):

1. Lay down gravel for drainage before placing the containers. This also fixes the ice heaving problem.

2. Not worry about the framing, or use 1x lumber glued to the steel to establish a wall thickness.

3. Polyurethane spray foam insulation (after running the wiring and wall plumbing). It sticks really well to metal and even if not done all at once forms a continuous moisture barrier. It's also reluctant to burn and lasts forever if protected from UV.

4. Instead of the wood interior I'd probably put up hardware cloth as an anchor and spray a papercrete mix I invented that has properties very similar to wallboard. It's completely fireproof, doesn't absorb a lot of water, easily dries completely if it absorbs some (and after being made), looks exactly like wallboard + texture after a simple spray application, and takes paint nicely. (It's a 2-bag mix with 2 bags of clay added if you're into papercrete. Expensive but you only need half an inch of it.)

5. Floor with either tile or poly moisture film + padding + floating floor like Pergo. End of any problems with nastiness in the wood floor.

6. Anchor the thing solidy with screw anchors. It doesn't help your tornado proofing if the entire structure can be picked up and dropped. Also, if the berm is asymmetrical it will attempt to push the structure.

I'd also weld in frames for the doors and windows with attention to shedding water, but I think the OP did that. If I did the berm I'd put a French drain (gravel layer kept clean by landscape cloth) between the berm and the container. Maximum safe height for such a berm is about 6 feet if you don't add (expensive) reinforcement to the container.

High cube containers have better headroom but also cost more because there are fewer of them and people like them better for this sort of purpose. I might go for a mix with better headroom in public areas.

In practice, what I was edging toward before the economy shitcanned my plans was not containers but thin-shell ferrocement barrel vault segments. This promised to be about half the cost of shipping containers without the delivery and handling problems (though you can do a lot with jacks and chainfalls moving 5,000 pound containers around).

I was working on the floor problem when I realized I was probably never going to build. Even if there isn't continuous metal down there, container floors are great subfloors, very solid and stable.

I've been in several work buildings made from shipping containers, most of them built by people familiar enough with what's shipped in them to know better if there were any real hazards. A couple of those buildings survived natural disasters that wiped out the rest of the complex where they were located. One (built with minimal penetrations and the original doors opening to reveal the human scale door and a window) actually floated off and was just dragged back where it belonged after Katrina.

Oh, and if they aren't hermetically sealed -- well, they are still proven to float really well, which suggests a pretty solid reluctance to take on water.
posted by localroger at 2:23 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Haven't seen an example of this in any of the various container homes, so probably not viable, but how strong would one of these things be if you stood it up on end? Would make a (very small) but nice enough multi-storey cabin maybe with large openings on the top floor for a nice view of the beach (or as a lookout/guard tower for the end-of-times people).
posted by Gotanda at 2:52 PM on December 9, 2012


how strong would one of these things be if you stood it up on end?

I think this is a situation where the details of the floor construction, which would become one of the walls, would become a potential problem.

I have seen conceptual drawings with on-end containers, but never an actual build. You would of course have to penetrate the skin to effectively support floors, and that would introduce possible leaks (although polyurethane on the inside might render this forgivable).

You could get 4 practical floors (they're not zero thickness) of 64 square feet (not including the stairs) which is only 256 square feet, compared to 320 using the container as intended. It would probably be more practical to use such an upended container as a stairwell for a structure otherwise consisting of normally stacked containers.
posted by localroger at 3:37 PM on December 9, 2012


I'm surprised it's not worth shredding these to small-chunk size and/or refining them.

My understanding is that the excess containers are routinely bought up by metal speculators who flip them on the scrap market. Or at least they were, before the recession lowered prices enough to make even this unprofitable; their scrapyards are full of metal that they can't afford to move until prices recover. The repurposed container fad got a big boost when prices fell below what a scrap dealer would have (formerly) paid for one.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:11 PM on December 9, 2012


The scrap market was in a bubble that collapsed 3 or 4 years ago. My company was marketing a system for data collection in scrapyards and we had just trekked to England to install a test system to vanguard an expansion into the EU. Then the market collapsed, nobody in scrap was buying anything, prices for scrap halved, and we haven't sold another one of those things since.
posted by localroger at 4:16 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another thought on the OP build: Since he was planning to berm it anyway, instead of welding the containers together it might have made more sense to leave a gap, weld the connections between them (presumably the big D doorway and a couple more for plumbing and electrical connections at the ends) and fill the gap with French drain gravel. This would have eliminated the center gutter problem for shedding rainwater.
posted by localroger at 4:33 PM on December 9, 2012


How's the cellphone reception in a shipping container?
posted by limeonaire at 5:16 PM on December 9, 2012


From Reddit/mexico: Container City, Cholulua, Puebla, Mexico. Just photos, but nifty.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:39 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


How's the cellphone reception in a shipping container?

totally depends on the windows. If service is sketchy outside, bad, but if near an urban area or a tower, no problem.
posted by localroger at 6:06 PM on December 9, 2012


localroger: "1. Lay down gravel for drainage before placing the containers. This also fixes the ice heaving problem."

If it was me I was building a permanent structure solely out of containers I wouldn't let the containers touch the ground at all. Instead I'd pour concrete piers to below the frost line at the four corners and have the containers a step or two above the ground. Give you a place to run plumbing. You'd have to skirt the gap but that is probably a good idea anyways.

Also by bolting the corners to the piers you'd solve any potential uplift problems.

" This promised to be about half the cost of shipping containers without the delivery and handling problems (though you can do a lot with jacks and chainfalls moving 5,000 pound containers around)."

I've twice loaded and unloaded a container with just blocking and a pair of jack-alls/hi-lifts. It's pretty straight forward though you'd want to have at least one person around who has done this kind of work before. The second time we used a stack of 6" fence posts to roll it into a position where we couldn't get a truck.

"Oh, and if they aren't hermetically sealed -- well, they are still proven to float really well, which suggests a pretty solid reluctance to take on water."

True that. Though the roofs being flat they tend to pool water and this can lead to the relatively thin steel on top rusting out.

"how strong would one of these things be if you stood it up on end? "

I wouldn't unless I'd seen it done multiple times without problem. Remember the tin can? Place it on it's side and then step on it and it'll bend really easy. You'll have the same problem with a container though the corner framing might be strong enough to compensate. Also a container is only ~8x8 which is going to be pretty tipsy 40' in the air. You'd need to anchor it well. And you'd need to have your stairs on the outside otherwise your stair case would completely consume your floor space. Using a vertical container for a staircase might work though. The loading would be relatively low and you'd be able to mitigate the tipsiness by attaching it to the main structure.

Really though when you get down to it once you are joining multiple containers together there are several methods of construction that are cheaper, better and faster depending on your other constraints.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 PM on December 9, 2012


Mitheral: "If you freak out when relaxing on a pressure treated deck then a shipping container isn't for you but otherwise stripping to bare steel is unwarranted."

Yes, but decks are not enclosed living areas. Apparently pressure-treated lumber is indeed safe for indoor use, although I certainly wouldn't want to be exposed to it with any regularity.
posted by schmod at 10:16 PM on December 9, 2012


They built an incubation center/ startup space here in Singapore out of shipping containers. Unfortunately, it apparently was considered to be quite expensive; that it didn't really take off is true (although whether it is really expensive or not anymore is something I don't have a context for).
posted by the cydonian at 10:25 PM on December 9, 2012


... interesting fabrication but the decor is staggeringly bad IMHO ;)

The decor scares me, but I was convinced at "Taj Malodge".


Oh, yeah. Favorited for truth. Not that I'm any kind of interior decorator, but eclectic doesn't quite describe that ambiance.

I imagine you could either tilt the container a bit and then run an interior floor parallel to the ground by building it up on one end, or put up a shed-row type roof that would extend over several inches and have enough slope to shed water.

But living in a tin box doesn't appeal to me.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:12 PM on December 9, 2012


kiltedtaco: Kind of neat, but I don't really see what benefit the shipping containers provide, since he had to install framing all along the walls anyways.
The framing isn't structural - that is, it doesn't have to support the load above it. That cuts a lot of concerns out of building - and a lot of work.
And I can't tell if this is in a snow-prone region, but I would be somewhat concerned about the load bearing ability of the container once a giant archway is removed from one side.
Those things are plenty strong. No need to worry; the load-bearing abilities of these containers with 10' holes in /both/ sides have been studied.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:29 PM on December 9, 2012


Malor: Seems to me it would have been much cheaper, and just about as good, to fill the spaces with insulation, and then put drywall on top.
Won't work. The drywall has to be anchored, or the separate sheets will heave apart under normal stress (like leaning on a wall).

So, there has to be a rigid framework to attach the drywall to; lumber is the cheapest and easiest.
kiltedtaco: Shipping containers are wicked cheap for what they provide.

Is there some disaster that I'm missing?
Fire: 100% impervious (until you get to the sill and framing).
Bullets: Far better stopping/slowing power than ply + insulation + drywall.

But yeah: there's no real end-times advantages when the commy mooslem zombie hords are sent by Obama to collect our wimmen and gunz.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:37 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why wouldn't one use spray foam insulation on the outside?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:28 AM on December 10, 2012


Why wouldn't one use spray foam insulation on the outside?

The spray foam would degrade if exposed to the elements. You could use it on the outside, but you'd need to add a protective sheathing.
posted by orme at 8:54 AM on December 10, 2012


Fire: 100% impervious

For fires that begin outside the container. No protection against fires that start inside the structure, which is the vast majority of all house fires.

Bullets

Yeah. sure. If you're worried about bullets, then build a container-home.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:14 AM on December 10, 2012


Something contemporary would fit better with the bones of the place.

I think so too. I've been following Sarah House on Face Book for a few weeks. Found it on the Tiny House Blog. Love the mcm lines.
posted by jvilter at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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