By Tara Dodrill
Shipping containers have become increasingly popular in the off-the-grid community. Recycling (or upcycling) cargo containers into energy efficient and environmentally friendly dwellings is also an extremely affordable way to create your dream home.
Container architecture is “taking the world by storm,” according to Popular Mechanics. The rapidly growing number of Americans opting for the unconventional home-building style would likely wholeheartedly agree with such an assessment.
Containers are now being used to construct homes, vacation houses, schools, office buildings, shopping plazas and even portable cafes. While folks have converted shipping containers to suitable yet Spartan makeshift shelters for many years, the clever professional and novice home designers have propelled the movement into the mainstream. Living inside a cargo container home should not illicit images of cold metal walls and a cramped space — quite to the contrary. Containers are now commonly being used to construct multi-story, spacious and even upscale living quarters for people in all types of income brackets.
Shipping containers are about 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall and come in both 20- and 40-foot long styles. The average price of a long container is around $3,500. The containers can be cut apart and welded back together to form rooms or a home two or three containers wide – or simply left together to form a single container home.
Some shipping container home builders are extending their efforts into the backyard recreation realm as well and sinking a container in the ground, building a deck around it, and using it as a swimming pool. While the metal containers may seem like great shelter building materials, many of those who have attempted such a feat caution against it – the weight of the soil around the containers has caused cave-ins.
While researching the options and possibilities of shipping container homes, I became so inspired by the idea that I decided when we start building our new home on a beautiful patch of land in southern Ohio, we would incorporate the cargo containers into the project. My husband wanted an earth berm dwelling for its geo thermal and defensive attributes, but we have come to a compromise and designed our dream home utilizing both concepts. Once we begin the building project, we will document the entire process and share the successes and obstacles encountered.
Off The Grid News recently spoke with a young couple who is building a shipping container home: Ryan and Brooke Naylor. The environmentally minded couple agreed to share some details about their unconventional building plan with Off The Grid News.
(Editor’s note: Hear our Off The Grid Radio interview with Ryan and Brooke here.)
OTG: What prompted you to embark on a container home building project?
Ryan: We wanted to build a unique home out of recycled materials. After doing a bit of research we found out about using freight containers as our framing … and decided to plan our home around this idea.
OTG: How many containers will you be using and how much square footage will they offer?
Ryan: We will be using two containers. Our home will be 1400 square feet total.
OTG: You are recycling, re-using, and upcycling a wide variety of materials for your container home. Such a plan helps keep the cost down and is extremely environmentally friendly. What are some of your favorite finds and how will they be incorporated into you home?
Ryan: Obviously the two 10-year-old containers. We have already used the 100 cement blocks we found on the land we bought buried under brush for our foundation. Just filled them with concrete last week. We used seconds from a local cement company for the rest. We will be using a spiral staircase we found in an empty lot that was given to us. We also have used a claw-foot tub that we bought off of Craigslist and we are using a bunch of huge window panes that were misordered when they renovated the Asheville city court house which were in the garage on our land and came with the property.
OTG: Are you doing most of the work yourselves, or does the project require more technical expertise than the average couple may possess?
Ryan: We are doing most of the work ourselves and have a hand in all of it. We work with professional sub-contractors for the technical aspects such as framing, electric, welding, etc., but have our hands involved with them in all of it. That is a must. We want to build our own home with our hands.
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OTG: Have you run into any problems garnering permits or insurance coverage?
OTG: There are several ways of going about insulation for shipping container homes. What route have you chosen and what type of expense is involved with the purchase of materials?
Ryan: Closed cell spray foam. We will be using this on the inside of the exterior container walls. We will be using rigid foam board insulation inside the block wall foundation and we will be using batt for the roof, under the containers, and for the framed in exterior walls. No insulation for the inside walls. We have not purchased our insulation yet.
OTG: Did you design the shipping container home plans yourselves, with a professional, or find them at one of the many cargo container home blogs and website popping up online as more and more folks fall in love with the unconventional housing option?
Ryan: I own a marketing company called Grow Advertising Design (growadesign.com) and Brooke and I developed and designed the plans. We then took them to our engineering company IONCON (goioncon.com) and had them professionally mastered.
OTG: What type of time frame is involved with turning shipping containers into a liveable dwelling?
Ryan: From the day we got the loan we had one year to build the home. We have been working on it for the last 7 months and have 5 months left to go before move-in day! The nice thing is that 90 percent of the framing is already done.
OTG: No home project, regardless of style, comes without its pros and cons. What have been some of the more memorable moments along your shipping container home journey?
Ryan: So far picking out the containers was fun. We drove to an Atlanta container yard to pick them out and had nine to choose from. Also, pouring concrete was a lot of work but very fulfilling now that we have a physical foundation in place. Challenging part was having our footer red-tagged by the city inspector as we made changes to the blueprints after the city had approved them. We had to have them re-approved before moving forward.
Our blog is 40×28.com. We are having a documentary filmed on our home building project. We also have a number of articles Brook wrote (she is a professional writer) in The Laurel Of Asheville Magazine. …
We are a simple pretty normal family with hopes of a better future for our daughter and a change of heart from the current consumer-based worldview. We believe in recycling in all forms, and that re-use and re-purposing can lead to a cradle-to-cradle economy instead of our current cradle-to-grave mentality. We are not politically oriented and we do not support GMOs or fossil fuel consumption. We would be off the grid if we could afford it, but we are doing things one step at a time and the first step is getting our home’s certificate of occupancy.
This article first appeared at Off The Grid News: Is This The Most Affordable Off-Grid Home?