Homesteading with a Shipping Container, Part 9: Installing the Simple Pump

Kevin Hayden – TruthisTreason.net

Source: Elysian Fields Project & Shipping Container Homestead

Water is one of the most strategic preps that one can have should the grid go down or we find ourselves caught in the middle of a disaster. All other preparedness plans fail without it, and even if you stock bottled water or have spare filters, if it is a prolonged emergency, eventually you will run out.

That’s where a water pump comes into play. For those with land or a retreat, even a water well in your backyard, if you are relying on electric or motorized pumps to fill your needs, have you developed an alternative energy plan? Do you have a back-up plan when those solar panels get damaged or your batteries are dead?

I believe in having a back-up for my back-ups, and when assessing my water situation at the Elysian Fields Project, I decided to cut out the middle man and install a manual water pump as my primary plan.

Should we encounter a prolonged grid-down event, or EMP, this pump will continue delivering water as long as I can pump the handle! The Simple Pump can also be motorized with an easy to attach 12v motor in order to take advantage of alternative power supplies, such as solar and wind!

Out at the Elysian Fields Project, there is a large creek that runs through the middle of the land, along with a pond nearby and is snuggled in the midst of a valley. Should my manual water pump fail for some reason, not only can I still obtain water from my roof collection barrels, but I have abundant natural resources at my disposal. As a final means to acquire water, I can also use a PVC “pipe-bucket” and drop it down the water well with some 550 cord attached and retrieve smaller amounts the very old fashioned way!

wellpump2When devising a plan for a retreat, weekend cabin, or your homestead, I urge you to place heavy emphasis on investing in a quality pump. You do the same for firearms, cars, food, and other items; why not research and seek out a durable, dependable means to sustain you with water?

The Simple Pump features CNC machined stainless steel parts, along with aircraft-grade aluminum well caps machined from billet instead of the typical casting process.

It can pull water from well depths of 350 feet, along with pumping into a pressure tank! These pumps can generate up to 100 psi, which can be mitigated with a simple check valve and pressure gauge when used for typical household water needs but comes in handy when moving water over long distances, pushing it into a pressure tank, or dumping into a water storage tank.

With a 50 year warranty, and super easy maintenance, this investment will be pumping water long after I’m gone.

For more information, I urge you to contact a good friend of mine, Mark Smith, who is an authorized dealer of Simple Pumps. He’ll get you squared away with a quote, details, and more!  You can find him at his website, Southern Plains Consulting.

Kevin Hayden is a former New Orleans police officer-turned-truth seeker.  He endured Hurricane Katrina’s chaos and societal collapse in the days following and after 5 years in New Orleans, moved to Oklahoma.  Kevin currently runs www.TruthisTreason.net and works on local politics and education about our monetary, food, and foreign policies while building an off-grid shipping container homestead and helping people become prepared.  He can be contacted directly at Contact@TruthisTreason.net

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Homesteading with a Shipping Container – Part 8, The Carport

Kevin Hayden – ElysianFieldsProject.com & TruthisTreason.net

November 8th, 2011

We are on a roll!  Homesteading with a Shipping Container, Part 8!  In the last segment, I answered some questions that I’ve received via email and the comments section, along with showing you a few of the other projects that are happening out here at the Elysian Fields.  The biggest endeavor currently underway was the camping trailer carport and I’m proud to say that it is finished thanks to the help of some great friends!

The weekend’s forecast looked great and we were not disappointed.  I met the motley crew at the Project Saturday morning and got right to work.  Ralph, from PatriotSeedStore.com, and who has lots of construction experience, helped me set the 6th and final post for the carport while Mark, of SouthernPlainsConsulting.com, and Emery, my girlfriend, began general clean-up of the property and other materials.

It was a massive undertaking because I have been hauling various building materials and cool finds out to the property and it was starting to pile up!  In fact, it started looking like a miniature scrapyard!  The left-over 2×4 walls from the initial cabin build attempt were stacked near the shipping container and had been exposed to the elements for 8 months. Other pristine, new building lumber had been placed under tarps but the sun had finally eaten through the thin plastic covering, and a collection of plywood, bricks, rebar, and a hundred other things were strewn about in hap-hazard fashion.

Had to use bracing - was by myself. No easy task!

Anyway, I wanted to share a few pictures of the “before” so that you could gain a better understanding of how the carport was built or perhaps answer some questions.  I’ve learned that just because I may not consider something important, others won’t.  I’ve read a LOT of articles about owner-built cabins or alternative architecture, and I always complain for the lack of that one photo that could show me how they did something – that one tidbit of information that would make my own build easier.

I set 5 of the 6 posts by myself and used a rotating laser level in order to establish a “baseline” (that’s not the technical term, but it sounds reasonable to me!), and from there, I measured upwards a set distance in order to mark off the top level where the joists would go.  Because the posts were all set at variable depths due to uncompromising ground, this was the easiest way to achieve a uniform measurement in my opinion.  It also required me to stand on the roof of my truck to make the marks and measurements.  Did I mention I only had a 6 foot ladder and these are 16 foot posts?

Laser level would spin around and create a line on all posts. Pretty handy!

Thankfully, this time I had help and they brought a lot of ladders and professional equipment.  Whereas I had been pounding nails with a hammer, Ralph brought a professional framing nailer and a plethora of other goodies that made the job soo much easier!  Thanks again, Ralph!

After we got the final post plumb and in line, we set up a game plan.  The carport was laid out to be 12′x24′ with no specified height yet.  We put up pressure treated 2x8x12′s as the outer rim joints and untreated 2x6x12′s as the main rafters/joists.  We allowed for a 1/2″ drop per foot for rain water runoff and applied old, reclaimed 2×4′s (from the old cabin walls) on top of the rafters.  Finally, the corrugated metal roofing would be attached to these 2×4′s.

Of course, as we continued placing the rafters, it became quite evident that I had done a rather poor job at setting the posts squared.  Add to that, the bowing, bending, and warping of the pressure treated wood, and we had to get creative with a few of the measurements from time to time.

Almost finished with the rafters! Putting the last metal panel up!Mission Accoomplished! You can see the shed cabin and shipping container in the background, plus the newly CLEANED up area!The carport is finished! Yeah!

Putting the last metal panel up!The carport is finished! Yeah!

The carport is finished! Yeah!

After finishing up the carport, we still had some daylight left, so we decided to frame up a small window in the shed/cabin.  I use the shed mainly for storage nowadays, but for weekends where people come out to help work on the Project, it provides a perfect studio apartment.  I figured a small window might do it some justice!  Its future intended use is as an office or workshop, so I might as well install it now!

We also cleaned and organized the 20 ft. shipping container, got the valuable wood and material secured inside, along with a variety of other minor projects.  I feel really, really good about how much was accomplished and it paves the way for the container to be framed out, sheetrock installed, and most importantly, a functioning bathroom!  Once framing and insulation is completed, I’ll begin on the timber-cabin add-on.  I decided that framing and having a functional bathroom was the next priority… but all of that takes money and time.  Something I don’t have much of these days.  I’ve got several donation links over at TruthisTreason.net and you can donate here, as well!

My goal is to be able to move back to the property by spring of 2012.  This requires a water well pump, installing water lines, basic bathroom (I have the septic tank installed, just need to get walls, flooring, toilet, etc purchased and installed), and a few other minor projects.  If you’d like to help, hit the donation links or if you’re in the area, send me an email and we’ll see about getting you out there to the Elysian Fields!  I’ve had several emails from people wanting to come out and lend a hand, which is awesome!

All donations will go towards building materials, such as insulation, framing lumber, concrete, etc.

Until next time, please feel free to leave your comments and questions below or use the Contact Form on the navigation bar up top!  Stay tuned!

Recurring Monthly Donation

PayPal payments can also be made directly to ” contact@TruthisTreason.net ”

One-Time Donation via PayPal

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Homesteading with a Shipping Container House, Part 7 – Questions and Updates

Kevin Hayden – ElysianFieldsProject.com

Welcome to Part 7!  I’m glad you’ve stuck with me and my hectic adventure with a shipping container!  Over the last few weeks, I’ve received countless emails, comments and tweets regarding the project.  Perhaps I can address some of the more common questions in this installment as I don’t have a lot of new content – yet.

I’m right in the middle of some major construction and haven’t quite formatted the pictures or taken enough to really show anything off, but I DO have a couple, which I’ll get to towards the end.  I know that when I visit other shipping container house websites and projects, I want pictures!  And lots of them!  So I’m right there with ya, readers!

As for some of the questions, I’ll just summarize the general ones and do my best to answer them -

  • “I’m wanting to build a shipping container home but don’t know where to start, can’t finance land or can’t acquire financing for the actual project.”

This answer will vary as to how you plan on going about your building project.  I chose the “No debt” route (mostly) and am building my container house piece by piece.  Also, my homestead will not be a massive 6-container structure or built to code, per say.  So, it really depends on what you want out of it.  I can only address the finer points of doing it my way – your mileage may vary, though.

Many people seem to just want a “weekend cabin” or a retreat home, future tiny farm, etc, while others want a full-blown 2,300 sq. ft. house with all of the standard amenities that come with that.  I don’t want that much house.  I have learned to live with less square footage and I plan to keep it that way.  My current plans only call for a small timber-built cabin paired to a 20 ft. container.

As for finance options – If you’re going to build a full house and plan to have a mortgage, there are lending institutes out there that will finance it.  These are for the home builders planning to spend $80,000+.  You just have to hunt around.  You might simply have to take a secured loan or something similar.  I’m not well versed in this route as I hate banks and their fiat money-creating lending practices.

  • “How do you deal with code enforcement agencies or building regulations?”

The land that I purchased is about 35 miles outside of Oklahoma City, in the adjacent county.  This particular county has no building codes in the rural areas and that was a key aspect in my decision to purchase it.  There are a few land covenants and restrictions, but they are minor – no kenneling of multiple dogs, new home construction must be completed in under 9 months, and all housing structures must be painted or have siding applied.

These are easy enough to abide by and should be discussed before any purchase or land transaction takes place.  Some land, such as acreages in the middle of the New Mexico desert or the vast plains of Colorado and Montana probably have no covenants or restrictions whereas anything near a town or city will have much harsher restrictions and code enforcement teams waiting to tear down your dream retreat for minor building violations.  See this short micro-documentary about code enforcement teams in the California desert are doing just that to people who have called the area ‘home’ for decades.  All in the name of future expansion.  Sad, really.

Recent Projects on the Homestead

Now, back to the project!  I used some scrap wood from the previous cabin attempt to build some raised garden beds.  It is far too late in the season to grow much, plus we’ve experienced over 53 days of 100+ degree temperatures this summer.  All of the small farms and gardens have been badly hurt, if not completely burned up during the heat wave.  I’m sort of glad I procrastinated long enough not to plant as I would have been in for disappointment.

But, either way, I’ve reclaimed some of my material and have the garden beds ready to go.  I believe that come spring time (of 2012), I’ll have these other projects out of the way and can devote the required time and energy to the gardening and farming aspect, such as hoop covers, shade cloth structures, etc etc.  Perhaps by next spring, I’ll be ready to move back to the property!

As for the more recent projects, I’ve been busy working on the new renderings of the cabin design, how to attach it to the shipping container, and a large camping trailer carport!

Oh, yeah.  Did I forget to mention that I purchased a 23 ft. camper?  I’ve always been against the idea of having a camping trailer or RV, as I preferred tent camping or getting wayyy back into the woods with my Jeep.  But, having lost my mini-trailer to thieves – the 5×8 enclosed cargo trailer converted for camping from Part 5 – I was going to purchase another one…but got… sidetracked?  More like overwhelmed at the interiors of modern campers!  I probably shouldn’t have purchased it as it is certainly eating into my budget for the Elysian Fields Project, but it has certainly come in handy on those long, hot work days (can we say 13,500 BTU air conditioning?), along with providing a new aspect for emergency preparedness and survival.

Note the nice awning, matching tires and more!

After my very first outing with it – to the Illinois River and then through northwestern Arkansas – I felt like Clark Griswald on vacation.  First, a freak 2-minute windstorm ripped the awning completely off.  Then, on the way home, I had a tire blow-out.  Which shoved a piece of rubber up through the
floorboard – and kitchen floor!  During the bumpiness of the tire blow-out and as I tried to find a place to pull over, the oven door shook loose, stripping the screws from the wood and breaking on the floor.  As if that were not enough, the spare tire that the RV dealership so lovingly supplied was the wrong size.  Epic fail.

But, I finally have it back at the Elysian Fields and safely nestled near the tree line, out of the way.  After a few weeks, it donned on me that I should build a cover or carport for it in order to protect against UV damage and storms.  I devised a plan to build a pole-barn styled cover for it, measuring 12 ft. wide x 24 ft. long and somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 13 ft. in height.  I’m in the middle of this project so the height has yet to be determined.  I am using 16 foot 4×4 pressure treated posts for the support beams so I have some wiggle-room.  The camper is approximately 10.5 feet in height and 24 feet in length when the slide-out is extended in the rear.

In order to build this epic monstrosity of a carport, I enlisted the help of a friend’s powered auger to dig the post holes.  I wanted these poles deep in the ground to withstand wind gusts and strong storms, so I armed the auger with a 3 foot long, 6 inch wide drill bit!

We started it up and I was already picturing completing the framework in one afternoon.  I envisioned 6 holes dug with ease as the auger bore through the dirt.  But… it didn’t.  It offered a tease of what it could do in loose, sandy soil during the first hole.  The rest of the area is solid clay – that has baked in 110 degree weather all summer and turned to brick.  Literally.  We spent the better part of the morning and lunch hour trying to drill down into the ground with zero luck.

I wasn’t prepared to give up that easy, so the rest of the afternoon was spent with a pick axe and shovel.  The following morning, I was back out there with post-hole diggers and my pick axe until finally….finally!… getting the holes to a negligible ~24″ in depth or so; some deeper than others.

Click to Enlarge - Truck shown for comparison size

I was able to get two of the 16 foot posts into place, plumbed and in line (I hope!).  This weekend, I’ll be back out there working on the other four posts and hopefully getting them tied together with a few rafters and joists!  I already about a dozen sheets of corrugated roof metal that a friend donated to the project, so that will go on pretty easily.  I hope.  I’ve never built anything like this, so we’ll see.  Also, I only have a 6 foot ladder, so expect to see pictures of me balanced precariously on the small aluminum ladder, elevated in the bed of my truck.

Hastily made concrete form to add *some* sort of style and aesthetics?

Now, on to the actual shipping container project!  I’ve been researching ways in which to build the timber cabin onto the container and while watching some DIY shows, it hit me. Build it just like an outdoor deck!  There’s the 3rd idea that can be filed under, “Duh!”

I’m going to lag bolt a pressure treated 2×10 to the side wall of the container and attach my floor joists to that.  As for support posts on the opposite side, I’ve decided on using a simple wooden post/pier support, similar to what I’m doing in the above photo.  I’ll place 4×4 posts in concrete, shoot a laser level across them and cut them to the correct height.  I will then continue to build the flooring similar to how to build an outdoor deck.  The plywood that I purchased to re-do the interior floor of the container with will be utilized for this as it is 1″ thick, actual plywood, instead of OSB board.  These 4′x8′ sheets are about $23 each – not real cheap on a small budget!

And speaking of the interior floor, allow me to digress for one moment; after speaking with several flooring people, they all stated that the chemical floor treatment used in the container has probably reduced exponentially over the years.  My container is 10 or 11 years old and they believe that an epoxy floor sealer would have no problem in keeping the toxic fumes from getting through any subfloor installed.  This is great news because my container floor is not just sheets of plywood and easily replaced.  It has metal strips running the length spaced every two feet apart (as skid plates or something).  This would require a LOT of cutting and measuring, so being able to seal the floor with a roll-on epoxy makes me smile.

Now, back to the cabin flooring concept -

As stated, the “deck” will be lag bolted to the container (I plan to use large washers on the interior so as not to rip holes in the metal wall once under load).  The cabin flooring will be a total of around 19 feet in length and 12 feet wide.  The cabin itself will only be 12′x16′ because I’m going to leave the remaining three feet or so for an outdoor staircase in the back, leading to the top of the container (later I hope to install a “green roof” on part of the shipping container and have some room for a chair or small table, perhaps even a small water tank tied into a gravity-fed water system for the kitchen?  Bathroom?  Who knows, but I want access to the top of the container!  That’s precious square footage up there!).

The floor decking is not quite the total length of the container due to how my connex sidewalls are constructed.  It is easier to only attach it to the corrugated wall part instead of trying to tap into the flat metal at the very ends as these are part of the door frame/hinge and are of a heavier gauge metal.

A key measurement that I could not find anywhere on the internet was the depth of the corrugations.  When trying to figure out the length of lag bolts to purchase so as not to mess with my future interior wall studs, I found that the shipping container walls have a depth of ~ 1.75 inches.  I hope this helps someone in their own design.

That’s about all I have for this installment of Homesteading with a Shipping Container!  In part 8, I’ll hopefully have pictures of the completed “camper carport” and some progress completed on the cabin flooring.  I’m trying to make sure and do it right this time.  Any and all comments, critiques, gripes or complaints are welcomed and I hope to hear from you!

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Homesteading with a Shipping Container House – Part 6, The Foundation

Kevin Hayden

March-June 2011

This week, I have some relatively good news regarding the shipping container project.  Part 5 covered the theft that occurred in which I lost over $5,000 worth of tools, guns and ammunition, not to mention my beloved little bug-out trailer.

This entry should be a bit more uplifting, especially when it comes to construction progress on controlling entry and the concrete pillars on which the container now rests.

After the theft, I started collecting spare metal pipes from my job.  We’re going through major re-construction and remodeling efforts, so there are lots of scrap pieces laying around in the dumpsters.  It’s amazing what gets thrown away.

This gate project is temporary in nature.  I may build upon it, but eventually, I foresee nice stone or masonry at the front.  A small stone wall, perhaps?  But, in order to make progress, I need something to stop vehicles and thieves, however crude and ugly.

In regards to the front gate idea, I stumbled across a 16′ foot cattle gate on Craigslist for only $50!  It was brand new; the owner had chosen the wrong size and it had been sitting on his property for months.  I gladly picked it up, even though it was about 30 miles away.  These typically retail for closer to $200.  I snagged some hardware to hang the gate with and headed to the property!

After doing some measuring and brainstorming, I started digging holes for the 9 foot post the gate would be hung on.  With a 4″ inch width, I felt as though this pipe would be plenty strong enough to hold the 16 foot gate.  I had pre-drilled several holes for the hardware and bolts to slip through, and after setting it in 30 inches of concrete with rebar, I realized this might be a two-man job.

You see, while I’m 5’11″ and about 160 lbs., trying to man-handle a 16 foot tubular gate is no easy task.  Then, add in additional laws of physics, and you have a circus act.  Having to try and hang the gate on small hardware, lift it, balance it on random objects that I found nearby, run over and tighten that nuts, prevent the wind from blowing the barely-balanced gate over, and then run back to keep tightening it was surely a class act for the cows at the corner to watch.

With two people, I could have hung the gate in under 10 minutes.  Instead, I spent roughly 45 minutes wrestling with it exploring the English language in all of it’s fiery glory.  More lessons to jot down under the heading of, “Duh!”

After finally getting the gate hung and double-checking it’s ability to swing open with ease, I used a pair of pliers to flatten and strip the exposed threads, preventing the nuts from being taken off.  I might even come back later and spot weld them a bit.

Once the gate was in place, I used several 5′ and 6′ foot scrap pipes to create a vehicle barrier extending out towards the bar ditch near the roadway.  The picture does not do it justice, but the ditch is quite deep and only gets wider and deeper, surely stopping any but the largest of Jeeps or off-road vehicles.  After setting them with rebar, I filled all of the posts with concrete, including the main gate post.

With the entry more secure and my neighbors on the lookout, I was able to focus on the actual shipping container project – finally!

The goal was to get the container up on concrete columns in order to create some air flow underneath and provide a level platform.  The original plan I came up with called for flat metal plates, welded to rebar, to be placed in the wet concrete columns.  That way, I could weld the corners of the container to the tops of the columns, providing cross-wind support and to make sure it didn’t “slip” off the column easily.  In my haste, I decided to pour the columns first and later, expand the size of them.

Instead of welding it to plates, I will run heavy-duty chains through the holes in the corners of the container and sink the chains into the additional column/platform concrete, providing a secure “tie-down.”

But first, the delivery of the container!  My advice to you, if you are receiving it via flatbed or roll-off – build and pour your first two columns or platforms first!  Have the driver carefully set it on the rear columns, if possible, and save yourself a lot of backbreaking work!  I had to not only dig under the container to place hydraulic jacks, but then I had to dig holes under each corner for the columns.  Do this ahead of time and you’ll thank me (that is, if you aren’t pouring a full slab or some other type of foundation support).  If your columns are low enough, you can pour all four and the truck can simply drive over them, but I wanted my container up off the ground a bit, so this was not possible.

I won’t bore you with pictures of every single hole that I dug, but you can get the general idea from the following pictures:

This was the second column footing being dug with a line level in the shot, leveling it to the first one that had already dried and was in place.

I used standard, cardboard sonatubes as concrete forms due to their ease.  I could have simply used scrap wood to build a form, though. Obviously, when filling any hole with concrete, gravel is a good idea to assist with drainage.  I found that by placing the form up on a small concrete block, I was able to get the block level, thereby assisting in making sure that the form was level.  I then bent and placed rebar around the column and two 24″ rebars placed inside the column.  Is this up to code?  Probably not.  I’ve never poured concrete in my life!  Haha!  But it sure seemed like a decent idea.  I suppose time will tell.

In the above photo, you can see how I lifted the container with a jck.  Initially, I used two standard jacks – both from a vehicle and one on each side – to hoist the container up high enough.

The above shot was from the rear of the container.  After finishing the front two columns and returning the following week to work on these, the ground had gotten a bit softer.  Almost too soft!  Using the car jacks placed on both sides of the container, I would crank one up a bit, run to the other, crank it up a bit… but the jacks kept sinking into the ground and angling sideways – backwards – and forwards as I lifted the rear of the connex.  Ugh.  Everytime I would crank it up a bit higher, it would simply push the container.

I parked a pickup truck next to the container, placing on old tire between the bumper and corner of the box, but that didn’t seem to help much.  The front of the container was about to fall off of the columns!  This is when I started using a true hydraulic bottle-jack and I placed it at the rear-center of the container.  You can find these at any auto parts store for $25 approximately, and will lift 8,000 pounds.  20 foot container? 5,000 lbs.  Much easier.  I highly recommend using one, as pictured below.

Why didn’t I do this to begin with? Well, there just aren’t very good spots to place a jack on that back lip.  I was hesitant about doing it, but gave it a shot and it seems to have worked.  I certainly bent the bottom lip a bit, but it held up while I worked.  You’ll notice the ample concrete blocks under this small lip in case the bottle-jack should fail, sink or the lip become too bent.

During my most recent trip out to the Elysian Fields Project, I was able to get a small tractor and brush hog out there to assist in the ever-growing wildgrass.  While there, I had the driver push the container back onto the columns and square it up with the front-end loader.  It worked perfectly!  Annnd, the place looks great now!  The below shot is nearly from the front gate, looking back towards the shipping container build-site (hidden by the large pecans trees).

The next step, now that the tough part of the foundation is completed, will be to work on replacing the wooden flooring inside the container.  I researched numerous ways in which to simply “seal” the floor and keep it from off-gassing the horrid insecticides and chemicals that they soak the wood with, but 1) I’d rather not chance it if I don’t have to and 2) of the two typical chemicals used, I’ve got the worst of them, which makes it harder to seal.  I would rather paint new plywood with a quality, weather-proofing sealant and then paint over it with a safer enamel, but we’ll see what happens as my plans typically change. Hah!

(Editor’s Note: I’ll be discussing the differences in these chemicals at length in the next installment.  My container floor is soaked in Phoxim – and you can find what chemicals were used on your container by looking at the Customs / Import tag found on the front door and checking the ‘Timber Component Treatment.’)

In Parts 7 and 8, I’ll discuss some of the additional projects going on out at Elysian Fields, including raised garden beds, alternative energy efforts and water delivery and filtering!

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Homesteading with a Shipping Container House – Part 5, The Theft

February 21, 2011

In part 4, we left off with the failure of the 90-day experiment and the delivery of the first shipping container. I had hoped to have a lot of good news for this installment of the series, but alas, this will be a brief update with somber news.

I returned to the property this weekend in order to start setting up forms for concrete footings. Upon my arrival, I noticed my little weedeater (from part 2!) was moved. I then noticed that all of my hand tools and a few power tools were sitting in Rubbermaid totes near my pile of building materials. I did not leave them there. My heart raced. Someone was stealing my stuff!

I scanned the property quickly, hoping to see the thief running away but nothing. Literally. Where my enclosed cargo trailer once sat, was now barren dirt. My camping trailer had been stolen! I purchased this trailer with cash after saving for months and months. I carpeted the interior, cleaned it up and installed a camper door on the side. This was the perfect trailer. It was low-profile and cozy for extended camping trips, bug-out situations and disaster response. And now it was gone.

I had a lot of great memories in that trailer and it had traveled all over.  It was always my emergency back-up plan in case of disaster and for extended road-trips.  Now in the hands of some thief who would sell it for pennies on the dollar or let it rot to pieces in his backyard, full of his storage junk.  And if that were not bad enough…

I walk up to my shed cabin, looking it over and sighing in relief that it did not appear to have been broken in.  No damage, no pry marks.  At least my property was safe inside.  I unlocked it and as I pulled it open, the entire door fell off the hinges.  The thieves had carefully taken out all of the security-screws.  I didn’t even want to look inside and see what was missing.  My heart sank.  This shed contained just about everything I owned.  I had used it primarily as storage space since moving into a small place in the downtown area.

Immediately, I noticed my new miter saw and other tools were missing.  I went to check under the bed – where I kept all of my spare ammunition and a few guns.

Empty.  Nothing.

I had been wiped out.  One of my very favorite guns, my AK47 (sentimental value) was gone, along with over 1,000 rounds of .223, 500+ rounds of 7.62×39, 500 rounds of rather expensive, defensive .40 caliber ammo, 250+ rounds of assorted 12 gauge and all of my gunsmithing tools and accessories.  AR tools, sights, extra parts and all of my spare magazines.  Gone.  I had roughly 30 mags for the AK47 and at least 30, if not more, for my AR15. [Editor's Note: Yes, I know, I know.  Op-Sec.  Operational Security.  But it's all gone now, so I'm not too worried!]

I just kind of sat there, bewildered for a moment.

I went outside to look at what else was gone and noticed the inserts to my BBQ grill had been taken out and stacked next to it, prepped for transportation.  Several large Rubbermaid totes were sitting next to this, also ready for transportation and a return visit.  My hunting bow and weedeater were laying next to the shed, as well.  They planned to come back!

To make a long story short, I spend the rest of the day moving items into my shipping container for safety with a total loss of over $5,500.

At the beginning of the 90-day experiment.

 

I now had no space to work inside of the container or prep the floors, though.  I purchased several cut resistent, magnum locks and a disc-lock and secured the doors with 3/8″ zinc-coated chains.  I placed signs on the door of my shed that read, “Smile!  You are on camera!” and put another one near the entrance of the property, directly in the middle of my road.  I laid a thin wire across the entrance to the property, wrapping it around 50+ roofing nails, all pointed upwards, in order to create a temporary spike strip.

I am in the process of installing wildlife cameras in order to take a photograph of the perpetrators should they return, along with a large cattle gate.  But all of this costs money.  Money that I don’t have to spare at the moment.  My focus was to get the shipping container level and up on concrete footings so that I could start working on it.  And now, sadly, my priorities have had to shift to fortifying the place and managing access control.  I will now at least know what their vehicle looks like when they come back so that I can start a grid-pattern search for them in the area.  They are definitely locals – within a 10 mile radius, I suspect.  The local county sheriff’s department have no investigators, so I’m literally on my own here.  I also didn’t have theft insurance coverage for my shed and the trailer was always covered under my vehicle insurance.  Except when it’s sitting by itself!   Bad move.

When I lived in New Orleans, I had a burglar enter my home while I was sleeping.  I chased him out and got a good look at his vehicle as he sped off.  I then spent the next 24 hours searching that side of the city in a grid pattern until I found it parked in front of his house.  After several hours of surveillance, I identified the suspect while he was on the porch.  He had a lengthy history of residential burglaries and it was definitely the guy I found myself face to face with inside of my house. I called my task force partners over to the location and needless to say, we apprehended the guy.  In the corrupt courts of New Orleans - which stand as a sorry excuse for criminal justice – he was found not guilty and released.  Luckily, before he could leave the courtroom, I had already confirmed additional warrants out of Houston, Texas for residential burglary and arrested him in the courtroom as a fugitive.  The Judge and deputies began to freak out, saying, “He was found not guilty, Officer!  Take those handcuffs off of him!”

He was booked on felony fugitive warrants and extradited to Houston on grand jury indictments.  I’m sure he’s still rotting in some Texas prison.  At least Texas offered me a bit of justice.

I digress, but I will find these thieves if I can just get a picture of them or their vehicle.  I will spend the next few years looking for them if needed, because if that did that to me , they’ve done it to others and will continue.

In part 6, hopefully we’ll be able to cover the concrete footings of the container and what I’ve done to prevent access to the property.  I’ll be placing a large tubular steel cattle gate at the entrance.  I’d like to install some metal poles, filled with concrete across the front of the property, near the road.  That should prevent anyone driving around the gate and the creek protects me from vehicle access on the other sides.  My neighbors to the north have a very tough steel gate system in place, surrounded by trees, so that protects me from vehicle approach from the only other access point.

Any recommendations for barriers, barricades, traps, wildlife cameras, etc?

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Homesteading with a Shipping Container House – Parts 3 & 4, The Failed Cabin

June, 2010 – Feb, 2011

A lot has happened since my last entry about the shipping container project.  Almost 9 months, to be exact.  When I last wrote about the project, it was still a field.  I had cleared some land for the housepad, albeit unconventionally, and started construction.  My initial plans called for a shipping container, exclusively – but as most of my plans tend to go, things change.  As most people who dream of a shipping container home have discovered, there is no easy way to get one without a sizable sum of cash.  And that means several thousand dollars just for the container, bit more for delivery.  If you want it lifted anywhere or placed on piers, you can throw in another $500 or so.

Again, after discussing possible options with some colleagues, I decided on building a traditional timber-cabin which would incorporate the shipping container as an add-on, later.  This way, I could purchases the required materials to build a modern cabin (roughly ~$1,800), gain more square footage, have a roof over my head that was not a metal oven and to be honest, I really liked the concept.  Things were still going well at that point, but it took a dramatic change in direction, as you’re about to see.

I purchased a large, lofted wooden shed in order to store building materials and possibly camp in if I were to stay the weekend at the property while working.  It was a decent size – 12′x16′ – and purchased from a local Mennonite builder who has allowed me to make payments until it is paid off ( more debt? At least it’s local and on a handshake ).  I also finally got the land company to get the septic company out to the property in order to install the septic tank.  And that was one of the worst mistakes I could have made.

This septic company continually failed to show for appointments and I continually called both them and the land company.  Either it would rain too much or they would simply blow me off.  We had scheduled another date and I was very vocal about wanting it done so that I could really start building and have a working septic system.

Well, it rained quite a bit the night prior to the installation and I assumed we’d have to reschedule since they had told me time and again they couldn’t install it in mud.

The next morning, I was awakened by large diesels and tractors pulling up next to the shed.  They had completely torn up the trail/road I had blazed and turned it into a literal pig sty.  It looked like a Sunday morning motocross track filled with slop.  Being as I had to go to work that day, I showed them the housepad and where I planned to have a future road into the back portion of the property, along with intended parking areas.  They assured me that they would install the septic lines away from the padsite and leave ample room to drive.  And I believed them.  Mistake #2.

I returned the next day and at least 1/3 of my property had been turned to sloppy mud that almost swallowed my 4×4 Jeep.  Needless to say, they installed the septic across the entire width of the narrow property.  Furthermore, they failed to give me any instructions as to how to care for the concrete tank, such as filling it with water, etc.  Luckily, I knew that a new septic should be filled with some water in order to keep it from ‘floating’ up and dislodging the line connections.  So I made about a dozen trips to the local firefighter’s station to fill up water barrels and poured them down the pipe drains.  Apparently, that was not enough as it still floated up a bit.  I’m hoping it didn’t float too high and damage anything but I’m no plumber.  I’m thoroughly angered, to say the least.

Life continued on and I built a small outdoor bathroom and shower on top of the tank.  I hooked up an on-demand hot water heater and installed a standard toilet to the septic line.  I used wooden pallets for the floor, built walls from extra 2×6′s and surrounded it with a tarp.  I built shelves in it and it was quite nice.  Refreshing, actually; to be able to look up at the stars while taking a steaming hot shower in the middle of nowhere.

And this is where the plan took another dramatic turn, as mentioned at the beginning.  I talked to several of my friends with AlphaRubicon (which I am no longer a member of – long story.) and they thought it might be easier to build a small timber cabin first and then add on with a shipping container.  I debated this and after crunching the numbers, decided that I could build a 14′x24′ cabin with 14′ ceilings and a loft, and get it dried in, for a bit less than the cost of a shipping container.  I weighed the choices for quite awhile and finally decided to give it a shot.  The final cabin, paired with the shipping container, would look great.  It would be very modern with a single-sloped roof, incorporate passive solar heating via southern facing windows at the top and the ability to vent the hot air out in the summer.

Several of my friends from AlphaRubicon.com came out to help and all of them got stuck in the pigsty of mud created by the septic tank crew.  So, instead of using the entire day to build, we spent that time getting vehicles unstuck, hauling material the 1/4 mile from the road to the back of the property via a 4-wheeler and trailer, and in the 100+ degree weather, sat around in the shade trying not to dehydrate.  We were able to get the floor frame finished partially and we called it a day.  Had we been able to utilize the entire day, we would have had the walls finished and windows framed.

We slaved away in the sun, getting as much done as we could, but it just wasn’t enough.  My girlfriend and I debated on living at the property part-time in order to finish the flooring and walls and after much discussion, I talked her into staying there for 90 days.  At the end of the 90 day experiment, we would see where we stood.  If it wasn’t habitable, insulated and ready for winter, we would return to the city and re-evaluate our plans.

 

That’s my cat, Persia.

This is what I would call home for 90 days.

It was actually quite cozy for the 90 days.  It was a pain to haul water from the nearby fire station, but it was bearable.  What was NOT bearable was the 84 mile round-trip drive to work every single day.

Moving our stuff into the temporary shed / cabin for the experiment.

Because I was still working on the solar energy portion of the experiment, we used a Honda EU2000 generator for power.  One of our friends loaned it to us and I must say, I’m very impressed with how quiet it was and how little fuel it used.  I eventually installed an air conditioner in the shed and could run it, plus lighting, fans and more for about 10-12 hours on 1.5 gallons of fuel.

The problem with the solar energy was that I had 70 watt panels but they were in 24 volt configuration.  My charge controller – which regulates the power received from the sun before it gets to the batteries – was only made for 12 volts and I didn’t want to spend the money on either a different panel or a new controller, so I wasted it on fuel instead.  Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

UPDATE: I have since purchased a 2,800 watt whisper-quiet Yamaha generator for supplemental power and tool use.  Also, I sold the 24 volt panels to a friend.  I had originally purchased them only because I was able to buy them for 40% off.

With the extreme heat (113 degree heat index!), we’ve been working at night mostly. The concrete blocks look a bit wobbly, I know.  They’re actually very sturdy and are dug in quite deep. [Editor's Note: That was a bad move.  An almost laughable idea.  The forms shifted, the floor joists bowed and twisted in the heat and eventually, became my un-doing.]

The cabin plans are 14′x24′ with 10′ 8″ ceilings.  It will have a moderately sloped roof and high windows spanning the top portion of the southern wall (passive solar heating for the winter).

Once this portion of the cabin is completed, it will house the bathroom and the kitchen, along with a small living area/eating nook/entry way.  An addition is being planned using a 20′ shipping container alongside the southern wall (the side you’re looking at below).  The container will house the bedroom and large closet, etc.

Well, after months of late nights working on the cabin project, we had completed all four walls, framed the door, several windows and the cabin looked amazing.  It was towering in height!  Twelve foot walls are quite heavy to get into place with only myself and a 105 lb. girl to help at 3am.  But, something had been nagging at me.  The floor seemed “off.”  I assumed it would settle once I got all of the walls and sheathing on – that maybe it would even itself out.  I had checked the square and level after finishing the floor and everything was within tolerances.  But the walls and baseplates were not square.  And they were not level.

The floor joists had warped in the sun over time, completely drying out.  We built the floor while the treated wood was still relatively green and wet with treating chemicals.  I placed extra supports, tried to tweak the corners posts – but it was too late.  The sides had dried and twisted with a severe sag in them (due to not having enough support posts).  I sat staring at the project for several nights, trying to figure out the easiest way to rectify the situation.  Replace the side boards/rim joists?  Continue trying to level the corners?  It was useless.

I took a sledgehammer and axe to the floor one night and destroyed the walls.  I left it in ruins, wondering how I could fix it; wondering what to do next.

Winter was approaching and so was my girlfriend’s sanity limit.  I reluctantly packed up the experiment and headed back to the city.  We went back to paying astronomical energy bills, water bills, sewer bills, trash collection and all of the wonderful fees, taxes and surcharges that go along with those.  I thought I was spending a lot of money making the long drive to work everyday from the property – but at least I was doing something.  Now, I’m giving away all of my paycheck to rising energy bills and paying rent at a place I have no interest or ownership in.

And to top it off, my cats do not like living in the city and indoors after having free roam at the property.  But, I did learn several things while living out there for 90 days.  I noticed what cycle the moon was in every night.  I appreciated the little noises in the middle of nowhere.  I began to appreciate how much light a full moon gives off and how refreshing a strong breeze could be at four in the morning.  I realized how much fuel we use in our vehicles and how much easier life could truly be if everyone owned their own couple of acres.  I realized that I would have to carefully plan my next step and that purchasing a water pump for the well is a priority.

In part 5, I finally receive my shipping container!  It’s in place and a lot has happened since the 90-day experiment, including a massive theft!  Stay tuned for Part 5 of Homesteading with a Shipping Container!

Shipping Container House – Unit 1
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Homesteading with a Shipping Container House – Part 2, The Property

May, 2010 (Part 1 of this Series can be Found Here)

In the last segment, we left off with the land closing and estimates of initial costs.  It has been under a week since then and I’ve already been able to put a full day’s work in at the property.  Over that weekend, I rented a medium-sized roto-tiller from Home Depot ($55/all day) but apparently I should have rented the heavy-duty, larger one.

My plan was to go out to the property, measure and stake the estimated house site, and then clear all of the prairie grass and topsoil.  I figured this would take a good part of the afternoon to clear an approximate 45 ft. x 20 ft. area.  I was sadly mistaken.  I started the day bright and early, which is rare for me.  I was awake and already drinking my first cup of coffee by 7:00 am (unheard of!) and started to plan my day and what tools I would need in order to clear the topsoil and begin leveling a pad.

At the last minute, I debated on bringing my lawn mower with me.  I didn’t feel like hooking up the trailer and my only cargo capacity in my Jeep Wrangler is a rear cargo ‘deck’.  Since I planned to carry the roto-tiller there, I figured I could do without the lawn mower and would simply tear up the ground – weeds, tall grass and small plants alike – with the tiller.  This was my first mistake.  Anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.  I should have hooked up my trailer, brought extra gas tanks (I already carry a 5 gallon jerry can mounted on the Jeep), 2-cycle oil in case the tiller needed some, 5 gallons of water and a lawn chair.

But I was a new land owner and couldn’t wait to get out there and get my hands dirty!  I quickly packed my tools and rushed towards Home Depot – 30 miles away.

Everything went smoothly and while there, I debated on just renting one of the large Bobcat backhoes.  It had a blade on the front that would do some serious clearing and was $179 to rent all day.  It even came with it’s own trailer.  Hmmmm.  I stood there awhile pondering it and then thought… no, the roto-tiller will work fine!

With the tiller strapped to the rear cargo deck, I was headed towards my newly acquired chunk of land, ready to do battle against the prairie grass on the back acre and a half.

For simplicity sake, here are pictures of the property as you drive in from the road so that you’ll get a better idea of what I’m faced with – the entrance is marked with a blue arrow.

Click the pictures to enlarge them.

In the picture below, you can see the well location
is marked with a t-post on the left; to the right of the small tree and barely visible.

The picture below is taken back in the treeline
to the left, rear corner of the picture above.
The stream runs the entire length of the property
through the trees on the righthand side of all the pictures
and is fed from a large pond on the neighboring acreage.

After speaking with the local electrical company, I discovered they would provide the first 300 feet of line free of charge … if I promise to be a 1,400 kw per month customer.  While that is a decent monthly average for the typical home in America (factoring in winter months), one of my goals is to become and remain a sub-400 kw “customer” and use propane for water heating.  They informed me it was an “all or none” offer.  If I didn’t sign up, I incurred the total cost to run electricity from their step down pole to my house.  I never really planned to be off-grid.  Sure, it was a goal and something I would work towards, but I had not prepared to start out like this!

The well site is at least 800-900 feet from the rear of the property, where their electric pole is.  Initially, I planned to just suck up the cost to run heavy duty, excess well pump wire from the house to the wellsite and even that had me a bit unhappy due to the cost.  But to lay down actual electrical line – the type required by the electric company – would be twice that for a 300 foot run!

After doing some brainstorming and consulting with my friends at AlphaRubicon, I decided that I could place a large water storage tank – something like 1,200 – 2,000 gallons – next to the wellhouse and simply wire the wellpump to run off of a 240v generator when I needed water.  An on-demand sort of system, if you will.

A good generator capable of running a 3/4 HP pump with 240v (5,500 wtts running, 8,250 peak start-up will more than cover it) costs about $700.  It is a portable means of electricity that could simply be wheeled out to the wellsite when the time comes to fill up, and brought back to the house to plug in large electrical items the rest of the time.  A generator of this size was already in my alternative energy plan, but again, I had not planned to purchase it or use it for months.  And here I was, about to incorporate it as my main means of electricity!  I suppose I am starting to get off the grid by accident and misfortune already!

Click to Enlarge – UPDATE: I have since changed the above water delivery idea. Continue reading parts 5 and 6 to see the updated ideas.  I no longer plan to use the generator and have shifted focus to a manual water pump design.  I also purchased a 2,800 watt Yamaha whisper-quiet generator for an alternative power source (mainly for the new camper that I purchased.)  The same general concept will be used for the water pumping, as I continue talking about below, but I feel that a manual or solar backup pump will be more useful as I do not need to rely on fuel. End Update.

Without digressing too far from the main point of this entry, the water storage tank sits at an elevation that is 10 feet higher than the proposed house site and approximately 500 feet away.  After filling it up with a 10 GPM wellpump (a few hours to routinely refill, I imagine), it will then gravity feed the house via 1″ PEX water tubing buried near the frostline (18 inches here).  After entering the house, I will most likely incorporate a 12v RV-style pump to pressurize the indoor plumbing.  Newer models of 12v pumps have automatic switches in them, so if you turn on a faucet – it immediately kicks in and delivers water.  A propane instant-water heater will be tied into this same system to provide hot water to the bathroom and kitchen but I’ll get into this in much greater detail in later installments of this series.

Now, let’s get back on track, shall we?

I was just arriving at the property to begin clearing the brush.

After getting everything marked, roughly measured and staked out – I fired up the roto-tiller to begin shredding up the ground!  Except, it didn’t shred much.  Instead, it began to violently strangle itself with nearby roots and small plants.  Within a 30 seconds, the blades were almost completely covered in thick vines and starting to slow down.  Hmmm.  Note to self: learn how to properly operate a roto-tiller and be aware of it’s limitations (and purpose!) before thinking you can do anything with it.  I spent the next 10 minutes taking the blades off and trying to untangle the roots that had wrapped themselves around the shafts.

Did I mention that this was Day One of my attempt to stop smoking?  You can read about that struggle here, but just imagine the colorful slurry of words that were exiting my mouth in the blistering heat that day.

After taking a break, I decided that I would make a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart and pick up a really cheap lawn mower.  You see, the house I’m living in right now is over 40 miles away and I drive a Jeep.  That means it would cost me $15 in gas just to drive home, grab MY mower, and come back to the property.  That would also take close to 2 hours.  Then, how would I get the roto-tiller back to Home Depot and take my mower home?  They won’t both fit on my small cargo rack.  See what I mean about doing things correctly the first time?  I should have brought my trailer and mower.

I hide everything under the large tree closest to the homesite and jumped on the highway.  I figured there was a Wal-Mart nearby – I once read some random statistic that you are rarely more than 20 miles from a Wal-Mart in most populated parts of America.  Well, they were right.  The closest Wal-Mart was 18 miles away and by the time I learned this, I was half way there.  Ugh.  This was supposed to be a quick trip!  I finally found the podunk, no-where on the map Wal-Mart Supercenter and park right next to the Home and Garden Center.  I then discovered that apparently no one in rural areas ever need to buy lawn tools because there was only one aisle devoted to gardening and landscaping and it consisted of gloves, more gloves, some 2-stroke oil and a weedeater.  ONE weedeater.  And it was the smallest thing I had ever seen.  There was no way I could use that to clear the type of shrubbery and wild grasslands I now own.  The ever-so helpful salesclerk pointed me to their mowers – all 3 of them.  The cheapest one was $139.99 and it was a piece of junk!

I left Wal-Mart with the midget weedeater ($65), some extra trim line ($2?) and headed back to the property.

After spending several hours using the back-breaking tiny weedeater and constantly fixing the trimline, I had cleared a formidable path.  I set out with the roto-tiller and (after finally figuring out how to use it properly) made some real progress.  That rear metal pole is NOT a kick-stand to rest the machine on!  That’s what digs into the dirt!  Another useful entry under the “Duh!” category.

Between the aggravation of the day, the blistering heat, and going all day without a single cigarette, I was ready to call it quits at 6:00 pm.  All in all, I went way over budget for the day but it’s okay.  I now have a little weedeater and made some progress.

The above picture is evidence of my attempt to stop smoking on a workday.
Being aggravated to such an extent, I tried spinning my tires in 4-wheel drive while going back and forth over the topsoil!

This coming weekend, I will be back out there with my mower (I wish I had a large tractor and brush-hog!) to clear some more area and to meet with my septic tank contractors (part of the total financed package price).  Hopefully, they won’t tell me any bad news – like, I can’t place the septic where I’ve already roughly planned it!

In closing, I figured I would leave you with two panoramic pictures of the property!  See ya next time in Part 3!

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Homesteading with a Shipping Container – Part 1, The Idea

Kevin Hayden – Elysian Fields Project

Cross-posted at my main website, www.TruthisTreason.net

Hayden’s Note:

This was written in April of 2010, while still in the planning stages – it is a far cry from what has happened over the last year.  Nothing goes according to plan and disasters appear at every corner but I am finally making steady progress, as of the summer of 2011.

Years ago, I saw a picture of a shipping container house.  I knew right then that I wanted to build one myself.  Shipping containers are roughly 40 feet long and 8 feet wide, with the smaller conex being 20 feet long.  They are wind-proof, fire-resistant, water tight, and provide a perfect “shell” in which to start with.  I have some minor construction and heavy equipment experience, along with a basic understanding of electrical systems, so I thought it would be easy to accomplish.

Here I am, years later, and I am just now starting my project.  I looked at dozens of different properties for the project.  Never could I find one that was within my price range or offered easy financing options.  If it did, it had heavy restrictions and covenants attached to the land deed, preventing me from building what I wanted.  I discovered very quickly that even in America, home of the free, we are not free to build the size of house we want and can afford.  I soon learned that even out in the county-maintained areas, 20 or 30 miles away from the metro, that you could typically only build a standard 2×4 framed home starting at 800-900 sq. feet or larger.  On top of all of this, many county governments require you to apply for building permits and have periodic code enforcement inspections – the very thing that I wanted to avoid!

I know there are many people out there who will say, “That’s to ensure others against a poorly made structure…”  “That’s so that a uniform safety standard is achieved.”  And more nonsense.  If I am building a structure on my property, who’s responsibility – and ultimately, burden – is it if the thing comes crashing down around me?  It’s mine.  It all falls on me, literally.

Do I not have the choice to run this risk?  Why must faceless government entities tell me how big my house must be or to what insulation standard?  Maybe I want to live in a sod home, like the early pioneers of Oklahoma once did.  Nope.  Against code.

How about a haybale structure?   Nope.  And shipping containers?  Not without a lot of alteration and additional supports installed, not to mention pleading with the county permit board that a shipping container can offer a fantastic, safe, secure home.  It’s too weird, too controversial – too “out there” for most of them.

So through my searches and aggravation, I finally discovered a small plot of land north east of the Oklahoma City metro.  It is roughly 3 acres and surrounded by a 15 foot deep crick (small, narrow creek) on 2 sides.  The other large side opens up to a neighbor’s massive wooded valley and is protected by a brand new 6-strand barbed wire fence.  It is over 1,400 feet in length and approximately 150 wide.  It has no roadway on it.  No homesite or pad.  It is half wildflowers and half prarie grass.  When I saw it, I knew it was perfect.  It’s length ran east to west, giving it a full day’s worth of sun no matter where we placed the connex boxes.  It also had a good quality well already dug, although it had no pump or pressure tank, fittings, etc. installed.  It was simply an encased 130 ft. well.  Another downside was that the well was placed on the first 1/3 of the property and I wanted to place my container home near the back.  I’m faced with running over 600-700 feet of water piping at a depth of roughly 18 inches, not to mention running electricity to the wellsite from the house or roadway unless I remain off-grid (The electrical pole, oddly enough, is at the back of the property).

After talking to the land owners (a small, local real estate company), I discovered that they imposed building restrictions, too.  At this point, I was starting to feel disappointed, but after reading the details, the main restriction was that typical homes must be 600 sq. feet or larger.  I quickly did the math; each container was to be 40 x 8 = 320 sq ft x 2 containers = 640 square feet of home!  Although I was still mildly disgruntled that a “size requirement” existed at all (what if I only wanted one container?), at least I could eventually skirt this restriction and move ahead with my project unabated.

Within the other restrictions, it stated that any structures must maintain a similar appearance and be painted, unless modern siding was applied.  Well, I could certainly paint the exterior of the containers and had already planned to do so.  In fact, there are ceramic paints available that have an insulation r-factor of 3 or 4, helping to alleviate the common problem of installing enough insulation when building with such a narrow frame to begin with.

Finally, it stipulated that all construction projects were to be completed within 9 months of start date.  Again, I became disgruntled and slightly angry at the system.  Here I was, trying to build a home debt-free (other than the land purchase) and do the right thing, and it might take me longer than 9 months before I would call it complete and the system was working against me.  (I’m not that selfish; I understand the need and desire of neighbors to not stare at an unfinished construction project for 4 years.)

After thinking about it from a “typical home” perspective, I interpreted this restriction as meaning the home site should have 4 walls, a roof and a painted/finished exterior within 9 months.  Well, I could certainly do that in 9 months since the containers already come with 4 walls, a stout wooden floor and a nice metal roof.  Could I paint a container in 270 days?  I was positive I could accomplish that and decided to move ahead with the land purchase.  Nevermind the fact that I planned to use a bit of “wiggle room” when it came to the restrictions’ definitions and interpretation.  I would leave the shipping containers in place to appear as storage while I slaved away inside to install framed walls, plumbing, and electrical wires, before finally working on the exteriors.

In fact, with the design and layout of the land being so long and back from the roadway, most people would barely notice the shipping container sitting there.  Most would assume it was simply a container or shed.

Furthermore, as I researched the land and county requirements, I discovered that this particular county did not require building permits if outside the incorporated towns and city limits.  Perfect!  Not only would I be able to work in peace, but I would not have to deal with pesky permits and inspections from jack-booted thugs.  You see, in many locations, you must ask the local government for permission to build a structure – any structure over 100 sq. ft.  - and if they do not like your design or plan or if they are having a bad day, then you will not be building anything.

With this particular land company, they offered to finance the cost of a new septic to be installed.  Sure, they are charging me a hefty interest fee, but there is no early pay-off penalty and that’s the way Americans get things accomplished, right?  Credit!  Ehh…

I close the land deal in a few days and will post updates along the way.  Right now, I am still in the planning stages but trying to move very quickly although I do not have a large budget. (Editor’s Note, January/2013: Have owned the property for several years now, have containers on site, carport built, and a manual water pump installed)

In the next update, I will be including pictures of the land, well site, and container.

I am asked many times about the cost of building with containers, running pipe, roads, etc., and so I thought I would include a rough estimate of what I face with my particular property; your prices may vary.

- Shipping container  -a 20 foot container cost me $2,650, with delivery included from over 200 miles away.  Your costs may vary, but if you do not live in a state with a major port, chances are this will be the average price for a quality container.

- Roughing in a dirt road and a 20′ x 40′ homesite, involving a tractor at a cost of $45/hour.  Initial estimate is 2 days worth of work, so roughly $700-800.  I eventually cleared my own homepad and leveled it with the aide of a family member’s small tractor and box blade.  I also roughed in a road, but it remains bumpy and uneven. I would recommend professional help with roadways to ensure a long, maintenance-free drive.

- A load of gravel to spread on the home site; additional gravel loads for part of the road at approximately $250 / 14 tons.

- At least 500′, if not 700 feet, of PEX 3/4″ flexible water tubing.  Cost is typically about $215 / 500‘, but I’ve been informed by several competent plumbers that I would likely want 1 inch or even 1 1/2 inch tubing in order to handle the eventual water demand of several faucets throughout the property (irrigation, gardens, showers, kitchen, etc.).

- 3/4 HP submersible pump, control box, and valves – $480; 150′ of 3-strand pump wire – $425

I have switched plans to a manual, off-grid water pump -

- Manual water pump from www.SimplePump.com – total package price for 72 ft. of drop pipe (130 ft. well with static water at 25′), well assembly, etc. – $1,500.  Optional, add-on 12v motor for solar panels is approximately $850.

- Large water tank for gravity fed water system and/or storage, 1,200 – 2,000 gallons – $500-700

- 20-30 gallon water pressure tank (the Simple Pump can generate 100psi of pressure, so pressure tanks are no problem. If you go with a traditional, submersible electric pump, you’ll likely want a pressure tank, as well, unless you have a lot of head room for gravity assistance and don’t mind low pressure showers.) – $150

- Rental of a trencher or “ditch witch” to cut a 600 foot trench, 12″ wide x 18″ deep, in about 6 hours or less for the water piping– $149 / day.

Those are the basic, initial costs that you might run into for building your own shipping container homestead! I hope it helped some of you that are dreaming of going off-grid or building your own tiny home!

In the next article, I will also include some points about the pillar / pier foundation I will be using and how to deal with that.  Along the way, I will be documenting numerous DIY projects and hopefully create a “How to build a shipping container house” guide by the end of this series.

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