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

Kevin Hayden –

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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