Monday, September 29, 2008

I Dream Of A Shipping Container House

After I pay off my mortgage and get all the travelling crossed off my list, I want to build some sort of permanent dwelling. I've researched all sorts of houses, strawbale, adobe, SIPs, Rastra, cob, wood, metal, cement block, earthship, and now...shipping containers. Many people have played around with the idea. I haven't seen a finished house in real life yet just drawings and pictures. Some are connected together, some stacked, some single. I just saw another article about them on CNN, Shipping container houses.

My idea is to bury one. Yup, I want to bury one. I like the idea of an earth-bermed home here in Arizona. It seems like the cheapest way to regulate the temperature and maybe avoid the need for air conditioning at all. After all, the cave down the street maintains a nice 68 degrees year round. If I bury my house I should stay cool too right?

A shipping container would appear to be a perfect choice for an underground house. It is very strong, made of steel, and is just the right size for one person (or more if they get along well). The dimensions are 40ft. long, 8ft. wide and 8-1/2 ft. tall. I'm living in a 35ft. by 8ft. RV right now (with two 3ft. slide outs for the couch and bed). I think a shipping container would be quite comfortable for me.

I drew what I think it would look like:

I added a greenhouse area so I can grow plants and get a lot of light in if I want to. Ok, I know, that's going to make it hotter inside.

There are a few other things I haven't figured out for the utilities. I would like to have solar power. I don't know how much that would cost exactly, I have heard $10k or more. I would like a small fridge, computer, microwave, toaster oven, fan, heater, lights, TV and a few outlets.

Hot water could be solar most of the year. I could still harvest rainwater off of the garage roof but I would have to have a little RV type pump for water pressure.

Most of the water could be re-used on the landscape through a grey water system.

Then there is the whole sewage problem. Sure there are composting toilets to eliminate the need for a septic system but they are expensive. Hauling a camping toilet over to the existing septic system would get old really fast. A new septic system would cost, I am guessing, $6k but if I have a backhoe burying my shipping container he might as well dig a hole for the septic tank while he's at it.

It would be really easy if I could just bury my RV. Its all plumbed, wired, furnished decorated and everything. I can't imagine what the neighbors would think about that!

Here's some more links on shipping container houses:
Bob Vila visits a company that makes large homes out of shipping container skeletons: Bob Vila video
and here is a neat interior picture of student housing

I would love to be able to set up a container as a storage unit on my property first and then turn it in to a home later. That would allow me to empty out the mobile home and have someone haul it away. I think the county would make me get permits for the entire project though. That means more money up front that I don't have and I would need to hire someone to help get the plans approved.

Here's the estimated costs:
Shipping container: $2,000
Delivery and set-up: $1,000
Permits: $1,000
Foundation and ground work: $3,000
Modification for doors and windows: $1,000
Water system: $1,000
Electric system: $1,000
Septic system: $500 to $6,000
Total: $10,500-$16,000

Oo..oo..and here's my version with 2 shipping containers side by side. You know how construction projects go...always growing.

So, I will just dream, scheme and plan until I get my mortgage paid off. That's hopefully only 2 years away.

37 comments:

Lizzie said...

Hi Daizy
What a brilliant idea.I love it. Do you remember Luke Skywalkers Aunt & Uncles home in the original Star Wars? Just superb!

Lizzie

TightFistedMiser said...

Shipping container houses are pretty cool. I've read thought that you shouldn't bury them because the walls aren't strong enough. Most of their structural strength is in the corners.

Daizy said...

Hi lizzie...didn't Luke's Aunt and Uncle get murdered? Nevermind...happy thoughts, happy thoughts...:)

tightfistedmiser, gee it seems like steel would be pretty strong but I would definitely consult an engineer. I wouldn't go too deep, just a foot or so on top. It is a work in progress, but then I have 2 or 3 more years to mess around with the idea.

Anonymous said...

check out hgtv.com. I have seen some pretty cool houses on that station - including a fabulous underground home.

I can remember seeing houses made out of like a train car, just all sorts of unusual things.

Finance Junkie said...

I echo tightfistedmiser's comments. You should especially be concerned with the sagging that could occur from the top of the CONEX box if you stack anything on top of it. We used them in Afghanistan and stacked about 4 ft of rock and dirt on the top.

We were able to use them still, but we had to reinforce the ceilings. Ceilings were reinforced with an I-Beam running the length of the ceiling and attached to several metal columns every 20 feet or so.

I also saw a number of Afghan vendors convert the CONEX boxes to stores.

Daizy said...

Perhaps I would just fill in the sides and build a shade cover for the top. Of course that would add greatly to the cost but think of all the water I could collect!

Runkle Consulting, Inc said...

My company is working on the design of a house in Louisiana right now, and we're in preliminary discussions about a few other projects. I don't recommend putting them in the ground because of serious corrosion issues. The houses aren't free, you have to pay for the containers (about $2,300 +/- a piece) and there is a fabrication cost and engineering cost. I don't have good numbers on how much it costs to build a shipping container house yet, not enough have been built.

The way I interpret the Code and my own liability, I'm not willing at this time to sell off the shelf designs. With traditional houses there is a prescriptive Code you can work with in most areas for construction, with shipping containers you don't have that advantage.

The other problem is available references on shipping container building design are far and few between. I personally haven't found any worth reading. There are a lot of "designs" out there on the web, but I don't think many of them have been built. The actual engineering doesn't seem to be documented anywhere, so we are stuck inventing the wheel so to speak.

George

Daizy said...

Thanks for your comment George. When I called around for prices I found them to be around $3600 with delivery in AZ. I was hoping that ceramic stuff that they sprayed on them in the Bob Vila video would prevent corrosion but probably not, it was mostly for insulation. I found that most houses that had actually been build were in other countries like Mexico which made sense after I found out my county won't allow me to have one on my property. Since that depressing bit of news I bought a regular wood shed that I plan to make in to my tiny home. Now I have to fight off termites and packrats like everyone else. Oh well. Shipping containers seem to have a lot of potential though. I am glad to hear that you are investigating their possibilities!

radu_addmall said...

more pictures with container house
www.pro-container.com

Anonymous said...

Hey Daizy...I am in Afghanistan and we are using the shipping containers, both 20ft and 40ft as bunkers and for ammunition storage. In order to put dirt on top, especially more than a few sand bags, you simply have to run a beam down the length ot the container on the inside to support the extra weight..Size of the beam would depend on the amount of dirt on the roof..We have had no wall failures at all and have dug out holes in banks where we could, stacked sand bags and hesco on the sides and just piled plain old dirt on the sides and top..In areas where we get fairly heavy snow fall, after placing the beam inside we make a slant with the dirt on top for run off, put a layer of plastic sheeting then another few inches of dirt to protect the plastic from wind and sun....We do run the plastic all the way past the bottom of the container for good dry conditions all the time..Temp inside is always pleasent discounting the fact that you might sharing space with a few thousand kilos of explosives...
We did have one bunker with about 3 ft of dirt that began to sag, it was one unsupported and with a hydrolic jack and beams we fixed it..Naa sayers kinda suck so follow your heart and best information..

allisonjoy4freedom@yahoo.com said...

here's a link to a company that can deliver your recycled shipping container home within a week of order. from start to finish, would take no more than 6 months. and they offer hard numbers on how much everything would cost!

http://www.quik-build.com/index.htm

CD said...

I too have fallen madly in love with container homes! The durability, cost, and the fact that it is good for the environment adds to the appeal. Check out my blog...I'm a newbie

http://frugalopoly.blogspot.com/

raikenclw said...

In order to get the cooling effect of a cave, you need to be a few feet underground. So here's an idea:

Dig a pit just slightly larger than the container and four or five feet deeper than it's height. Set the container down in it, atop a thick layer of plastic sheeting. Then lay/tie a net of rebar (iron reinforcing bar) across the roof of the container and around the sides. If you can find some old chainlink fencing (with posts) that could work instead. Pour a layer of concrete around/over the whole thing. Essentially, you're creating an upside-down foundation (using the container as your form). If you make the concrete a few inches thick, you shouldn't need interior bracing. (The hotels I work in use prefab reinforced-concrete panels just a few inches thick to support their upper floors.) Once the concrete sets, dig out a bit more dirt around the sides and finish the exterior with more plastic sheeting or waterproof paint, then backfill with gravel. Given your native climate, you might get away without this additional plastic/paint, but untreated concrete sucks up water like a sponge, so I'd definitely make sure of proper drainage.

camosoul77 said...

I've been pondering something similar for about 4 years. In Arizona too!

Anonymous said...

if you want to build in Europe a shippping coontainer house please contact us to http://www.pro-container.com , http://www.promottion.ro or 0040730477924

Anonymous said...

Great minds do think alike. I've been planing my own underground container house as well. I also used two 40'containers and put them together. I've been thinking about adding a third as a hallway/greenhouse. It would open up more possibilities for the design, layout, and funcionality of the home. Try it on paper and see what you come up with.

Anonymous said...

Building with containers is worth taking a look at if you are contemplating a new home.

Good resource is the Residential Shipping Container Primer website. A DO IT YOURSELF (DIY) REFERENCE AND FOR CONVERTING RECYCLED INTERMODAL CARGO SHIPPING CONTAINERS INTO BUILDINGS AND ARCHITECTURE.

Lots of example buildings, details, facts, and links to other articles. They have something new that you can setup your own project wiki to get help with your project if you are the design build sort...

Container Homes said...

Whilst I appreciate the original thread is a little old now its clear by the readers updated comments that people are still finding this post useful !

I have created a series of video on Shipping Container Homes for our members - you might be interested in the material on burying underground containers.

http://www.containerhome.info/tutorial-9.html

Anonymous said...

hi daizy, there is a guy living in a earth bermed container home in fairbanks alaska. he used 3 24' containers with the doors left exposed. he has about 8" - 10" of top soil on the top. the sides are sloped enough that he can run his mower over the whole thing. Dave in alaska

Narcisse said...

This is great, I was so happy to find your post on container home building. I have been researching the idea myself and and really liking the whole concept. Thank you for posting your thoughts on the subject, I will look for more articles in future.

Narcisse
email:narcissenproduction@yahoo.com
The url is a little old, I stopped cooking 2 years ago.

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

165 Greenwood St
Gardner, MA 01440

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Why can't you just bury your RV? I've been thinking about a mobile home dug into a southfacing slope, so the front would be walk out and the back would have some home sticking up (probably depending on where the best windows on the mobile home are). Seems like they too are made of stuff that would do well underground, and since I'm not thinking about a sod roof, it would not need to be as strong. Have found nothing about this idea on the internet--anyone have any ideas?
Thanks,
Mandy

Mandy said...

Sorry about the crazy repeating -- I swear the site told me my comment was rejected over and over and over . . .

Anonymous said...

yeahhh.....

Anonymous said...

way to ruin an epic thread mandy.... idiot

Anonymous said...

Cool idea.
I too have thought so for years, I am learning alot from your site. My question is, after reading about the roof sag, Are the walls strong enough to hold up an attached roof made of sheet metal with proper supports?

Raj

Anonymous said...

Hey... still waiting for a reply,

Raj, how about you anonymous...idiot,chill we're all not computer savvy.

Anonymous said...

I think if you buried the RV or mobile home you would need to reinforce the walls and the roof or it would cave in.

Anonymous said...

Burry a rv really? Come on