How I made my Home out of a shipping container

This is a guest post by KR Prepper and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.

inside container home 300x225 How I made my Home out of a shipping container

The inside of my container home.

You all know that I like living frugal. There’s a certain power that comes from knowing that you don’t ‘have’ to spend money I used to run a recording studio. I saw the writing on the wall, that I wouldn’t be able to sustain my business long term (economy, local music market changes, burnout). I had been living in the office building that housed my recording studio, showering at the local gym.

I had recently read “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat, and Travel Trailer Homesteading under $5000” and begin praying about how to not be homeless.

After searching for land. I found a place north of my studio right at 4800. It was a half acre. Was the only place within my price range, so I met the guy. Him and his wife were very friendly. Set up a contract for deed at 220 a month for a couple of years.

Then I looked at several options. I’m not a handyman, so I knew a self-build would be out of the question. My next glance was prefab, but I knew that music gigs would keep me away from my place for stretches at a time. So anything that could be burned, or broken into easily couldn’t work.
So chose a 8’x20′ shipping container and made it home.

Here’s my setup process…

Cost.

My container came insulated, framed, and wired with lights with delivery for 3300 I could’ve done these things myself, but time being of the essence. This was the wisest option If you’re not near the coasts. I found that metal fabricators are the best place to get them, as they will customize them with doors, windows, and other stuff. Mine has a man door and 4 ventilation ducts and a metal floor. The metal floor is better, as off gassing of pesticides and other things are less of a problem.

Prep: Before purchasing the container, I purchased everything that I needed inside FIRST. Because I knew I’d have a bill. I wanted to have all of my gear setup before I’d hunker down.

Heating/Cooking

Buddy Heater / 40# Propane tank. I use this to simply heat up the cabin quickly in the morning while the fire is building 1920 Estate Woodstove: I found this piece at a consignment store around the corner from my studio for $100 bucks. Spent a couple bucks more on the stove pipe and done. 2 of my friends donated barbecue pits to me. One is gas with a burner, and one is charcoal/wood.

Sanitation/Water:

Coleman Camping Toilet. I wasn’t planning on humanure composting, so I filled the flush tank with bleach/water to help kill odor. Ecotemp Portable On Demand Water Heater. I use this unit to provide running water Shurflo 3gpi RV pump (2) 55 gallon water tanks (4) 5 gallon water bottles this covers my water needs for a 2-3 months. I also have made it a habit to fill up my water cisterns every time I go into town for free. I hope to have a well drilled within the next year, but this saves money for now.

Lighting / Power: Sunforce 60w Solar Panel System with upgraded power controller, and inverter 2 deep cycle batteries, Coleman CPX lanterns with power supply. The lights recharge via a drill type battery, so I’d be covered as long as the batteries hold up.

Refrigeration: I bought a used propane refrigerator for $50. Honestly. During the winter I put my coolers outside. Minnesota IS the freezer.

Storage: I salvaged a set of Kitchen Cabinets and a countertop for free. Just the cost of Driving to get it.

Cabin Setup: 1 I cleared a 10×25′ rectangle, and put cinder blocks/logs near where I wanted the cabin to be. My lot is narrow, so we had to take down trees to get everything in. Good. Free firewood.

Went to the distributor to pick from the containers that they had. This was in July. So I got to FEEL for myself the difference between the container that was insulated vs the one that was not. Without any fans, or AC the insulated container was bearable. The one that wasn’t felt like an oven.

I also had read up on some of the chemicals they put in them for travel. The ones with wood floors can pose health problems due to off-gassing. So mine was floored with metal. They had already installed a man door, lighting and a power cable. (upon getting to my property. My system was insufficient to power them, no worries).

After purchasing the container.. I set up a date to have it delivered. It arrives on the back of a flatbed trailer. They had to cut more trees to get the truck in and trailer to clear. Great! more firewood. The first night I slept on the metal floor with packing blanket.. Was the best night of sleep in a long time.. It was cold and hard, but MINE.

2: Cutting the hole for the woodstove.. A drill and a sawzall.
3: Getting a twin mattress from Menards.

There’s been several layers of improvements, but I believe this is one of the best ways to get cheap shelter.  Although I now longer live there full time… I miss this place so much. I’ll move back in a while.

Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive – Two (2) Just In Case… Classic Assortment Survival Food Buckets courtesy of LPC Survival, a $150 gift certificate for Remington ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner, aWonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and a Survival Puck courtesy of Innovation Industries, LLC.
  2. Second place winner will receive – One case of Future Essentials Canned Organic Green Costa Rican Monte Crisol Coffee courtesy of Campingsurvival.com and Solo Stove and Solo Pot Courtesy of EmergencyFoodWarehouse.com.
  3. Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net, a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net and a Wolf Pack Coffee Mug Jumbo Mug courtesy of Horton Design.

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on January 15 2014

my family survival

Comments

  1. Hey K.R.! I have a brief question, Which way do your doors open? I know pre fab but I’m corious.

  2. Another option to explore. Thanks.

  3. recoveringidiot says:

    What type insulation did they use? I’m working on a metal building and that’s the big question. All the metal building insulation people I talk to say spray foam is the way but they get $2.00 a square foot and that is out of my budget.

    • riverrider says:

      why not solid foam sheets like from lowes? i put some in the ceiling of my shop, it worked wonders. can glue it or fur strip the walls and put the insulation board in between, cover with paneling etc.

      • KR Prepper says:

        Hey guys.. They used spray. Originally my container was used to house a generator. So I didn’t pay for the spray foam myself. The distributor needed the container gone, so I counted it a blessing.

      • recoveringidiot says:

        That is the exact method I have decided to use, lots cheaper and if I’m careful it will be almost as good as foam.

        • charlie (NC) says:

          I’ve played around with various designs for building housing units from containers for several years but haven’t actually built one yet. As for insulation, this might not be the cheapest but I’ve been thinking about synthetic stucco over
          foam boards on the outside. Synthetic stucco was popular about 20 years ago until some issues arose with moisture problems in wood framing. The problems were primarily caused by improper installation and not allowing drainage channels between the foam boards and the building framing. That is not an issue with a container because (1) it’s steel or aluminum and (2) it’s corrugated so it has drainage channels automatically.

          My idea is to attach the foam boards over the top of the corrugations using adhesive anchors that are available. They stick to the metal surface and have a pin that punctures through the foam and is fastened with a clip on the outside. All of that is then covered with synthetic stucco which is a mixture of acrylic and cement. It’s very durable and pretty much fireproof. The roof of the container can be done the same way by building the foam up such that it slopes either to one side or from a middle ridge to both sides.

          Just food for thought for some who may be considering a container home.

          I like your small, efficient unit. It would make a fine “retreat” on bug out land. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Donna in MN says:

    I bet winters make a cold floor being in Mn…Carpet and a pad could make it warmer, or make a subfloor that is insulated. What are the R insulating value of the walls and ceiling?

    • KR Prepper says:

      They sure do. I slept on them initially with my sleeping bag. It sucks a lot of heat form the place for sure. I don’t know the r value, but honestly, I’ve never been uncomfortable. If anything, the woodstove almost Burns me out.

      • KR Prepper says:

        Oh. Being my first time dealing with a woodstove. I didn’t want the floor to be flammable. I know better now.

      • charlie (NC) says:

        KR, If you seal off the area where the container meets the ground with some sort of insulated material or just a large mass of material the ground under the container will become
        a large thermal mass and will help to moderate the temps in the container. That is assuming it is sitting on dry land (not a lot of soil moisture). If it is wet under it a French drain around it
        will handle that problem. Just like in conventional houses, there are two ways to handle the “crawl space”, either you insulate the floors or you insulate the perimeter wall of the crawl space. Either way works but insulating the perimeter wall gives you a thermal mass under the floor.

  5. Recovering, if there is anyway to manage it, good spray foam really is worth it. It insulates better, more air tight, and resists moisture. Fiberglass & cellulose do not. Double bubble wrap doesn’t insulate as well. Styrofoam sheets disintegrate too easily, too low r value, even for closed cell foam. And pests really have to work hard to get through spray insulation. It also resists wind NOISE. (popping, rumble).
    I don’t install or sell it. I just have seen it in use.
    My 2 cents

  6. I really like this idea and have seen several good-looking conversions using one or more containers. Thanks for the info.

  7. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Cool – thank you for posting about the project. I’ve read about these, as well as refrigerator tractor trailer (insulated) as DIY homes.

  8. riverrider says:

    good post, very interesting. i wonder if you might have issues with moisture from the propane, and what about the carbon monoxide in that tight space? i had a 8×16 cabin and had issues with that during the coldest nights. had to leave a window cracked open. the possibilities are endless with containers… if i ever get another retreat locale i plan to use one and earth shelter it up to about head high. insulation and bullet proofing ;)

    • PGCPrepper says:

      Riverrider,

      I have a couple of “buddy” heaters and they are made for inside in an emergency or deer stands, etc, of course. They say it’s OK to use on the inside with the one pounders but not the 20 lbs unless ventilated. I tested them with a CM detector using the one pounders though and no problems. He is using them for a short period also. I would still have a detector though for sure.

    • KR Prepper says:

      There are four 4×4 inch vent holes on the floor. Plus small fans bringing in air. I never run the buddy heater when I’m asleep. Only to heat up in the mornings when the fires died down.

      No moisture issues, as the wood smoke dries everything out pretty well. Now I need to cut a vent hole for the propane fridge, but I cook and eat from dried items, and don’t have leftovers that don’t get eaten within a day or two.

    • KR Prepper says:

      Sounds like a great idea. If you earth shelter one. Be sure to reinforce the walls and ceiling. Shipping containers are essentially made of strong sheet metal. Can’t resist the pressure from the dirt alone.

      • PGCPrepper says:

        KR Prepper,

        I think it was you who posted the links to the site where someone built an underground shelter. They made the width of the hole a foot or so wider than the width of the container and place corrugated steel across the top of the container and the foot of space on both sides. Then they simply covered the steel with earth which left the reenforcement issue a nonissue if graded correctly where there was no concern of a cave-in. Very interesting.

        Thanks for writing.

        • I’ve read something similar when needing to prepare for possible nuclear radiation. Put boards, bed slats, anything that is about a foot longer on each side of the “walls” of the shelter, then pile the heavier mass evenly on top. It won’t cave in that way.

    • Shipping containers aren’t built to handle pressure on the sides, to butt earth against it you’ll need to have it reinforced or it will cave in.

  9. Did you have a slab poured? I’m going container home soon with plans to have a 24X50 slab poured, This will allow me to set two 40 foot containers 8 feet apart. The open space will eventually be framed with 10 foot unistrut, enclosed on sides and a greenhouse roof on top. The extra 10 feet on the end will be a covered porch.

    I like the container idea because it allows you to start small and build as needed.

    More pics would be nice. I really like to see what people are doing and get a lot of good ideas from it.

    • KR Prepper says:

      Ishimo. No I don’t have a slab, just placed on concrete blocks. Did t have the funds at the time. The ground is setting some. I’m excited for your setup. If you are willing to shoot me an email. I’d share any pictures. Ill help as much as I can.

  10. Hey All,
    A buddy and I are designing his container home(3 containers) and we will insulate his home by using one sided 21/2 inch hard Styrofoam on the “outside” walls of each of the containers. If the container is not weather proofed already, you can use hot or cold tar to weather proof, then the same tar can then be used as the glue to hold the panels of Styrofoam against the container walls. Then, just back fill dirt right against the Styrofoam. The outside container walls will be water proofed and insulated without using any of the interior space. This should save considerable space. Hope this helps.

    • KR Prepper says:

      Hey There,

      The box is already watertight, as it’s meant to float if it drops from a ship. That’s why I love them so much.. and They stack easily.. Like big LEGO blocks.

  11. KR – we also live in MN and we are looking into options. Please keep us updated. Wondering how this current cold spell is affecting your setup. Thanks for the article.

    • KR Prepper says:

      I am not there currently.. However, the blessing is that my woodstove is oversized for the space. If It’s cranking at half, I’m roasting already :) if the stove stops, I stop.. I need at least 2-3 cord of wood. It’s funny to see the container half buried in snow, and still hot enough for shorts and a tank top :)

  12. Has anyone tried to install hot water heating on the floor of a ships container?

    • KR Prepper says:

      Ray. That’s a great Idea.. It wouldnt be difficult. especially if you’re building a subfloor. I was on a really low budget.

  13. got a pic of it?

  14. I like the idea of back filling earth against the outside walls. Let us know how this works out, okay?

    I also think it would be a great idea, if the budget allowed, to use 3 containers, in a U shape, creating a central courtyard, and some corners for entryways and windows or breeze ways, later on, that central courtyard could become a green house/ heat exchange, or even more indoor space or a central kitchen area.

  15. I live in MN also, and I’ve found a couple vendors but none sells units already insulated and wired. All I’ve found are naked, well-used beaters, and the 8×20 price starts at $2000. Source of your unit?

    • Prices will vary greatly depending on your distance from international ports – in NJ, for example I can get a 8×20 delivered for 900. I think what you are seeing is the balloon price of transport.

      Also, never half bury these things in an area with ice heave (which is all of the northern states) – the sides cave – even if it’s just a few feet around as a foot print.

  16. As it settles a bottle jack or even a Hi Lift Jack like I used will set it right again.

    This set up sounds perfect for a small solar electric system. I have a 12 volt battery and LED light set up as a reading/emergency power out light in the bedroom and a panel I can set out as needed.

    Sounds like you are pretty well insulated, but if midwinter you need to seal around the bottom to keep the wind out hay bails stacked tight to the walls will help a lot until the weather breaks and the hay starts to break down.

    SD