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Mod(ular) living.

I had an epiphany a few nights ago.

I refer you to this post for reference on what I'd sorta kinda been kicking around in my head for the last few years about my house. My vision sort of changed a few months ago, when I realized that if I went out instead of up, it'd probably be cheaper and not fuck the roofline up as much.

My kitchen remodel and floor replacement still hasn't been done. I've been putting it off over and over again while I agonize about what to do with the house expansion idea. I feel it'd be a bit silly to remodel the kitchen and then a few years later rip it all out to expand the house to almost the palm tree in my back yard.

One of my closest friends started a construction company about a year ago. She's done a lot of traditional remodel and construction jobs, but her real passion is using shipping containers as parts of buildings. Her company is building a beautiful, beautiful house with four shipping containers that I'd buy in a heartbeat if I could afford it. (And when their website goes live, I'll be pimping like I've never pimped before.)

For those of you not as obsessed with shipping containers as me and my friend (and my brother, but that's another story), they're the things you see attached to the back of semis driving down the highway. Because the United States imports much, much more than it exports, there's a glut of them in the country. They're designed to stack on top of cargo ships, be picked up with cranes and be towed across the country on trucks. They're not, for those of you worried about my sudden decline in socio-economic status, trailers. They don't have axes or wheels or anything like that. They generally come in either 40'x 8' or 20'x 8'. They're either 8'6" or 9'6" high, depending on the container. They're made of steel, thoroughly reinforced, very well insulated, and (this is the most important part) they're cheap. A brand new (meaning only used for one shipment) 40' container costs about $3,200.

Anyhow, I don't remember what I was doing but a few days ago, but I had a sudden and profound shock when I realized that I could use shipping containers to expand my house.

My vision, during the epiphony, was to take two 20' containers, put them side by side, push them against the house, and cut out the middle steel, to make a 20' x 16' addition. Throw in a bathroom, laundry room and closet, and I have a brand new master suite. I'd let the architect, my brother, work out the details. I figured that I could expand the roof line to extend to cover the part of the house that was expanded, plus put a deck in on the other half of the expansion (I think my house is about 35 feet wide).

Last night, my friend came over for a glass of wine. I dragged her outside and showed her what I was thinking.

She went absolutely crazy with the idea. They'd been working with new construction for the containers, and she was in awe with the thought that they could also be used for home expansions. She thought that it'd probably be even better to just get a 40" container and cut it and half instead of two 20"s, since it's easier to find the higher ceilinged 40". We walked around the yard a bit and paced out where the containers would fit. It was perfect for making sure that the palm tree survived the ordeal intact. We also confirmed that it wouldn't be a big deal to get the containers up my driveway and into position behind my house using a forklift (my biggest concern with the idea was that we'd have to rent a crane and lift the suckers over my house).

We went back inside and got a pen and paper and started playing with designs.

And then she started figuring out how much something like this would cost. "Tricked out" as she said, using good tile and fixtures in the bathroom, using cool glass on the windows, making good wooden floors, her estimate was about half of anything I'd ever dreamed a house expansion could cost. She even threw in a sodded rooftop deck. And given how well everything is going to be insulated, I don't think that the 320 square foot expansion would drastically increase energy expenditures.

And the cool part is that I wouldn't have to live with a gaping hole in my house for a few months. Most of the construction would take place in her warehouse, though there'd probably be a month or so of finishing everything out once it got to my house. But the basic structure would arrive to my house intact, and it'd just be a question of attaching the containers to my house and to each other in a single day.

I'm sure I'll take a bit of time to ponder this whole thing (and get in touch with Maddie to see how difficult a home equity loan would be to do this), but I'm terribly, terribly excited about the prospect.


( 9 comments — Say something )
Mar. 29th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
This is a friggin amazingly awesome idea!! I can't wait to see how it goes!
Mar. 29th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
You seem to have this pretty well covered, but over here we have a TV programme "Grand Designs", which follows people who are designing and building their own homes. Anyway, a couple of years back, they had one that included shipping containers. Doing a quick search shows that it was something to do with Container City: http://www.containercity.com/

Thought there might be one or two more ideas you could take from there and it gives you an idea of how the thing looks when kitted out as a home.

It sounds very exciting and I hope to read more about it if you decide to go ahead.
Mar. 29th, 2007 11:52 pm (UTC)
I've seen plans for these houses online. They look pretty interesting. I would only have to say, good luck getting a permit for this. I would check your local restrictions/covenants too.
Mar. 30th, 2007 02:31 am (UTC)
I don't think it will be too much of a problem. We are the city of no zoning, and I deliberately do not live anywhere with restrictive covenants. My neighbors would prefer this sort of thing than another stupid townhome that takes up the entire lot.

The showcase house that my friend is building waltzed through the permitting process, so I don't think that's going to be too much of an issue.

'course, I haven't started yet, so we'll see.
Mar. 30th, 2007 02:30 am (UTC)
that sounds very veyr neat! and (a big thing for me) pretty non-toxic too. most houses how are osb adn pressboard and other pretty nasty stuff. steel sounds way way safer!
Mar. 30th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)
just a question:How do the container homes breath? I'd be worried about humidity build up.... THough I would imagine they MUST have found a way around this.....
Mar. 30th, 2007 01:44 pm (UTC)
I've had multiple discussion about how shipping containers would seem to be a good start for building cheap & durable homeless shelters, but using them as part of a house expansion hadn't occurred to me. That would be awesome.
Mar. 30th, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
that sounds really cool! it's recycling! it's energy efficient! it's cheap! and it's just really neat!

i like shipping containers too(though probably not to you and your family/friend's extent). for example, i love this portable data center.
Mar. 31st, 2007 02:51 am (UTC)
The cusp of a trend
Shipping Containers are on every construction site, uses and acceptance are growing. Mass housing is just around the corner. When not attached to the house they are usually 'temporary structures' needing little or no permitting when attached they easily exceed most building standard minimums. Best of luck.
Couple of thoughts, the basic $3200 steel shipping container is not insulated manufactured from corrugated 16 gauge corten steel side and front walls, flat steel roof and heavy steel doors fitted with locking hardware. Most conversions utilize the fact the corrugations are upto 3" deep by filling them with insulation and adding sheetrock although some home builders are building the 'wall' on the outside of the steel sidewall. 1" thick plywood floor (treated with chemicals to comply with Australian bug treatment regulations) mounted on steel cross members easily insulated from below. 40ft container weight empty approx 9,000lbs, 20ft weight approx 5,000lbs. Delivery can be an issue, steering a 40ft down a driveway, turning it and positioning it is not fun..
Latest flooring is bamboo laminate that looks great (like dark oak) and comes from renewable bamboo forests unlike most plywood flooring which will have to be covered with a floor covering. The bamboo floor looks good enough to be your home floor although limited availability at present.
Very best of luck it is a great idea, happy to offer my ten cents anytime.
( 9 comments — Say something )


'stina is, surprisingly enough, a lawyer from Houston, Texas who rambles about quite a number of things.

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