Okay, so I took a break from that plasma cutter.
A guy has to eat, you know!
My family needs a house. My family has no cash. My family has a plan… and it involves Shipping Containers, recycled steel, and a lot of hard work. Hey, that’s why they call it “sweat equity”!
Most readers of this blog know that after a hurricane and an insurance company wiped out our dreams of “a life lived like regular people”, we started rebuilding.
And, our faithful readers know that our build is harder than most, because we have “complications.” My wife is seriously ill with cancer, and my son (who is 2 years old) isn’t big enough to swing a hammer yet.
I’m not going to bore you with all those details, because I’ve talked about them before. Suffice to say, we have our hands really full.
As we speak, I’m cutting “containers into boxes.” I’m helping a guy build a small “demented village”, out of damaged container segments. And, that’s work that will make a fella mighty hungry…
So, as I sit here watching the sweat rain down, for the 37th day in a row (or so it seems) …
I’m gathering my thoughts, while I gather up this sandwich, and stuff it into my face.
Note: Not the REAL sandwich. You think I’m crazy? This one’ll kill you!
So… you read, while I eat, ‘kay? Try to ignore the chomping and slurping… my wife does… barely…
I was out reading on the ‘net a few days ago, and something I read made me think about a guy I’ve been corresponding with for a while.
A reader recently contacted me (we’ll call him “J”), and told me about a “Corten Cabin” he has… stashed up in the woods. It’s what some of us would call a “Bug – Out Box”.
Now, “J” contacted me, because his box looks just like my old blog header, except for his box is twice as long.
You remember… this one.
“J” has a 40′ High Cube Shipping Container sitting on cinder blocks, out in the middle of nowhere, that he uses for weekend fishing trips.
There’s a logging road for access, unmaintained for years… that’s passable when it’s not under mud, or frozen under snow drifts.
The story he told me of them towing that container into the woods was hilarious.
His father-in-law wasn’t laughing, however… It was HIS truck they blew up moving that box.
Know how much it costs to get a tow-truck back into 4wd country, to haul out a dodge pick-up? Go on, guess!
More than the truck is worth. Oy.
It reminded me of a box we moved years ago, that kept trying to drag us back down the hill, before we got to the top of it…
You know how people say that when they’re facing their death, their life flashes before their eyes? Well, on THAT day, it kept happening to us over and over again…
After a while, all we could do was hang on, and scream “Deja VU!” at the top of our lungs…
Sure, we sounded like frightened little girls! We were scared “you-know-what!”
Wait… this post is supposed to be about “J”.
While he goes up there on weekends in the summer, he’s thinking that “with the economy trying to kill itself”, his family may be forced to head there someday, to ride out whatever “chaos and storm” the “hard times to come” might bring…
Now, we’re all nervous. You can’t watch cable TV without some “expert” saying that it’s time America either “checked up, or packed it in.”
We’ve all heard “it.” You know, the “experts” touting their “fearmongering” crap… “All nations eventually fail. Yada, yada, yada…”
I suspect that this is in part due to Cable TV shows like “The Colony” that advocate forward thinking rolled into a nice tight ball, to form a dysfunctional view of what survival in our times may end up being like, if you’re a complete idiot…
I’ve watched a few of these “disaster simulators”. You know, “here’s a look at what happens, when the “you-know-what” finally hits the fan”.
Everybody has a scenario. Everybody is sensationalizing our plummet to a grim capitalistic death. Everybody is speculating… Everybody is plotting…
But you know… we may not all get stranded with a rocket scientist, an electrical engineer, a mechanic, a nurse, a martial arts expert, and a doctor, yada… yada… yada…
We might get stranded by our “onesies.” So, we should understand what we’re doing, in case the cavalry doesn’t show up in time to make any repairs.
Or worse, we’ll inherit that drunk jerk up the street. You know the one…
… he’s always passed out on the lawn, none of his cars run (and he’s got eight of ‘em), and he’s always getting his lights turned off. The cops are always at his house… and his wife is always at YOUR house, “borrowing” groceries. Yeah, they’re gonna be a lot of help… Oy.
It’s why I also advocate knowing how to safely use and maintain personal firearms. And tasers… lets not forget tasers…
Like I was saying… before I so rudely interrupted myself… “J” thinks that if the world goes to hell in a handbasket, he and his family (he’s married with 4 children aged from 3-9) might have to be up there in his “bass box” the winter time, and he reminds me that it’s REMOTE.
There are no neighbors. There is no store. Walmart ain’t got there yet…
There’s just your wife yelling at you because you forgot the big Sam’s Club carton of toilet paper! “Ya Dumb Moron!!”
He’ll have whatever he hauls in with his small SUV, and that’s it. He doesn’t want to rely on propane, or any other type of “store-bought” fuel, simply because it might not be available.
There’s a neat little bass lake about 200 feet from his front porch.
He says you can spit into the pond, and catch a big, fat bass. (So, they won’t lack for protein.) Hence the name “Bass Box.” Paying attention? Huh?
The box isn’t anything to write home about, it’s just a big shipping container. Except for insulation and siding on the outside, it’s a regular box.
The box sits with the front face (40′) facing a few degrees of due south. It wasn’t “a solar plan”, it’s just the way the site worked out.
Actually, the “real” story goes like this:
They argued for three hours about where “the perfect spot” for the box was. Finally, his big brother said:
“@%$^#&#*!!! IT GOES RIGHT DAMN HERE!”
And then he punched “J” right in the eye. Voila! Problem solved.
He (and his brother – who is no longer available for “cabin help,” by the way…) applied a waterproof membrane on the exterior of the box. They used a rubberized roofing membrane that you spray on. ‘Cept, they used paint rollers, so it’s REALLY thick…
Why? Well, because they found 2 barrels of it… “just laying around, that nobody wanted”.
I know, I know… Don’t ask, don’t tell…
After they’d added more “water seal” to the box, they firred it out with 2×6′s. This created cavities, and those cavities received about 4″ of PolyIso foam into the cavities.
When I asked him where he got the PolyIso foam boards, he told me that they’d;
“… found/commandeered/discovered the material from a vacant industrial real estate listing they had. It was just laying there collecting dust”.
“Real Estate Plunder”. Okay, works for me…
Don’t worry “J”… we won’t hold “logistical left-turns” against you. We might, however, hold it against you that you’re a (gasp!) realtor!
Say… do you know a guy named “Clark?” Hmmm?
He put some siding scraps over the insulation that they found on “a dead building project”…
Hmmmm… I’m not sure if “J” is a recycler, or a felon. Note to self: “If getting stuff from “J”… always get a signed receipt.”
Anyway, as near as I can figure, he’s got about an r20-r30 wall system (depending on which PolyIso rigid foam product it is, it ranges from about r5 to r8 per inch). So, he can “almost” hold heat in, once he gets it there.
I say “almost” because he ran out of insulation at the top of the box, so the roof is uninsulated.
But, he’d been thinking about some kind of clerestory roof anyway to bring in more summer sun. Right now, “J” has a flat roof with a pair of vents on top, that are identical to the one depicted in my old blog header image.
Obviously, we’re going to pay some attention to this.
First, I’ll sue him for patent infringement…
You know what? I miss that old blog header. I think I’ll do my “Lazarus act” and resurrect it.
Seriously, a cool SHED roof would add headroom, a cool space for a few sleeping lofts, some additional storage, and a good opportunity for vents and windows to help with air movement and heat gain.
Plus we can use that roof pitch to catch water, and get rid of snow.
“J’s” back is gonna hurt for a week or two, by the time we’re done. Boy, I bet “J” wished he’d never heard of me, NOW…
Picture “J” sad. Poor “J.”
That just leaves the floor.
Shipping container floors are treated with serious insecticides and fungicides to keep alien bugs out of foreign ports.
Wood preservatives containing a number of organochlorine insecticides, including aldrin (no, not BUZZ Aldrin!), dieldrin, chlordane and lindane, are just the beginnings of the treatment that floors receive.
Although I know people who’d like to stuff Buzz Aldrin into a container… Oy!
I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, rip these floors out.
You can’t EVER trust the shipper you got the container from. The labels denoting the presence of that toxin are often worn off, or even just missing. Because the containers are moved so often and with so many variables… you can’t tell which ones got the toxic sprays just by looking.
Some containers escape without being sprayed or treated, but the only way to know for sure, is to take a sample of the floor out, and get it tested at a lab.
There’s are products that you can put on the floor to encapsulate them. That’ll seal the toxins in there, but they’ll still BE there. And, those products are expensive. We’ll go a different route.
Okay, all that accomplished, you’d have a “shelter”.
Inside, it’s spartan. It’s so bad that his wife won’t even go up there! Once you get through those big steel doors, you’re greeted by a few wooden shelves, a tiny wood stove, hammocks, and a blow-up mattress for a bed.
Did I forget to mention that they have a “shanty with a hole in the butt seat” kind of outhouse.
Oh yeah, they have an outhouse.
I bet he found THAT at a construction site, too…
He has a composting toilet, but it’s still in the box, in the garage. That’s kinda dumb… Lotta good it’s doing him, there!
Okay, he needs a bathroom, too.
And, he reminded me about 11 times that the box gets cold. So, we turn up the heat a bit.
He doesn’t want to try any “geothermal nonsense” (his words) because the container is already in place, and he couldn’t move it if he wanted to.
Actually, his exact words were;
“Ronin, don’t be giving me none of your Geothermal nonsense, I don’t like shovels, my friend…”
He doesn’t want to rely on solar panels, because he’s not a guy with a lot of money to set up a complete “off-grid” situation. The closest he’s come to that is a Harbor Freight photovoltaic set-up with a pair of small panels.
So, he has enough power for a laptop computer, a TV, and maybe a radio.
(I’m going to try and talk him into replacing that crap inverter, and adding a panel or two so that he can establish some kind of “real” electricity, for refrigeration and other necessities.)
With the world going digital, I wonder what TV signal he’d get? I’m thinking he uses a VCR or a DVD player… Remind me to check, okay?
He has a good water supply.
It’s a hand-pumped well that draws water from about 175 feet. If he wants a shower, he pumps water up into a black painted 55 gallon barrel on the roof of his container, and then gravity-feeds it to a showerhead.
This is great for one guy on a weekend, but it’s not gonna work for a “family in residence”. Nuh uh!
We need a solar powered pump, too.
BTW: The gray water from the shower, and doing the dishes goes out into the garden, that for now, only feeds the wild animals that live around his box.
That’s good, but we’ll do better.
They have a small swedish fireplace/stove combination installed, but they only use it for heat at night. It’s sitting on patio tiles as a hearth. So, it’s not exactly ideal. We’re gonna move the stove, and build it “into a better box”.
Again, it’s about managing resources. “J” says that he doesn’t want to use it during the day, if he doesn’t have to. Why? He hates chopping wood. HATES it!
The stove vents out the side of the box. Sort of… It’s a rather shaky connection.
So, we do some chimney repair, and then we use what I call “idiot solar” to help bump up the heat. But, we’ll use solar in a different way than “normal people” are used to.
Okay, I can see that there is a lot to do, but he needs to do it one weekend at a time.
And, he needs to do it in a way that maintains the security of the structure, so that he doesn’t end up with visitors he doesn’t want, or need, while he’s away…
So, over the next few posts in this series, we’re going to take that empty 40′ High Cube Shipping Container, and we’re going to turn it into a full blown cabin, complete with sleeping lofts, and enough interior to let it be used comfortably, for a long vacation in the woods.
It’s all about his family’s survival, if times get hard. And, it’s all about HIS survival, if his wife gets mad.
After all, out in the woods… nobody can hear you scream… Muuuuwahhahah!
We’re not just going to insulate that container top. We’re going to “weatherize” the box.
Weatherizing isn’t “turning off the heat and freezing in the dark”.
Try that with your wife sleeping next to you. I guarantee you that you’ll wake up, dead!
It’s all about using ‘stored’ energy (and less of it than you might think) combined with small resources to achieve the same level of comfort that you used to get from that McMansion of yours.
How do you accomplish this?
Well, first, you find all the “energy nasties” and you give them the boot. In this case, we’ll start with that leaky stove chimney, and work outward from there. Careful planning and attention to detail will have this family in a sustainable vacation home, in no time.
We’re also going to deal with indoor air quality.
Remember that the air quality is 2-5 times worse in your house, than the air outside it. This is a small space, that may be inhabited by a family of six (or maybe even more, if that damned brother promises not to punch him in the eye again) , under rather severe conditions, and maybe for extended periods of time.
Beyond air quality, we need to pay close attention to energy use, moisture (and it’s movement… unless you LIKE mold and mildew), combustion zones, and ventilation.
Remember, condensation is a killer.
Areas in walls and roof cavities that stay moist, start to grow funky things that attack your lungs. YUCK!
Ice dams on roofs can contribute to this problem, too. So we’re going to pay close attention to that roof, it’s construction, and it’s pitch.
We’ll talk about fixing that stove vent/chimney, before you huff and puff… and burn your house down…
We’ll talk about designing, building, and attaching a roof to catch the sun and even a couple of kids.
We’ll talk about photovoltaic panels on the cheap, and an “in-wall solar heating” solution.
We’ll talk about building loft spaces into it, to get the kids up and out of your hair.
We’ll talk about a “hidden” Master bedroom.
We’ll talk about the floor of that shipping container, and what to do about it.
We’ll talk about a kitchen (with a refrigerator, and running water, and everything!) and even a real bathroom.
We’ll talk about catching water and setting up a graywater system.
And, we’ll talk about building storage.
We need to add some serious storage into that shipping box, so that it can house all their crap, so that “J” doesn’t step on everything they own, in the middle of the night, when that damned bear is trying to beat down the door!
And we’re going to accomplish this, a goal at a time, a weekend at a time…
Because you “Show me a man who failed… and I’ll show you a man who didn’t have a good plan”.
We’re not just going to meet his needs, we’re going to exceed his expectations.
Why? Well, because… I know his wife… and she’ll kill him! (gulp!)