Building Houses out of Garbage – Part II(ish)

9 Jul


Last time, we discussed the perils and pitfalls of trying to navigate willy-nilly through miles of red-tape, in order to (gasp!) actually GET a grant, and build a place for that tribe of miscreants that you call a family to tear up and generally turn into a smoldering pile of dirty dishes, smelly socks, and…

“What’s this? Hey, who forgot to put the dog out? Ewwwwwww!”

Since I’m currently mired up to my bilge pump capacity in Political Poo-Poo, I’ve been weighing my options…

As you know, I’m tearing down old aircraft hangars, and recycling them into a house. But, this isn’t the end of it. I’m looking at another type of alternative housing to incorporate into this monster I‘m trying to breathe life into.

Years ago, we took big steel shipping containers (8’x8’x40′) and stacked them up, to form houses.

People called us “hippies,” “weirdos,”  and a lot of other stuff I can’t repeat here. Well, I could, but you’d  have to cover your eyes…

All you really needed was a little plot of ground, and a road big enough to get a truck down, so you could put the containers on the plot of your choice. We’d throw down some cinder blocks to use as a “foundation,“ add a septic tank, a well, and a solar panel or two… and voila!

Two shipping containers, plus some creative door and window solutions equals … An instant  640 square foot home! In a WEEK… A WEEK.

Sometimes, we’d paint them. Sometimes, we’d side them. Sometimes we’d put decks on the roof, so we could look out over the land…

Sometimes, if the neighbors were jerks, we’d just graffiti them all up, like demented “rock n roll” album covers. (Man, that really used to tick off the locals!)

But, now, in the “new” world we live in, people call these same houses “revolutionary breakthroughs,” “outstanding alternative architecture,” and “GREEN Homes.” And they call us “geniuses.”

(Mom always said I was a genius. But I never really believed her, because one good look at my parents wouldn’t lead you to believe that it was genetically possible…)

I call “container homes” what they are. Affordable! Way stronger than wood! Stronger than Hillbilly moonshine!

Comfortable places where my kids can’t put their little fists, or each other…  through the walls… (Oops, where did that come from?) LOL!

Sounds crazy, I know, but they work great. Once you “stack” containers together, insulate them, cut doors, windows, and openings in them, and put siding on them, you NEVER know what they were to begin with. Inside, it looks just like a “real” house. And, it goes up fast, fast, fast. You can build a house in a week.

(Okay, we’re talking “the shell” here, not the whole “kit and kaboodle!“)

I’ve done it several times before, in several places. And, those houses are built of “solid steel,” which makes them weather resistant, and almost indestructible. Most of these “homes” were small, remote, and built to be “truck-tough.” We put them in places where your safety was a huge concern.

I’ve been giving this serious thought again, because there are literally thousands of families here in Mississippi and Louisiana that haven’t returned to their “homes” yet, after Hurricane Katrina.

In a perfect world, you’d just move to a “new” house, but it doesn’t always work that way. America is in a housing crisis, and everybody is scared. And, in hurricane or flood ravaged areas, the “supply” just hasn’t caught up with the “demand” yet.  So, the places that are available are way overpriced, and under-built.

And, that means that you have to get really creative, sometimes, to solve a problem. And what’s more creative than living in a “shipping container?“

Well, for starters, containers are extremely cost effective, because you can buy a “scrap” 40’ container for about $1,000.  A 20‘-24’ container will set you back about $600, “locally.”

Oh, just stop it!  I can hear you howling already!

“You are NUTS! They’re gonna be loud! They’re gonna be unlivable spaces!“

Wrong, bucko! You put insulation on the OUTSIDE of the box, in between them, and then you put some rigid insulation on the inside too (under the sheetrock), to “quiet” them down, and keep them “snuggly and comfortable.“

Otherwise, I admit, it’s like living in a beer can. But once you’ve done this, they are pretty darn cozy.

If you figure that a 40’ container yields an approximately 308 square foot space (7’8” x 39’ 8”) once you install a floor, a ceiling and “walls,” you’re looking at less than $10 a square foot, “decorator ready.” Once they’re stacked up and welded together (and that takes about (1)  week-end), you can start installing the interiors.

FYI: You put a “spacer” in between them, to create additional headroom. Who wants a 7’8” ceiling? Nobody wants to get a “flat top” haircut from a ceiling fan!

This doesn’t include flooring, windows and doors, electrical, plumbing, heat and a/c, or fixtures. Obviously, that costs extra and takes longer, depending on your design. However, if you keep it fairly simple and straight-forward, within a month, they’re habitable.

Here in Coastal Mississippi, water is a big factor, so you build up from grade, using the first level as garage space. You’ll get a huge garage, a workshop, storage for everything in the world, and some peace of mind, for the price of a few 40‘ containers.

If you do it this way, your “home” doesn’t begin until you’re about 10’ off the ground. If it floods, you’re anchored, attached, and dry!

And if it floods high enough, you won’t starve, because you can fish off your decks!

You should probably build using the K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple, Stupid!”) method, though. If you keep it simple, you can figure that you’ll spend about $40-50 a square foot for your completed home, unless you do some of the work yourself. The more you do, the more you’ll save.

(Unless you’re Tim Allen on that TV show I forget the name of, and then, well… it’s a crap shoot.)

I’m going to do a lot of the work myself, so I figure it’ll cost about double that, taking into consideration the hospital visits, the wasted materials, and all the cool tools I’m gonna buy (that I won’t know how to use). LOL!

I know, you think I’m crazy, and all those drugs I did in the seventies have affected my brain. Well, in the “seventies,” I was only a pubescent kid. I didn’t do drugs. I was barely old enough to drive. Heck, I still threw up, when I drank!

(Thank heavens I don’t do that any more! I hardly EVER puke!)

Anyway, some “respectable” people (besides “moi”) have already seen the light that I’m shining…

The CA Dept of Forestry has been using these containers for years, building “remote sites.” (I have a photo of one here somewhere, and I’ll see if I can find it… Ah, here it is… )

Here's the beginnings of a shipping container conversion...
Here’s the beginnings of a shipping container conversion…

NOAA does it too, they use them as “remote weather habitats.”

When the US Military does it, they call them  “MMC‘s” (mobile compound components). I’d show you a photo of one of these babies, but it’d scare you. They paint them olive drab or “desert camouflage,” and these containers don’t exactly make for a “cool” front yard, unless you live in Afghanistan or Iraq. Now THAT would definitely make your neighbors cranky! But, who cares what they think? Your house would be “bulletproof!” LOL!

FYI: According to “industry averages,“ a regular “stick built” (wood) house built in the United States costs anywhere from $70-$100 a square foot to build, and it takes months to get it ready to move into. For that, you get a simple tract house with attached garage, few frills, and about “zero” luxury factor.

If you stay tuned, I’ll show you a whole new way…

Next time, we’ll discuss “everything you never wanted to know, about containers…”

You’ve been warned…


5 Responses to “Building Houses out of Garbage – Part II(ish)”

  1. Ashish July 10, 2008 at 5:23 am #

    Woah. Maybe even some people over here will find this interesting AND useful.

    One small question: What about the heat? Do you have to pad it or something to protect it from heating up? I’m a n00b in these things…

  2. renaissanceronin July 10, 2008 at 6:47 am #


    Once you insulate the containers (using rigid insulation), not even the desert sun off the Sahara Desert can mess with your day. I’m exaggerating here, but the insulation value ends up being “higher” than a traditionally constructed house. I’ve lived in them, in the Middle East and Africa, and although it was “hot, hot, hot…” outside, it was nice and cool (72 degrees) inside.

    And, because the houses are made of steel, you can actually “bury” them, to make them cooler using the Earth’s insulation qualities. Just use (well sealed) skylights to bring in the sun…

    I’ll be talking about this in the blog, as it goes further along. Thanks so much for your support!


  3. Schumacher Homes Press October 9, 2008 at 10:27 am #

    That’s so cool how you can use Earth’s insulation qualities to your advatange with a steel home. I am looking into building one now.


  1. » Building Houses out of Garbage - Part II(ish) - July 9, 2008

    […] renaissanceronin released a breaking post on Building Houses out of Garbage – Part II(ish). See below for a quick excerpt: […]

  2. Building a Green House and Rain Water Harvesting « Visceral Observations - July 10, 2008

    […] Ronin realises that he needs a safe place for his wife and 9-month-old son. He has resolved to make house out of recycled stuff, garbage as he puts it. He has applied for grants such as to remove old hangars from an airport, to be recycled into housing. He chronicles all his difficulties in building his green house on his blog. You can read the details here and here. […]

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