Building Houses from “Garbage” – Part III(ish)

10 Jul


I’m building a house out of “shipping containers.” Yes, you heard right. I am, too!

In previous posts, I’ve discussed “why” I’m doing something that sounds so crazy. I’m not going to recap, because frankly, the reasons I decided to do this aren’t “heroic,” or even “visionary,” they’re just really, really depressing.

As much as I love some of the praise that’s been so generously heaped on me lately, I didn’t earn it. I just need to save my family. So, let’s just move on, shall we?

This time, I’ll discuss the merit of “container” construction, in general. A lot of people who are reading this, just don’t get it. They’re stuck in the “b-b-b-but it wasn’t “made” for that… mode.”

I have an email folder full of mail from irate people screaming; “How could you do that to your own family, you bastard?”

Here’s a fact for you; These “shipping container” houses are already all over the world, and they have been, for years.

Want proof?

The Chinese build them for University housing, by the thousands.

In Europe, they build hotels out of them.

In South America, they build container cities, quickly and efficiently, housing hundreds of people.

We (a “group” I played in the bushes with,  a long time ago, back when I still had hair) built them in Central America, and the “natives” love them!

In the Middle East, we built them for protection from the elements, and even the Palestinians. And, the Palestinians built them, for about the same reasons.

In Africa, we built them as “missions,” and “research labs,” and they worked  great!

As you can see, you can build them ANYWHERE. They go up fast, tight, and ready to protect you from the elements. All you need is a way to get them there, and some creative energy to make them cozy inside.

But here in the USA, people just don’t seem to get it! They’re more focused on “fancy,” than “efficient and affordable.” But a corporate somebody figured it out. There’s a bunch of “container” buildings going up, in New York City as we speak… um… er… type…

I can’t even imagine how hard those “first” Planning and Zoning hearings were… Oy Vay!

The houses we built in Central America (Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua) took direct hits from hurricanes and massive tropical storms several times, and didn’t budge.

(We’ve lost a few windows to debris, and some roof tiles have flown away, but the houses themselves held up great and nobody’s ever been injured due to a structural failure.)

And, they’re all over 15 years old. Most of them are even older, going back almost 30 years.

The houses we built in Northern California are subject to monsoon rains and snow every year and haven’t leaked a bit, or shown any sign of failure. And they’ve been standing for over two decades now.

Now that saddens all the neighbors who think that “alternative  =  ugly.”  However, in our case, you can’t actually “see” them from any public road, so I don’t know what the locals are complaining about.

We don’t think they are ugly, and we don’t care what the neighbors think. We’re just like that! LOL!

(Secretly, we think that they’re just mad because they didn’t think of it, themselves.)

Folks, there are literally thousands of containers sitting around, waiting to be used for this purpose. A call placed to any container yard will reveal that they have a bunch of them to sell off, to make way for new ones.

Now, you need to be close enough to a Shipping Port or Rail Yard to make moving them affordable, but if you can smell the ocean (that’s your socks you’re probably smelling. I suggest you open a window, and try it again…), or stinky train smells,  you’re close enough to try this, on the cheap…

Here’s why using containers to build houses is so cool;

The “building blocks” are cheap.

For starters, containers are assets, just like any other business equipment.

So the accountants depreciate them, just like a computer, or an office chair. And when they hit “zero,” they get rid of them, and build new ones. And they don’t haul them all back and forth like you’d think. It’s cheaper just to build new ones.

A “shipping” buddy of mine tells me that a container pays for itself the FIRST time they deploy it. After that, it’s all gravy. (I’m over-simplifying, here.)

Containers are made to load onto tractor trailers, so moving them is simple, and it doesn’t demand any special permits. As long as you can get them down the road to your building site, I assure you, you can do this.

A 40’ container weighs in at about 4,000 pounds each, so you can use a pretty small crane to “lift and stack” them up. This means that you can pile them all up in one day, easy. Easy. Even making all the “interconnections,“ it takes about an hour to set each unit. And that’s good, because that damned crane is expensive.

I’m serious, though. I’ve stacked 14 of them together in a week-end, with time for a BBQ at the end… No! I didn’t do it by myself! Who do you think I am? Batman?

And that house was “huge!” It was almost 6,800 square feet!

And remember, since the shipping containers are made of steel, they don’t just fall apart. They actually have  a frame inside of them, that isn’t dependent on any of the “walls,“ for strength. The internal bracing is incredibly strong, so stacking them, even in different sizes, is a breeze. You can easily stack 40’ and 20’ units together in several combinations, because the internal frame is made specifically for this!

Think of the versatility here!  I guarantee you’ll go crazy, trying to figure out “which stacking pattern” you’re going to call home.

So, you end up with a steel box, that needs a little sandblasting, a little welding, and a coat of anti-rust primer, to start stacking your way to a house! And that labor doesn’t take very long, or demand any special skill. If I can do it… believe me, anybody can do it.

And, you hit the “Bureaucratic Bonanza” again! Using “recycled shipping containers” entitles you to yet another special federal grant, because you’re “recycling!” And, you’ll qualify for a tax credit! I’m sure, because I checked!

When I started exploring this housing dialog with the grant guys, I thought about building a “container house” without any other “components.” I started recruiting guys to help, and bounced the idea off of some architects and engineers I know. I have some architectural education, and a lot of “hands on” experience. I just wanted some reassurance, and some assistance dealing with “the local government.”

(I didn’t really “need” architects and engineers, but this is Mississippi. Unless you have a tribe devoted to your cause, they just don’t take you seriously, here.)

As you can probably guess, it went nowhere, because people had FEMA and insurance money to spend on new housing.

And, this is Mississippi. Everything is harder in Mississippi, for exactly the reasons you’re probably imagining. Yeah Buddy!

Let’s be real, here. This kind of architecture just doesn’t interest the “trades guys.” Architects and Engineers usually charge by percentages of construction budget, or by hefty “hourly“ fee schedules. And “container houses” are usually built on a tight, and even miserly budget.

It just doesn’t make money for a “trades guy (or gal)” to get involved. There isn’t any real profit in it for them.

But, the FEMA train has rolled out of Dodge, and most of the insurance construction money has dwindled out, so now these same people are looking for a new money stream.

And because of this, a few of these “trades lackeys” (and I use the term “lovingly”) are starting to take me seriously, finally.

After several meetings, and a lot of research on my part, this can happen. I’d better be sure, because I’m betting my family’s life on it. The technology is simple. The “recycling and energy efficiency” enables the home-owner to get grants from the feds, and you get a home that will withstand a big wind, and some water.

Enough already, I’m starting to sound like a salesman. I hate salesmen! You get the point. I’m gonna build one. I’m gonna do it in my county (not the city, because there are too many obstacles!).

I’m doing it, right now.

I’m looking for a small piece of property as we speak.

I’m not greedy, a half acre should just about do it, out in the country, so I can make noise, raise some cane, and a few kids.

Next time, we’ll talk more about how I’m going to start building this beast…

Stay tuned!


3 Responses to “Building Houses from “Garbage” – Part III(ish)”

  1. dinu July 11, 2008 at 5:16 am #

    interesting post 🙂 read the entire stuff ………. will keep watching as you go .. to encourage you 😉 all the best buddy

  2. Ashish July 12, 2008 at 2:49 am #

    Hey Ron, I saw one of them container houses here… well it did technically was one. The family had some windows and a door cut out and welded two containers together. Thats all I could discern as it was quite far off. Maybe I’ll get a pic next time. 🙂

  3. renaissanceronin July 12, 2008 at 3:42 am #

    @ ashish: I’m telling you, they are everywhere! How else can you build shelter for just a few dollars a foot? And you find these containers in every country of the world, just laying around!

    (The only miserable part is sand-blasting all the “sea paint” off of them. It’s toxic.) Grumble, grumble, grumble… Oy Vay!

    Just posted the next “chapter.” Make sure to tell me what you think. You got a mention… LOL!


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