How to build a home from “garbage” – Part IV(ish)

12 Jul


Those of you that have been following along, know that I’m in the middle of a project to build affordable housing for my family, out of discarded shipping containers, and aircraft hangar “parts.”

Although, I’m a guy who really appreciates a good challenge, this came more out of desperation, as opposed to “creativity.”

As it happens, my family, like many others, is suffering from the current housing crisis, in a major way.

I’ve already discussed this in my previous posts, so if you need a refresher course, well… I’ll just wait right here, while you figure out why I’m doing this. Just look over at that sidebar on your right, and start getting caught up. Don’t forget your “hall pass” though. I don’t want you getting detention, on account of me!

You’re back already? See, I told you that “Hall Monitor Lady” was a pain…

Now where were we? Oh yeah…

I’m just an “average joe,” struggling upstream like the rest of the salmon.  I’m having to stretch the limits of my hollow cranium, to try and get my family into some place warm and dry by winter.

You know why I’m doing this. In fact, if you were in my place, and you’d run out of options, you’d be doing it too, right? Right? Well?

I’ve already described the goings on here in coastal Mississippi, so I’m not going to recap this time. Like I said (you WERE paying attention, right?) a quick view of my previous posts will catch you up, if you’re curious.

My house isn’t going to be like other houses around here. It’s boxy, it’s not  reflective of the “local architecture,” and it’s tall. Really tall. So, actual placement is tricky. I’d like to think that I could just plop it down anywhere, but I doubt that’s going to be the case. Because it’s unconventional, I’m sure that the neighbors are going to have something to say about it. And, I don’t have time for years of Public Hearings.

Plus if I did it in the city, the city Planning and Zoning department would make me crazy. They have things like “roof height” limits, neighborhood Architectural Review Committees, and I’d have to educate them as to the structural qualities of the steel containers, as a construction component. God help you if you do something that they’ve never seen before.

“What in the hell is this?“

They’d be out at the curb by their city truck, discussing “the calamity” with their superiors on their cell phones, until Jesus comes back.

The fact that it’s a proven technology that’s been used over and over for decades will be beyond them. It won’t matter that it’s been proven over and over again, with these containers loaded to the bursting point with tons of cargo, and then stacked several containers high, in huge sea-going rafts.

In fact, without adding one single piece of weld, you can stack and bolt them  (5) high (fully loaded!), with very little possibility of a structural failure.

I’m going to stack shipping containers (4) levels high, in a 1,600 square foot “footprint.”

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that my garage level will be the “tallest“ level, but it’s because I want the “living spaces” to be way up over the tidal surge height of 12’.

Plus, I want the ability to park a loaded truck (with a roof rack) inside in case of inclement weather.

But after that, it’s a pretty conventional house, despite it‘s unconventional origins.

The house is going to be approximately 4,096 square feet under a/c, on 4 levels. (This doesn’t include the 1,600 square foot garage level.) I thought I was going to stop at about 3,200 square feet, but as it turns out, this 4,000 square foot configuration does everything we’ll ever need, the most effectively.

Our house has 3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, an office to work out of, a recreation room, a greenhouse located at the very top of the house, a rooftop garden off the Master Wing level, a parking garage, and metal/wood shop, you know, the usual… It even has a secret loft at the very top.

(Oh crap, its’ not a secret anymore, is is?) #$%@!!

This house seems huge, but it’s really not. Using containers as “building blocks,“ I’ve just piled them up to form the rooms I wanted. The design  takes advantage of the layout, my goal was to provide both common and private spaces, in a pretty manageable plan so that we don’t become slaves to the house.

I’ve laid claim to every flat surface created, to build “life space.” Since the house is made of steel, I already have the “structure.” All I have to do is add doors and windows. You’ll see what I mean, as I go we go along.

We’re going to use every “green” technology we can incorporate to allow the house to sustain itself. We want to “live with the house and the land,” and “not on the land, with a big house.”

Now, I’m the first one to admit that the house will stick out like a sore thumb. It’s hard to hide a house that has to “start” 12 feet off the ground! I kinda think of it as a “redneck version” of the monolith in “2001; A Space Odyssey!” I hate that the house becomes so “public,” because I’m shy, don’t ya know… LOL!

It’ll be both a “passive” and “active” solar house. We’re using solar panels, a windmill generator (that gets assisted by a “solar still,”) radiant floor heating, “environmental” a/c, and even a bio-fuel generator for power back-up, and emergency power.

On good days, we’ll be completely off the grid. And that means I can afford more goodies, like comic books and baseball cards for the boy!! LOL!

We’re not embracing “green” to be fashionable. We’re doing it because it makes sense, pays for itself, and helps us live on a day to day basis, at a level we couldn’t afford otherwise. I am using LEED guidelines, and I hope to have the home qualify for a LEED “rating & award.” It would validate what we’ve done, and make it easier for others to repeat it.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization that certifies sustainable businesses, homes, hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods. USGBC is dedicated to expanding green building practices and education, and its LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED addresses all building types and emphasizes state-of-the-art strategies in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality.

You can find out more about them, at

We wanted a house that was indoor/outdoor. I even had a ratio in mind. We spend a lot of time, outdoors. And Mother Nature is difficult here…

(It’s like living with Goldilocks! Too hot, too cold… too many #@%&*! mosquitoes!)

I had to figure out how to build outdoors space we could screen in, to keep the critters out. Don’t get me wrong, the weather can be pretty pleasant here, for those three or four days when it’s not either terribly hot and mosquito ridden, or freezing cold and rainy…

Before I moved here, I  thought that the South, like the tropics, was warm, mild, and island-like. I saw it on cable! Sheesh, those Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movies were written by a bunch of liars!

We built a lot of “surface area” into the house, intentionally. I know those big, gabled roofs look cool, but we wanted to “reclaim the space, for decks and water retention areas. I get to play on the roof without my wife yelling at me, and we get to “harvest” all the rain we get, for irrigation. In spring, and until late summer, it rains almost every day. That’s perfect for me, because that’s when I garden the most! Good, and good.

The house will possess lots of exterior decks off each level, and a big rooftop garden area to grow my “special brand of tomatoes” without interference, or garden vegetable thieves!!

Have you seen the price of produce lately? We’d eat more salads around here, but the store wouldn’t agree to finance my vegetable purchases out over 10 years… LOL!

(Actually, if anybody can scale a 30+’ vertical wall, and steal a basket of my homegrown produce without getting eaten by my dogs, they’re welcome to try it. It’ll make good footage for the DVD!) LOL!

I’m positive that there are other people interested in doing this.

(Not stealing vegetables! Building a house out of containers! Sheesh, you’re not paying attention, are you? And if you ARE a “vegetable ninja,” I have something for you… Come and get it! Heh-heh!)

FYI: Did you know that I was the only white kid in the world to ever get shot for stealing watermelons? Yep, I pedaled out to a field on my Schwinn Sting Ray after school one day, plucked one, stuck it between my handlebars, and hauled butt…

But… not fast enough. A grower saw me, and cranked off a round of rock salt from his shotgun, and I suffered… oh, how I suffered…

After my Mom pulled out most of the rock salt with tweezers (laughing hysterically the whole time!) she threw me in the station wagon, to go confront the “watermelon sniper.”

(She was laughing, I was… um… er… crying. Well, wanna make something of it? You’d cry to! That stuff hurts! Bad!)

And then, Mom did what Mom does best. She disarmed my assassin, and then actually beat him to a bloody pulp. I love my Mom. She’s the best… (sigh!)

And then, my mom ate all the watermelon, by herself. She didn’t share a single bite of it with me! And I was the one that swiped it, “fair and square!” There is no justice in the world, I tell you!

But, I got to brag for years that I got my first GSW (gunshot wound) at the ripe old age of 9. For the curious among you, I have several GSW’s now, plus some stab wounds, and a knife (slash) wound or two.

What does this mean? It means that I’m not smart enough to get out of the way, that’s what it means… Man, I hope Joshua got his mother’s brains… LOL!

Where was I? Oh yeah… Progress…

So, I’m going to document my progress, feed the blogs and news channels religiously, and start to recruit volunteers to come out on week-ends and help build it, so that they can get some hands on, before they build one of their own, just like “Habitat for Humanity” does.

(That way, progress will still be made on the house while I’m at the hospital getting the nail out of my head that I put there with the nail gun!)

I’m courting manufacturers, trying to get materials and technical assistance in exchange for publicity demonstrating how their “terrific products” are being used to develop this new groundbreaking and very “green” housing alternative. Hey, they can drag their photographers in any time they want!

(By appointment, please. You can never tell when Daddy might want some “private time” with Momma… Our lives are very hectic. Our son, “The Emperor of the World,“ is a devious little tyrant who is already trying to take over the galaxy! And he never sleeps! It‘s part of his evil plan, I think. Sleep depravation keeps mommy and daddy quiet, and obedient…)

Now, there’s another guy I know who claims to be the real “Emperor of the World,” but he’s just plain crazy… He’s had way too much “Rat Salad” for lunch! And anybody who “wrestles geeks” has way too much time on their hands. You know who you are, eh? LOL!

And, although I’m usually “press shy,“ I’ll let the camera lackeys in. That’s because if they’re gonna do photo-shoots, they’ll pony up for wall treatments, fancy windows, and good looking stuff to frame their products with! My mother didn’t raise no stupid kids…

So far, it looks really promising. I’ve got some “maybe’s” from kitchen appliance manufacturers, tool manufacturers, and bathroom fixture manufacturers, too! Advertising reps are chomping at the bit to get into the act. After all, “Hurricane Recovery” is hot, hot, hot!

I’m working on the “final” drawings now. I’ve done a lot of research, and I’ve seen some really good ideas, so I’m combining them all together in a blend I call;

“Casa del Don’t sue me for copyright infringement!”  or “Casa DeSMaFoCI,” for short.

I had to shorten it, because I couldn’t figure out how to get it all on the wrought iron gate, that goes in the driveway, to keep the riff raff“ out… LOL!

(To those guys who claim my work looks kinda familiar to theirs; I’ll give you credit if you earned it, I promise! Some of you guys (and gals) have been inspiring! But, for the record, I didn’t just “copy” anything. I’ve done my homework, burned up a batch of calculator batteries, made my computer puke about eighty times, and twisted designs pretty damn hard. Picture every book on Experimental Architecture, and “The Environment” you ever read, thrown into a blender! And just so you know, I don’t care about “the fame.“ I‘m not greedy. My wife and baby just want a house of their own, where they’ll be safe. That‘s all. Anything else that comes along will just be “gravy.”)

So, it’s gonna look like a great big box. It’s gonna look like a “Hillbilly skyscraper!” It’s gonna be really ugly. It’s gonna make all the neighbors mad. I couldn’t be happier! LOL!

(I’m tempted to let the local graffiti artists take a stab at my exterior! I’ll go for the “Industrial Zone” look! And, I‘ll save a load of cash on exterior paint! I wonder if I could get a NEA grant for that? Hmmm…)

Seriously, it’s gonna look like any other house, but taller. And it’ll just appear on the lot, one day vacant, the next day a big, building block of a beast!

You can see where I’m going with this. Once we do it here, others could too, and we could house families affordably, and quickly…

Plus, I keep having this dream that I’m entitled to get compensated for all my research and design time. In my dream, I’m going to produce a DVD with plans, drawings, elevations, and construction footage (start to finish), and sell it for $29.95 (plus shipping and handling).

I can see it now… I’ll get a local cable ad, and then, after I sell a few, I’ll get an ad in my regional building magazine.

In this delusion…

(probably brought on by eating Chicken Fried Ice Cream and Tobasco sauce too close to bedtime…)

I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I figure that I’ll sell a few thousand of these DVDs, help people get back into houses, and offset the cost of my own construction, at the same time.

I might even be responsible for starting a “cottage container industry!”

I could become “The King of Containers!”  I even drew up a logo!

Wait, I remember something from a book I read about business school;

“Responsibility equals lawsuits.”

Never mind.

One thing I’m sure of, is that I’m gonna get press. The local newspapers and TV News are gonna be all over me like flies on shrimp husks. So, I’ll just put on my cleanest NASCAR T-Shirt, and welcome the press lackeys in.

(But they better bring their own beverages! I gotta draw a line somewhere!)

Free publicity is, well.. Free publicity. And who knows where it will lead?

I might get my own “reality show.” “Redneck Recovery: The Series!” I could give “American Chopper” a run for it’s money let me tell you! We grow dysfunction around here by the bushel basket!

I’m so excited, that I could just… uh-oh! What a mess!

(Oh well, I’ll just blame it on the dog…)

Stay tuned, because next time, we start getting really specific…


6 Responses to “How to build a home from “garbage” – Part IV(ish)”

  1. Mike July 13, 2008 at 2:41 am #

    Man, I like the cut of your jib.

  2. trinaberg July 14, 2008 at 4:07 pm #

    Wow. I’m soo glad that you left a comment on my blog! I can’t wait to read more about your garbagey green house adventure. Though we weren’t affected by hurrican Katrina, we’re struggling figuring out how to build/afford a house of our own as well.

    In fact, I was just telling my husband Sat nite that we need to start getting creative about our house. Think “outside the box.” So I’m excited to show him your blog as well.

    Looking forward to more pictures. Your first floor plan looks great. I love that you’re going to have a green house near the top and a green roof as well…way to go. Seriously, I’m really excited about this.

    Have you already posted pics of your storage containers, and are you going to fill them with anything for insulation, or do you not need to? I’m going to search your blog for your bamboo. If you haven’t already, I look forward to seeing stuff on your bamboo cabinets. Have a great one!

  3. Ashish July 16, 2008 at 5:44 am #

    Now, there’s another guy I know who claims to be the real “Emperor of the World,” but he’s just plain crazy… He’s had way too much “Rat Salad” for lunch! And anybody who “wrestles geeks” has way too much time on their hands. You know who you are, eh? LOL!
    Ahem.. everyone claims they are… but I’m the one who IS going to rule the world. 😛

  4. renaissanceronin July 16, 2008 at 6:09 am #


    @ Ashish; I smell a coup d’etat blowing in from the west…

    And we’re “coup” experts! We’ve had a Coupe Deville, a 34′ Ford Coupe, and a Saturn Coupe…

    Watch your borders, you’re about to suffer the wrath of “Mini-Ronin!” LOL!

  5. chase carter September 10, 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    I am a fifth yr architecture student. I am currently doing a thesis on shipping container housing. I am having trouble finding information on some thing:

    1. systems integration…how/where do you install plumbing and HVAC systems
    2. how/where do you punch windows & doors so that the structural integrity of the box isnt lost?
    3. insulation….what kind? spray/rigid/batt???
    4. what happens when you want to remove a side wall from the container (structurally).

    thanks for your help and awesome blog! i hope to see pics and a finished product….


  6. renaissanceronin September 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    @ Chase: I’m sure that as you follow along, you’ll see how we handle these problems. But, the condensed version is like this;

    (1) Containers are set on “riser collars” allowing space beneath and above, to house plumbing and HVAC. “Raceways” designed into interior allow access to plumbing and electrical.

    (2) The skin has NO structural integrity at all. The steel subframe is the strength. So, you cut (using a plasma cutter) wherever you want.

    (3) Therein lies the debate. We’re opting for a hard look at ceramic insulative spray (CIS) technology, in our “test mode.” If it survives the trials, we’ll coat containers inside and out. If not, we’ll be forced to insulate conventionally (probably with a combination of cellulose and rigid).

    (4) I’m assuming you mean creating long “open” spans between containers? You weld the subframe members together to support the weight of the span. The welded subframes become beams. You can use columns or posts, if you wish, we just don’t need them in our design.

    Stay tuned.

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