Welcome to ‘My Shipping Container’ Farm!

21 Sep

“In the Beginning, Gawd created an idiot… named Alex…”

At least, that’s what my wife says……

Hey, if you’ve been hanging around, you already know the drill…

I’m the guy in Mississippi trying to use recycled and re-purposed stuff to build a home for my family, after a hurricane ate my old one.

And just like thousands of families on the Gulf coast, we’re still not back in a house.

Now my build is a bit complicated, for four reasons.

First – Because the insurance company turned out to be greedy @ssholes who don’t want to pay off claims, “we’re stuck like Chuck”.  So, we’re in a pool of over 2,000 families waiting for the resolution of a class action lawsuit.  The lawyers say it could take years…

Second – The Planning and Zoning Nazis in this neck of the woods see ISBU container homes as a blight on the landscape, and they don’t want them anywhere near their neighborhoods. So it’s a fight, from the very beginning, to the bitter end.

Third – We have to pay as we go, because there isn’t any “formal” build money. Walk into a bank and then tell them you want a loan to turn steel shipping boxes into a house. They’ll treat you like you’re a stand-up comedian… Oy.

Fourth – My wife has a disease that is killing her, and we’re racing against the clock against the cancer.

In the meantime, we’re still without a home of our own.

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that my wife has cancer, and she’s having a rough go of it. And, we now have a healthy almost 2 year old son (October 12th), who was “the chocolate icing on a horrible ‘crap’ cake…

Whaaat

Where did the time go? Where did my hair go? Where? Ah… never mind…

You see, we found out that she was very ill, the same day we found out she was pregnant.

My wife is a trooper. In fact, my wife is the “General Patton” of wives. She elected to risk her life to carry our son.  She knew that the treatment she needed to go after the cancer, would kill him. She knew that waiting for the treatment would probably kill her. But, she waited until after Joshua was born, to start treatment. A life, for a life.

By then, the disease had taken a firm foothold, and now we’re fighting it with everything we have.

I’m not going to kid you… It’s real hard, and we pray it will turn out okay, but we’re doing the best that we can. Facing and fighting cancer without medical insurance is a real bitch. Massive layoffs after the storm, and then again after the economy tried to commit Hara Kiri (Seppuku)…

hari-kari

… put a lot of us in dire straits… it’s a big boat, so grab an oar, huh?

(And for those who are wondering… No, you can’t get Medicaid in Mississippi, if you make more than $500 a month. We tried, until the frustration nearly drove us mad. You CAN get “near death – indigent care” treatment, but the quality of this care is pathetic.)

And, so… as we fight this… we still need a home. She DESERVES a home. I OWE her a home. G_d knows she’s earned it…

Time out… Just amuse yourself while I go take a pill… okay?

Okay, now that my blood pressure is going back down to something that resembles “normal”….

Our home goals aren’t “lofty”. They start the same place as yours probably did;  It all starts with a safe place to sleep and enough room to store all of your crap… 🙂

Many people have asked me how I’m going to fabricate containers for an ISBU home, without having to have two homes at the same time. Many of your know that I’m pretty much home 24/7, as I need to be close enough to help out at home. I’m also the full-time care “nurse and chief cook/bottle washer. So, I need to be “steps away.”

It only complicated things further, because… on top of that, it’s hard enough making ends meet, with chemo and radiation and medications, and all the damned diapers…

Diapers… My kid goes thru a diaper an hour… or so it seems… He’s almost ready for potty-training…

Thank G_d! 🙂

So, like I was saying, we need to find a way to cut costs, so that all of our resources are headed at this build. But how do you do that?

Well… like the old saying goes; ‘The sky’s the limit!’

Remember those aircraft hangars that we took down?

A while back, I told you about a federal program that allowed for the removal of Aircraft Hangars from specific airports around the country, so that “proper” brick and mortar boxes could be rebuilt (according to the FAA and Homeland Security). After miles of paperwork, you “won” the right to find contractors with the right credentials, and you couldn’t resale the buildings, after you took them down.

And… No “Scrapping for cash… buddy!” like it’d be worth it. ‘Cash for Clunkers’ has provided all the scrap steel anybody could need, for a while, at the expense of taxpayers, again… Don’t even get me started!:(

scrapped-cars

Now, the powers that be thought that some terrorist might try to blow up a bunch of airplanes, or perhaps hijack a small plane to use as a fuel filled missile, or whatever…

I’m not sure I buy it, because you don’t store a “fully fueled” airplane in a hangar. You fuel it on the tarmac, before you take off… usually. And, a typical small aircraft won’t haul enough fuel or payload, to make it a “formidable weapon” in the hands of bad guys.

But, whatever… if they want to give away hangars, I’m taking one… or maybe even three…

And, that’s exactly what I did.

One of the hangars was 80′ x 120′ x 40′. It was actually (2) 80′ x 60′ hangar structures, connected back to back. And it had 30′ walls, and a gabled roof.

Recently, an ISBU experiment I’m participating in made me start re-thinking about HOW you build shelter.

And that started me to thinking…

Rather than just cannibalizing the big ugly boxes for ‘steel and siding’, what if you put one back up to store all your junk in, and then… you found a way to carve out a place inside it, to sleep… huh? A box in a box that rocks!

It could work. But how?

The hardest part about having an aircraft hangar on your property is this;

elephant_in_yard

“It’s the elephant in the yard.”

After all, it’s huge, it looks like it belongs somewhere else, and it sticks out like a ‘sore thumb.’

But, what if you put a wrap-around porch on it? Now… it’s starting to look like something else, eh?

Barns are big, but nobody has a fit when they see them… Especially around here.

So, we just build a “barn”.

No! I ain’t painting it RED. Nuh-uh!

Barns have big doors. Gotta get a tractor in there somehow, right?

Hangars have huge doors in them, too… to let planes in.  And, they frame those doors with big internal trusses.

Now, a “regular” aircraft hangar door wouldn’t bear the additional weight of a porch… but if you added internal framing and bracing to it, and then increased the hydraulic lift capacity, by, say…

… using larger rehabbed cylinders from an industrial scrapyard, it sure would.

Aircraft hangar doors use a small truss inside them, to keep the door rigid. That truss only has to carry the siding, basically. But, I’d need a much bigger “door truss” system in order to carry the weight of a roof, a deck and the porch railing.

But, it’s not THAT much weight… a pair of 4′ trusses would do it, easy.

I’m not the first guy to think about this. In fact, I know of a guy in Florida who did exactly what I’m talking about, he just went “store-bought.”

And you know me… I’m a cheap bastard who would rather “do-it-myself… or do without.”

No “Jew” jokes… I’m watchin you!

And turn your speaker volume down, the soundtrack is terrible! 🙂

And, I just happen to have (8) rehabbed tractor cylinders. Barter is a beautiful thing.

So, I’m thinking to myself;

“Self..” I says… “If I build a box that’s 80′ x 80′ by 40′ tall (30′ at the East/West ends)… I have a fab shop. And, if I build a balcony into that ‘fab shop’, that’s 24 feet deep (3 containers), way in the back… I have a 24′ x 80′ loft, one that’s got a pretty high ceiling if I cut the tops out of the containers.”

And, I would, too. The hangar I’m thinking of rebuilding has a gabled ceiling, that starts at 30′, and goes up another 10′. I’d build my loft up in the air almost 20′.

Why so high?

Well… A High Cube shipping container, sitting on the ground, is 9’6″ tall.

And I’ve gotta get both under it and on top of it. The containers will set on roller frames, that hold it up the same height as a tractor trailer flatbed. That way, I can just winch it off the flatbed onto my fab frame and then… winch it back onto the flatbed, when it’s time to move it to the site.

The roller frames are just really “dummy tractor trailer flatbeds”, basically. That gives you about 50″ underneath to punch holes, weld flanges, and just generally make a mess.

It’s not that complicated, if you think about it. The roller frames are just big steel frames made out of scrap I-Beams, with “casters” on them, to let them get pulled around, if necessary. Along the rails, there are several rollers, that will allow the container to by pulled on and off.  Remember, they don’t have to be monsters, as a 40′ Shipping Container isn’t that heavy, even after you add an interior to it.

Now, we have several hangar doors, so we’ll cut them down to fit our needs… We’d gonna put one “monster” door in “the front”, and we’d mount (2) in the back. The rear ones will measure approximately 25′ across and they’ll be 15′ high.

Why?

Jeez, you ask a lot of questions! Well, since you asked…

We need to get those containers back out, once they’re ready to move… “slide in –  slide out…”

Now, a bay 80′ wide by almost 60′ deep gives me the space to work on (4) containers at a time. Easy.

And, after all… I’m the “Corten Commando”, I is! Here’s how we’ll do it;

Recently, we came across a “container graveyard” where “old  and damaged containers go to die”. Upon inspection (actually, we’re still going thru them), we discovered that many of these containers were still usable, if you just cut off the “nasty bits.” In fact, we’re building a “small village” out of several of these segments, as an “experiment.”

So, I earmarked several containers, for cannibalization. We’ll cut them off at 24′. Take (6) of those 24′ segments, and then stack them (2) high, as one “8′ x 24′ x 19′ assembly” on each side of the hangar, all the way in the back.  Now take that last stacked segment, and place it all the way back, dead center.

Now you have a 24′ deep “base” for (2) rows of (3) High Cube containers. And, you have (2) 28′ wide corridors under it, to allow you to move stuff in and out of the hangar.

Are you getting this?

You just built a 24′ x 80′ x 9.5′ “residential space”, 19 feet up off the ground.

Plus, you get to use all that “stacked area” for storage, small offices/bathrooms, and “what not.” All welded together, it’s solid steel. Wind isn’t going to bother it all that much. It’ll shed rain like a Himalayan cat sheds hair. Flood waters? Hello! I’m 19′ up in the air. I spit at flood water! Fire? Last time I checked, you gotta play with a lot of matches, to get a steel building to burn down…

And, it’s shipping containers!

I’m staying within my theme of “Build it fast, build it to last!”

Okay, now I have a “building box” that has room to burn, and a 1,920 square foot loft space, that is easily turned into a small residence.

It’s “the Hangar Home from Hell…” I tell ya!

I have a place to live while I build my boxes out, and I don’t have to worry about the weather, unless it’s a hurricane. And, I suspect that I’m not going to be building in this part of Mississippi. I have a few irons in the fire and the first good one that heats up… well, let’s just say I’m itching to pack. It might even be out-of-state. We’ll see…

Sure, the hangar itself will require a bit of insulation to make it ‘livable.’

The reinforced concrete slab… miles and miles of it… will need to be insulated to at least r11, on the interior. The perimeter slab gets nada…

The Hangar walls and ceiling?

That’s what spray-on closed cell foam is for! An inch of closed cell foam will get you an R value of about 7. Most residential building codes call for r values of 26-30 in the ceiling, and at least 13 in the walls. So, figure on about 5 inches in the ceiling, and at least 2 inches in the walls. And yes, more is better.

And remember, kids… Closed cell foam is a extremely rigid. The foam cells are closed to each other. That’s why they call it “closed cell.” This property makes it a very good vapor and water barrier.  So, no leaks!  And, it doesn’t eat up a lot of your cavity space, either! It doesn’t expand as much as open cell foam so it can be applied a lot flatter and you only need half as much.

Plus, just to keep the Planning and Zoning Nazi’s at bay…

Closed cell foam does indeed meet building code requirements as a vapor barrier. It also does double-duty as a water and air seal.

foam

You know how much I love SIPs, but can you imagine what the materials would cost, to put Structural Insulated Panels on THAT roof? Oy Vey! I’d have to sell my kid…

I could cut back on the insulation in the shop area, but why? I gotta work in there! Besides, there’s a method to my madness…

The residential section needs windows, right? Could you achieve decent window glazing surface areas to meet code? You’re gonna need at least 20-25%. Yep! Easy. That’s why we pushed it all the way back. You have three exterior walls right there to punch thru!

Plus, the internal “container castle?” It’s inside an insulated and roofed box, already!

See? Told ya…  Say it with me; “A method to the madness…”

All I need to do is “isolate the residential bits” to cut down on the shop noise driving the inhabitants crazy. After all, Mom needs her sleep, and if she get’s woke up… well lets just say it ain’t pretty… Using the term “grumpy” ain’t even close!  I’d rather dance with a Grizzly Bear!

Am I worried about interrupting Joshua’s sleep? Nope.

Know why? It’s because he never sleeps. I love him to death, but the damned kid is almost two years old, and he’s never once slept thru the night. Not once! He sleeps for three to four hours, and then, he’s up and going 400 miles an hour. Doctor says he has a “high metabolism.”

So, anyway… I’ll just close off  the ISBU roof section, and insulate the inside wall, floor to ceiling. I will put in a window or two so you can look from the house to the hangar build shop.  I’ll just need to be careful about where they get placed. After all, windows have an r value of about 12, if you’re lucky. Do they slow down “sound”? Maybe. Will they stop the sound of a grinder? Never!

On that inside wall… Again, spray-on closed cell foam is a wonderful thing. We’ll use about 3 more inches. I want to not only keep the space warm, I want to quiet it down.

Plus, now I have an insulated attic space, or even a small “second floor” for the residence…

Underneath the residential section, more closed cell foam. A few inches, please… No need for a “cold butt”, huh?

I’m thinking that we do a pretty simple floor plan, a trio of bedrooms (two on one side, and the Master on the other), two full baths, a kitchen and a great room configuration that incorporates a dining room, and a family room. This is a good sized space, you could even cut it in half. I don’t need any structural walls, so it’s all partitions. We could start out in one huge “loft-like” room, with a couple of bathrooms punched into it. Then, along the way, we could finish it out, by installing wall segments. In the meantime, we’d be high, dry, and safe.

See? It’s easy.

And, after we get the containers below it ready to set, we just walk them across the yard!

It would give us time to build them out at our leisure, and then assemble them next spring. Because each level of the house is container based, we’d always have a roof overhead. So, we could even add one level at a time, until we reach our goal.

crane_moving_container

Yeah, I know that it would require a few visits by “the crane man…” to do it that way. Oy! Crane’s are expensive!

Or, we could just move them out of the hangar as they get finished (to be stockpiled/stored behind it) until we have all the “assemblies” finished. Sure, we’d have to close up any openings, but hey, that’s what plywood is for!

When we get the main house finished (hell, it could take a few seasons), we just use the “hangar house” as a guest house and the shop becomes a big garage.

Or, better yet… we could even use the set-up to fab more containers for someone else’s house! Split that upper residential section in two, and you could have “worker housing!”

That huge roof would also allow you to mount enough solar and photovoltaic panels to power most of Mississippi. So, I’d have ample power.  I need panels for the radiant in-floor heat system, too! No problem! That roof is so big, you can probably see it from space!

(Okay, not really, but it WOULD be huge!)

And, I do love SSMR (Standing Seam Metal Roofing)! So, the roof would go on, fast, fast, fast!

I could even carve out an “upper deck”, to use some of that roof space above the container housing section. Maybe put in a greenhouse and a small garden!

You could launch a water balloon at the neighbors for miles, up there! 🙂

I’m giving this some serious thought. In fact, I may just go down to the local planning and zoning office and spring it on ’em.

WHY?

Well, to be honest… it’s because I love to make them turn blue! It’s funny as hell watching their neck veins quiver like that! Sure, it’s evil. But hey… I gotta be true to my nature… huh? 😉

Now, all I need is about $19,000 for concrete…

Stay tuned…

The Renaissance RoninExciting, huh? Wake up! The post is over! Go home! 🙂

Addendum: October 14, 2009: I heard from Joe today… the owner of the “Florida Hangar House” that I showed you in this post. He has more photos of his build, and they are available, HERE.

Take a look!

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6 Responses to “Welcome to ‘My Shipping Container’ Farm!”

  1. Barbara (Xerraire) September 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    I laughed.
    I cried.

    A brilliant post.
    You are all one amazing family!

    Barb

  2. Sean September 22, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Hey Mate,

    Love the blog, I was reading the part about insulating the noise from the business portion to the living portion. If you have the windows (double pane) made from differrent thicknesses of glass it will insulate the sound better say 6mm outer and 8mm inner panes.
    Not sure if you know that or not as you seem highly knowledgeable.

    Keep on Keeping on, as well good article in Dwell magazine about a container house, show the zoning nazi’s that one it’s pretty nice.

    cheers,

    Sean

    • renaissanceronin September 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      The problem with using recycled or repurposed parts as building materials, is that you can only use what you can find.

      While you’re absolutely right about different thicknesses of glass in double paned windows being more effective, one doesn’t usually find anything like that in a salvage yard.

      I’d even thought of an airlock type configuration… doubling windows in access areas, to allow visibility into the workspace.

      If I was smarter, I’d just rig a couple of web cams, and tie them to a monitor on a desktop. Thus, no holes! 🙂

      Many readers know that we are literally trying to build this house out of our household budget. So, there’s a lot of “MacGiver’ing going on! 🙂

      Thanks for your great comment! I hope that you stay tuned!

      Ronin

  3. James September 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    Let me know where your going to build. I have a similar idea but for doing a factory to refurbish ISBUs. I would like to be one of your first worker bees.

    Jimbo

    • renaissanceronin September 23, 2009 at 1:48 pm #

      Ah… Our first “Victim…” Muuuuwahhhhahhhahhha!

      Okay Jimbo, I’ll keep you informed.

      I’ve been thinking about this a LOT. That old hangar is the perfect incubator for shipping boxes that want to grow up, to become houses. And, it goes up fast, so you’re not spending a year, just getting “your box to make boxes in” up and running…

  4. Xenical Online October 12, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    Great information thanks for the nice share.

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