Our family has been interested in sustainable building for quite a while now. When we first started looking at doing this we looked at several different types of construction but really loved straw bale construction. After a lot of consideration and training on the construction we decided that we would rather do something different being in North Texas. I was worried about using a slab on grade foundation, the humidity levels in North Texas and the maintenance moving forward with straw bale. I still think they are the most beautiful method of construction using sustainable materials.
So then we looked at using shipping containers. Shipping containers are very abundant in North America. We import a lot of products all over but mainly China. Since we import more than we export with China, it is cheaper for them to build a new container than it is to ship them back. A 40′ high cube container can be purchased for around $2000. Typical delivery with a drop bed trailer is $400. If you any information on where I have found these deals email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you.
Our kids are getting older and soon we won’t have the need for a really large house so we are building the house with 4 containers. At 40′ x 8′ that is 320 square feet x 4 (1280 sq. ft. total). If you decide to build inside the city limits you will need to check the local building codes and talk to the inspectors first. We are in an unincorporated area of the county jurisdiction so we just utilize the International Building Codes (IBC).
For our foundation we decided to use a pier foundation to lift the containers up off the ground. We are building everything on cash flow so we have to save and build as we go as well as be a little forward thinking on the construction. We will be using spray foam insulation, which is a large expense up front, so we figured we could wait on that if we lifted the containers up off the ground. To shoot the spray foam onto the bottom for a slab foundation we would have had to spend more money on crane rental time as well as had all the cash up front for the spray foam.
On the piers we probably went overboard with the size. However, in North Texas where we are our ground is black clay and very expansive. I didn’t want to get into an issue with the piers cracking and the house shifting, etc. I thought that a couple extra thousand dollars on the foundation was money well spent to avoid spending more down the road. We did all of the work ourselves and we don’t have prior construction knowledge so go easy on the pictures. We decided to have a wide footprint and less depth on the piers. Each pier is at least 2′ deep and in some cases closer to 2.5-3′. The shortest pier from grade to top of pier is 2′ and because of the slope of the ground was around 4′.
To anchor the containers to the foundation we made weld plates and set them into the top of each pier. Once the containers are set we will weld them down to each pier and then weld them together using 4″ wide x 1/4′ thick flat steel all the way around each seam.
We took the plywood forms off after the concrete hardened and sprayed them down to get the concrete residue off. Once they dried in the sun we stacked them on pallets and covered with plastic so they won’t get ruined this winter. We would like to build a roof structure mainly for the purposes of keeping the sun from directly contacting the top of the containers as well as keeping the moisture from settling on the corrugated roof and eventually leading to rust problems. We will use the plywood for decking when we have the cash flow to build that roof next Spring.
That is about it for now but stay tuned because the containers are arriving Mon/Tue and then the crane will be setting them into place on Thursday of next week. I will post more pictures at that time…