Friday, January 14, 2011

Shipping Container Houses

Shipping Container houses

One of the areas of study that I have concerned my self with over the years is low cost housing. I’ve built with adobe and straw bale, and my friend Ed has used giant foam blocks and recycled lumber; always looking for a method that provides structure, insulation and an esthetic that one can enjoy.

Along the way I became aware of shipping containers also known as Connex boxes. They are strong, structural and best of all cheap.

Architects are using them in different arrangements to build houses and offices.

My interest was in building a second home for Kathy and myself or a home for one or both of our children. Drywall can be screwed to the interior walls and foam glued to the exterior providing a strong, well insulated structure. I wanted to add mass so I decided on using a system that I have been working on in my landscape for the past few years. I have been building walls out of cast in place adobe.

I use just plain old dirt out of my yard. I mix water into the dirt, in a wheelbarrow and pour it into a form. This is placed on a concrete foundation that comes above the ground by about five inches to create a break between the earth for reasons of termites and water. Once the mud sets up I remove the forms and move them up, for the next pour. The earth, dried in this Arizona sun, is rock hard. After the walls are finished I drive ring-shank nails into the adobe to hold stucco netting and then cover it with a coat of fiber-strengthened stucco. The end result is massive, bullet proof (literally) and very inexpensive.

In applying this to shipping container construction I am adding a two-inch layer of foam used both as a form and as future insulation.

As with my walls I’m placing a vertical layer of recycled chain link fencing to add both reinforcement and a structural diaphragm.

I’m tying this to the box along with running a nylon twine to the exterior of the foam for stucco wire connection. I chose the twine over tie wire as wire can both stretch and rust, twine will do neither. The end product will be a layer of insulation, which I run down below grade about eight inches to create a thermal break from the brutal Arizona sun.

Then I have one foot of adobe for mass and then the box it’s self. I plan on doing a living roof. Please ask any questions or leave any comments that you might have.


  1. Hi,

    That's a really interesting project you have underway there !

    Can I ask for some clarification on the adobe ?

    I understand how you have done the free standing walls, on the container are you using the side walls of the container as one side of the form work ?

    If so do you have any concerns with long term corrosion of the wall that is in direct contact with the earth wall ?

  2. No... the reason being that connex boxxes are made out of core tin which is a five layer system of steel, tin, steel, tin and steel. which will not rust through. This box was on the ocean for 11 years. Sea water is brutal on steel and the box has only a mild amount of surface rust. In our heat the mud will be bone dry after a few months.

    I do make sure that the innerface of the box is straight where ever I am adding dry wall because after the mud is poured it will not be so easy to pound the wall straight..
    Thanks for checking out my blog and please ask any questions or bring up issues or new ideas.
    Mad Coyote Joe

  3. Hi,

    Always tricky disagreeing in the comments section of a blog : )

    Where did you get the information that corten steel or containers are 5 layered ? Or made tin ? That's just not correct.

    Corten is a copper, chromium, silicon and phosphorus alloyed steel there aren't any layers and there isnt any "tin"

    I have made a free video here ( its actually about burying containers ) but it addresses container corrosion.

  4. I live out here in the American west. My father had a lot of what we call old wisdom. He had a saying for everything. One thing that he said often was, "A friend is the person that tells you when you're wrong!" And so thanks friend right you are. I'm a Journeyman Iron Worker and have been told that for years. Due to the fact that I saw how Corten worked in this harsh desert, I took it as fact. A few days ago I started doing some research on corten and found just what you are saying. And in fact its just a weather resistant steel with some added metals. But it's a great product.
    So Thanks friend and by all means help us anytime we make a mistake!

  5. Hi Joe. It's Peter Tompkins from Cody's.
    I really like this idea. I could build a photography studio behind my house. How much would something like this cost?

  6. Peter
    I paid $2775 delivered. There are several factors that you need to take into account. You might want to get with me to discuss. Basically look for staright walls with out big dents or holes. Request water tight, with good working doors, then shop around. Get the shipping included. I used a high cube which allows for a mechanical vault and celing insulation. You need to think how you will insulate, vent, heat and cool. I'm going to drywall mine. Also check out the floors if the wood is in good shape it svaes you $, what about a bathroom?

  7. Hi Joe,
    I love seeing this kind of info, re-using the shipping containers and building them into nice homes that are economical and efficient. Can't beat that. Do you have info on where to get the containers and I wonder if they ship to the Wild Wild West Wyoming. Not ready for a "new" home yet but I like this idea very much. Thanks for sharing. Julie in Wyo.

  8. I found mine by using Craig'slist I paid about $2700 which is a lot cheaper than storage at Home depot and it will last for decades!

  9. One great thing about these shipping containers build into homes is that they're definitely built to last for many years since they were build to protect whatever's inside them in their original function.