09 / 16 / 2022
As you can imagine, we get a lot of questions about our house and what we went through to make it happen. To summarize, here is a list of some of the most frequent questions we get.
Is it warm? Is it cold? How did we insulate?
No and no. And we insulated outside. You need more than that, huh? People always assume that living inside containers would be cold in the winter and hot in summer, which would be true if you didn't insulate. However, our insulation strategy was to mimic a Yeti cooler. We put all the insulation outside the containers, preventing the heat/cold effect on the steel walls and ceilings inside our home. Because the insulation is outside, we were able to leave a lot of the container walls and ceilings exposed inside the house, which is pretty badass when you want to hang pictures...magnetic walls! People expect the steel walls to feel cold or warm to the touch, but they aren't!
To insulate, we used a multi-layer system. The base layer is a product from InSoFast manufactured to match the corrugations of the steel container. On top of that is an additional two inches of rigid foam insulation. Because our insulation is continuous, we have no thermal bridging providing us with an effective R-21 wall. A standard wood 2x6 exterior wall with R-21 batt insulation between the studs has an effective R-value of only R-17. If you used metal studs, that same wall assembly would have only an R-value of 7.
Is it loud inside?
If it's loud, it's because we have 19' ceilings, a large open floorplan, and a 6-year-old whose voice carries for miles. But our home does not echo like people often expect from a space with steel walls. The wood ceiling, rugs, and furniture help absorb some sound, but we also suspect that the corrugations are dispersing the sound waves, so you don't perceive any echo. People have often told us our home feels exceptionally calming and peaceful.
Do we have cellphone & wifi reception inside?
We anticipated that the steel walls would block cellphone and wifi reception inside the home. And we definitely lose a bar or two of cell signal, but we hardwired multiple wireless access points (WAPs) to ensure excellent coverage throughout the house. Thank god for wifi calling.
Permitting must have been a pain in the ass.
This isn't a question but an assumption many people have. And surprisingly, it was not. It was one of the easiest things we went through. We had a structural engineer provide the necessary details for container modifications and Jason's Architect's stamp for the remainder of our permit set. Due to Jason's day job, he understands what the reviewing agency looked for in a permit set of drawings and provided just that.
Did we do it to save money?
Nope, next question! But really, we didn't venture down the container path to save money. We did it because it was unique and different, and the concept of adaptive reuse struck a chord with us. Plus, we are gluttons for punishment. There are plenty of methods to construct with containers that could save money, like interior insulation or simpler foundations. One of the most significant contributing factors to saving money for us was doing a LOT of the work ourselves. We couldn't have afforded this house otherwise. We do feel inclined to mention that if you want a shipping container home and want to save money, you better buckle up and be prepared to do a lot of the work yourselves. The customizations required when using used containers could easily cost a pretty penny.
Are the containers new or used, and where did they come from?
Because of the adaptive reuse nature of this home, we never even considered buying new containers. All seven of our containers are between five and eight years old and were sourced locally from a shipyard in Tacoma, the fifth largest seaport in North America. Even though we know the serial numbers of each container, we cannot track where they've been, but we know they've traveled the world multiple times and have all sorts of dings and scratches to prove it.
How much work did we do ourselves?
So much. A crap ton. A shit ton. A metric buttload. It hurts thinking about it. But this house is ours through blood, sweat, and tears.
What we did ourselves:
We had a contractor for some initial trades, but Jason was onsite, working with them daily.
Jason helped cut, bend, tie, and install rebar and insulated concrete forms...including catching his pants on fire!
We coordinated the crane and container delivery.
We did every bit of waterproofing on the foundation and exterior walls.
We framed all of the interior walls and installed every bit of insulation.
We installed all of the exterior insulation on the containers.
Jason installed the staircase and welded all of the railings.
We installed the deck, stairs, and railings.
We worked alongside electricians pulling wire.
We installed all outlets, switches, light fixtures, and ceiling fans.
We installed all of the shower waterproofing systems.
We installed every plumbing fixture (toilets, sinks, faucets, soaking tub, washer & dryer, shower drains, etc.)
We installed the complete mechanical system.
We installed every window (and there are a lot of windows...and they are heavy!)
We installed all of the interior and exterior doors. Our front steel pivot door crate weighed 600lbs!
We installed every. single. damn. square. foot. of. siding!
We installed the kitchen cabinets, custom-made shelves, and butcher-block counters.
We installed the custom-made bathroom vanity countertops from a tree we cut down on site.
We helped grind and seal the concrete floors.
We installed flooring upstairs.
We installed all of the appliances.
We installed all trim.
Jason designed and installed the fence.
And we probably forgot stuff...but we are tired of thinking about everything we did!
Who we've hired:
Structural and Civil engineers
Container modification and reinforcement
Site work and concrete
Crane operator and welder
Roofers and exterior wall framers
Electricians - Trigg and Alex were excellent teachers!
Septic designer and installer - Get R Done!
Tilers - Thanks for installing the sexy tiles, Justin!
Handymen for all those extra little things we were too exhausted to do and ran out of time for - thank you, Jason and DJ!
Landscapers - Robin, you rock!
Amazing people that helped us...free of charge!
Blake, Neille, Mark, Jeff, Jared, Dean, Sandy, Cathi, Cheryl, Allie, Logan, Sean, Alex, and Matt, for helping install the toilets. ;)
What would we do differently?
Not a lot, to be honest. We spent so many years designing, redesigning and detailing, and redesigning and detailing again...that we thought about pretty much everything we wanted in the house. Also, since we built most of it ourselves, we could modify on the fly if something had to change. We, of course, had to value-engineer some aspects because of budget, but in hindsight, they aren't missed. Radiant floors, for example, would have been cool, but the insulated concrete floors have been surprisingly temperate.
As for something we wouldn't necessarily do differently, but feel could be noted, steel walls do not provide great acoustical separation. During design, we added furring and insulation to help mitigate acoustic separation in critical rooms, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. Due to the corrugated ceilings, the walls don't form a tight seal, allowing some sound to pass through. It's been a conscious decision to sacrifice a little bit of acoustic performance to experience the visual aesthetic of shipping container living.