Building a Cabin from a Shipping Container
People are talking about building tiny houses and cabins out of containers a lot recently. I built a cabin from a shipping container in 2012 to use as my primary (tiny) home. I only got it to fairly basic standards (basically an insulated box with two sets of doors) before the community I was living in collapsed, and I moved out and sold it. I've written my thoughts up for a couple of friends but have been meaning to do a better write-up for ages. Here are the basic lessons I learned:
- Containers aren't a particularly cheap way to build, but they are really fast. I got mine to its finished state with less than a weeks work (of about 1.5 people).
- It's not particularly hard, but work with a builder if you can, they are amazingly fast.
- If you're planning on living in it for the long haul, pay the extra for a high cube which gives you an extra 30 cm of vertical space.
- Containers are sometimes used to transport toxic materials. Unfortunately, there's no way to know the transport history of a container.
- If you want to mitigate potential toxicity, investigate: sandblasting the steel walls, removing the plywood floor, and epoxy encapsulation of the floor.
- Containers are surprisingly expensive to move.
Overall, I wouldn't do it again unless for some reason I needed something fast and wanted to be able to sell it off fairly easily later. The research I did on toxicity didn't leave me feeling comfortable, but I may be precious. If I was going to build something like this again, I would do it differently.
- If I wanted cheap: I'd build it myself with cob, earthbag or maybe straw bale.
- If I wanted super portable: I'd kit out a bus or caravan (extra annoying since I'm tall, but possible).
- If I wanted comfortable but easy to transport: I'd get a yurt (I've heard reports that yurts can get mouldy in NZ's year-round humid climate).
- If I wanted a transportable living space in or near a city: I'd get a boat.
My analysis is that containers fall into the worst gaps of all these options. They aren't particularly cheap, they aren't particularly easy or cheap to move, and they are potentially toxic. One awesome thing you can do with containers is cantilever them. I have two designs that I'd love to build that would be super easy with containers … but over all I think it will be better to do it another way.