Welcome to Sea Container Cabin’s Toronto Showroom

Located in downtown Toronto, Market 707 is a group of retrofitted shipping containers recreated into vending spaces that offer micro-entrepreneurs prime downtown retail space for as little as $11/day. This is the brainchild of Scadding Court Community Centre (SCCC) whereby an under utilized stretch of Dundas Street West has been transformed into a vibrant outdoor marketplace increasing employment in the neighbourhood.

Scadding Court Community Centre Toronto Market 707 Dundas Street Bathurst Street Shipping Container Market

Photo courtesy of Scadding Court Community Centre Market 707

In 2014, Sea Container Cabin joined forces with SCCC developing the first private/public partnership to introduce the concept of off-grid retail. We wanted to provide the community centre with extra usable space while offering our local market a place to get the true look/feel of shipping container spaces. It doesn’t have to feel cheap or institutional. In fact, the exact words of our building inspector was, “Your sea container cabin is tastefully constructed.” It’s because we take care in selecting craftsmen who have high attention to detail, and just because we build off-grid Sea Container Homes doesn’t mean they don’t have the perks of modern day comfy living.

 5 Goals of the Sea Container Cabin Showroom

  1. Create a smaller URBAN model of an energy efficient off-grid Sea Container Cabin powered by renewable energy and an energy storage system.
  2. Test the various materials and methodologies we will consider for our 1400 square foot demonstration Sea Container Cabin project.
  3. Determine whether the materials we tested meet our expectations for quality, ease of use, and will withstand our Canadian winters.
  4. Design the space to also incorporate SCCC’s requirements as we anticipate they would love to access the space during their own community events.
  5. Replicate the true feel of living or working in an off-grid space constructed of non-traditional materials for others to enjoy.

Rebecca Purdy Interior Designer HGTV House of Bryan Leave it to Bryan DIY Disaster

You may recognize Rebecca Purdy, an interior designer featured on HGTV’s Disaster DIY, Leave it to Bryan and House of Bryan. We knew right away she was the person to work with for our Sea Container Cabins. Her down to earth approach, belief in reusing materials from old barn boards to the tree trunk from the street next door and more importantly, our common ground in creating great living spaces using Shipping Containers and off-grid renewable energy was a perfect match.

Here’s what our URBAN Sea Container Cabin Showroom looks like:

Sea Container Cabin Showroom Scadding Court Community Centre Toronto Market 707

EXTERIOR: Side Opening High Cube.  No cutting of walls has occurred to maintain security of our showroom.

Sea Container Cabin Showroom Scadding Court Community Centre Market 707 Inside Left

INTERIOR LEFT: Insulated panel walls, felled local white elm tree milled and kiln dried into live edge table, barn board chalkboard

Sea Container Cabin Showroom Scadding Court Community Centre Market 707 Inside Right

INTERIOR RIGHT: Feature TV wall of barn board, Blocks of beam material from main 1400 square foot Sea Container Cabin, Large round disc kitchen chopping block, Industrial tool chest placed in location of future kitchen cabinets.

Now that our URBAN Showroom has served its purpose, we are happy to announce that there will be a new life for this retail space. The community centre has absorbed our off-grid space as their own and a new venture will be launched in Spring of 2015. An entire team is in place driving this change and we are excited to follow their progress on our website so check back for updates on what this future space will hold.

Building Off-Grid Spaces Big or Small in Urban Communities

Whether you’re looking for more backyard living space, an indestructible retail space, or a new house, cabin or cottage and whatever your motivation is for repurposing Shipping Containers into spaces or simply wanting more control of your power bills by living off-grid, we can help you get there. Just contact us for more information.

Is an Off-Grid Lifestyle Suitable for You?

Sea-Container-Cabin-Solar-PanelIn most circumstances, people who live off-grid don’t actually choose to be off-grid. It’s more likely that the electricity grid doesn’t connect to their property so the choices they have are to bring in power lines which can be very expensive and is the beginning of monthly electricity bills or figure out a way to remain off-grid.  And just so you know: off-grid people actually like the modern comforts of home including TV, Internet, lighting and heat.

A movement is building, whereby people are looking for 100% renewable solutions and a true independence from the grid.

With the availability of affordable solar, wind, and energy storage options, 100% renewable solutions are becoming more and more practical.

Two ways to live off-grid: With or Without Power

Living without electricity requires a reliance on traditional oil fired lamps and propane refrigeration. Both are poor performing, emit air emissions, and require constant refueling.  It is in fact more environmentally friendly, a lower cost, and a better quality of life today if you consume electricity for both lighting and refrigeration by choosing the right renewable energy system.

The key to successfully living off-grid is to reduce your power consumption.

You can build a smaller power system by conserving power and living without some power sucking appliances such as hair dryers, ovens and clothes dryers. Coupled with using energy wisely, better insulation, wood heating, LED lighting etc. you can afford to live a comfortable life off-grid. The general public has a difficult time embracing the concept of “Conservation First” in our grid connected life but in an off-grid setting, the conservation culture is much easier to adopt. It is driven mainly out of necessity given the limited power available and the raw cost of oversizing a power system for very limited use or inefficient uses of power.

Determine the right size power and energy storage system you require.

There are 2 kinds of Off-Grid Living with power:

  1. Gas fired generators
  2. Renewable energy such as solar, wind or hydro, and energy storage

Gas fired generators burn fuel so there is a variable cost associated with this form of power. There’s also the inconvenience of having to purchase the fuel, haul it home, and store it. Running a generator can be noisy although quiet generators are available on the market (such as the Honda generator every hot dog cart uses). If you believe in sustainable living, renewable energy such as solar, wind or hydro is the way to go.

Solar vs. Wind vs. Hydro

The answer to this question really depends on your surroundings. In our case, the Sea Container Cabin is situated amongst forest so there really isn’t any consistently blowing wind. We do have hydro that’s always flowing but the best spot is a bit far from the cabin so you’d have to run a long piece of wire. For us, solar made most sense. Panels continue to become more and more affordable. And we believe in supporting local manufacturers so installing Canadian Solar panels just made sense.

Why do you need Energy Storage in your off-grid power system?

There are very few ways to use renewable generation without having energy storage.  One such example is the solar direct water pump at the sea container cabin.  The solar water pump takes power directly from a set of solar panels to power a water pump deep down in the well.  When the sun shines, the water is pumped up to a water tower reservoir, which then feeds water to the washroom and kitchen using gravity, providing water supply even when the sun is not shining, and without the need to use battery power to pump the water in the cabin.  Simply put, this is one form of energy storage, called “pumped hydro” where the energy is stored as elevated water.

In order to meet the electrical needs of the Sea Container Cabin, and balance out the off-grid power system, you need to store electricity in a battery system for use when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing or the water isn’t flowing. Many types of batteries are available, including traditional lead acids and more modern lithium based technologies.

Steps to building an Off-Grid system

  1. Determining the amount of energy you require, both your peak capacity requirements, and daily utilization patterns.  It is recommended you do a bottom up energy requirement analysis, looking at every power device you intend to operate, how often it will be operated, how many consecutive days such as full time residence or just weekend retreat use etc.  This will define your power requirements.
  2. Identify the best form of off-grid energy for you – gas fired, solar, wind etc.  This will depend on your local conditions and what mother nature has to offer you. If you can deploy multiple technology types, this will provide you redundancy in energy supply, which is very attractive when available. Then you need to determine how many days of power weather conditions that you wish to be resilient for, such has how many days of poor sunlight you wish to withstand. This determines the size of the energy storage battery system you require. Many other considerations go into sizing the storage system, including allowed depth of discharge of the batteries, number of cycles before the batteries wear out, performance in cold temperatures which is an important consideration for Canada, etc.

Have a Question on Power Systems or Energy Storage Systems?

We have shared a few concepts on how you may be able to live off-grid.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many concepts and design features we have rigorously tested in our Sea Container Cabins. If you’d like more information, call us or send us a note. We’d be happy to help you successfully get off-grid and start enjoying a sustainable lifestyle.

Spotted in Shizuoka Japan

Once you are in the business of building with shipping containers, you can’t help but notice these types of projects when traveling the world. We were recently in Shizuoka Japan, and drove by a retail storefront that caught our eye. A series of containers were painted black, placed along both sides of this building and have been integrated in a way to provide furniture and goods storage. I was particularly impressed with the beefy foundations and fastening detail they employed. What a neat find. If you come across anything neat, please let us know so we can share with our community of shipping container architecture enthusiasts.


Japan shipping container

Japan shipping container

Toronto’s Sea Container Hat Trick

Three commercial shipping container establishments have hit the streets of Toronto. Two are here to stay. One is on it’s way out to do some globetrotting.QQseacontainervendors

  1. At Toronto’s waterfront there are some fancy food vendors located on Queens Quay. I particularly liked the attention to detail they added to each vendor unit with barn boards and other neat treatments. Dundasvendorcontainers
  2. A budget friendly and small entrepreneur kick-starter strip of shipping container businesses, ranging from niche foods, drinks, and even a bicycle service shop.JMSonsshippingcontainer
  3. Handy furniture makers displaying their products for sale.

How Shipping Containers Are Made

This is the best video I have seen which shows how shipping containers are made in China.  This is a well refined, complete multi-step manufacturing process that is shockingly quick and well done.



Scale Model of Our Shipping Container Cabin



One of our excited project followers has taken the initiative of printing a scale model of our Shipping Container Cabin on his home built 3D plastic printer. For those of you who are unfamiliar with 3D plastic printing, there is a niche following of techies that design and build 3D printers that literally print out 3 dimensional objects using melted plastic droplets. Think of it as a miniature hot glue gun with brains, motorized controls, and a computer interface. This 3D model was printed using our original concept design for our shipping container cabin in Google SketchUp. As you can see, the end result looks just like our Project OCTOPOD!

We love it when people take the initiative to build creative projects with creative tools.  Imagine the day when we can print out full scale housing?



Antarctic Shipping Container Research Station



This shipping container project caught my eye given the sheer style and size of the complex.  Then you realize it is in the middle of nowhere.  Excellent project, this is certainly a noteworthy show piece.



Insulating Coatings for High Temperature Applications

Ceramic coating high temp testIn contrast to the previous post about using insulating coatings for ambient and cold temperatures, I would like to share my direct research on the use of ceramic coatings for high temperature applications.

I received a piece of metal with a 1/4″ think layer of ceramic coating, This is at least 10 times thicker than any of the manufacturer recommended thickness applications provided for our sea container cabin project. The origin of the coating was not confirmed, however we believe it is a SuperTherm product. We jumped straight into the high temperature test using the ceramic coated metal, a torch and an infrared temperature gun and videotaped the results to share with you.

This video speaks for itself.

Suffice it to say, I am convinced that ceramic coatings do have amazing performance characteristics in high temperature and high delta T applications that would be great for high temperature applications.

VIDEO: Ceramic coating high temperature test

Why shipping container homes?

Why are we interested in Shipping Container Homes?

Jason Rioux has always been intrigued by the fabulous creations and multiple uses of shipping containers for living space around the world. Many years ago, we purchased a retired shipping container and gave it new life storing our toys. Why? It was very cost effective, a quick solution given all you needed was to arrange delivery and we realized we couldn’t build a new garage that would parallel in keeping pesky rodents out.

Building, or dreaming of building, with containers is becoming a global trend with a lot of buzz.  Google searching shipping container projects will reveal some amazing projects around the world.  Dreamers and designers love playing with these giant lego blocks, imagining many creative ways to stack and assemble structures for all sorts of purposes. Uses range from residential, to institutional, to commercial, to industrial, to non-occupancy structures.

sea container cabin3 things propelled Workbench Corp. to pursue container development projects:

  1. Developing small urban spaces while being “green” and cost efficient
  2. Using non-standard building methodology of shipping containers as the primary building blocks
  3. High security and off-grid construction features

1. Developing small urban spaces in a “green” yet cost efficient manner.

We recently stumbled across a sliver of vacant land in downtown Toronto sandwiched between two existing buildings on a high traffic main road. Immediately the questions started flying. How can we optimize that skinny piece of land by developing a low cost commercial and residential building? Could we build something attractive and trendy yet energy efficient? Would anyone be interested in urban shipping container home living? Parcels of land come in all sizes, and shipping container building structures can be designed and constructed to footprints as small as 8′ x 20′.

The expectation of building with sea containers is that somehow you can build at a lower cost than standard construction materials and methods.  The objective on this project is to build the complete project for $100/sqft, as compared to standard construction budgets of twice this amount.  To achieve this, we are maximizing the benefits of working with containers, with the philosophies further outlined in the Concept and Design section.

2. Using non-standard building methodology of shipping containers as the primary building blocks

Projects have been developed around the world with containers, but very very few have been done in Ontario.  The ideas and construction methods used around the world have mostly been in warm climates.  Developing a project made of steel containers in a cold climate is much much different.  Ontario has extreme hot and cold spells, presenting many different challenges to be overcome.  Ontario has many containers structures in place as temporary structures, like construction offices, back woods containers modified into hunt camps, and various structures built without permits.  This project intends to break through the process of meeting Ontario Building Code, obtaining Building Permits, and building a permanent structure that will last the test of time.

Workbench is set on proving the design, construction techniques, and cost advantages of shipping container homes.  After proving out concepts and construction techniques, we intend to develop more projects in Ontario, and provide advice those who wish to develop their own.

3. High security and off-grid construction features

The property being developed is quite remote and has attracted some theft over the years.  Sea containers are not invincible, but they are a certainly a deterrent given the extra work required to cut several locks, lock boxes, and steel panels.  The seal and security of keeping out mice and insects is a common issue with cottage properties, and sea containers provide an amazingly tight envelope to work with.

Living and working with this off grid property over the last many years has enabled us to experience and improve many aspects of off grid living. In this container project we intend to build upon this experience with additional off grid creativity and simplicity. These off-grid features are useful for both off-grid and on-grid applications, as they provide a level of energy and water supply redundancy and self sufficiency in either situation.  As energy costs rise, the business case will continue to improve for the off-grid lifestyle.  It is a personal lifestyle and philosophy choice that isn’t for everyone, but for those up to the challenge, it is very gratifying to be less reliant on the “system” in day to day life.

Benefits of Shipping Containers

There must be millions of retired shipping containers just waiting to be reinvented. Why not create living space from sea container cabins, cottages, homes to garages? Your imagination will only bring countless uses of this product. They are available immediately, little preparation is required for their final resting place, they’re cost effective, green, fit in small places, secure and if necessary you can move it!

Do insulating coatings for Shipping Container Homes work?

Insulating Coatings

Can you imagine spraying an insulating paint in place of interior framing and traditional insulation methods? Talk about compelling. This chapter of the project describes the research that I went through to confirm whether or not insulating coatings for shipping container homes works for my application. The good news is we came to a conclusion. It is much better to reach a clear conclusion with supporting mathematics than it would have been to proceed on hope and faith.

4 Steps to Reaching a Definitive Conclusion on Insulating Coatings and Whether they live up to their Manufacturer’s Promise

1. Web based research

The first step in my research was a thorough and time consuming Internet search. This included finding the complete set of insulating coating product manufacturers, reviewing their product promises, and their application recommendations. There were very few companies that even passed the sniff test to be worthy of consideration. I read through countless blogs from marine enthusiast clubs to other shipping container housing projects to see what others have experienced. The result of this research was a lot of skepticism.

2. Direct contact with suppliers

I had different levels of contact with each supplier. I started with email contact with three suppliers. I proceeded to telephone conversations with reps and I even went as far as meeting representatives in Houston, Texas.

3. Doing the math

The usual questions and answers around insulating values are centered on R values. I was unable to get satisfactory answers regarding R value for insulating coatings so I changed my angle of questioning towards the raw building block of “Heat Loss” calculations. I specified my desired study condition and requested the technical engineering folks to provide me with raw heat loss calculations based on various recommended thickness levels of their insulating coating applications. Heat loss calculations came in the form of BTU loss per hour per square foot of surface area (btu/hr – sqft, or btu/sqft – hr). By asking this more technical question, I was able to get more direct and raw technical answers that weren’t masked with a bunch of arm waving and marketing lingo.

4. Bench scale testing

This would have been my final test to confirm whether the math held true, before building insulating coatings into my construction design work. But since the math was not attractive, I did not proceed to this step. I was very near moving to this step, in hopes and anticipation of promising math. The bench scale test was going to involve the construction of test boxes made of steel. Several test boxes of identical size and material would be built from off the shelf cold air return HVAC ducting materials given it is cost effective and readily available at the local HVAC shop. The boxes were likely going to be sized about 2’ square. Each box was going to be outfitted with a standard light fixture on the inside for creating a consistent heat source for all boxes.

There’s justification for skepticism on insulating coatings for shipping container homes.

Based on my raw calculations the most promising suppliers provided, in cooler climates insulating coatings simply perform poorly.

Insulating coatings applied per the manufacturer’s recommendations have 8x the heat loss of more traditional 2″ of closed cell spray foam for colder climates. No wonder all the skepticism online and good thing I was forewarned that it just might be too good to be true that an actual solution to not having to frame the inside of shipping container homes exists.

For more information on my findings, drop me an email or buy our DIY Shipping Container Cabin kit.