GEDO’16: Off-Grid Sea Container Cabin fulfills L.A. man’s childhood dream

Written for Green Energy Doors Open

Nestled in Kawartha Lakes lies an Off-Grid Sea Container Cabin made of 7 shipping containers. Designed by Jason Rioux, Vice President of NRStor and founder of Sea Container Cabin, the ‘Octopod’ features a unique Hub-and-Spoke design. The ‘Hub’ is a large centre octagon-shaped great room and each radiating container is a ‘Spoke’ that serves a different purpose – from a kitchen, dining, bathroom and bedroom to a workshop.

When we decided to debut our newly built ‘Octopod’ at GEDO’16, we really didn’t know what to expect. Located off the beaten path meant this event had to be a participant’s destination. With some luck, timely media and a GEDO podcast found its way to like-minded people who wanted to learn more about building sustainable homes using re-purposed shipping containers. Suddenly the inquiries poured in and people as far away as L.A. and Montreal began booking our tour.

Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed about building this exact home out of shipping containers. When I was notified of the GEDO’16 open house, I knew my partner Mary and I just had to see it in person. Next thing I know we’re on a plane to Canada and driving down the back roads in search of the Off-Grid Shipping Container Cabin. As I’m nearing retirement, and having learned so much from this project, I look forward to building my very own ‘A-pod’.”

– Andy Damiano, L.A. resident

The main features of the ‘Octopod’ include:

  • 1 KW solar power system for the entire cabin
  • Solar powered water pump and elevated water tower system
  • DC wiring for LED lighting and ultra efficient DC refrigeration, direct from battery banks
  • High efficiency DC air circulation fans
  • Cool roof system

Building a new home? It can cost you less – especially in the long run if you design energy smart systems and incorporate alternative construction materials.

Most of our GEDO’16 event participants were interested in how to design lower carbon footprint homes, how to reduce the construction cost per square foot by using alternative construction materials such as re-purposed shipping containers and how to take control of their growing hydro bills by incorporating a renewable energy system.

We truly hope our open house has influenced the next generation of home builds in an environmentally positive way – even if ever so slightly. Thanks everyone for your contribution to a wildly successful turnout at GEDO’16.

Andy and Mary Damiano traveled 4300km to view his childhood dream in person.

As we gear up for GEDO ’17, we will share some interesting stories of people who attended our event and why they ventured down a little dirt road to find the Off-Grid Shipping Container Cabin. If you’re planning to build a new home and wish to permit your very own shipping container home, contact us. We’re happy to help.

 

 

Sourcing Timbers and Brackets for our Post and Beam Great Room

This past winter was the coldest Ontario has seen in 20 years. Spring is officially here however the nicer weather hasn’t exactly arrived yet. After checking in with our builder, it appears we’ll need a little more patience before the roads dry up allowing us to get back into the construction scene.

During our planned sea container construction downtime, we have been busy preparing for our next steps.

1. Source big timbers

We believe in local sourcing to support the community and to reduce shipping costs. These savings will ultimately reflect in our final construction costs so we searched for a nearby sawmill with the capacity and capability to mill up dimensional timbers as large as 10″ x 10″, and some as long as 26 ft.  Sure enough, just one concession road over from the project site, our friendly local sawmill was up for the task.  Timbers of this size require a long lead time. Our order was placed months ago in order to align with our spring construction period.

2. Source heavy steel brackets

Another long lead time item are the custom heavy steel brackets for connecting the post and beam timber works.  For ease of on site assembly, and for the beefy rustic look, we decided to go with heavy steel brackets instead of custom fit hand carved joints.  Once the final dimensions of the rough sawn timbers were confirmed, design and engineering of the brackets were finalized, and off they went into the fabrication shop for manufacturing, and over to the finishing shop for a hot dipped galvanized treatment.

Now we wait for the ground to dry up.

Once we mobilize the crane, the containers will be placed on their foundations. Then we start building the great room.

The following preparation and progress has occurred while the site lay in winter hibernation:

  1. Post and beam timbers sourced and cut, ready for delivery
  2. Manufacturing of enormous engineered brackets and hot dip galvanizing, ready for delivery
  3. Researching off-grid power and determining requirements of the cabin, keeping us busy –  interesting findings on the latest energy storage technologies post to follow
  4. Documenting interior design requirements so that a furniture, electrical and lighting plan could be created to optimize the living space. We have an exciting interior designer engaged – deserving of her own dedicated post.
  5. Did we mention we’re hoping to have the sea container cabin project filmed for a TV series?  Film producers are excited about the rich content of this project, so we’ll see if they can keep up with the speed of the build this summer.

white pine timbers for sea container cabin

First load of timbers for the great room are waiting to be delivered.

If you would like greater detail on any of these topics or just want to hear more about our experiences, contact us or leave us a comment below. Your interests do influence our future community blog topics. You can also follow us on our journey by signing up for our emails.

Building Foundations for a Rocky Landscape

Old man Winter was finding its way quickly into Southern Ontario and we were knee deep in building foundations for our shipping container cabin. The Bobcaygeon area is known for rocky terrain with a clear presence of cambrian and pre-cambrian geology. The entire foundation area was excavated and scraped down to the granite bedrock. Due to the uneven rock terrain, we decided bringing in surveyors to accurately locate the centre octagon points and outer piers would be a worthwhile investment. After all, it isn’t exactly easy to undo concrete work.

Concrete forming commenced for the footings, with some crafty carpentry work to follow the natural granite. Rebar pins were drilled into the granite for all footings. Rebar reinforcements were inserted into concrete footings and with projections for foundation walls and piers to come next. Let’s just say these piers are securely fastened to mother earth and we won’t have any concerns for foundation settlement, that is for sure. And just in the nick of time with winter settling in!

 excavated area

Excavation of shipping container cabin site

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Construction plans for shipping container cabin

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Surveyors to accurately locate piers

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Measurements and anchoring to the rock foundation

survey pins

Straightening metal spikes from the disassembled barn for transformation into markers

surveyors 3

Marking our locates

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Crafty centre octagon form building

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Initial octagon cement pour

footings 7 done

Aerial view of future Octopod

Do you have any questions regarding building foundations in our project? We’d be happy to share our learnings. In fact, there’s been so much interest in our project we are putting together a free of charge sneak peek of our Do it Yourself Shipping Container Cabin kit. Sign up for our blog if you’d like to be the first to know once it becomes available. Or leave a comment.

Demolishing the old to make room for our new shipping container cabin

Demolition time has arrived.

The excavator and our seasoned contractor George are making quick work of what is otherwise a mountain of carnage.

The old cabin was rotted from beneath, but it was built tough. Demolishing the old revealed that this little cabin had multiple layers of material in every part of its construction. The floors were composed of steel beams, joists, tongue and groove subfloor, SM foam, plywood, and finally topped with hardwood flooring. The walls were tongue and groove pine on the interior, studs, fiberglass insulation, tongue and groove board exterior, tongue and groove wood siding, topped with an extra layer of cedar board and batten. The ceiling to roof was composed of tongue and groove pine ceiling, studded partially vaulted ceiling, fiberglass insulation, roof rafter joists, tongue and groove board roof sheeting, asphalt shingles, wood strapping, steel roofing. The amount of material to dispose, recycle, reuse and burn was equivalent to 2 or 3 such structures.

Looking forward to starting our foundations next.

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If you have any questions about our demolition experience, please contact us or leave a comment below. You can also follow our project and be the first to know what’s going on by signing up for our blog.

Antarctic Shipping Container Research Station

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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.

http://www.gizmag.com/bharathi-research-base/28498/

 

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

DIY Shipping Container Cabin Kits

Sea Container Cabin is inspiring a growing number of shipping container cabin enthusiasts across Canada and around the world. We offer the following products and services to help others develop their own shipping container cabins, cottages, homes or buildings.

  1. Building with Shipping Containers – 2h Private Session with Jason Rioux. This is what everyone keeps asking us for. A 1-on-1 session outlining design and construction tips and techniques for building with shipping containers. This session provides clients with the “must-have” understanding of design and construction considerations unique to working with steel shipping containers.  This is the foundation of research and development upon which to create your own creative residence from recycled steel shipping containers.  The session covers details of key elements outlined in the Checklist above, and will save clients hundreds of hours in completing their own research and development. And we’ll share all the Q&As others before you have asked who have already started the process of building their own container projects. 2h Private Consultation Session is $300 + HST.  BUY NOW
  2. Octopod Construction Plans. Includes the full set of construction plans for the Octopod. This product is intended for DIY shipping container cabin clients that would like to build their own Octopod. The first Octopod project is fully constructed in Canada and serves as a demonstration facility for proof of concept and viewing by clients and customers. Site specific design review (such as foundations) and custom design changes are available upon request under Consulting Services. Octopod Construction Plans are available for $1000 + HST.  BUY NOW
  3. Octopod Materials Kit. Contains all the major construction materials required to build the Octopod. We source all the containers and construction materials, pack the containers with the construction materials, and ship the containers to your construction site, anywhere in the world.  Once the Kit arrives at your site, you are responsible for your own assembly and finishing of the Octopod. The Kit does not include concrete foundations or spray foam insulation which must be sourced and installed locally. Pricing of the Octopod Materials Kit is available upon request.
  4. Consulting Services. We provide consulting services on design, engineering, permitting, procurement, and construction of shipping container projects.  Whether it be expert advice, site specific Octopod design modifications, or full design and engineering of your own custom sea container home, it is based on your specific needs. Contact us for more information.

 

Taking Delivery of our Shipping Containers

sea container cabin

The Big Day (or days as it turned out) has arrived to take delivery of our shipping containers for our future shipping container cabin.

All 8 containers have arrived from China.  So we headed up to the shipping container yard to do a pre-inspection of the containers.  Most importantly was to verify the shipping placard labels for the pesticide treatments used during manufacturing of the wood floors.  The treatment was not what we expected to receive (this is not a feature that you can specify when ordering containers), but after some research we satisfied ourselves with it’s characteristics and that it will be satisfactory for our project given our construction techniques.
In Ontario, with all the snow melting in the spring time, it results in load restrictions for hauling heavy loads during this time of year.  In our case, the last 1km of travel is on a seasonal dirt road which is even more susceptible to road damage.  As a result, we needed to wait until the “half load” trucking restrictions were lifted by the local municipality, and delayed our ability to take delivery of the containers.
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Before the containers arrived, 50 cubic yards of gravel was brought in to expand the lay down area to accomodate all 8 containers beside the proposed construction site.  Here is a video of the existing cabin and lay down area, the Octopod will cover the area of the existing cabin and the drive shed.  VIDEO:  cabin before 360

All 8 containers were planned to be shipped up on a Tuesday.  The shipping company asked to advance shipment of half the cans to the previous Friday night and Saturday.  After waiting all evening, the 4 containers arrived at 12 midnight under a full moon.  The containers were unloaded from the tilt and load trucks and placed onto railway tie timber.  The truck drivers didn’t leave until 2am after working in the dark, and decided not to return on Saturday.  This meant the remaining containers would be shipped on Tuesday as originally planned.  Upon returning again on Tuesday, we noticed some damage to one of the containers on the front top beam above the door.  With the beauty of technology we were able to take photos and send them to the container company, who with excellent customer service in mind, had one of the trucks backhaul the damaged container and send a replacement unit that same day.  Here is a video of a container being unloaded from a truck onto railway tie blocks.  VIDEO:  container unloading

 Container_Delivery2

 container deliveries first four

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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!

Project ‘Octopod’ Shipping Container Cabin

The ‘Octopod’ is our shipping container cabin and it features a unique Hub and Spoke design. The ‘Hub’ is a large centre octagonal great room and each radiating container is a ‘Spoke’ that serves a different purpose.  The name was inspired by our 4 year old daughter who is equally excited about the project as we are.

Sea-Container-Cabin-Finished-Front-View-Close-up2

The Octopod is based on the following design philosophies:

  • work with the containers, not against them
  • minimize the amount of cutting and welding
  • maximize the inherent strengths of containers, such as their structural strength, air tight envelope, material durability, and their high security features
  • maximize natural light and ventilation with window and door glazing at extremities and clear story centre
  • integrate numerous off-grid features
  • bill of construction materials to be sourced from local suppliers and sawmills

sea container cabin concept 2

 

The Octopod is 1400 square feet in gross floor area and will sit on 22 concrete piers. The structural integrity of the containers will allow them to sit on piers and clear span their full length. Taking advantage of this strength will minimize the amount of foundation work otherwise necessary for standard construction methods. The stock steel security doors will remain on the outward facing end of the containers, to be opened up and fully swung back when occupied, and can be shut and locked for high security when away.

Post and Beam timber will form the centre octogon great room. The vaulted ceiling height will be 18′ at its peak, with very large pine beams spanning overhead to support the indoor elevated water tower above the living space (to be describe further in future off-grid postings). The interior will be completely finished in warm wood products.

Seven 20′ high cube containers will be dedicated to various uses. A wood fired wet sauna will be featured on the west wing. A 2 piece washroom will be accessible to the interior. One dining box. One kitchen box. Two bedroom boxes. One workshop box. One storage and foyer box. Instead of an 8th box we are going with a large deck that has direct access (with security shutter) to the great room.

 sea container cabin overhead layout

 sea container cabin front

sea container cabin rear

If you have any questions on our Project Octopod Shipping Container Cabin, please leave us a comment or contact us.