containers get some local publicity news article – Shipping Containers Possible as Homes

some local students are making some big noise about shipping containers re-purposed for housing.  I hope the momentum continues.

22 thoughts on “containers get some local publicity

  1. As a pretty picture, the design is great, and as with all student projects (and even a fair few professional projects) the “kinks” get worked out in CDs. This project could work with minimal structural reinforcement, I think. Since the walls are structural, and containers are built to stack, the biggest concern, other than point loading, is horizontal support. The cantilevering of the first floor container is a little silly and would not be necessary to the design as far as I’m concerned. Also I’d like to know how they tie back the entry overhang to a aluminum railing, but that, again, is something that could be worked out.
    As is, you’re right, it’s loaded with issues, but with some tweaking I think it could work. Even if it blows their construction budget (which of course they will), projects like this start to push the envelope a little bit and get some much needed press for “corten coolness” to quote your eminence. 🙂 And the more people who can spend the money to push the envelope will push innovation which will make more complex container structures “easier” in the future. It’s a win win, as long as the money don’t come out of my pocket. 😛

  2. Ha! I hear you. But then, on the other side of the coin (i’m the ever vigilant optimist when it comes to architecture), without the budget busters we don’t ever see what is possible.
    And I’m with you 100% on the “fluff” publicity immediately followed by the “lynch mob” mentality of the mainstream media. Our local courthouse is a prime example of “fluff” followed by “government blundering” followed by “oh my god it’s gonna cost HOW MUCH” followed by “lynch mob” media.
    That “too expensive” seed is something I’ve talked about often and it is a source of contention for me with the architecture community. While I love the work of many starchitects, they perpetuate that myth that “modern is expensive, so I have to buy crap mediterranean/gothic/cape code/neo-classical revival”. But projects like what you’re doing, what I’m trying to do and even these Flagler students help to show potential clients, in a small way, what is possible at an affordable price for real people not just doctors, lawyers and lobbyists.
    While we’re educating we’ve got to keep people interested, and flashy, pretty pictures will do that. We just have to back up all our pretty pictures with real life data. That’s my goal anyway. 🙂

  3. Give them a break buddy : )

    I have seen a ton of stuff on your blog about container homes that is just as impractical from a professional point of view.

    One that springs to mind was last year you ran a post on making a swimming pool out a 40ft container laid on its side, backfilling with dirt to make a shallow end, creating a masonary wall near the door end to make a “pump room” and lining the whole thing with plastic.

    Buddy – I know you mean well but thats just a whole lot of silliness there, your blog is always entertaining if not always factually correct, there are saying about stones and glass houses !

    • My rebuttal is not about if you can take a steel box and make a vessel that contains water.

      Its about your blog and the method you describe to build a swimming pool out of a shipping container – I said you should ease up on the students design – its not that you can build a home out of containers but they had no idea how to do it right.

      As far as your design goes its just wrong.

      There is NEVER a case to be made for burying a container NOT EVER – not as a cellar, not as a storage room, not as a shelter and NOT as a swimming pool.

      There are many arguments here but the simple fact is the container will rust within a few years and any attempt to “coat” the container with any material to prevent corrosion is a fools errand, this is about practical affordable durable construction.

      The one container based swimming pool you referenced in the posts below that has actually been built is “above ground” and so not of the type you described digging a hole and burying one nor does it have some masonry wall at one end.

      As I said in the original comment your blog is very entertaining I don’t think anyone holds it to professional review for “how to accuracy” that’s not what its about – all I am saying is you get things wrong regularly so try not to be so hard on young designers just starting out.

  4. OK, this is getting way off topic here. First, Peter, I’ve been working with Ronin for several months now on several designs and I can attest that he does know what he’s doing. I appreciate diverging opinions and I really appreciate anyone coming out to point out when someone is wrong. But you’ve got to back it up on my blog. You started out with admonishing Ronin for ragging on the UF students, and he was a little harsh, but also fair, given his more practical experience with container construction. You have moved into a more direct attack with no real basis and I take issue with that. If you want to call someone out, fine, but give examples of wrongness and also offer correction.
    Same goes for anyone commenting on my blog. It doesn’t have to stay civil – hell I even prefer that it not stay civil. Nothing good ever came from being condescending or placating. Let’s keep it lively, but keep it above the belt and ALWAYS SUPPORT YOUR POINT. 🙂

  5. oh, and this goes for everyone – no one gets to say that something is “impossible” or “just not done”. If there’s one thing I’ve learned (I’ve got days and days of experience, so I know what I’m talking about) it’s that anything is possible with enough time and money. So, you want to bury a container and make a pool, you can do it by taking the proper precautions to seal and protect the container, etc etc etc. We all know this, we’re designers, architects, builders….it’s what we do.
    So, time and money: this leaves everything else on the table, so let your imagination soar! :-))

    • I also need to qualify your “it cant be done statement”

      Although in principal given enough time and money anything can be done – I agree with you.

      In reality this discussion is about building fast, affordable, durable, green homes – so concepts that negate or undermine these principals should be considered as impractical at least, perhaps just a waste of time and money or resources maybe even as far as bad design.

      An example is heavy cantilevering on stacked containers – yes it can be done but when you add up the bill its good a good use of resources and therefore open to critical review for affordable housing concepts.

  6. Jerimah,

    Its your blog and therefore your rules – can I make a few “suggestions” for the future of the blog.

    1, Although I am appreciative of the enthusiasm you have for the site you have far too few readers to be calling “off topic” unless it gets a long long way way off topic.

    In my opinion this is a discussion about self proclaimed experts ragging on other designers ideas and inferring it should be left to people who know what they are doing.

    I offer a direct quote from Ronins comments

    “Just once, I’d love to see these projects in the hands of people who know what they’re doing from day one”

    So its ok for him to say others don’t know what they are doing ?

    2, You say

    “I appreciate diverging opinions and I really appreciate anyone coming out to point out when someone is wrong. But you’ve got to back it up on my blog”


    “You have moved into a more direct attack with no real basis and I take issue with that. If
    you want to call someone out, fine, but give examples of wrongness and also offer correction”

    Buddy I gave just about as specific a rebuttal as anyone can give, no generalizations real specifics – I gave reference to not only a specific post but actual elements of the post that are not correct.

    Go back and reread my comment – this is just about as direct as any rebutall is every going to get.

    1, reference to a specific example
    2, extraction from the example of what is wrong AND why

    I did not swear, call names or offer some blanket “your wrong” review heck I even complimented the man on what he does well – entertain – but the fact remains a lot of what he talks about is wrong, the only way I can point that out is to offer an example and explain why – that is exactly what I did and you take “issue with that” ?

    Does the man know what he is talking about, in my opinion he has strong opinion but he is missing a lot of professional understanding on core issue from insulation to modification to permitting.

    He has a lot of opinion but not professional expertise, based on your “issue” with my example of a swimming pool further examples and information is only going to be misunderstood.

    The man thinks burying a 40 shipping container on its side, building a masonry wall at one end to build a pump room and filling it with graded sand to make a shallow end and a plastic liner is a good idea, and argues that some the important detail was left of our the post …

    In reality the entire concept is problematic and the detail is irrelevant – enough said.

  7. Peter…..where do I begin. In your second comment you say “this is about practical, affordable, durable construction”….And you’re right. And Ronin’s comments/critiques on the original design are exactly that, critiques on the “practicality, affordability and durability” of the design as it stands. So, in that you both agree. I do love bringing two people together so effortlessly. :-\
    Second, you keep saying that you give specific examples. But yet you simply keep repeating that Ronin “gets things wrong regularly” and “a lot of what he talks about is wrong”….that’s not even close to specific and is at the heart of what I was talking about. What does he get wrong? What projects or topics do you have issue with and can offer alternate opinions on? For that matter what do I get wrong? Are there things that I’ve said or posted that you disagree with? I’d love to hear your opinions, but please be specific and back up your own theories with substance. It’s really not a tall order for even the smallest and most modest of blogs.
    You say you take issue with his comment on one of his blog posts that ““Just once, I’d love to see these projects in the hands of people who know what they’re doing from day one” – if you’ve ever actually read his blog that’s exactly what he does is try to provide some basic educational resources so that people will know what they are doing (or at least know the right questions to ask of those who should know what they are doing) to get these types of projects built. So, through all of this your comments are not specific, they are not targeted at any specific projects, other than a damn swimming pool, or specific topics other than this one project that Ronin takes issue with on simple constructibility issues that even you point out as being costly – so again you’re in agreement and again I point out that I’ve brought you two together in some manly bonding. Just no tongue, there are children watching. 😛
    And by the way, I don’t care if I only have one person reading my blog, or even no person. This is MY blog and I’ll run it just about any damn way I please. If that kills my readership, so be it. I’m not using this as a platform for popularity or even to make money (notice no targeted Adsense ads here?). I do it because I want to offer my own opinion out to the world wide web for posterity sake and quite frankly because I like to hear the sound of my fingers typing late at night, as is evidenced by this very long comment on my own blog. 😀
    You said, “Does the man know what he is talking about, in my opinion he has strong opinion but he is missing a lot of professional understanding on core issue from insulation to modification to permitting.” This STARTS to get at something specific. Please expound on this topic with some DETAIL and offer your own experience and expertise (whatever that may be) and lets start a substantive discussion. PLEASE.
    As a matter of fact, the two of you have given me all the material I need for Monday’s post. I will be reposting all of these comments and adding my own little spin on where this discussion has gone and where it may be going. If you don’t like it, tough. Again it’s my blog, so….PFFFFT! *sticks tongue out like a 5 year old*.
    Ronin, I always welcome your opinion on any topic foreign or domestic.
    Peter, I also welcome your comments and want more specifics and substance to your comments – suggestions, whatever. I’d also be interested in what it is you do for a living. Whether architect, builder, ex mob boss, former big top ring leader, maybe even a disgruntled postal worker?
    Have a great weekend. Cheers.

  8. Fair enough let me give you something really specific – however first my “qualifications” or experiences are totally irrelevant in any discussion of this nature, if this post doesn’t speak for its self adding PHD after it does change the words or their meaning.

    Ronin is regularly hyper critical of the various planning authorities and the way they treat alternative designs, for example he regularly uses terms like “Planning Nazis”

    In reality this is the “professional” approach that should be taken.

    Running a planning department is actually a real really hard job and its only getting harder – 30 years ago there where weren’t really many alternative plans being presented most every thing was pretty “vanilla”

    In the last 10 years ( thank god ) there has been a literal explosion of new concepts and ideas around alternative methods of construction from ICF’s to super adode to cob to strawbale to shipping containers and on and on and on – literally there are 100’s of new ideas in everything from energy generation to septic systems to construction methods – the list is exploding and it doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.

    Its challenging enough keeping up with the ideas at the 20,00 foot level where we operate I cant even imagine having to learn enough to be in a position to sign off of someones earth ship design one day and a new septic solution the next – I just don’t know enough about it – now of course if 10 people a day walk in with a earthship design guess what right there is merit to learn but the reality the number of people applying for alternative designs is still a really small % and containers homes smaller again – tiny.

    So naturally the lions share of time and energy and training resources of planning departments goes into the mainstream.

    Add to that the fact that there is still no definitive reference or engineering materials that deal with engineering a shipping container home means there is absolutely nothing from which planners can learn about this method.

    Add to that the ISBU movement that keeps quoting silly irrelevant static’s about what shipping containers can do as shipping containers – like stacking in unmodified form – who cares that’s marketing not engineering.

    Add to that the fact that many commercial alternatives are being supported by commercial business that know how to lobby and produce engineering reports and reference materials for planners.

    My point is this, I know lots of planners many are concerned about affordable housing and environmental responsibility but they are flooded and overloaded with the need to learn about emerging solutions, how we reach them is by creating credible resources that can be used to support of case – like the ICF manufactures did.

    And I don’t mean an ebook introducing the container concept that is 1% of what is needed, BTW I don’t have any issue with Ronin’s book it is exactly what he says it is “ An Introduction” and nothing more there is little of use of planners that have to approve a real world design in there but that’s not who its aimed at – so no problem.

    So lets summarize…..

    When someone walks into a planning department with an alternative design proposal, without ANY engineering documentation, without ANY credible contactable references from other similar projects that have been approved, armed with a long list of irrelevant evidence about “strong boxes” AND an attitude that they have to deal with planning Nazis its like wonder that they get stonewalled or worse – it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

    Guys like Peter Demaria understand how to deal with planning departments, they do all the work for them, and they respect the extra effort required to get alternative designs approved – in short they make it easy for them to say yes – and guess what they often do !!

    If Ronin did one thing and that is start to respect the challenges that planning departments face guys like me might listen more closely to the other things he has to say, until then he is entertainment value only.

  9. As far as the hands on “how to” goes – the list of required corrections to his material is exhaustive lets just start with the very first step

    Step 1– selecting containers

    There is a whole lesson just here. We need to find containers that are as near to the end of their lifecycle as possible to get them at a good price and to be green but not so banged up that just getting them into the sort of condition that we can work with them is not a Herculean effort in itself.

    Have you wondered why so many higher profile architects and builders in this space like Admin Kalkin have started using brand new containers – buying them direct from the factory in China ? Its because experience shows them that working with really old containers is hard work and time consuming = expensive.

    And balanced against that working with new or newer containers is not “green”

    So just finding containers that make good candidates for ISBU’s is actually an huge huge issue – but if you listen to Ronin they are just laying around for the taking, the cheaper the better and thats a big mistake its like buying a real POS banged up car with the view to restore it, often the best restorations are in the middle ground.

    Step 2 – Even the ISBU Association agrees 100% that the single factor that will most affect the lifespan of your container home is how you prepare the containers before you start work.

    If you want to know how to prepare a container look at what the industry does to their own containers when they refurbish them – you need to get back to bare metal – you must sand blast a container all the way back to bare metal to get to rid of ALL corrosion and then prime and then start work modifying.

    **** The ISBU assocation is made up of businesses in the space, their expertise leans more towards containers and storage than architecture and design so if there is one thing they no about is how to clean and refurbish a container.

    Painting over rust is a time bomb, even with a primer and yet that is exactly what is done.

    Both of these steps are vital and yet never mentioned by Ronin in any of his material.

    I feel that anyone that understands this space need go no further to end this discussion – as stated a great deal of what Ronin talks about is poor or misleading information.

  10. Peter, thanks for finally offering some specific criticism. It only took about a week for you to finally understand what “specific” means – I’ll send you a dictionary and thesaurus for Christmas. I suggest you sleep with them. Let me start here by addressing your first comment. First, your qualifications, or at the very least your current profession, lend very well to discussions of this nature in that this discussion is very specific in the topic of ARCHITECTURE. So, if you were say a garbage collector or a dentist, I’m thinking your area of expertise may be just a bit outside the specific scope of these discussions. While I assume you work in some capacity in the built environment, my question was simply one of curiosity as to your field and depth of experience. If you want to be an asshole about it, go right ahead. I don’t mind.
    Your reverence for planning department officials means that either a) you are one, b) you used to be one, c) you’re married to one and are obligated to speak well of them. Speaking from direct experience, planning departments are filled with half educated NAZIS who have little or no interest in actually getting projects built PROPERLY or built WELL. They are concerned with building and zoning code and a set of rules concocted by oft times those with no architectural or engineering training. They are bureaucrats who follow the rules when it suits them and make up their own rules to follow on a daily basis that do not apply to two projects consecutive for the same architect in the same city in the same neighborhood. It’s a game of 3 card monte accept there is no queen to find. It’s a scam. If you happen to live in a city with educated, sober and efficient planning officials, please tell me where this fantastical and wondrous place is because I would love to move there.
    Oh, and just to quickly point out, ANYONE wanting to build a container home via DIY, at the VERY LEAST needs to consult a architect or architecturally trained designer AS WELL AS a structural engineer (if building more than 2 stories) in order to properly permit and construct said home. I’ve spoken often and at length about the need for architects and designers on even the smallest residential projects to ensure a quality product is being built and is up to quality standards of construction and detailing. To say that planning officials are “ill equipped” to qualify “alternative” housing is plain ignorant and silly. I don’t care what kind of structure it is, if the planning official is “ill qualified” to properly permit it, they should either be required to get the necessary knowledge or be fired. No matter the structure or type of construction, any building being submitted for permit will have the necessary calculations and product documentation required for the plan reviewer to make a proper evaluation of that project based on current zoning and building code. Period. Now if you bring in a napkin sketch with ketchup smudges on it and say “i wanna build me a house outta contaiminers an it’s gon-have some windows dat i got down at der home deper….”, yeah I can imagine you’ll have some trouble at the plan reviewers office. THIS SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING!
    Now, to your most recent comment. Step 1 – choosing containers…Christ on a cracker. It doesn’t matter if you buy a container brand new from the factory or from a scrap metal salvage yard. Any container you purchase needs to be inspected for defect and appropriately cleaned, primed and painted to ensure that corrosion will not be an issue. This isn’t even an architectural issue, this is common sense for anyone who has ever left a shovel outside to rust.
    Step 2 – preparing the containers. It seems you are determined to find any and all ways with which to completely dash Ronin as any kind of professional in this field of alternative housing. As he has stated multiple times in these comments alone, his blog is not an all inclusive and exhaustive construction manual. He gives general advice in the hopes of providing education and allowing any prospective home builders to ask the right questions. In your eyes it seems that anyone attempting to blog on any subject must give a complete step by step guide in whatever they do to be credible. I find this silly and adversarial for no other reason than you think you’re the expert and need to turn your nose up at anyone NOT YOU.
    “Painting over rust is a tomb”…..NO F****ING DUH! Are you serious? Show me someone who thinks it’s a good idea to paint over a rust covered anything and think it’s a good idea and I’ll show you someone without enough education or mental faculties to change the urinal cakes in a rest stop men’s room. This is “exactly what is done” because there are those out there who do not take the time or energy to properly research HOW to go about building something out of a container, whether it be a house or a storage space in their yard or even GASP a container swimming pool.
    NOW, if you happen to have a blog or book or pamphlet or sketches on a napkin that is a complete and exhaustive guide on how to properly construct a container home from step 1 all the way to step A.C-1.3.a.i.49(a) sub-paragraph 3.5i(v), please post it here and I will be happy to read it and publicize the living hell out of it to all 4 of my readers. Seriously.
    I sincerely thank you for you specific comments, but as you can see I think your comments are totally without basis. Sorry. 🙂

  11. Thanks for taking the time to review my comments.

    No I am not a planner or connected with planning in anyway however your opinions on planning and the peolpe that work in it are enough for me to close off this thread without even bothering to comment on anything else.

  12. I do not know very much about Shipping Container Homes, I am interested but have never built one so I will stay well away from all that conversation.

    But do I think your being way over the top about your comments on Planning Departments and Nazi is a totally inappropriate word even if you think poorly of them.

    Heck you have bigger balls than me, I am Architect as well and believe me I have made some choice comments to myself at times about the local planning department but I would never make public comments like that on my business site you never know who is listening.

    I couldn’t help but thinking what if that guy was a Planner in Florida ?

    In order to try to add some value here I thought I might submit this link. Its from the DCAT they are totally pro alternative building and even they acknowledge the challenges for planners, this is a survey they did that shows how poorly most alternative design submissions are presented, thought it might balance the discussion a bit.

    Click to access Breaking_Down_Barriers.pdf

  13. Jackson, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your more moderating tone. 🙂 I haven’t had a chance to read through the pdf you linked to, so I’ll suspend any in depth comments until I can do that. I would like to say that, obviously, there are many exceptions to the “rule” of planning department officials, but my comment still stands that a planning department, or any regulatory agency for that matter, very seldom has the most qualified or educated individuals for any particular discipline making or even enforcing the rules.
    Case in point, I had a small project – a commercial remodel – that I took to a plan reviewer for feedback before submitting for permit and he was GREAT. He was licensed in 3 separate fields, a certified code official, the works and even HE had the same kinds of opinions that I have spoken about here. He even sort of grunted that there wasn’t anything that he could do either and that he was thinking of moving to another municipality that had private code reviewing to make more money and have more autonomy over the process. While I don’t personally agree with private planning departments, his opinions have merit and lend their credibility to my own point of view. A bureaucracy is just that – a hindrance to the natural course of doing business and innovation. But I’ll get in to all of this more later. Cheers.

  14. Pingback: container homes and planning nazis « bitchin' architecture

  15. Hi Guys,

    I run the – as such I monitor all web “traffic” on the subject of container homes and have been watching this thread unfurl with great interest.

    As the owner of the most popular information site on container homes in the world I am as qualified as anyone to review this discussion and to be honest I think there is very real merit to both sides of the discussion.

    If we take the concept of sandblasting containers as a point in case – it is actually fair to say that this is a vitally important step in the process to ensure that you will have a durable home and yet if you cruise around the photo galleries of container home projects past and present 99% of the projects are showing the build process using second hand containers straight out of the yard, these are containers that haven’t been prepared correctly.

    Although correct preparation may seem like something “obvious” to do for professionals like yourselves you need to remember that often times many people that are interested in container homes don’t have the privilege of a “technical or trades education” in this field.

    The challenge with addressing this “DIY” market is that whenever we “abbreviate” or assume prior knowledge of readers for the sake of creating short enjoyable and practical posts we run the risk of being misquoted or more likely misunderstood.

    By way of example, if Alex created a post on the correct preparation of containers and next month focused on say placing the container on footings and by way of introduction said something like – truck arrives, container goes on footings – it is possible that the reader didn’t actually read the preceding post.

    Now if information is presented in a book format, it is reasonable to assume the reader follow step 1 and then read step 2 but the very nature of a blog does make it hard to navigate the steps they just don’t work that way.

    Sticking with the example of sandblasting if you go to Alexs blog and use the search function he provides

    “Sandblasting” – doesn’t return any results – certainly not the post that Alex wrote about the subject

    Nor does “Container Preparation”

    Use “sand blasting” and its there.

    Does this mean that Alex does not know how to prepare a container – no certainly not ! but I can see how someone that looks thorough different eyes might say, here is a blog that doesn’t even mention this fundamental requirement.

    So what do we do about this – if anything ?

    Whilst I appreciate that everyone runs blogs for different reasons – unashamedly mine is commercial, if our goal is to reach out, to educate and to inform the greatest number of people then recognizing challenges like this, listening carefully to customers feedback and even “beliefs” might help us to improve our message or communication style ( and for me that means more readers and more income )

    Heck I have zero critisim of Alex’s blog and his goals may be vastly different to mine ( I am sure they are ) but personally this post has made me think about how visitors to my site would see me if they went looking for something specific like container preparation or sandblasting – do I have answers for them in a way that demonstrates my expertise ? I have to be honest and say probably not easy to find – have to follow “my path” you cant just jump in – so that has given me something to reflect on.

    Apart from that I have enjoyed reading both of your sites immensely and look forward to continuing to do so in the future.



  16. Alex,

    I think that part of the problem is that you have done an excellent job of gathering supportive and influential followers that are promoting you as one of the “go to” people for “How to ISBU”

    A title rightly deserved by the way – but what I have learn’t quite painfully myself is when the ” I am an expert” shingle goes out the cold hard reality is that people’s levels of “expectation” and “critical review” go up exponentially from the notion of grass roots information and thoughts of the day.

    When its “paid information” like mine it goes through the roof, believe me – I get roasted on the tiniest thing I get wrong or leave out but I accept that as I am calling myself an expert and I am charging for my information and so critical review come with the territory.

    I guess that was my point to Jeremiah – simply I can see both sides of the case, as a grass roots blog RR is the star of the space – however as the “How to Reference Manual” from one of the “Go To Guys” – an Expert – the simple fact is your going to come under a new level of scrutiny and critical review and things like search-able content go from “needs work” to some people will say “totally unacceptable”

    If they are paying I tend to side with them – I will be looking very closely at this on my site this week as a direct result of this thread, I know its not good enough so thanks for the kick in the pants : )

    The biggest challenge here is your somewhat straddling the gap ( intentional or not ) between subject matter expert “musings” ( the history of the blog ) and expert information provider ( the new book by way of example )

    If someone considers you are providing subject matter expert “musings” they will be thrilled and delighted but if they think your an expert information provider maybe they are entitled to review you with a critical eye ( as they do me ) to be honest the fact that you selling a book does make you lean this way now.

    Lastly don’t let the SEO guys pull the wool over your eyes – you have all the elements that are required to grow your blog.

    Aged blog, lots of content, authority, trusted backlinks and regular readers the rest is the easy part and shouldn’t cost much at all – its a two day job to restructure – no more.

    Good luck, whatever pathway you choose.


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