I recently got an email from my buddy Alex over at Renaissance Ronin offering a little more information on flooring for shipping containers. Being a “corten crusader” for the better part of 3 decades or so, I like to think Alex has a little something to offer in the way of “practical experience”. So, in the words of “the man” himself:
I’ve been working with ISBUs since long before they were called that. In fact, we’re talking about the late nineteen seventies. We’ve built a TON of Corten Castles… (it averages out to about three a year in North America alone) stretching from Crescent City CA to Panama (and I ain’t talking about Panama City FL), to the “Tundra Two-Steppers” of the Great White North…
You do the math…
First, it should be pointed out that while RFH (radiant floor heat) is a rallying cry lately, it is rarely the most cost effective or efficient option when dealing with a SMALL space like an ISBU home. A mini split HVAC unit will do the job nicely at less cost and almost zero “OMG” potential for failure, later.
While I use radiant floor slabs in larger ISBU projects, for anything under about 1200 square feet, it’s just not the “best” solution.
Don’t get me wrong, in larger domiciles or commercial buildings we always start with radiant floor heating out there on the table. In the “right” space, it puts the heat exactly where you need it – in the “human and critter” band and not up in the ceiling.
Second, Jeremiah is exactly right, except that he gives that existing flooring far too much credit. The existing flooring in ISBUs is treated with a chemical concoction far more dangerous than simple formaldehyde and HAS to go. Period. People who work in the Chinese plants that make it die from exposure to it. I know it’s true. I’ve visited/inspected those plants. That’s how lethal those chemicals are.
In fact, the standing policy in my FIRM is that if you are set on keeping the existing floor, you look for another team. We WILL NOT work with you. Period. That’s how bad that flooring is.
Like Jeremiah has suggested, we strip out the existing floor material and send it to a HazMet facility. Don’t reuse it for anything. Lethal is lethal. While I’ve seen it used as outside ramp material for handicap access, or even siding…
… that’s still pushing the boundaries in my view.
And that includes keeping it stored safely and securely (so that people can’t “steal or appropriate it” from your job site) before it’s sent off to “horror story flooring hell”.
For flooring replacement, we always spec and strive to use lightweight concrete. Rigid Insulation gets dropped in and then we shoot a floor. You’d be amazed at what you can do.
TIP: Shoot an inch of SPF on the underside of those same containers. You’ll get a massively insulated and “protected” floor that way. (Vapor and Moisture barriers)
First, concrete is “self leveling” and easy to work with. No special skills or expensive craftsmen/tradesmen required.
Add some stain (plus a little creativity) and a sealer to concrete and you have a floor that some will think is stone or even marble. And, it’ll be DURABLE. FOREVER.
Using concrete does a few things. It gives you some thermal mass to heat up using the sun. It adds to the structural integrity of the floor (helping to combat “floor bounce”) that kills your floor surface and even gets translated to your wall textures. And, it’s cheap.
Okay, like everything else, inflation is causing it to be more expensive, but I’d rather have a “finished” concrete floor, than a plywood floor that still needs finishing, if I’m on a tight budget.
We add an expansion joint every 10-12 feet. Period. Those expansion joints will coincide with the supporting pilings under those boxes. You can’t just fly a box from both ends, you have to support it.
When you were born, your momma didn’t carry you around by your head. She cradled you in her arms, displacing your mass fairly evenly. She did that because you were easier to carry that way. The same rule applies to ISBUs. Evenly spaced pilings or footed walled will carry that load and keep everything from flopping around. Those expansion joints will assist in that support.
The concrete floor will just help stiffen the spine, giving you a superior structure.
Seriously, you”re building a home out of steel, but it’s still going to get pushed around by Mother Nature. Those expansion joints will pay off. I hate patching floors.
And once that’s thru, we get another benefit from that (poured) floor. By inserting rain gutter material (it’s cheap and easy to form-fit) along the rails, I get a place to run conduit.
Why in heavens name, would anyone want to do that?
Um… If you create a channel in the FLOOR to drop electrical and plumbing into, you don’t need to go up into the walls at ALL. No boxes. No holes. No harm, no foul.
NOTE: This should be fairly obvious but DO NOT run plumbing and electrical in the SAME channel. Run one down one side and the other down the opposite side.
Top this off with a cool architectural grate and you get some added architectural character and an easily adapted and versatile system that allows you to make changes later.
Plus, you can push everything back (like that TV) against the WALLS without having to allow for the extra inches that plugs require.
And, architectural grating can be found at salvage yards for almost nothing.
Reuse, recycle, repurpose. That’s me motto…Argh! 🙂
Thanks Jeremiah. It is the right time for me to read your superior articule. I live in a home container for the laste two years. I thank God for bringing me to this amazing amount of details. I do need them. Ana
could you send me or post another section that can accurately depict what he is describing here? I am familiar with most of the terms and have an idea of whats going on, but as a third year architecture student, I don’t really have the experience to know what he means by running the plumbing and electrical in the floor. any help would be appreciated. Also, I have a question about structure. I want to rotate my containers and raise them off the ground, similar to this project: http://aphid.tumblr.com/post/4852112946/our-entry-for-the-city-of-long-beach-aia-la
is this sort of sculptural manipulation of containers possible? I am only having them lean and tip in one direction, with no counter weighted opposite side like ^ that design… imagine more of a “wave” of containers, with less of a slope than the ones in my precedent project. let me know what you think firstname.lastname@example.org