Sunday, December 13, 2009

It comes in spurts

Amazingly it's been over a month since I updated this. Some days I feel like almost nothing has happened since then, but a lot has taken place. On a plane headed back from Minneapolis a few months ago, I began with a basic idea of how I wanted to layout windows and a floor plan. I scribbled down a rough sketch and let the visual aesthetic settle for a while. I knew that I wanted to use as many recycled materials as possible, so I was open to the design changing organically as I found suitable materials.

Shortly before the container was delivered I bought a set of old office cubicle walls that had thick tempered 6 foot tall glass in them. Perfect. A little bit of disassembly was required, but this got me the long rectangular shaped glass I was looking for at a fraction of the cost of custom built commercial windows. Even custom commercial units would need reinforced angle iron to frame them into the container walls. Instead, I decided to make the angle iron the entire window frame to keep it simple and functional and give it a more utilitarian feel. I'm not out to make a standard house with standard windows.

To help retain the strength of the structural walls I used thick angle iron and a band saw to cut out appropriate frames for my new windows. After much debate and thought between Margot and I, we came up with an updated layout that was surprisingly similar to the scribbles I put down on paper during our trip.

My welding skills are improving, but it's a slow process. Some of the windows I've built are fixed and will not be opened and some swing out to open from a top pivot point. The opening ones took three rounds of development, but I'm pleased with how they are turning out. We'll have seven windows and one large sliding glass door when finished and I've officially built and installed four of the seven with the other frames already assembled and waiting for holes.

I found the plasma cutter to be the easiest solution to cutting into the container and the band saw is definitely the most precise tool for cutting my window frames. It's fun and a little scary to hear and feel the container expand and contract as you cut out sections and then see and feel it tighten back up as the super strong frames are welded in place.

I also did some creative trading and managed to come up with two large commercial sliding doors that I plan to combine into one big heavy barn-door style hanging door. Wish me luck on that one.

We've also determined that a grass roof is definitely in the future plan for energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal, so I plan to put in roof reinforcements that will be hidden in the walls. This will take a bit of work this week as I finish the last of the windows and also begin the task of getting the big door together.

I'm ordering the air conditioner/heater this week and have decided to buy a mini-split unit for its efficiency, low-noise output and unobtrusive ventless output. I also need to buy the electrical materials this week and get it wired up soon. I ordered a bio-based spray foam insulation to spray on the walls to insulate and seal up the structure. I look forward to installing that as it means I'm nearing completion or at least a usable point of the project. The plans for the wall surface are changing as I discover new materials. Standard sheetrock is out and finish plywood is simply too expensive and certainly not that eco-friendly. Anyone got any recommendations? This will develop soon I'm sure.

I'll try to update this more often as there are finally interesting things to see that are developing quickly.

For now, the rest of the story can be told by the photos on the flickr page here:


Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Be careful what you wish for.

After over a month of research and planning, I took the step of buying an actual container. I chose what they call a "high container". It's 9'6" tall vs. the standard 8'6". I think the higher ceiling would work out nicely. We set up delivery and awaited the fun. It arrived and suddenly the true scope and physical size of this project occurred to Margot and I both. HUGE and HEAVY.

This thing is big and simply walking around, over and into it puts things into perspective. Did I mention that it's heavy too?

I pondered renting a forklift until I found out it was $500 to do so. We decided to take our chances with some 4" PVC pipe designed for sewer systems, a floor jack, bumper jack, shovel, 40' of chain and the Jeep. We waited for the mud in the yard to dry up and Chris was gracious enough to come over on his day off to lend a hand. On Friday, the fun began.

It took about 5 hours of digging, jacking ramming and cursing to get it into place. Getting it in the air was surprisingly easy, but pushing it around was not. Let's just say we were all impressed that the Jeep or one of us wasn't damaged.

Margot watched and spotted anxiously while shooting pics and cheering us on. We even gave her a shot at the floor jack and she quickly figured out why we were sweating. It's finally in place and ready for the real work to begin. I've gathered up a rough sketch of the plan, a welder, a torch, a grinder and more than a few materials and I look forward to getting a jump on it this week. Updates to follow....

Lincoln Logs

For over 5 years now I've pondered the shipping container as the ultimate adult-sized building blocks. Like the Lincoln Logs of my childhood, I looked at them as pieces of endless configurable possibility. As early as I can remember I was interested in stacking things and modifying things to fit my vision and imagination. Like the cardboard bricks I found at my cousin's house, the boring rectangular box could become something totally different with some vision and patience.

For those who are wondering what the hell a shipping container is, I'll explain a bit further: Today our country's trend of importing more than exporting has meant the huge metal boxes used to ship us everything, from Korean car parts to Brazilian bananas, sit dormant at our ports waiting to be recycled and modified for a new life in America. This has allowed many industrious people to build everything from apartments and hotel rooms to mobile hurricane and earthquake-proof shelter for displaced residents. Some are used as storage for tools and random junk and others are turned into architectural art pieces that challenge current building trends and help prove that form and function really can come together in unexpected places.

I recently made the decision to finally buy and build one of my own into a project workspace with hopes of creating something beautifully functional and inspiring. Perhaps my goals are lofty, but I'm doing it regardless and plan to share the progress of the build here.