On a sunny, winter afternoon in February, on a wooden plank laid across two pieces of log, overlooking our valley and as we took a lunch break from working on our home, Dave asked me to be his wife. It wasn’t fancy, the ring wasn’t huge, he didn’t get down on one knee. He grabbed my hand and looking at our valley, he asked me if I would be willing to spend the rest of my life with him. It was that simple.
We had been through so much, and we were still in the battle, but we knew we were meant to be together forever. Even if I wasn’t Dave’s wife and Dave wasn’t my husband, we were so much better together than apart. As we looked over our valley together, I said yes, I would be honored to be his wife.
A Home Complete
We both knew that we wanted a simple ceremony, and we wanted to be married on our property. What better place than on our deck, overlooking the very same valley that started it all? When Dave asked me to be his wife, we were about 8 weeks from being completed with our home, if nothing went wrong. We knew we needed to work even harder than we already were to make sure that we had a final inspection on April 8th, because on April 9th, we were going to unite our futures forever on our deck. No pressure ~ but we accomplished our goal and met our timeline! 🙂
After 10 months of construction, a brain hemorrhage, hundreds of hours of therapy, and blessings beyond measure, we were awarded final occupancy on April 8th, 2016. We moved most of our household items in that day, but didn’t move in our bed. We wanted our first night in our new home as husband and wife.
Never in a lifetime of dreaming did I imagine that I was going to meet a man as hard working and tenacious as Dave. Never did I imagine that I would not only help build, but live in a shipping container home in a valley that brings peace to my soul. Never did I imagine what my future would hold when I said, yes, let’s build a shipping container home. Never, in this lifetime or the next would I change the past 5 years. We have been so blessed and we have grown in ways that would not have been possible if we were still chasing the ‘Jones.’
As we exchanged vows on our deck with our children present as witnesses, little did we know that our story wasn’t over, but really just beginning. That the challenges and trials ahead would be almost as difficult as the ones that we had already overcome in the past 10 months. Dave and I would learn that Joy was our only hope.
Joy is not always present. You have to choose joy in the midst of the trial. Joy is a choice. That is the biggest lesson that Dave & I learned over the last 5 years. When you choose joy, life is not nearly the struggle that it could be. Yes, life is still hard. There are still so many hard things that we have to face every single day. But together, choosing joy, we are better.
4 years later, we are together, in our tiny shipping container home of 406sq ft, looking over our valley, feeling more blessed than we ever thought was possible.
I’ve come to the end of our build story, but our story really just began with that Certificate of Occupancy awarded to us on April 8, 2016. It was only after we began our life in our valley together did we discover the real joy of That Tiny Life Love!
As we came down the final stretch of converting 2 cold, ugly, metal boxes into a legal home, I (Jaimie) knew we needed to be on our A game and get organized. To stay on schedule for a move in date of the 2nd weekend in April, I reverted to my old friend, Excel to help keep us on task 😉 .
When I emailed Dave my spreadsheet with everything organized by task and weekend/date to complete said task, he laughed initially, followed immediately with an, ‘Oh My.’ But, he quickly realized how valuable our schedule was so that we could efficiently use our time to finish up the required interior elements of our home of our home by the 8th of April.
In February of 2016, 8 months into our build and 6 months after Dave’s brain hemorrhage, he asked me to be his wife. I will share more on that in the next blog 😉
We knew that if we were going to get married, we wanted it to be on the deck of our home. We decided that we were going to put a date on the calendar and knew that we HAD TO HAVE THE HOUSE finished by then so we could start our forever together.
Transforming a Box into a Home
The foundation was poured, the containers were placed, the welding was done, the walls were framed, plumbing and electrical were in, insulation was sprayed, sheet rock was hung. It was time for the final transformation of 2 metal boxes into our home.
And as I usually do, here is our creation in pictures 😉 Enjoy!
Our dream was becoming a reality ~ and we were on schedule for our together forever date of April 9, 2016.
I remember that I had received a message request through Instagram early in 2019 from Rasa, Bryce’s partner the gorgeous soul behind the camera. She had asked if we were interested in being featured on their YouTube channel. To be honest, I had never even heard of Living Big in a Tiny Home. We don’t really follow the tiny house movement; we just live our best life every day in our own tiny home. 🙂
So when Rasa sent that first message and a couple of clips of what the video would look like, I have to be truthful when I say, I didn’t even open the links. 😦 I read her messages, told her I would let her know and then forgot about it all. Life was so busy in the early part of 2019 as we had just come out of a long hard winter and were dealing with some issues with a couple of our kiddos.
Thank Goodness Bryce & Rasa are Persistent
Fast forward 6 months, and Rasa reached out to me again. She said that they had just returned to the states and would love to film our home. At this point, I had still not ever watched or heard of Living Big, but I did take the time to click on her links and watch the video clips. Watching what they produce, it seemed surreal that they were reaching out to us. We had never expected anyone to think our house was as amazing as we thought it was 😉
I responded that yes, we would be interested and to please let us know what they were thinking and their time-frame. I didn’t hear from her again for a couple of weeks and so didn’t think much more of it. Like I said, it had seemed too good to be true, so it probably wasn’t true 😉 Later we learned that they actually film or travel to their next filming destination EVERY SINGLE DAY. No wonder she didn’t have time to respond back – Bryce and Rasa are so very busy sharing people’s homes and stories.
Late August, I received another message from Rasa asking if they could come and film our home the first Saturday in September – just 2 weeks away. Dave and I talked about it and said, sure, why not. Let’s do this! knew that I needed to do some homework and research what their show was about and what to expect. I clicked on one of their videos and then told Dave, this is a BIG deal. Look at these videos and these gorgeous houses that they film all over the world. Oh, my goodness. What have we signed ourselves up for?!?!?!
We Are Just Ordinary People
We live in 2 shipping containers that we love, but it really isn’t anything special. After watching just a few more of their videos, I knew that we needed to make sure our windows were washed and the dead lawn mowed and get our home as ready as possible! We tend to keep our home very tidy, but we do live in the woods, so bugs and leaves and spiders and all the dirty things tend to get everywhere all the time.
Is This Really Going To Happen?
Again, I didn’t hear anything from Rasa after we settled on the filming date in September. Dave and I worked to get our home ready, but because of the ‘radio silence’ weren’t even sure if this was really going to happen. We figured if it didn’t, at least our house was spick and span to go into the long winter ahead. 🙂
Saturday morning arrived and so did Bryce & Rasa – we couldn’t even believe that this was really happening! They had driven from their previous shoot in Colorado just two days before. As soon as they got out of the car, we asked how they were doing, and Bryce said, ‘tired.’ Oh, my mama’s heart went out to these two lovely people that had chosen to drive from Colorado to our little town in Washington State to film our home.
Immediately Bryce started asking us questions and soon discovered that our home was more than just a couple shipping containers stacked like legos that we lived in. We had a story. An amazing story of perseverance, joy, love, and hope.
Bryce and Rasa spent the better part of 2 days filming our home and listening to our story. They cared. It was genuine and you could feel it. After the first day of filming, we asked them if we could take them to dinner. We also offered our son’s room for the night as he was away at his grandmas. Bryce & Rasa ended up using our home as a base camp for the better part of a week as they traveled North & South of our home to film other tiny homes & stories.
During their stay with us we talked and laughed and learned so much about the tiny house movement and cooked and built a friendship. Bryce is a permaculture encyclopedia and Dave learned so much from him in a short amount of time. Rasa is an amazing cook and made us the most delicious dinner right out of our garden.
Behind the Scenes of Living Big
Have you thought about how Bryce and Rasa live to travel and shoot so many tiny homes? They literally spend the majority of their time living out of a rental car. They shoot or travel every day of the week for months on end. They edit in the evenings and throughout the night to make their weekly episode deadlines. They shoot hours and hours of footage on each home they visit and condense it into 16 minutes. They own what they can carry in suitcases, for the most part. They seldom get the opportunity to cook home grown meals and rest in a real bed that isn’t a hotel bed. They truly are angels sent to tell all of our stories…
Our Shoot in a Nutshell
I’ve read so many of the comments on the YouTube episode. So many questions and because not everything can be included in 16 minutes, here are the highlights of what you didn’t see:
We found our property on Craigslist from a private party for cheap. When we purchased it, it was a goat trail along the side of the mountain. Dave & I have done all of the landscaping ourselves, mostly by hand. We have rented a small excavator a couple of times and we had an old backhoe that didn’t have brakes and almost killed Dave 5 times, but mostly, we do things the old fashioned way – one rock or shovel scoop at a time. 🙂
We pay for things as we go to continue building out our property. We both still work the same jobs we have worked for years. Dave has been at his job for 29 years and I am an accountant and have worked for the same company for 9 years. When we want to add a rock wall or a greenhouse, we can because we don’t have a mortgage. Because of Dave’s health, our home and property is our stay-vacation destination and we spend so much time enjoying the gorgeous valley we live in!
We intentionally built with only 2 containers because we wanted TO BE MORTGAGE FREE when we completed our build. We accomplished that. We love our home, but yes, building a home out of Shipping Containers is definitely more expensive than a traditional stick built home of the same size. Live and learn 😉
Dave has always wanted a shop – doesn’t every guy wants one? In 2018 we built him his shop so that he can work on his projects and stay busy and active. He has an enormous crane in there that is his pride and joy and everything he needs to keep his creative juices flowing and his mind as healthy as possible. 🙂 We have recently turned the living space in the back of the shop into an Airbnb when our kiddos aren’t home and to create passive income 🙂
Our shoot was in September, so our seasonal creek behind our home was dry. The ‘Ferris wheel’ looking thing is actually a water wheel that plays a ‘not so sweet’ melody during the rainy months. 😉 It is essentially a large piece of garden art made from a pipe reel, galvanized buckets and an old bicycle. Dave loves to create!
I didn’t intentionally do the majority of the talking. Dave talked lots, especially in the beginning when Bryce and Rasa first arrived, but after a couple of hours he was tired and his words weren’t working as well. You don’t see this because the video is actually edits that cut out his stuttering and loss of words and replace it with me explaining a lot of things. When Dave watched the episode, he just kept saying over and over – I am not the same man I used to be. He sees how much he has lost. It is heartbreaking to see the strong man you love and admire and who is a hero in your world be so vulnerable and weak. I am glad that Rasa & Bryce protected Dave from the ugly comments that would have been made had they left all of Dave’s stuttering and difficulty talking in the episode. A lesson to be kind always, because we don’t know what other people are battling.
Angels in Disguise
God gifted us with angels. Angels that were wanted to share our story. Dave and I told Bryce & Rasa, that while we were so honored that they wanted to film our home, it was our story of love and perseverance, even when all seems impossible that we wanted to share. Our prayer was that if by sharing, we could touch just one person’s life, then it was all worth it.
Bryce uses the word amazing a lot. Honestly, it is Bryce & Rasa who are amazing and the work they do to bring tiny homes and their stories to life, are a true testament to their selflessness. Dave and I feel so blessed to have been able to spend a week with them. We were also able to learn how to support them in their journeys just a bit. As a Patreon supporter, we sponsored Bryce & Rasa for $1 per video or an average of $4 per month. Being able to spend time with them and seeing the sacrifices they make personally so that they can share tiny home stories – let’s just say it isn’t all glamorous living out of a rental car and suitcase. You can learn more about being a Patreon here https://www.patreon.com/livingbig. For those of us that love what they do, please consider sponsoring their work – Dave and I thank you, personally!
Thank you, Bryce & Rasa for your love and friendship. Until we meet again…
Finally!!! We were done (enough) with the outside of our shipping container home that we were ready to move inside and start creating a living space inside our cold metal boxes. It was December and icicles hung from the roofs of our containers (literally). Shipping containers transfer condensation, and in our SW Washington location, there is so much moisture in the air, that we knew we were going to have to be very diligent as we built our interior to protect against future moisture and mold problems.
A Wood Box
Our shipping containers are structurally much stronger than a stick built home, for obvious reasons, and so we were able to use 2 x 4 material instead of standard 2 x 6 material to frame our home. We were building our home to code and it was fully permitted. Our framed wood walls were 16” on center, standard code, but we needed to make sure that they didn’t touch the metal shipping container at any point. To accomplish this, we used the D ring tie downs that are standard in containers and use bailing wire to stand our walls 1” off of our container walls.
Laying Out Our Tiny Home
Our bathroom walls, and the stairwell framing were critical as we framed the interior. Our cabinets were already purchased and in storage, as was our spiral stairwell. As we framed the bathroom walls, we needed to be very accurate so that the final design matched up to our pre-fabbed design.
This was a challenge, because we had laid out our interior and cut our window openings, installed our windows and frames, purchased our cabinets and fixtures all before Dave’s ICH. Working through the same design 3 months later and checking and rechecking for accuracy was a difficult and time consuming process, but we accomplished it 🙂
Electrical & Plumbing
Once our walls were framed in, we started installing our roughed in electrical and plumbing. We did all of this ourselves and the reduced wall spaces (2 x 4 instead of 2 x 6) created some challenges, At Least we only had 1 bathroom, a kitchen and a laundry area to plumb in 😉 Our shipping containers sit on a 3’ foundation, so we had plenty of room underneath the house to work on our drains and venting for our plumbing.
I wanted to make sure that we had plenty of electrical outlets in our home, and they are literally placed about every 5 feet on the interior 🙂 I had personally never done any electrical work, but by the time we were through, I had learned how to drill holes in the studs to chase wire, and installed most of the standard electrical outlets. Dave installed the oven, dryer and hot water heater outlets and was an excellent electrical teacher 😉
There is one thing that we wished we would have known/realized during our rough in, and that is to we wished we have put a recessed electrical box/outlet in for our oven. When we installed our oven during the final phase of the build, it would not sit flush against the wall. This could have been prevented if we had realized and installed a recessed box. Just an FYI for you and something we wished we could have done over.
Spray Foam Insulation
Once our framing, electrical & plumbing were all inspected and we were given the green light to proceed, we were ready for our insulation to be installed. This is something that we couldn’t do ourselves and had to contract it out. Prior to having the insulation installed, we rented an industrial dehumidifier and ran it for a week to dry out the interior of our shipping container. Our wood wall studs were saturated with moisture, just from condensation in the air and we didn’t want that moisture sealed in once the foam was sprayed. Insulation is very expensive, and for our 400 sq ft, we paid $7,000 – ouch! The insulation sealed the space between the metal container and the wood framed walls, and eliminates any moisture or condensation problems that we could have had.
We did run into 1 issue with our insulation installer – they failed/got lazy and didn’t shoot foam down into the walls space between our 20’er and 40’er. We didn’t initially realize this initially, but once our sheetrock was installed and was drying, there was so much additional moisture inside the containers that the bottom of the walls started to mold within 24 hours. We had to cut out the bottom of the sheet rock and also a 12” area around the perimeter of our bedroom floor to dry the area out. Thankfully, our insulation installer came back and sprayed into those areas. But oh my, it created so much additional work and set us back a couple of weeks as we had to fix their mistake.
It took us about 12 weeks to frame, rough in our utilities, pass inspections, dry out the interior, insulate and sheetrock. It was a slow and tedious process, but there was such a sense of satisfaction we had from doing 90% of the work ourselves 🙂 Thankfully, Dave was getting better each and every day and our shipping containers were actually starting to look like a home!
We were officially dried in, but still had so many outside projects that we needed to wrap up before we were ready to move inside and start finishing our home.
A shipping container doesn’t need a roof, but I wanted a unique roof to create a dry space over both our deck and our front door. We have a 20’r sitting on top of a 40’r, leaving 20’ of deck space off of our master bedroom. We roofed 10 of that space creating one of our favorite places in the entire house – living space right outside our bedroom door – and the view 🙂
Dave’s friends came and helped us complete the roofing. Our roofing is called Rusteel and is unique in that it rusts almost immediately upon exposure to the elements. Yes, I paid extra for metal that will rust – Dave still questions my sanity at times 😉
Turning a Ginormous Gravel Pile Into Access
In order to meet code, we had to have access to the front of the house that didn’t exceed certain tolerances. The only thing we had infront of our containers at this point was a huge pile of gravel that had been used to park the crane when we placed our shipping containers.
But Dave and our son, Bryce, got to work and upcycled some 4×4’s that had been salvaged from a project on the Canadian border. He reused the brackets, the boards and designed the large pile of gravel into our home’s approach 🙂
As I’d mentioned before, Dave’s OT set up therapy for Dave. The upstairs deck and exterior stairs were a project that Dave meticulously worked through as part of both his cognitive and functional therapy. From laying out the deck boards, screwing them on (a challenge when he couldn’t feel his right hand), cutting and laying the final stair treads, upcycling and designing the outside stairs and access. All of these steps needed to happen to make our shipping container legal and meet building code.
This was a project that would have taken us a couple of weekends before Dave’s ICH. But even working on it 6 days a week for a couple hours a day in the beginning and then longer as he got stronger, it took him almost 6 weeks to finish.
Outdoor Living Space
When Dave had sealed and laid the last board, he was so proud of the deck and stairs – and he should be. I was so proud of him. I had seen him struggle through the processes in a way that tore at my heart, but he preserved. It turned out amazingly gorgeous. The biggest victory was how much he was able to regain his dexterity and skill level during the project. The project may have taken weeks and weeks, but to this day, it is one of the areas of our home we are most proud of!
Dave was finally becoming stable enough that we could start focusing our energies a bit back on our home build. Every single step seemed to take about 4 times as long as it did just weeks ago, but we made a list of the most critical things that needed to get done to get our home weather proof before the winter weather came and focused on those.
And, if winter coming wasn’t enough, Dave had another brain procedure scheduled for mid October. The push was on, but in the middle of all the work, we stopped to have family pictures with our kiddos who had been so helpful during our build. We couldn’t have done it without them 🙂
Family & Friends ~ Our Heros!
We were so blessed to have family and church family step up and help us. It was almost a full time job for me when we were at our property to keep Dave safe. If the family wouldn’t have helped us, we would have ended up with 2 rusted out shipping containers going into spring and not the home that we were able to get dried in before winter came. With our home dried in, our hope was that Dave would be able to continue to work on it as part of his therapy and as he got better and stronger.
Sealing the Crawl Space
We started by finishing up the foundation. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the side walls of the container did not touch the concrete foundation. This was an error on our engineers part, but we problem solved solutions and used cedar shims to wedge between the container I-Beam and the foundation wall. By shimming, we were able to displace the massive weight of the containers. Before shimming, the weight of the containers on our foundation were focused in the 4 corners, causing damage to the back of our foundation. Thankfully, we were able to repair that damage before Dave’s bleed and the foundation continued to fail.
After we shimmed all the way around the foundation, we went along and used a really strong caulk called Volcom and placed a large bead that weather could run off of instead of seeping into the crawl space in the foundation. While the process was tedious and time consuming, it has been worth it. We successfully displaced the weight properly and also have a very dry crawl space under our home. Our foundation has not experienced any settling or cracking since we put the fixes in place almost 4 years ago 🙂
Painting Our Rusty Boxes
Initially, Dave and I had planned on painting the containers ourselves. We already had our paint colors chosen and in the early summer, this would have taken us a day at best. But with his bleed, this was another project that now seemed completely overwhelming and daunting. Dave would not be able to help much, which would leave the logistics of getting the job done to me. Again, our church family came to our rescue, and during the work week, while Dave sat in his lawn chair and supervised (like he was the boss 😉 ) a painter that our church provided painted the outside of our containers. This paint protected all of our raw metal from rusting and also prepped the containers to install our shear walls and windows.
Side note: Our original paint color was called Intellectual Gray. We have since repainted our containers a bright, sassy orange that we feel represents our personalities and our home much better 😉
Installing The Shear Walls
Our shear walls, or walls that sealed off the end of the containers were thankfully completed by a carpenter that our church family hired for us. He framed, sheeted, sided and installed the doors on both the upper and lower containers. Without his help, we would never have gotten this portion done before the rains came. The most challenging part of the shear walls was connecting the wood to the metal container. We used pressure treated, but prior to placing the wood against the metal and securing it with lag bolts, we placed a moisture barrier between the metal and wood to prevent condensation transfer that is common in containers.
Installing The Windows
Our hope had been that the carpenter was going to be able to install our 7 windows also. But unfortunately, the shear walls took him longer than we expected and we had to start the process of installing the windows ourselves. We were up against a time frame; in mid October, Dave was scheduled for another Cerebral Angiogram. We needed to have our home dried and secured prior to this procedure, because as always, when they go into the brain, things can change quickly.
Installing the windows was a major process, but thankfully, our kids helped us out alot on the prep work. First, we had to pre-drill the screw holes into the metal frame that Dave had installed earlier in the summer. This was a time consuming and tough job for me and the kids. Because of the force and exertion it took to drill through the metal, Dave couldn’t do it. It put to much pressure on his head. But, Dave still had high expectations on how he wanted the job completed. We pre-drilled screw holes every 6 inches (overkill in my opinion, but he was the boss 😉 ). Once the holes were completed, we wrapped the entire window frame in moisture barrier tape.
And then, slowly, ever so slowly, Dave, myself a couple of our kiddos, installed the ground floor windows one by one. The windows were screwed from the inside to prevent any additional holes that water could seep into from the outside. Once a window was installed and screwed in, we placed cedar trim around the outside of the window to fill any gap between the window itself and the metal frame. We secured the cedar trim with Volcum instead of fasteners to again, preventing any additional holes for water to enter our home.
It took us almost a day a window to install our 7 windows. We learned the process on the ground floor windows, and then prayerfully installed the three 2nd floor windows. This is where Dave’s sudden Houdini personality was both a blessing and a curse. He had zero fear of standing on the very top of our 12 foot ladder, yes, where it says not to stand, unable to feel his right side and installed those windows like the amazing man he is. I stood inside the container leaning out the window holding onto him and assisting with handing him what he needed to get this process over as quickly as possible.
Dave’s Perseverance and Never Give Up Attitude
Dave had both on a level I had never witnessed or experienced up to this point in my life. 8 shorts weeks ago, he had almost died on our property. On October 14th, he, in complete exhaustion from having worked at his new pace for 6 of the last 8 weeks, smiled his new crooked smile with a sense of accomplishment that neither of us had felt up to this point.
Yes, we had successfully sealed our shipping containers so that they could become a home, but we had done in it in spite of all of the obstacles the past 2 months had thrown at us. Together, we knew that we could accomplish anything. What seemed impossible, was no longer impossible. What seemed improbable, had just been school on what Dave & Jaimie, together can do if we put our minds to it.
We were well on our way to making our containers a home!
Those are the words my best friend whispered to me as they prepared him to be life flighted for emergency brain surgery. The doctors told us he was dying, and his chances of surviving were very small. But, the moment he whispered those words to me, I knew that my Dave wasn’t going to die that day or the next, if he had anything to say about it. He had a house to build, and I obviously couldn’t be trusted to cut the rebar correctly 😉 .
The First Thursday of the Rest of Our Lives
It was August 18th, 2015 and like most days that summer, the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was hotter than normal. Dave had been taking off every Thursday from his regular 4 day a week job, to work on the house, giving him 4 days a week to make some forward progress. It had been a tough couple of days and the stress of the build was starting to take its toll on us. We’d had a disagreement that morning before I left for work, and it was weighing heavily on my heart. Around 10:45 I messaged him and told him I was sorry, that I loved him and that there was no one else I’d rather do this life with. He messaged back the same, and the weight was lifted from both of us.
Dave is a creature of habit, and his lunch is always at 11:30 during his work week, and so at 11:30, he sent me his normal daily lunch check-in message telling me he was working on the rebar for the railing and that he loved me. All is well with him.
At 11:48am I received a phone call from Dave – not typical of him to call me, and even if he does, I rarely answer my phone when I am at work. But something told me to pick it up, and so I did. The moment I heard his voice, I knew that something wasn’t right. He, barely audible, said that there was something wrong with his arm and he couldn’t hold onto his phone. He said he kept dropping it. I told him to just hold on, that I was on my way. My heart dropped – with my limited knowledge, I was sure he had had a heart attack based on the way he sounded and that he couldn’t feel his arm. He was just 46, how could this be happening?
I rushed from my office, calling my employer on the way, telling him that something was wrong with Dave and I had to go check on him. He asked me if I had called 911 and I said, ‘no, but I will right now.’ Thankfully he instructed me to do that, because in my panic, I hadn’t even thought that far. I dialed 911 as I raced towards our home, which is about 10 minutes away from my work on a normal day – that day it took me about 5 minutes. I told the operator that my fiance had just called me and he couldn’t feel his arm and said he didn’t feel good. They said that they would send an emergency vehicle immediately, and asked me to stay on the line with them until I got to Dave.
The crazy thing is, we don’t have cell phone service the majority of the way to our home. There is a huge dead zone, but I never dropped that call. The 911 operator was with me the entire time as I raced through the valley and up our long gravel driveway, trying to stay the panic that was threatening to wash over me, praying silently to make it in time. I could already hear the emergency vehicle in the background and I knew that they were only a minute or 2 behind me; the benefit of living in a small town.
I flew down our hill, as fast as my car would allow and pulled into our driveway. The sight that met me was worse than I had imagined. There stood my boy, in the driveway, with his pants unbuckled, struggling to get them closed. When he heard me, which seemed to be a very delayed response, he looked up and I knew – I knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong, much worse than a heart attack.
The entire right side of his face was completely drooped – his right eye almost sagged shut, his mouth hanging drooping, his right arm hanging limply at his side. His right leg half a step behind his left and at a funny angle. He didn’t even seem aware that his body was betraying him.
I raced to him and the words he stuttered to me, shook my world and broke my heart simultaneously, but where yet another miracle. He leaned against me, flung his good arm around me, with his pants still hanging around his hips and said, ‘I’m glad you made it. I was waiting for you before I went to sleep.’
I put my arms around him and helped him struggle to a lawn chair we had set up nearby. I eased him down, and prayed silently that the ambulance would hurry, because he was deteriorating before my eyes, and I didn’t even know what was wrong, but I suspected he’d had a stroke. I held him, buckled up his pants (he had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t figure out why his arm wouldn’t work to buckled back up his pants.) He struggled to say that he couldn’t hold onto his phone, and he didn’t know where it was. I looked down our hill slightly, and there it was, on the ground where it had fallen out of his hand that he could no longer feel. I am not sure how he was able to hold onto it to call me, except sheer will power, and another miracle!
I leaned into him as he sat in that chair, fading quickly, whispering words of encouragement, wrapping my arms around him, comforting him, reassuring him that I was here now and I wouldn’t be leaving him. His left eye was glazed over with fear, his right eye, barely open. His speech was getting worse; he could barely whisper to me. He kept saying over and over, thank you, thank you, thank you. I thanked him for waiting for me. I held him until the emergency vehicles pulled into our driveway. It was only a couple of minutes, but to me, holding my best friend as he faded so quickly before my eyes, it seemed like an eternity.
The EMT immediately started evaluating Dave, and transferred him to a gurney and within a couple of minutes, we were racing down the road. They put me in the front seat of the ambulance, not telling me anything. The driver again asked me the timeline and what had happened. By this time, we were about 12 minutes from the time that Dave initially called me. How could 12 minutes feel like 12 hours? I tried to relay what I knew, Dave’s health status – healthy as a horse, no pre-existing conditions, no high blood pressure, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, very active. We were building this house, working 100 plus hours a week – I am not sure you get more active than that. The ambulance raced towards the small hospital that was in the next town over, about a 10 minute drive. I could hear that the EMT’s in the back were calling in details to the waiting emergency room, but the driver kept trying to make small talk with me, distracting me, I am sure and I couldn’t tell what they were saying about Dave.
When we pulled up to the emergency room, there were doctors and nurses waiting for us. I looked over and the Chaplin was opening my door and helping me out – and that was the minute that I knew. That was the exact instant that I realized that this was way more serious than I had even imagined in the past 20 minutes. The Chaplin took me to the side while the emergency personal evaluated Dave and started to rush him inside the ER. But then, the emergency vehicle driver asked for a signature for the patient, and my strong Dave caught my eye and I knew that he wanted to sign. Time felt like it stood still as the attendant walked over to Dave and Dave, took the pen and every so slowly, in his long hand signature form, wrote out his name. It seemed like it took forever, but in that moment, I knew my boy was going to fight as hard as he could to not leave me. He was fighting to sign that form the same way he had fought to stay awake until I had arrived at our home, just a short while ago. You see, Dave had heard what they were saying in the back of the ambulance – he knew how serious he was, even though at that time I didn’t. And because my Dave is the strongest and most stubborn man alive, during that ride, he made a decision that he wasn’t going to sleep. He was afraid that if he went to sleep, he wouldn’t wake up. He realized, even as his body completely gave up on him, that his will was stronger than his body. And so, he showed his will to survive in that signature. Once he was done, he handed back the pen and they proceeded to rush him through the doors of the ER.
The Chaplin didn’t leave my side as the nurses got as much information from me as they could about Dave. His age (I accidentally aged him 10 years by giving them the wrong year of birth, whoopsy 😉 ), health status – they ask the same questions, over and over. I just kept asking them if I could see him and to please tell me what was going on. After what seemed like forever, but was probably less than 10 minutes, a doctor came to me and the Chaplin grabbed my hand – I still thought that was weird. The doctor then in a quiet calm voice told me that they had just completed a CT scan on Dave and that he had suffered an Intracranial Hemorrhage, a bleed, deep within his brain that was still bleeding and he needed to have emergency surgery. Unfortunately, they aren’t equipped for that kind of surgery at that small hospital, so he then told me that they would be life flying him to Portland immediately for the surgery. It took all of 30 seconds for the doctor to give me that life altering news, and then he rushed back into Dave’s room. I stood there, all alone, except for the Chaplin that was holding my hand still. She asked if there was anyone that I would like her to call, and I told her my sister, Shannon. She asked for her number and I gave it to her and she immediately turned away to make the call. I stood there in the hallway, holding back the panic, holding back the fear, holding back the terror that was rushing through me. How can this be happening? He is healthy – this doesn’t happen to 46 year old healthy people. The Chaplin returned within a minute and said that my sister was on her way. I asked her if I could see Dave and she asked and then took me to his room. There were machines and lights and people everywhere, but he was sitting up and as soon as I walked in the room, he looked to me and I could see that the terror I felt, was matched only by the terror he was feeling. I walked over to him, leaned in close because by this time, he could barely talk and he whispered to me – ‘The rebar is cut wrong.’
What did you just say to me, dear man that is lying in a hospital room, dying??!? Oh, my heart sang – he wasn’t done fighting, he wasn’t done living, he didn’t care what they were saying, he wasn’t done. He whispered, ‘I don’t have time to die, I have a house to finish.’ That is right, my hero, we have a house to finish, and you aren’t going to die. We are going to fight together and make sure of it. He then whispered, ‘I need you to be in charge.’
We weren’t married, and so his next of kin, his mother would be relied upon to make all of his medical decisions, if Dave became incapable of making them himself, and Dave didn’t want that. He wanted me to – and so, I looked to the Chaplin that was standing at my elbow and told her what Dave had said, and how can we make this happen? I needed to be his medical power of attorney. She told us to hold on, she would be right back and rushed from the room. Probably, she should have said that there was nothing that could be done, because Dave’s brain was already compromised, but she didn’t. She saw what we had together, even in the few short minutes that she stood there observing us. And so that sweet Chaplin moved heaven and earth for us in the 5 minutes that we had before life flight arrived to airlift my boy to brain surgery in a hospital an hour away. She was back in minutes with the forms, and a witness. She asked us to sign and again, Dave slowly and painstakingly signed his signature in his beautiful script long hand. The life flight crew was standing behind us waiting at that time, waiting for Dave and me to finish this important detail. The detail that gave him peace of mind that I would move heaven and earth for him too – that I would do everything in my power to get him the very best care possible.
I looked him in his eyes and told him I would be waiting for him in Portland, leaned in and kissed him for what may have been the very last time and stepped aside for the flight crew to place him in a flight bag, strap him to the gurney and whisk him to the roof. By this time, my sister had arrived, although I don’t remember, just realized that she was at my side on the elevator ride to the roof. They let me follow and Dave never took his eyes off mine. In the last 30 minutes they had told us that Dave may not live through the surgery, they made me sign releases for the liability of the life flight (yes, he could crash and die on the way), they told us that his prognosis was very poor. But, looking into his eyes, I knew that if he had anything to do with it, he would survive and thrive. With my eyes, I told him the same thing – if I had anything to do with what happens next, he would not only survive, but he would thrive.
I watched with tears streaming down my face as they loaded him into that helicopter, knowing by this time, that it may be the last time I saw him alive – there are no words for that depth of fear and pain I felt in that moment. My only peace came from my constant prayer for the last 35 minutes, ‘Please Jesus, save him. Please.’
And then, with the same fighting spirit that Dave had shown in the last 35 minutes, he looked out the window of the helicopter as it started, lifted his hand and blew me a kiss. Be still my beating heart!
We later learned that had Dave succumbed to the sleep that was calling his name, the chances he would have woken up, were about 15%. If he had woken up, the chances he would have had the recovery that he has experienced over the past 4 years, less than 3%. The long term survival rate for the type of bleed that Dave had is less than 13%, and that is a recovered survival rate, that is just the survival rate. There are no studies past 7 years, because there are very few survivors.
It would have been so easy for my boy to just go to sleep because that was his initial thought, that he was so tired and maybe he would just lay down in our 5th wheel that was parked at the property and take a little nap. Later, I also learned that he didn’t want to bother me at work, so he didn’t initially call me. He called both our daughters first, but as they were in class, they didn’t answer his call.
HE ALMOST DIDN’T CALL ME – HE ALMOST JUST WENT TO SLEEP WITHOUT ME. This is the most amazing miracle of all – that he waited for me. For as long as I live I will never forget him uttering those words to me as he fell into my arms. Even now, as I am writing this, tears are on my cheeks as I remember the memories and feelings of that day.
Our brains are like very complex computers, and like a computer when you shut it down when it has a bad virus, it doesn’t always boot back up. Because Dave never let his ‘computer’ shut down, his brain started to make alternative routes of communication around the bleed and the damage that the bleed was causing. These alternative connections/rewiring of his brain started to happen almost immediately. The brain is an amazing organ, and when stimulated correctly, can do amazing things. If it is even a possibility, don’t go to sleep when you think you might have experienced a stroke or brain bleed. Try not to let your ‘computer shut off’, but instead allow your brain to start rewiring itself. This rewiring can start to happen within as little as 20 minutes of injury.
I know this is a long, emotional post and there is much more to our story and build, but for myself, I need to get this part of our story documented. Dave is my hero. Our story is hard, complex, and full of joy, hope and love. So much has changed for us since that sunny day in August 4 years ago, but I am not sure we would change any of it. It has molded us into the people we are today. His bleed has defined our journey and build in a way nothing else could have. His bleed allowed us to see and recognize miracle after miracle taking place, not just that day, but every single day since. God saved Dave’s life and our shipping container home build have him a reason to get up every day and fight to regain our life back. Our journey and Dave’s bleed allowed us to let love shine, to let perseverance prevail and let hope take flight ~
Well, the foundation was poured, the containers were prepped – it was time to put our home together. Prior to this, I had spent weeks trying to figure out the best way to set our containers in place. Our original thought is that we would rent a crane and set the containers ourselves. One of our close friends was a rigger and said he would help and the confident DIYers that we were, we were sure we could make this happen; and we probably could have except that I couldn’t find an insurance company to insure the equipment to lift our shipping containers. And so, after a hard look at mitigating our risk, I contacted a local crane company and hired them to place our shipping containers. They were willing to work on a Saturday and gave us a discount for paying cash – always ask if there is a ‘cash’ discount. When the dust settled, it actually cost us just about the same amount to hire a professional crane company as it would have if we had done it ourselves, oh and the move was insured!
Saturday, the 18th of July, the crane showed up bright and early. Our close friends and family were there and ready to help us put our home together. The crane moved into position and Dave, with the use of his 75 year old Dozer, pushed our 40’er into position so that it could be rigged up and ready to lift. Within 1 hour, our first container was in place – and honestly, it was one of the most nerve racking parts of the build. The smaller, 20’ container was then moved into position to be rigged up and was soon lifted by the crane – and that is when the operator said those words no one wants to hear – this isn’t going to happen because the reach is outside the tolerance of the crane and I can’t override the system.
WHAT?!?!?!? The container is half the size of the one you already place – how can this be? Well, it turns out that because he had to extend his reach to the very back of our 40’er to place the 20’er, the picking point was right at the tipping point of the crane. At that moment, I was so thankful that we had hired a professional to place our containers, because I am not sure we would have handled the situation correctly if we were operating a rented crane ourselves.
Good thing we surround ourselves with brilliant and my hubby is pretty smart too 😉 To solve this problem, they adjusted the rigging a bit, reset the crane slightly and were just able to extend enough to place the 20’er right where it was meant to be, without even an inch to spare on the tolerance of the crane. Thank you, Jesus!
Once the containers were set, my husband pulled the stairs that we had previously fabricated at his workplace into position and rigged those up to get ‘flown’ to the other side of the containers and set on the large concrete pad that had already been created for them. These stairs are made with a 12” piece of C-channel; definitely overkill, but we love them!
I have to admit, the moment those containers were in place, both this sense of Oh – My – Goodness, this is amazing, and also Oh – My – Goodness, we are really doing this were colliding inside of me. It all became so real – we were actually building our home out of shipping containers, and the hardest part was already done – the containers were in place and it wasn’t even noon 😉 Time to spend the rest of the afternoon rafting the local river!
All The Welding
Once the containers were in place, it was time to weld all the parts and pieces that allowed us to be legal and meet the code. Initially, I was going to write about all of these steps, but seriously, boring. And so I will leave you with this picture blog 🙂
If you would like more information about the welding process and how we did it – please drop a comment and we will be more than happy to try and answer the specifics.
It was during this phase of our welding, when we were 90% done, that our world took a sharp right turn. While we were installing the pickets for our railing, the last portion of the welding that needed to take place, my husband suffered a life threatening brain bleed, which I have mentioned before. Thank goodness, the structural portion of our project was completed, since he was our WABO welder and we needed his skill and expertise to finish our build. I will share the details of that frightful day in the next post.
Our take away – Life is not promised; today isn’t promised; tomorrow isn’t promised. Work hard, play hard, dream big, realize that you are made for more and above all else, love with your entire heart – don’t leave anything on the table. When we get to heaven, Dave and I aren’t going to arrive sweetly at the door, we are going to come in hot, just the way we live our life!
Friends – for those of you who have read our story to this point, I apologize for the long delay between this and my last post. We have been so busy these past 6 months LIVING!!! That’s one of the perks of tiny living; it means you get to REALLY LIVE 🙂 I will write more later on our many adventures and additions to our property, but for now, the OCD in me is requiring that I continue telling our story and how we built ‘That Tiny Life Love.’
To start, I think that many people, us included, think that building with shipping containers is a lot like stacking Legos. In reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to us over the years – ‘Well, at least you can just stack up a couple more when you want to add on or remodel.’ Since we built our home, we have seen where there were added features to a shipping container home that allowed for the possibility of a future addition. Unfortunately, we didn’t know this information when we built our home, and so our home is not easily adapted to additional square footage. If we could do it again, we would have put in a floor to ceiling style window that could be have been removed and acted as the transition between our current containers and a future addition. But, as our home sits, it would take an unreasonable amount of work and welding (welding that would create a huge fire hazard because of our insulation) that makes adding ‘Legos’ onto our home unfeasible. And that is okay – but I am glad that we have gathered knowledge and information over the years to possibly help others along the journey of their build 🙂
Well, we finally had approval and after almost 8 weeks of design and engineering, we honestly felt that getting our building permit in only 3 weeks after all of the hoops we had to jump through was a sign of good times to come!
Choosing our Shipping Containers
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, our structural engineer recommended that we purchase (1) tripper containers. For those new to the shipping container building world, it means our containers only made 1 trip across the ocean. Some of the benefits of these ‘newbie’ travelers included less dents, more structurally sound, less rust and easier acceptance by your local B&P, just to name a few 🙂 Another thing that we decided on when choosing our containers was to go with high cube containers. This added additional ceiling height and helps our home feel much larger than it’s 83” finished width.
We purchased our containers from a local shipping yard in the Portland Oregon area, as it is only about 50 minutes from our home. Once again, we worked well with our sales guy and he gave us outstanding customer service and hand picked our containers after learning that we were using them to build a home with. We met him onsite and looked over the containers he had available, but there was only our 20’ that would work well for us. He spent the next week looking over all of the containers that he received to find us the best 40’ container he could find in his inventory for our home. 4.5 years ago, when we started this journey, building homes with them was still pretty new in our area and so, once again, there was enthusiasm from the people that we worked with to help us succeed in our dream of building a home! He also helped coordinate a great trucking company that was willing to deliver them to our hilly, goat country property.
Side story – when our 40’er (1) tripper was delivered to our property, it already had a ‘skylight’ in it. Mind you, we had just paid 2x as much for it and bought them on the recommendation of our engineer from a reputable dealer. The container had been damaged when loading and their was a 8” x 8” hole in the roof. The dealer sent his mobile field team to attempt a field repair at our property, but were unsuccessful. Unfortunately, they had to reload the container and haul it off for repairs. As I mentioned earlier in our story, our property is a rocky goat trail on the side of a cliff. It was an anxiety ridden day the day the containers were dropped off and even more so when they had to reload the damaged container and haul it away for repairs. I prayed – a lot that day! Thankfully, it was re-delivered a week later, good as new. An early lesson for us that no matter how much you plan and what you pay, we weren’t really in control of the process, we were just trying to mitigate the outcome to our benefit.
I am a planner, and we wanted our containers delivered around the same time as our foundation was going to be formed and poured. Our foundation needed to cure for 30 days prior to placing any weight on it, and we knew that we could use that time cure time to modify the containers per our design. We received our building permit at the end of May, our foundation was poured on June 28th and our shipping containers were delivered on June 29th. Things were happening fast, and it was starting to get really exciting – and really hard. Working with metal and steel is dirty, exhausting, hard work. Maybe not for you life long fabricators, but for desk jockey accountants like myself, it was back breaking work! My learning curve was steep, but my hubby was patient (kind of) and I quickly learned how to cut, grind and prep steal for the welding process.
We hired a local company to form and pour our foundation. We decided to go this route, because after doing the math, we realized that after we purchased the form material, did the extensive homework necessary to learn how to form our foundation correctly and then spent many, many weekends laying it all out, we realized that we could hire a professional, and they could have it done within in a matter of a week or two, for only slightly more than we would have paid doing it ourselves. Sometimes, even diyer’s have to accept that there are better and more cost effective ways of achieving your goal 😉
Once the foundation was poured and as it was curing, it was time to start fabrication on our containers. Most of these modifications could have been done by the company that we had purchased our containers from, just and FYI, but we wanted to be hands on and do the work ourselves. Also, we thought it would save us time and money to do the work ourselves. In hind-site, it probably didn’t save us much, just another lesson learned along the way.
The first order of business once the containers arrived was to remove the cortex siding for the window placement. What we quickly learned is that once the cortex is cut, the structural integrity of the containers are VERY compromised. It took little or no effort to have the entire side of the container ripple in the wind once just one window panel was cut. We knew that we couldn’t move the containers again or place them until we had reinforced the containers with our window design. We had A LOT of work to do in the next 30 days to get these ‘Legos’ ready to set in place!
Remember the old saying – measure, measure, measure and then cut? Good advice. As our entire home had been designed within inches, it was vital that we measured and removed the container wall exactly where we planned on placing a window. After measuring, we created a cutting template with blue painter’s tape and used a grinder with a cutting disk on it to cut the steel. Once we removed all (7) window panels of differing sizes, it was time to start reinforcing.
The window frame design was my husbands, and our engineer signed off on it. To create the window frames, we used 1.5” tube steel and 1.5” angle iron. We had purchased all of our windows at this point so that we had the exact finished dimensions of the windows themselves. Again, for those like myself who had never worked with metal, metal isn’t like working with wood and you can’t ‘recut’ or ‘wedge’ any errors. It has to be right the first time – thankfully, my hubby is very OCD about these things and I was confident that our windows would be exactly where we wanted them 🙂
After we had the exact dimensions of the windows, we fabricated the tubing into a rectangle, allowing for the thickness of the angle iron. The angle iron was welded to the inside of the tubing to create a ‘lip’ for the window to sit on and be attached to when the time came to install them. When we cut out the cortex siding from the container, we cut out our template allowing for the dimensions of the tube steel and angle iron, so approximately an additional 1.625” on each side of the window. Example, if the finished window dimensions was 24” x 24”, the opening that we cut was actually 27.25” x 27.25”. We then built this back up with our 1.5” tube steel & ⅛” angle iron to create the finished opening of 24” x 24” that we could attach our window too. I know – as clear as mud 😉
To fabricate the window boxes, my husband welded the tube steel into a box and then welded the angle iron inside of the box. He welded both sides, front and back so that there was a complete weld all the way around. This allowed for a watertight surface since this was our finished product and we weren’t going to side our container. Cortex is a challenge when welding. It has a low melting point, and can be difficult to attach to. To successfully create the window openings, Dave first welded cool on the inside of the window opening (inside the container). This held the frame in place and secured it. He then moved to the outside of the window and welded completely around the tube steel frame to make a weather tight seal. Essentially, each of our window frames were welded 4 times – a long, tedious process, but completely worth it! We have been in our home for 3 full winters now, and we live where it rains and is windy 9 months out of the year and we have had no water or moisture problems around our windows or the frames. Word of advice – Don’t cut any corners; take your time and make sure you have an airtight seal – you will appreciate that you don’t have any mold, mildew or moisture problems later 🙂
During this part of our build, my husband and I were both working our ‘day’ jobs. My, but those really got in the way 😉 We would work Monday – Thursday at our paying jobs, and then work 12-16 hours Friday to Sunday on our home. It took us every single working minute of 3 weeks to fabricate our window wells and prep for the placement of our containers. Hard work, but because of the tiny footprint of our home, there was an end in sight.
Sealing the Gap
One of the challenges we were facing was figuring out how to create a weather-tight seal between the 2 containers. Our containers would be open up to each other through the roof/floor section for our interior stairwell. Our engineer had written into our plans that there would be a cedar ‘faux’ sill plate and Volcom caulking between the 2 containers to see the air gap. We spent an entire day, laying out this per design on the back 20’ of our 40’ shipping container in preparation of placement. Unfortunately, the reality we discovered after placing the containers, is that this sill plate was not going to work as designed. And so, after the containers were in place, we began the hard job of chiseling out the cedar wood and volcom caulking between the 2 containers. What we ended up doing to make our containers weather and air tight between the 20’ and 40’ers was to weld an 8” piece of flat plate as a band around the 2. This not only sealed them completely, but looked much better than what our engineer had designed. Common sense, and onsite problem solving are so important when building a home that is not traditional. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when building tiny!
The final step in preparing our containers was to address the pesticide soaked marine plywood that come standard in shipping containers. While this floor is stout, and already there, we were concerned about future health problems if we left the plywood as it came. There would be absolutely no way in the future to remove our subflooring if it caused health problems, and we were pouring way to much of our heart and soul into our home to take any chances that it wouldn’t be livable for us in the future.
Decision made – we removed it ALL. Every last bolt and washer and 1-¼” piece of the heaviest plywood you have every carried in your ENTIRE life. (This stuff still lives on at our property for various hard tasks, and so I am occasionally called on to assist with moving it. I usually give my hubby the stink eye when he asks me – this stuff is that HEAVY 😉 ). We didn’t replace the sub-floor prior to placing our containers on our foundation, but by removing it prior to craning them into place, this lightened the overall weight of our containers. The containers have C-channel or I-beams along the bottom, so removing the sub-flooring didn’t compromise the integrity of the containers – not like cutting out the windows did :).
Next up – placing our future home! I know this I am covering a lot of information, but for those of you that are considering a shipping container home, I wish that we would have had the information I am sharing when we started. There is so much that we had to learn along the way, and if we can help even one person, then everything I am sharing is so worth it!
Comment or send me a message and let me know if this information is helpful 🙂
They already knew us; we had been talking for weeks. They had assisted in some critical design pieces. So, when the BIG day came and we headed to Building & Planning and attempted to submit our design and supporting documents to build our shipping container home and were told NO, we were shocked. They had ‘dropped a surprise bombshell’ on us. To cover themselves, I am sure, they were requiring a structural engineer to provide calculations on the strength of our sheer walls and container. They wanted to know if they would be strong enough to be a home. Hello, they are metal boxes!!! Of course they are strong enough.
Why hadn’t they mentioned this before? Would it have deterred us from our goal? Probably not, but still – nothing like last minute notice and a huge delay. Couldn’t they tell we were beyond ready to start building our shipping container home?
This was our first real lesson in the expense of building an unconventional home. This is when people & the internet say, ‘It’s cheaper and more cost effective’ didn’t really feel cheaper or more cost effective. Thankfully, Google was already my friend and had gotten me out of a jam on the spiral stairs, so I knew Google had my back 😉
I immediately started researching an engineer who had taken on other similar projects – none were to be found within a 60 mile radius of our home. I dug deeper. Google’s game was strong. What I found was a couple of news articles about an structural engineer who had taken on an impossible ‘Tree House’ project in our county and gotten it to pass through B&P.
Within days of being told that we needed an engineer, I contacted his firm and shared with him our dream. He graciously agreed to take on our project, even though his schedule was full. The only hiccup – he wanted a small fortune. Now remember, I already had the entire home designed to the inch, I just needed the calculations. He initially informed me that it would be $9,500 for the calculations and design. I countered that I only needed the calculations on my design. He finally lowered his price to $5k – for the 4 structural points, the 8’ wide sheer walls and the foundation. The bare minimums that the county was requiring. If we weren’t already so emotionally invested in our home build, this would have been a good time to run for the hills. But wait, we already had rocky, goat trailed hills that we owned – we owned the hills 😉
In reality, the engineer took a real fascination to our build – probably, because once again, we built rapport with him and he liked us 🙂 Told you, it never hurts. He advised us to purchase (1) trip containers for our home -meaning that they had only made (1) trip across the ocean. This helped to ensure that the containers where in as new as condition as possible, validating his calculations. While this wasn’t an expense that we were expecting, purchasing containers that were very structurally sound, with little or no dents is something we have never regretted. (1) trip containers cost more than 2x as much as multiple trip containers and so we paid almost $10,000 for our home’s outer metal shell.
My Homes Stronger Than Your Home
The truth, according to my very expensive engineers calculations, is that our home is almost 5 times stronger than a wood built home. Not sure why B&P doubted 😉 My baby sister showed up shortly after we had our containers delivered and said – ‘your house is rusting (there was a rust line on the side from metal welded to the top)’ I responded with ‘your house is rotting and I guarantee that your house won’t still be standing in 100 years, and mine will still be standing in 500 :)” Our home is strong and really will be standing right where it is today, long after we are gone. Those ridiculous and expensive calculations just proved it.
The foundation Design
The engineer designed our foundation based on our input. We wanted room underneath to work on and install the utilities. We ended up with a 3 foot foundation that our containers sit on, leaving a large crawl space under them where all of our plumbing and venting are located.
Side note – What the engineer didn’t take into account, and what we never told B&P because we fixed it before it was inspected, was that the foundation was inadequate for our containers. A container does not have the weight dispersed evenly along all four sides. There are 4 feet, one in each corner that hold all the weight. When our container was placed upon our foundation, instead of the weight being dispersed along the length of our foundation, it was centralized in the four corners. The front of our foundation has a 4’ x 8’ x 3’ concrete slab that helped to support the front of the container weight on the front 2 feet. But in the back, where there was no additional slab and the weight of the 20’ container was also placed on the back 2 feet – our foundation failed. Within a week of placing our containers, the back of our foundation was cracking and settling.
But, we are problem solvers – especially my husband. So he went to work fabricating a corner support for both the inside of the foundation and the outside. It looked like something right out of the movie, Mad Max. He then drilled and inserted rebar into the foundation at the back corners and built a grid of rebar around his metal support. Once this was completed, he formed it in and we re-enforced our foundation with an additional yard of concrete at each corner. Additionally, we installed wedges or spacers along the entire length of the container that filled in the void and placed positive pressure between the concrete footing and the metal I-beam.
Another hard lesson learned, but thankfully we were able to isolate and fix the problem before B&P discovered it. They would have forced us to remove our containers and re-engineer and
Securing The Containers To The Foundation
Unlike a traditional wood home, there is no ‘sill’ plate when placing shipping containers on a foundation. A sill plate is the mechanism that is used to secure a stick built home to a traditional foundation. In order to secure our bottom container to the foundation, our engineer called out for (4) 4″ x 2″ x 1/4″ flat plates, bent and welded to a piece of #5 rebar. One for each corner. The rebar was to be placed inside the foundation prior to being poured. Once the foundation was poured, the plate would be welded to the 4 corner tabs of the bottom container. To attach the upper shipping container to the bottom shipping container, the same size tabs (excluding the rebar) were to be welded in the 4 corners of the 20′ container. Obviously, they needed to feel confident that the containers were not going to move, but sheer weight alone will hold them in place 🙂 I am not sure the small pieces of plate are doing much good, but at least everyone at B&P could feel better about our build.
The Exterior Stairs
Totally overkill – ridiculously large, heavy and expensive. But the engineer added them to our exterior design as additional structural support and we fell in love. They are fabricated from a solid piece of 12″ C-Channel. Dave & I spent 3 days of his vacation in July building those stairs at his job. His employer is awesome for letting us fab them there – because they were entirely too large to fab them on our hillside. Once we had the frame constructed, we loaded them with a crane and hauled them home on our triple axle trailer. On the day the huge crane lifted our shipping containers in place, it also ‘flew’ our stairs across the skyline and set them on the custom slab built for their mammoth weight. Complete overkill – and one of our favorite features to the exterior of the home 😉
Second Attempt & Another No; WABO Certification
Our engineer’s firm was awesome and fast-tracked our calculations. Within 2 weeks of contacting his office, we had our structurally engineered plans in hand. All of the requirements that B&P had requested were addressed. Calculations, foundation and securing the shipping containers to the foundation. We were ready to try again for our building permit. So back we went… But you guessed it – rejection 😦
Our welding had to be done by a WABO certified welder. That was the other curveball they threw at us. Would the curve balls ever stop? Lucky for us, my husband had been welding for over 25 years and once upon a time, he had been WABO certified. The job he was currently doing and had done for the previous 5 years didn’t’ require that qualification. But, again, refusing to give up, Dave got to practicing and after a couple weeks of 1” thick vertical test plates, we arranged for him to take his WABO exam at our local college. SUCCESS!!! On the first attempt – the man really is my hero 🙂 Dave was officially WABO certified, again – yet another obstacle removed!
Third Time’s The Charm – Or Not; Third Party Inspection
Seriously, would the crazy requirements ever stop. It seemed that each time that we went back into our planning department with the previous requirement met, they handed us anther. The newest one – we would have to have all of our structural welds inspected by a certified 3rd party welding Inspector. Not to be deterred, Google will forever be my friend. Thankfully, I found a local Certified Inspector who was also an instructor at the college. He agreed to inspect our welds for the County per their request for a nominal feel. Take that B&P – Nothing is going to stop us from reaching our dream of building a shipping container home!!!
Fourth Time & Finally, Success!!!
After jumping through their design hoops for our stairs, paying $5,000 for a Structural Engineer, WABO certification and finally retaining a Certified Welding Inspector, Building & Planning accepted our permit fee and our plans. In our County at the time, it was taking on average 60 days to receive a building permit. Maybe making friends with the county helped, maybe it was sympathy for all the obstacles they put in our path that we refused to succumb to… regardless, our B&P came through for us and within 3 weeks we had our building permit in hand and were ready to start. The time had come to make our dream a reality.