The BEST Day Of Building Our Shipping Container Home – part #7

The Logistics of Placing our ‘Legos’

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!

 

D-Day

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.

2015-07-18 08.17.00

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.

2015-07-18 08.25.412015-07-18 08.54.442015-07-18 08.54.522015-07-18 08.59.13

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!

2015-07-18 09.35.042015-07-18 10.04.06

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!

2015-07-18 09.01.15stairs2

stairs

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!

2015-07-18 10.05.42

 

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 🙂

2015-07-24 17.29.082015-08-09 11.19.242015-08-09 11.24.192015-08-09 11.24.562015-08-09 11.27.512015-08-09 13.36.032015-08-09 11.57.072015-08-09 13.37.452015-08-09 15.31.592015-08-16 09.05.492015-08-16 13.47.232014-05-21 16.18.16-10

2015-09-29 07.48.15

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!

Live your best life, my friends!

Until next time,

Jaimie & Dave

 

Shipping Containers – Are They Really Just Giant Oversized Legos? Part #6

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.’

 

Legos?

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.

2015-06-26 18.01.36

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.

 

The Schedule

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.

 

The Foundation

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 Windows

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!

2015-07-12 11.39.15

 

The Sub-flooring

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.

2015-05-29 08.31.31

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 :).

2015-06-20 20.39.46

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 🙂

Until next time ~ keep chasing your dreams!

Jaimie & Dave

 

Permitting A Shipping Container Home, Part #5

The Rejection

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.

Seriously?!?!?

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 😉

12

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.

2015-06-17 17.58.242015-06-22 20.25.40

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.  

2015-09-20 10.53.002015-10-02 18.17.28

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.

Foundationfoundation2

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.

Foundation1

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 😉

stairs3

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!

WABO2

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.

To be continued…

Chasing our dreams,

Jaimie & Dave

 

The Goal = Turn Two 8’ Wide Metal Boxes Into A Shipping Container Home, Part #4

Priority #3 – My Bedroom & I’ve Got Coffee In My Hand Stair Access

Truth – My husband and I aren’t getting any younger.  Access to the second story (master bedroom) of our home was a major design issue.  Not only did the access need to be functional, user friendly, but I also wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing. Oh, and I needed to be able to carry my beverage of choice upstairs while traversing the staircase.

Bedroom 1

Fact – A traditional staircase is 36” wide and needs up to 15’ of room to construct.  This was simply floor space that we didn’t have to spare in our footprint. My husband, always the practical man (God bless his heart), wanted to install an elevator like platform attached to a car winch system with chains.  I may have laughed outright 😉 Again, I am a PNW girl, but I have some standards!

deck1

Initially, we didn’t have a good solution to our upstairs bedroom access.  Our state’s building code is very specific about the requirements. I couldn’t figure out how to meet their requirements and have the room to implement them in the floor space we had available to us.  Were the stairs going to be piece that derailed our dreams? Not if I had anything to say about it!

Side Note – If I could give any advice, it would be this: take the time and effort to develop a good rapport with your local B&P front office staff, your plan reviewer and most importantly your inspector.  Don’t ask them to design your project – do your homework and make sure that you have acquired the practical knowledge and good solid solutions to make your design work. But, this rapport helps when you get to an area like we did, our stairs.

And so, to the county building Dave and I went.  This wasn’t our first visit. We had already been in prior to this to introduce ourselves:)  When we asked what we could do for an option, the senior plan reviewer immediately suggested a ship ladder design.  He said that because the area we were accessing was a single room, less than 200 square feet and without a bathroom, there was an exception in the code that we didn’t need a staircase 36” wide.  

While this was awesome news for us, we (I specifically) just couldn’t wrap my head around how I was going to make it up and down a ships ladder with my morning coffee, evening beverage, laundry, etc.  As previously stated – I’m not getting any younger, and am sure I need 2 hands to climb a ladder to a second story – girl probs ;). This suggestion, of course, got my husband all excited about his elevator idea.  Oh, boy, I had my work cut out for me to find a reasonable solution that would work for everyone.

Again, because we had taken the time to build this relationship, B&P was more than willing to spend the extra time to help us find a solution.  In our county, we are the first (and only) home of our design. Additionally, they had next to no experience with even a wood built tiny home. The movement hasn’t taken hold and so they really had a limited knowledge base.  This also meant that they didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what they wanted to see. I can honestly say that the entire department was interested in our build and wanted to see us succeed. These people can make or break or build.  I’m thankful that we had the foresight to befriend them 🙂 This didn’t mean that we weren’t held to the same standard, it just meant that when we ran into a problem, they were more willing to lend some of their knowledge and expertise.

The Solution – Spiral Stairs

Here is where my ‘outside the box’ thinking skills became useful – Google became my friend. After our meeting with B&P and having a rough idea of what I could get away with for space for my stair footprint, I started searching the internet for options.  And the solution was so obvious, I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before – Spiral Stairs. Spiral stairs are unique in that they can be custom designed and built for your space.  I found an online company that had good reviews. Almost immediately I was put in touch with our awesome expert, Brett at paragonstairs.com who showed immediate interest in designing the stairs for our unique home.  After a few back and forth emails/phone calls, I had a preliminary design in hand that would fit into our footprint. Yes, the treads were narrow and the accent was steep, but it was 100% BETTER than a ships ladder.  

Side note – this is not an ad – Brett is just that awesome and went above and beyond for our project and build.  If you need stairs, contact him and tell him Jaimie sent you 🙂  He is amazing and you won’t regret it!

I emailed B&P with my discovery and asked, ‘If a ships-ladder would be acceptable, would they consider Spiral Stairs instead?  The senior plan reviewer responded that he would see what he could do – and a few days went by before I heard back from him. Much to his credit, he went to bat for us with the State Board that oversees building codes.  He requested on our behalf, and was granted a variance for the exact staircase I had submitted! Thank you, Jesus – that is the first thing that came to my mind!

Fast Forward – I remember at the very end of our build, right before the spiral stairs were to be installed, our inspector, who had been with us the entire project, commented that he just wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to pass the access to the second floor.  Are you kidding me!!! First, if he had a concern, shouldn’t he have mentioned it long before we come to the pass or fail part of the build?!?!? Second, not everyone designs their project completely in advance with all the elements pre-approved – thankfully, that is exactly what we had done.  So when Mr. Inspector made his comment, I quickly and easily had an answer for him – ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Inspector. As you can see here in our approved building permit and documents (100’s of pages), the stairs that we are installing have already been designed, engineered and pre-approved by the WA Board.  You don’t have to worry about them at all. Your job here is done!’ In fact, the stairs had been sitting in our storage for almost 10 months at that point, just ready to be installed. This was just one tiny benefit of all of our pre-planning and hard work paying off. An inspector that didn’t have a job to do when it came to our stairs – and that was our final piece to have legal occupancy ;).

Again, taking the time and effort to identify these seemingly small pieces of our build prior to committing to our project paid off in the long run.  Researching and finding solutions, having open dialogue with the building department, and educating ourselves saved us a lot of time and energy in the long run.  I promise!

The Bedroom

Now that we had an approved access plan to the second story, it was time to design our master bedroom.  Our room is comprised of a 20’ container situated on the back 20’ of the lower 40’ container. I knew I wanted lots of light and a glass door to access what would be our private deck right off our bedroom.  Because the space was dedicated solely for our bedroom and I didn’t have to fit anything else into the square footage, other than the stairs and door, the space was one of the simplest parts of our design. Compared to how many separate ‘spaces’ we have managed to fit into the lower 40’ container, (livingroom, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, bathroom & second bedroom), having an entire 20’ all to myself was heavenly.  

We did have a couple of design obstacles, including exact placement of the spiral stairs. We were planning on cutting an opening into the roof of the 40’ and a hole in the bottom of the 20’ to install the spiral staircase in.  This hole had to be measured precisely, because directly on the other side of the opening was the outside wall and future deck area. As I’ve mentioned before, it isn’t a simple process to ‘reinstall’ a piece of the Cortex metal once it has been cut.  Thankfully, these very precise cuts and the resulting structural reinforcement took place prior to Dave’s brain bleed. 8.5 months later, when we went to install the spiral that we had so meticulously planned for, it fit like it had been built in place.  Measure 3 times, cut 1 time 😉

bd6

Our Private Deck

Off of our bedroom, we have a 20’ x 8’ cedar deck.  We designed and built a roof structure over the 10’ that is closest to the container for weather protection and left the other 10’ open to the sun.  Our hand railing was also our own design and build. It was my idea – and one I was pretty proud of 😉 The uprights for our railing are all made out of rebar.  What a process. In fact, it was in the middle of building our handrailing, that my husband suffered his ICH. Thankfully, we were done with the structural welding on our home just prior to his bleed and were working on the decorative pieces.  

deck5deck4

Ultimately, our bedroom, the spiral stair access  and our private deck are one of the most rewarding portions of our build.  We have 20’ all to ourselves. Our stairs are gorgeous, functional and most importantly, I can carry a beverage up and down with ease 🙂

Fast Forward – The structural pieces of the deck and hand crafted railing that my husband almost died over, to this day brings tears to our eyes.  We often talk about the specific section he was working on when he bled. Over the next couple of weeks, while Dave was recovering, and yet still so impatient to get back to building, his brother came and helped us.  He assisted in the welding of the next 2 sections of railing, and as hard as he tried and as much as we appreciated his help, those 2 sections will never be as meaningful as the 2 before them, and never as hardly fought as the 2 sections after them.

Have I Mentioned My Husband Is My Hero, And Amazing?

Dave picked up his welder just 3 weeks after his initial bleed, with little feeling having returned to the right side of his body.  He had fought to live just weeks earlier – his main motivation, to finish what we had started . He was determined to finish our railing and deck..  With the tenacity of a bull, he worked on those final 2 sections for 2 days – something that would have taken him half a day just weeks earlier. He was determined – and I never left his side, a ‘sous’ fabricator helping him more so much more than I ever had before. After those 2 days, and when the final railing upright was complete, my amazing husband had his first seizure. The ICH had caused so much damage to his brain, and the welding that he was too impatient to wait to finish until he was more healed had exacerbated the injury. The result was a seizure disorder that plagued him for years following that fateful day. In just 3 short weeks, my strong, able bodied husband who had worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week for years, had a 2” blood clot in his brain and a seizure disorder that prevented him from driving, welding or working.

I share this part of our story, because it is interwoven into the very heart of our home.  It is the fuel that drove us through the hard times. It is the fire that pushed us to keep on going, even when it all seemed impossible.  When our dream seemed totally beyond our reach, we focused on what we had already accomplished. We focused on the hard stuff we had already made it through, including living.  Dave should have died that day in August of 2015. The doctors have no explanation as to why the bleed occur, and absolutely none as to why he lived. The location of the clot should have killed him immediately.  The damage to his brain should have left him paralyzed at the very least. Instead, 8 months after his bleed, and just 10 months after we had been given the go ahead to proceed, we were handed our Certificate of Occupancy.

WE HAD ACCOMPLISHED THE IMPOSSIBLE.  Not only had we successfully built a shipping container home, but we had finished it against all odds – even life and death odds.  WE CAN DO HARD THINGS. To this day, when things get really hard, we remind each other that we can survive the situation we are in. We have survived far worse and we can do it again.

deck9deck8

There is so much more to our build story, and our life story.  I promise, I will continue sharing with you how we made it through B&P and got our building permit.  I will share all the details of actual construction. But right now, when talking about designing our room and deck, I have to pause and remember the miracle I was able to witness.  The miracle of my husband and his desire to love and finish the hard stuff. His desire to give me the home we had both dreamed about.

deck7

Building a shipping container home is hard.  But remember, if your still here, reading this blog, you’ve lived through 100% of your hard days.  If your chasing your dream of building a shipping container home or a tiny home, don’t give up! It isn’t impossible. Yes, it challenging in the beginning, and the middle and the end.  Yes, there will probably be surprises along the way that no matter how hard you prepared for, still aren’t expected. There certainly were for us. But remind yourself – if it was easy, everyone would be living in a gorgeous shipping container home.

Next up – The permitting process

Catching our dreams,

Jaimie & Dave

The Goal = Turn Two 8’ Wide Metal Boxes Into A Shipping Container Home, Part #3

Priority #2 – The Kitchen

Every woman wants a kitchen to call her own, especially a mother.  It’s her space, whether she is a gourmet chef or simply trying to feed the kids. Dave and I have 5 of those amazing big people together, and while 4 of the 5 aren’t living at home, I still wanted  to try and have a space where they could come and enjoy a home cooked meal. My kids thrive on mom’s cooking and not making room for their needs in our tiny home, even when they were older and no longer living with us, just seemed selfish.

Have you ever looked around at your kitchen – there are so many needed spaces. Counters, sink, cupboards, fridge, range, venting, windows and even more. I am a lazy woman in the kitchen and cooking and cleaning up after preparing a meal just is not my favorite thing to do.  Thankfully, my husband has taken over this chore for me in the past couple of years, God bless his heart. But in my laziness I knew I wanted -no, needed, a dishwasher. We may be planning on living in a shipping container, but priorities, people 😉

20150808_184248

Because our finished inside footage was going to be less than 7’ wide, I decided early on in the process on a galley style kitchen.  We were able to use standard size cupboards on one side of the room that encompass a large bar/seating area that gives us 32” x 48” of open counter space.  We can have 5 people at the counter for dinner, and while it is cozy, it works and that makes it perfect!

2015-11-29 12.45.512016-01-15 15.29.09

2016-02-13 14.20.03

In my research, I found a tiny family owned stonework store about an hour from our home.  While looking for countertops, I found a large, deep rectangular sink. I knew as soon as I saw it that is was perfect for our home.  The store was family owned and were more than happy to come and install our custom countertops and sink for us. They showed up on a Saturday in their little van and set up an outdoor cutting station.  They then came in and inspected our pre-work and told us it was terrible – no kidding. Funniest thing ever, because we took such pride on our craftsmanship. But apparently, to them, it was terrible. So after about 30 minutes of completely re-working our underlayment, they brought in the granite slab to cut and sand and router and make every single piece to fit perfectly for our tiny build.  If we ever build again, we will use them to build our entire kitchen. Look for family owned stores if possible. They take pride in their work and you aren’t just another number.

20160214_1425512016-02-14 14.26.32

I know I have mentioned that dreams do come true.  I have a tiny kitchen with a full size dishwasher and a full size oven range. Over the range is a microwave hood combo unit that sits in an upper wall full of cabinets. At the end of this length of counter and appliances, I got really creative.  Our cabinets are stock cabinets that we purchased from the local hardware store.(Trying to do things on a budget and they were hickory, which I love!) I took 3 of the standard sized cupboards and stacked them on top of each other to utilize the space we had left over and also provide us with a pantry/small appliance cupboard.   

On the opposite side of the kitchen space, is our fridge/freezer.  Now, there are so many options for appliances and while you usually would choose your appliances towards the end of a traditional home build, when you are building custom and tiny, you need exact measurements to utilize every single inch of usable space.  While shopping appliance options, we discovered that we could purchase a ‘counter depth’ fridge. This meant that instead of our fridge sticking out 6” past our counters or into the walkway, it is recessed back allowing for a wider walkway 🙂

Next to the fridge, I have a full size stackable washer and dryer.  Mama is happy!

20160217_162925

All of the appliance doors open, except for our oven door which is about 1” short of opening up completely.  This was a beginners error on our part and would have been an easy fix if we had realized during the framing part of our project.  FYI – install a recessed range outlet. This allows for your range to sit flush to the wall, not protruding into the room an extra 1”.  Once completed, our galley kitchen has a walkway of approximately 23”. Legal walkway is 22” – so we meet that requirement 🙂

Side note – In a traditional wood home, you can cut in microwave and dryer vents and install them fairly easily.  Want to add a window over the sink or a door, no problem, just cut out the desired space. With a shipping container home, every single opening that we would need in the metal had to be pre-planned, pre-measured, pre-cut, pre-grinded, pre-welded, pre-finished.  Every single opening had to be created and finished prior to starting any of the interior work. This included the wood framing, insulation and sheetrock. All of these are combustibles, and because welding and grinding is such a hot process, we couldn’t take the chance of a fire later in the process.  As an example, when we originally laid out our kitchen we had almost 3” from the end of the upper cabinet to the edge of the window that was centered over the kitchen sink. When we actually installed our cabinets, we had less than an inch between the two spaces.

2016-03-05 11.41.422016-03-05 18.35.59

20160306_1706182016-03-06 17.21.02

2016-03-12 11.35.53

Now, there are lots of reasons that measurements were off slight.  Our biggest obstacle that we had to overcome between the design stage and the building/installation stage, was my husband’s spontaneous ICH that occured mid build.  In wood construction, these slight deviations wouldn’t have been such a make or break issue. Wood is more forgiving, but with the metal, my husband had to be WABO certified to weld on our home.  It wasn’t so easy to find a replacement to step in and finish our build. With metal, when your measurements are off, there is simply no easy way to reinstall your metal Cortex siding and cut out another window.  

20160327_123133 copy

Each of the early planning steps we took to complete our build, especially in critical spaces like the kitchen helped make our project successful.  If we hadn’t of taken the time and paid close attention, I am 100% confident that we would not have such a beautiful home.

I know that I am giving a lot of details about each step, but I know that we saved ourselves so much time, money and effort on our project by designing and laying out each piece of our home to the inch. When your building tiny, inches really do matter.  On your build, take your time. Do your homework and measure, measure and measure again. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Here is a sneak peek into what our kitchen looks like today – enjoy 🙂

Kitchen2

If your chasing your dream of building a shipping container home or a tiny home, don’t give up!  It isn’t impossible – if it was easy, though, everyone would have one 😉

Catching our dreams,

Jaimie & Dave

The Goal = Turn Two 8’ Wide Metal Boxes Into A Shipping Container Home, Part #1

Honesty First

My husband wanted to have the ‘WOW’ factor for our house. I wanted the most economical and yet livable solution available when you are trying to make an 8’ wide metal box your home. In the beginning, we talked and dreamed of the possibilities as far as design and stacking them together like Legos – everyone’s initial thought of building with shipping containers 🙂 We discovered quickly, it isn’t quite that simple or cheap to start stacking them willy-nilly. So we had to put some hard thought into what exactly we could and couldn’t live without in our future shipping container home.

My Husband’s Ideal Space

Dave is a practical man, with a ‘WOW’ factor mentality 😉 He needed a sink and counter, a hot plate would suffice with a mini fridge, a toilet if we could figure out the plumbing and a place to sleep. He was more concerned with the structural components, the welding and the infrastructure for the land. He didn’t really care how many windows we had, how the natural lighting would infiltrate the living spaces, where we were going to have space for our youngest son who was 10 at the time or where we would eat. He gave zero thought to laundry or family dinners, how his wife would stay clean or really anything that would make these cold metal boxes a home for our family. He’s a man – he could eat on an upside down bucket in the corner, off of a paper plate and take a shower in a portable tent behind a tree – God bless his heart 😉

11705233_10205616252623803_807684846408211414_n

My Ideal Space

My idea of practical also takes into account long-term usability and how to prevent me from running wild into the woods or going even more crazy than we already felt even contemplating this build 🙂 A kitchen with full size appliances, a washer and dryer, a bathroom with a large shower where I could shave my legs – girl goals 😉 and of course an INSIDE toilet and sink, lots of storage, a separate bedroom for our son, a master bedroom large enough that I could walk around my bed to make it, a living-room space where we could have our older children over for family meals, and windows; lots of windows and natural light – and it had to be pretty. I might be a Pacific Northwest girl, but I like my comforts 😉

11136712_10205477033983424_105623232074157748_n

We Compliment Each Other

Initially, our individual ideal spaces were quite different. But in our separate visions, we both addressed items that not only made our future home functional and solid, but also usable, comfortable and inviting. As we started to think ‘outside the box’ at all the possibilities of what our shipping container home could become when we combined our ideas, the magic really started to happen and our imaginations and creativity took flight. Our number one realization – when you are building tiny, you can have nice finishes and still not spend a fortune because of the small footprint. Suddenly, granite counters, tile showers, stainless steel appliances, zebra flooring, spiral staircases, multiple bedrooms and a large deck overlooking our valley right off our master bedroom were our reality, just on a very small-scale.

What Could We Live Without

We had lived in a much larger home prior to building our tiny home and took a hard look at what parts of the house we used in our average American family home. We only really used the kitchen and bar seating area, occasionally the living room to visit if company was over, the bathroom and 2 of the bedrooms. We rarely, if ever used any of the other rooms of the house. We knew that we could live with a living room, kitchen, laundry space, bathroom and 2 bedrooms. Now, to make it all fit in as small of a footprint as possible – exactly how many containers could we get away with using was the hard question? We decided that if we could get away with 2 shipping containers – a 20’er stacked on top of a 40’er or 480 square feet, it would help keep costs down and the footprint on our very hilly land easier to build on.

The Initial Design

I am an accountant, not a designer or an architect. So, I opened up my Powerpoint on the computer and started stacking rectangles on top of each other, because after all, that is what we were working with. I then dug into our local building code for the minimum square footage requirements in the spaces that we wanted to include in our home. The bathroom, bedrooms, stairs and entry points/doors had to be certain dimensions in order to meet the code for our state. With only 480’ to work with, the challenge seemed daunting. But, I have always loved a challenge – and so I measured and moved and measured and moved, over and over until I got everything to fit in the 480’ we ‘thought’ we had – Success!!! Or so I thought…

10339725_10205616253463824_8122705523404656437_n

Back To The Drawing Board

To the casual observer or newbie like ourselves, 2 shipping containers provide approximately 480 interior square feet. But – and that is a very big BUT, when you start adding things like framing, insulation and sheet rock you lose approximately 6.5” on each interior wall in order to facilitate those basic finishes. Metal conducts moisture – and mold was not something I ever wanted to deal with inside my home. Taking this into account, we knew we couldn’t frame directly up to the metal interior walls. The obvious solution was to build a wooden framed box inside our metal shipping container using 2 x 4 construction and make sure that the metal and wood never touched each other, ever. (Because the strength of our home comes from the metal box, we didn’t need to use traditional 2×6 construction except on the end walls where the doors were for wind shear.)

To simplify for those who are new to the shipping container building process like we once were – when you add the framing, insulation and sheet rock, you lose approximately 6.5” on each interior wall and suddenly your 480’ tiny home, really becomes a 406’ ‘super’ tiny home.

Note – Our interior living space is 1” shy of 7’ wide – cozy living at it’s finest! Don’t worry, you get used to it. It does help to have the right size furniture to make it all work together – no oversized lazy boy recliners for us 😉 I know that in the world of tiny homes, our 406’ is a mansion, but moving from a 2,000 sq ft home to 406’ was a huge obstacle to work our minds around.

Now – to rework those rooms sizes to fit into the space we really had to work with. Back to the drawing board to design our shipping container home for me!

More to come… but until then, what is your dream? Never be afraid to chase it!!!

Chasing our dreams ~

Jaimie & Dave