Dave’s wave and attempt at a smile sustained me during the drive to the larger hospital 40 minutes away. As the life flight helicopter took off and raced my boy south for emergency brain surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain and stabilize him, I stood for a moment on the top of the hospital roof and just asked God for peace. And I felt it, immediately.
By that time, my sister, Shannon, was by my side, holding my hand and said she would drive me to the new hospital as I didn’t have a car. As we drove, I called my children and our elder and asked to be placed on the prayer chain. Dave was being lifted up within the hour by hundreds of people and the peace I felt about the new, unexpected journey that Dave and I were now on, was surreal. I didn’t know how this day was going to end, much less the new path we were on, but I knew that somehow, we were going to be okay.
Defying All Odds
I made it to the hospital in record time and rushed inside to check on his status, expecting him to be in surgery. To my amazement and surprise, they directed me to an emergency room and when I walked in, there, my fighting man sat, in the bed as the doctors and nurses continued to monitor his neurological status and vitals. A doctor introduced himself as head of neurology and said that while Dave was in critical condition, he was already stabilizing and they had not seen any increased signs of distress in the brain since he had arrived. He was not sure why Dave was was awake and not declining, or what the next 30 minutes or even the hour held, but at that moment, they were going to wait on brain surgery and fall into a watch and wait pattern. Thank you, Jesus. It had been a little less than 2 hours since Dave had called me in distress, and now he sat here, amazing the doctors with his status. Dave was not well, but he was alive – another miracle!
The doctor then pulled up the CT scan of Dave’s brain – the one taken in the last 30 minutes, Dave’s second of the day, on the imaging board in Dave’s room and showed us what we were dealing with. I am not going to lie; seeing the size of the blood pool in Dave’s brain was terrifying. Hearing the doctor say that he shouldn’t even be alive, much less awake and coherent, was nothing he could explain. He was hopefully optimistic that Dave would continue to stabilize and that the bleed would not progress beyond it’s current borders. It was currently almost 2” x 2” and laying deep in the left side of his brain.
As I looked down at my best friend, and then back to the image of his brain, tears pooled in my eyes. Dave could still hardly speak, he had no feeling on his right side, his brain had an active bleed, but against all odds, I felt him squeeze my hand with his right one and say, I love you. It was more like a pained whisper and the faintest of squeezes, but he was speaking, attempting to make his right side work, awake and so very alive!
Dave was stationed directly outside the nurse’s station in the Emergency room of the new hospital. There was so much activity in and out of his room as they waited on pins and needles for him to take the turn for the worse that the doctors were all expecting. But, Dave refused to give in to the sleepiness that called his name. He held my hand with his strong left one like it was his lifeline. He sat in that bed and refused to give up – to him, closing his eyes and going to sleep, even though he was so very tired, felt like giving up. He refused to leave me!
After almost 5 hours of monitoring him every 10 minutes, accessing neurological function, another repeat CT scan and so much lab work trying to figure out what was going on and why this had happened, they notified us that they were once again going to be transferring Dave to another hospital – the 3rd one that day. His insurance was Kaiser, and so they wanted to get him to the nearest Kaiser facility to continue monitoring him. Thankfully, this time they were willing to transport him via ambulance and we got to ride together 🙂
Expecting Another Miracle
We arrived at the Kaiser hospital and they admitted him directly to ICU to give him one on one nursing care as his condition was still so unstable and very critical. Within a few minutes of arriving in the ICU, the neurosurgeon arrived and assessed Dave’s current status. Dave had not shown any signs of decline in the past 5 hours but the size of bleed that he had experienced in the location of the brain that it had occurred was very much life threatening.
The doctor gave it to us straight. He didn’t understand why Dave was even conscious, much less coherent. In his experience, these types of bleeds had a very small survival rate. If Dave made it through the night, we would re-access in the morning and do an exploratory brain operation to see if they could identify the source of the bleed. If there was a sudden turn for the worse in the night, they would proceed with the emergency brain surgery, that thankfully had been postponed for more than 8 hours at this point.
Because of the paralysis that Dave was experiencing on his right side, he wasn’t allowed any food or drink. They needed to do a swallow study and have the feeding therapist evaluate him to minimize the chances that he would choke on anything orally. Also, because he may have surgery at any moment, they needed him prepared and ready to go under anesthesia.
It was going to be a long night, but I pulled a chair up right next to my best friend, grabbed his hand and we settled in to watch and wait and pray. Finally, after almost 14 hours since he had first called me, Dave let himself rest. I didn’t sleep at all that night – praying constantly that Dave made it through the night and defied the odds that the doctors were putting on him. ‘Please, God, let Dave live.’ That was my prayer and the miracle I was expecting. I didn’t even care at that point that he ever walked again, I just couldn’t imagine life without him.
New Adventures Ahead
I had no idea what the future held as I sat in that hard hospital chair and held Dave’s hand throughout the night. The home we were building, the future we had envisioned, the dreams we were chasing – that all seemed so distant as I looked around at the multitude of machines monitoring Dave’s every breath and heartbeat. I didn’t know what this new adventure looked like, but I knew that we were going to experience it together…
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 😉
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.
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.
Waving Goodbye to My Best Friend
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 🙂
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 😉