Cargo container conversion?

topic posted Thu, October 13, 2005 - 8:49 PM by  Steamboat Ed
--Howdy all. Thinking about getting a container and turning it into something halfway between bomb shelter and guest cottage. Want to make it comfortable, i.e. windows, kitchenette, beds, but also self-contained, i.e. air filtration, genny, bio seals.
--Anyone got links to similar stuff others have done and to accoutrements that would fit in the enclosed area?
posted by:
Steamboat Ed
SF Bay Area
  • Unsu...

    Re: Cargo container conversion?

    Fri, October 14, 2005 - 1:57 PM
    We have a guy here that got a permit for a pole barn 40 x60. He put in a slad, sat two 40 containers on the outer edges and threw up the roof. Enclosed the ends and away he went. I have been really loking into this. Possible with an earth burm and solar panels on the roof. My favorite site is
  • Re: Cargo container conversion?

    Mon, October 24, 2005 - 10:09 PM
    an old single-wide trailer-house is just that already -
    and a lot cheaper . . .
    modular housing -
    ive been thinking for years of configurations
    to arrainge/stack them in
    like a humansized habitrail -
    • I once had a summer job as a dishwasher in a building that was just what you describe. It was a warren of old single-wides that had been spliced together and added to over the years.
      It caught fire, and it took no more than about a half hour for it to burn to the ground. Total firetrap. It was lucky that no one was killed.

      btw: it was a rather famous establishment. It was called the Mustang ranch, In Nevada...
      And yes, I was really JUST a dishwasher.

  • Re: Cargo container conversion?

    Wed, October 26, 2005 - 12:13 AM
    I think it would be cool to use a cargo contianer or two to build a subterranean house and then build a much larger cobstructure above it. that way your house would still be really cheap and you'd still be able to have the container(s) as your bomb shelter plus youd have the cob upstairs as your 'guest cottage'. It would be alot roomier having the two and you'd have the comfort and asthetic of the cob upstairs while simultaneously have a bombshelter that was underground. Even if that isn't your cup of tea it would be a realy cheap way of making a multi level structure.
  • Re: Cargo container conversion?

    Wed, October 26, 2005 - 4:54 AM
    Great posts and links all.

    I suppose if you wanted a larger room with vaulted ceilings, you could put four of them together and take out the adjoining sides (horizontal and vertical). Then you'd have some place to hang your chandeliers!
  • Re: Cargo container conversion?

    Wed, October 26, 2005 - 1:30 PM
    Initially I was intrigued by the idea but after spending a summer with a container as a storage unit I was aware of issues like noise and the metal walls efficiency at transmitting the heat/cold of the surrounding atmosphere. Insulation is of course the solution, anyone see any reasonable strategies for insulating a container? There is not alot of room to to give up for insulation on the inside of a container.
    The other issue is moving the dang thing to your location. Best idea I have seen is to have a container on sleds. then no crane is necessary, truck just dumps the container.

    Nonetheless, a fun concept, and one I am would seriously consider as a vacation cottage.
    • ant
      offline 0

      Re: Cargo container conversion?

      Wed, October 26, 2005 - 2:48 PM
      I'm thinking that an old school bus might work better. It's got all the windows you need. Insulation might still be a problem, but at least you can just drive it into place and wouldn't need to hire a rig.
      • Unsu...
        there are many instances of buried buses bieng used as underground shelter. the FARM ( remember steven gaskins ?) used them as thier first shelter. all are still in use. wierd though, i can't find a single photo. there are also isolated incidences of thier use as root cellars and hillside homes. i recall seeing them in TMEN as well as FARM SHOW. that was actually my intention when i began the MOARK project. but then i stumbled into the reefers and decided to go with them. besides i just couldn't bring myself to bury a great skoolie ( see SKOOLIE tribe) then there is the extreme instance
        there is ONLY ONE practical way to insulate a skoolie. thats with CERAMIC coating additives. i use these guys
        many of the members of swear by it. including myself. cheak the archives of that group for extensive discussions on the subject.
    • Re: Cargo container conversion?

      Thu, October 27, 2005 - 5:18 PM
      --Yah I've been thinking of the various steps involved in making this happen. I've got a "site" picked out in our meadow where it's easy for a truck to deliver it; if need be I can always knock out a portion of fence then nail it back up later. I've picked a spot where the container doesn't become an eyesore that would attract bureaucrats and I've decided to bury it about halfway into the ground, then berm earth up to the top. This way I can use the excavated earth and render a bump in the terrain that's not too awesome. High windows still a possibility and additional containers at the same depth also an option in future.
      --As for insulation I'm thinking I could make the hole oversized, then drop in some rigid insulation right up against the container before backfilling and this should cut down on conductive heat loss.
      --Semi-buried should also make it easier to maintain air pumps, etc on the "roof".
    • Re: Cargo container conversion?

      Fri, October 28, 2005 - 9:29 AM
      Straw bales with lime plaster? I have a book where people have retrofitted portacabins with straw bales to improve insulation. They're also great at sound insulation. Soil on top maybe? Not a great insulator but certainly a lot better than nothing.

      You'd want a heat sink as well, a layer of oil drums filled with water behind the container with a layer of straw bales beyond.

    • Re: Cargo container conversion?

      Fri, October 28, 2005 - 11:00 PM
      if you just buried the container, the earth would be all the insulation youd need, or if you didn't want to do that, just build up some cob (basicly mud brick) walls (2 ft. thick) around the outside of the structure. The result would be that your container(s) would be insulated and the noise problem, atleast the outside noise would be dampend impressively.
  • Unsu...

    Re: Cargo container conversion?

    Wed, November 2, 2005 - 2:20 PM
    That's got to be the coolest idea I've heard in a while. Given a nice concrete slab, a rental crane, a welder / plasma cutter, and a dozen of or so of the things you could put a rather interesting dwelling together. Hells bells you could even make it look like a conventional house gabled roof siding, windows and all.

    What do they cost?

    • Re: Cargo container conversion?

      Wed, November 2, 2005 - 7:47 PM
      They are fairly inexpensive. Google it for a local source.

      Burying...Don't forget drainage! metal rusts fast if water stands against it. I have seen several applications with buried containers. Some worked some leaked. Those who took drainage seriously succeeded!

      Poly-styrene! Carpenter ants LOOOVE to live in this! If you are in a forest you will be sorry. There is nothing more disconcerting than swarms of c-ants in your space.
      • Unsu...

        Re: Cargo container conversion?

        Thu, November 3, 2005 - 6:24 AM
        PolyStyrene?? You mean low density blown polystyrene - the insulating foam used in everything from food packaging and coffee cups to floats and coolers?

        Is this commonly used in containers?? I guess it makes sense, it's cheap and is a great insulator.
        If you find it, pull it out and replace with something else. Do it with the doors open and with good ventilation. It's a particularly deadly thing to use as an insulator - in an inclosed space.

        People have died from that stuff while doing nothing more dramatic than using a hand saw to cut the stuff up to line and insulate truck body interiors. Actually it's not that uncommon. Cutting the stuff liberates the CO2 and Pentane that is used as the blowing agent creating and filling the voids. Combined and in a closed space, the Pentane and CO2 can easily overcome a person.

        Pentane's LD-50 is 2000 Milligrams per 1 Killogram of body mass. That's not terribly dangerous as things go. It's the fact of being in a closed space with high concentrations that raises the eyebrow.

        When styrene it burns it produces phemonenal heat and burns very well and liberates the CO2. That's another reasonable issue for consideration when thinking of the material as a housing insulation.

        Over time both CO2 and Pentane gass are liberated (they just leak out). In a closed well sealed underground home the gasses may not get out and the occupants will be living with the stuff.

        On a side note: Styrene is a nearly perfect fuel. It gives off Hydrogen and water. If one could figure a way to run an engine off it the world might beat a path to that person's door. Styrene pellets, or dust?

        Mr. Diesel was trying to do something like that. He was trying to get an internal combustion engine to run on coal dust. It was a high volume waste product that no one wanted.

        • Re: Cargo container conversion?

          Thu, November 3, 2005 - 8:58 AM
          --Fear not; I'm planning to use the correct stuff for insulation, which I *think* is rigid foam insulation with the foil on both sides. Not sure what the compound is exactly but I'd assume, being approved for home construction, it's not as lethal as other ...alternative materials, yes?
          --Good point about drainage beneath. I had thought about putting it on a bed of coarse crushed rock, but now I'm thinking it would be a good idea of adding a French drain or two downslope (note: "downslope" is only a few degrees, but that should do the trick).
        • Re: Cargo container conversion?

          Sat, December 31, 2005 - 8:54 PM
          I was browsing the net looking at alternative housing and as a chemist I had to respond to this. Your numbers are incredibally off first here is a link to pentane's MSDS (Materials safety data sheet)
          You will notice that toxic levels are reached when IHL-RAT LC50 364 gm/m3/4hr Thats 364 grams per cubic meter over a period of 4 hours exposure. You cannot get this kind of exposure sawing polystyrene. In fact if you were huffing pentane you would notice its less toxic irritation and narcotic tendencies much quicker. While I understand your concern It is virtually impossible to liberate enough pentane from polystyrine. Just to give you an idea since Polystyrine is 5% pentane by volume you would have to completely decompose 1.8 Kg of the stuff for every cubic meter of air volume. In a space that is 2.5mX 2.5m x 6.5m (40.6 Cubic Meters) you would need to completely deompose 81 Cubic feet of the stuff. and then inhale the fume for 4 hours. I am siorry but thuis simply cannot occur from using a handsaw.
  • Unsu...

    Re: Cargo container CITIES ?

    Sun, January 1, 2006 - 7:41 AM
    there are also currently CONTAINER CITIES that are constructed and used by the military as urban warfare training sites. i see them on TV news clips. they look extremely feasable to build multi-family buildings. they look like a small mediterainian village stacked everywhichway. i think they would also work well for spanich courtyard style and similar to new orleans french quarter.

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