Tag Archives: containers

A week of sun

We had 10 days with no rain, and that gave me the brilliant idea to try to move the containers from the cul-de-sac where we dropped them off, out onto the property.  That we did.  A rental forklift got the boxes up off the ground, and with the help of my neighbor Gary, we managed to get the containers all the way to the main section of our property.  The trip of about 1 mile went smoothly, with a few twists and turns, and a couple of high lifts to get over poorly placed trees, we managed to move them near to their final destination.

Now, you’ll notice I said near, but not exactly to their final destination.  As we were moving the first container into place, we decided to skirt the mud bog that had been crated a few weeks earlier when Gary tried to clear a path to lay down some gravel for a drive way.  We did skirt it, but on two occasions we almost sank the forklift into the ground.

It’s hard to describe how strange a sight that is.  The ground felt totally solid, and even though I logically understand that there’s a huge difference between 250# and 5000#, it still doesn’t prepare you to watch your machinery just start to sink into the muck that looked completely solid a second before.

We ended up dropping the first container in a reasonable location, and decided to get the second before we really got the forklift stuck (it did actually sink in to the front axel, but the rear tires were on solid ground and were easily able to pull the machine back out).  The second container was even easier than the first, with no real issues getting it onto the main flat area where it currently rests.  The lift did start to sink a little right as we set the container down, but I didn’t think anything of it.

So we decided to move back to the first container, to attempt to move it into a better position so that it could again be picked up, and moved closer to its final (now future final) destination.  That’s when the previously solid ground really opened up. I’ve never seen anything sink so fast.  One second things were going fine, the next one tire started to sink, and a second after that, all 4 tires were in up to their axels.

After an hour of rocking the machine, lifting the front tires up with the lift boom (using the container for leverage), and throwing massive quantities of log/rock/debris under the tires, we finally managed to get the tractor free.  After no deliberation, we decided that lifting the containers any further would have to wait until the summer.

And that should have been the end of this story (at least for now), but it’s hard to leave well enough alone, especially when the ground seemed so solid in most places, and sure we had managed to get the lift stuck, but we un-stuck it as well.  So, somewhere along the way, I decided it would be a good idea to try to drag the containers rather than trying to lift them.  After all, it seemed like the lift was fine so long as it didn’t have an extra 5000# hanging off of the front end.

We attached a chain to the bottom of the container, and move the forklift into position. Nothing happened.  The forklift didn’t move, and the container didn’t either.  And then, in the blink of an eye, the wheel’s started to slip and immediately dug themselves down to their axels again…..

Yep, live and learn.  But the lesson is simple.  Don’t play around in northern california clay in the middle of winter.

So we did finally manage to get the forklift out again, after copious amounts of trees and rocks were poured int massive gashes in the ground.  And the containers are on our land proper now, so we don’t expect any complaints from anyone (the only person who can actually see them is Gary, and he likes containers).

Clearly, we have to wait until it _actually_ dries out now before we can attempt to move the containers any further, so in the intirim, I’m going to continue to refine the designs and plans for the container, and some time ~ April or even early May, I’ll get back out there to move the containers into their actual location, and we’ll start the finaly retrofit.

I also still plan on getting up there to do some cistern/rain catchment work, but that may well have to wait until mid March at this point given other projects that are begging for some attention as well.

Moving the containers – II

Since the helicopter idea is a non-starter (at least not during this budget cycle), we’re going with big-yellow machinery, namely an industrial scale forklift. Often these are used around lumber yards, or construction sites to move pallets of supplies around and  up 20+ feet in the air.  We’ll be using one to at least get the containers into the property proper rather than sitting out in the cul-de-sac where I’m sure the nieghbors love their new modern art, but I’m less than enthused, as I can’t even container camp in them where they are.

With the forklift, we’ll be able to at least get the containers close to their final destination, and given that it’s been nice for the last week and a half, I am hopeful that the soil may be more co-operative at this point, and may even let us move the containers close to their current destination (note, I still have hopes of eventually moving these containers to their “final” destination on the other side of the wash in the future).  However, I’m also thinking ahead to the potential eventuality that either we can’t lift them directly into place (which would be one of the benefits of the use of a forklift of this scale), or that for whatever reason, we still need to drag them into their final resting spot, to which I’ve designed a sled to lift the back of the container off of the ground to hopefully simplify the process of moving the containers around.The stacked 2×6 beams should provide enough clearance for most of the obstacles I’m trying to get over, and the 2×4 beams across the back provide both bracing for the skids and a “cleat” to catch the back of the container.  The actual positioning of the cleat and the angular cross beam and front cleat will depend on the actual container construction, so I’m not yet convinced that this is the right exact model.  But I believe that this is a solid enough solution to keep everything together at least for a drag across the ground.

The 20′ containers that I purchased also have forklift pockets (I was not able to find a forklift locally with tines that can spread wide enough to fit in these, but that’s what they are there for), but my intention is to string a heavy chain or a lenght of tubular webbing through the pocket, and around the front cleat on the sled to keep the sled oriented in the same direction as the contaienr, and to help it get over any rough ground more efficiently.

Well, enough planning, I’m heading up to the property on Thursday evening to see if we can’t do what we weren’t able to do a couple of weeks ago…


In thinking about how bad the soil is this winter, and how many times my neighbor has gotten bigger and bigger tractors stuck in what looks like perfectly serviceable and compacted soil, I started to think about other methods for getting the containers moved to where I want them.  A winch was one such component, but even finding a winch big enough to drag the containers an appreciable distance (I don’t want to do this 2 ” at a crank with a come-along), requires a winch on the order of a small tractor.  Which we already know has a propensity to sink into the muck, which I don’t want to do to a rented winch.

So what else is possible?  How about a helicopter?  I’ve seen images of other houses being installed into various locations by heli-lift, and this seemd like a great way to move these containers to their final resting place.

Well, seemed like a good idea at least until I found out what it actually costs.  It turns out that a Bell 214 can carry a sizeable load (the particular helicopter I was looking at has a 6600# lift capacity), so an empty or even slightly loaded (with ~1000# of gear) container could well be moved to wherever one might want it to go. Now, it turns out that this particular company is located at the airfield in our nearby small town, and they usually do forestry service work (fire-fighting, moving equipment into the far back reaches of the forests, etc.), but they have actually moved 20′ containers in the past, so this wasn’t even an unusual request!  And in the owners opinion, we weren’t even all that far away from their base of operations, so there was no need to set up a remote landing site, which would keep costs down.

Bell 214To top it all off, we weren’t even talking about moving the containers very far (~1/2 mile as the crow flies), so all in all, this really is about as inexpensive an operation as you can get.

But inexpensive it isn’t. I bought the two containers for $1900 each, and spent another $900 moving them to where they sit now.  The price for flying them the last 1/2 mile?  ~$5500.

It’s totally a bargain if there’s no other way to get them where they need to go, but in this case, I guess I’ll fork out the $400 for the forklift, and then do it again when the ground hardens up some more (though with one more week like the last one, we may be ok in the next week or so).  Even if I have to rent the big dozer that they’ve got, and the forklift… Well, I’m still only ~$1500 for 2 days of heavy equipment.  I think I see my future, and it’s big and yellow.

Flatbed delivery for Containers

If you want to know how a container will most likely be delivered unless you rent a crane or get someone to heli-lift your container into place (I’m looking into this BTW).

BTW, this works great, but you really need dry, or at least solid ground to do this on.  We’re renting a forklift this coming weekend, to get these moved closer to their final location, and if we’re lucky (and it dries out enough), we may even try to get them close to their final location (we’ll see….).

The moral of this story… Don’t ever expect things to go exactly as you might have previously planned :-D.

There might be a little problem here – Mud

We’re up at the property, trying to get ready to receive the containers (they’re on their way, delivery expected bright and early Monday morning), and we may have run into a bit of a snag. While I knew the neighbor had an issue with the dirt track that we are both using as a driveway extension from the easement (and very well maintained) driveway into the back area of the property, with 4 stuck cars and mud-ditches 3′ deep, I had been driving on the very area we expected to set the containers initially, and hadn’t noticed any potential issues. Seriously, I thought it was because of the heavy use of his property (he lives here full-time) that he had this particular problem.

Well, we learned differently today. I knew about it a little bit yesterday, but couldn’t get myself to believe it.  Sure enough, we had nice deep ruts on our property now as well, and right where our future driveway and container dumping grounds were supposed to be! I’ve fixed them somewhat for now, and as the ground dries out in the May/June time frame, we’ll finish the container moving process. In the interim, we’ve got another area picked out, that we hope the delivery guy can dump the containers on for the near term, and then we’ll get a large forklift to move them to their future home.  I think we can get a lot of the retrofitting done in the newly selected location as well, so this shouldn’t be a complete progress halting setback!

Containers are on their way!

Yep, we’re container owners.  They are headed up to the property as we speak, and wil arrive on Monday (slow boat I guess :-D). We have 2 ~identical 20’rs on their way, certainly used, but in reasonably good shape.  I’m particularly happy that the only patches are on the side walls rather than the roof, although I’ve seen how they patch these things, and the chance of a leak is basically zero. Even if the welder can’t get pinhole free welds, they put down a layer of silicon as well, which is protected from the elements under the patch, and will provide a good solid extra layer of protection.

This weekend, we hope to get the area cleared out a bit, and get the containers moved into position. I’m going to try to determine approximatly how many concrete 12×12 pavers I need to provide an initial foundation so that we can try to get the two containers level on Monday before we have to return the tractor.  If that doesn’t happen, we’ll go to plan B, which will have the containers at least up off the ground on those same pavers so that we can jack them up later in the spring get the height set right then.  I also want to try to lay out the decking so that we can get that put in place sometime in the April/May timeframe.

That may be a bit ambitious, but I’m an ambitious guy.  I also checked into getting a small (~500 gallon) cistern delivered. It’s posible for Monday as well (would be nice to move it around with the tractor if necessary as well), but I’m not sure I have enough time/energy/design done yet on the water system.  Much like the power system that also needs more consideration.

The big thing I’m learning is that the design side is fun, but the build side is even more so!  I’ve got to find a good welding class in the area, or I’ve got to just go weld something (I know where there are a couple big metal boxes that need some holes cut in them :o).

The interiors of these containers also look good, and although they have hardwood floors, I am thinking of adding a radiant heat system on top.  It does get cold up there in the winter, and given the small space, I really don’t want fans blowing air around, or just a single point of warmth coming from a small heater in the corner.  I’m starting to envision another container just for the HVAC/Power/Water/etc. systems.  Really make this entire soultion mobile.  Heck, If I weld in a floor, and an interior wall 8′ from the end, I can get a 3700 gallon tank in one end of the container, and still have plenty of room to store a small tractor, the battery bank for the wind/solar, a pair of solar hot water storage tanks, and “misc” storage!  Perhaps I should have ordered 3 containers!

Container Shutters – II

I decided to do a bit more modeling around the accordian shutters, and built out a sketchup model that takes into account the actual size of the Jeld-Wen (Home Depot) windows and french doors.  I’d much rather have a completely open side, but everything I’ve read says you really want at least one brace in the middle of a 20′ container side, so I’m leaving a 6″ section of the side in place, and will add a c-channel brace on the back end of the fairly thin side wall to provide a structural connection between the floor and roof trusses.  With the accordion shutters, you still get an un-obstructed view straight out, but you do now have 3′ wide blinders on either side of your view.  Not idea, but I think this is about as good as it’ll get for now.  The benefit here is that there is still a way to completely re-close the container.  Since the shutters will be edged with 2″x1″ tube steel, and the corrugation in the side walls is ~1.5″, this should keep the entire enclosure within the ISO frame, and yet still give the greatest unobstructed view that is still openable by hand with no mechanical assist.

There is one more design that I still want to investigate, which would be these smaller shutters, but with a winch based mechanism for raising the shutters.  My real concern is that if the winch fails, there’s no “easy” (i.e., non-heavy-weight-champion-strenght-requred way) to open the shutter, making this a bit less flexible if the winch fails for any reason.

Container Shutters

I’ve modeled the re-used wall shutters in sketchup, and I think these will work quite well, although I’m still scheming, and have another thought about accordion shutters (which I’ll sketch tomorrow). I also realized as I was dropping these onto the container, that I made the model too short. They should be 82″ tall, not 72…  But I think the image shows what it might start to look like.  Basically, the cut-out gets edged in 2″deep by 1″ wide steel tubing.  This same tubing is then used to make a frame around the cut-out sheet (which will have to be cut down by 2″ all around to fit). These shutters are then attached with fixed pin external hinges (in order to let them open out).  I found a source for steel hinges in all kinds of strengths and sizes, and that give me the confidence that we can get hinges that will support the weight of these doors (which I estimated to be ~ 80# at 6’x3′).

I also included  a set of welded on pieces through which a bar would be slid in order to lock the container up, but it may not need that, as the way the container walls are bent, it might be possible to have most of the 2″ tube exposed where the shutters meet, allowing for a simple pin/lock on the outside which would help to stay within the ISO shipping envelope.  If we end up with sliding doors rather than french doors (still hoping to talk to the door people tomorrow), it woudl be possible to pin the door inside, and it wouldn’t need to be locked from the inside, another area to investigate!

Containers ordered – kinda

Given that I didn’t put any money down, and don’t have a specific pair of containers selected, can I still say I had a successful meeting with the container guy?  I think I’m going to say yes anyway, because I learned a few things, got a view of how beat-up (or not) the containers were, and got an idea of what a smelly container vs. non-smelly container was like.

First I have to say, I’m impressed with the floor board material. Of the 4 we looked at, 3 were hardwood, and one was hardwood coated with some sort of elastomeric coating. The hardwood ones looked like they would become beautiful with a refinishing.  But then again, I want to put in in-floor radiant heat, so I’d just end up covering the floor up.  In reality, they were deeply scratched in spots, and one had a patch that covered a good 4 feet of the back of the floor (funny, that’s the 4 feet that were going to get a tile underlayment or galvanized sheet drain pan placed over it…). But the container guy didn’t like any of the 4 we looked at, and liked a few that were much higher in the stack. He’s pulling them down for me, and will send me photos so that I can do a first pass sign off.  I’ve also arranged to swing by there the day before the delivery (or the Friday before, as I’m thinking it might make sense to have them delivered on Monday after a day with the tractor up at the property prepping the area.

I also spoke with my neighbor at the property (we had the gravel to cover the current mud delivered today), and we’ve got a first gravel drive laid out to both properties (one was kinda obvious, just fill in the 12″ deep ruts….).  Ours will end in a parking area if there’s enough gravel, or will at least end near the parking area. If we do run out of gravel, we’ll probably wait until container weekend to order more, so that we can maximize the use of the tractor (at $250/day), and will probably need to fill in a few really deep ex-mud pits anyway.

The real trick, in looking at the  spot where we want to place the containers, is going to be getting them in place. The neighbor has used one of the massive 4×4 outdoor forklifts in the past, but renting that and a tractor doesn’t  make a lot of sense, and in order to use it, we’d effectively have to pull out all of the oaks in the area, a non-starter for me.  So we’re going to get a tractor just big enough to drag the containers to their destination, and then the plan is to jack the containers up onto foundations after they’ve been pulled into proper position. More thinking to do.

So, in less than two weeks, we’ll have at least a roof and 4 walls (or two roofs and 8 walls, depending on how you count these things)!  Of course, they still have to be: insulated, doors and windows installed, bathroom built/installed, deck added, cistern placed, rain catchment deployed, and more.  But it’s a start!

Insulation. Spray me baby.

Insulation is clearly something you want in a metal based house, but the question is to a certain extent, what kind.  Well, one thing I just discovered is ceramic paint.  Treehugger doesn’t seem to think it’s real (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/ceramic-insulating-paints.php), and yet there are enough other posts (mostly youtube, such as

or how about Bob Villla
a well known product schill working on a container even!) that seem to imply it _could_ work.

The model is that you paint this stuff on (it’s usually applied with a sprayer, but can be rolled on as well), with the ceramics suspended in an elastomeric paint.  You put it on “thick” (7mil or 7 thousandths of an  inch, human hair scale thickness), and it is supposed to reflect IR, so it blocks radiative heat gain.  It seems like it will still be necessary to add a an expanding foam layer internally, and as the model is to include a standard 4″ wall into which the windows and doors will be mounted (internal to the metal shell) there’s space for that as well.

Since we’re getting two containers, I think it might be really interesting to apply this stuff to one, and not the other. What better experiment could there be?  But at $495 for a pail (5 gallon I believe, you can order it through home depot but the listing is a bit spartan), it’ll be an experiment for later in the year I think.

My only question, if this stuff is so high tech, why is it that the web sites look like they were created in 1990?