The Initial Design

Cabin exterior in Google SketchUp

Cabin exterior in Google SketchUp

I started designing the cabin sometime during the Winter of 2008/2009.  There were a lot of different configurations I was considering – one or two story, three or four containers, and whether or not to cut new openings into the containers.  Most of my initial work was with paper and pencil to quickly try out different layouts.  If something showed promise, I would move to SketchUp to see how it worked there. 

Considered 2 story design

Considered 2 story design

One of the more tempting variations was that of a two story, four container A-frame type of design.  There is a lot going for this design since the containers themselves can be the structural base for a gable roof.  The main difficulty I saw with a two story design was how to properly seal and insulate between the lower and upper floors.  Although it has been done before, in the end I wanted simplicity when it came time to build.

Deciding on the number of containers to use was mainly a function of how much space I really needed.  I have always been intrigued by compact housing, so I tried to be as efficient as possible.  Some will surely think my cabin is too small, but for how I plan to use it, it will be more than adequate for me.  For anyone interested in examples of VERY small houses, I recommend you visit the Tiny House Blog.  My place seems palatial compared to some of those.

Cabin Interior

Cabin interior in Google SketchUp

The three 8’x20′ containers I chose to use gave me about 450 square feet to work with.  Within this space I wanted an entry area, living room, dining table, kitchen, kids bedroom, and bathroom/storage.  The entry area is a necessity, especially when groups of hunters come in from the snow.  The wood stove is close by to dry any wet clothes, and to make it easy to drop off the incoming firewood.  The living room will do double duty as the adult bedroom with a queen sized sofa bed.  Notice that everything revolves around the dining table.  It will be the most used location in the cabin between mealtimes and playing cards at night – one advantage of not having a TV up there.  The “bathroom” will be somewhat limited, and will only have a small sink and a urinal – for anything more serious I already have a nice outhouse with a beautiful view.

7 thoughts on “The Initial Design

  1. Pingback: Secure Shipping Container Cabin « Solar Burrito Blog

  2. rich

    I love your project. Great job. I have a question on your design. Could you have turned the middle container the opposite direction so the window would be on the back wall of the cabin (rather than the middle front) thereby allowing the locking doors to open completely?

    Also what is your finished interior height going to be?

    Thanks for sharing. Again, I love your project.

    1. Steve Post author

      Hi Rich:

      It’s interesting you mention reversing the middle container, as some of my first designs did exactly that. There’s a lot going for that configuration such as fully opening doors and windows on the back (north) side. In the end, the best place for the entry was on the south side which also has all the solar gain and the best view. If my location had been different, I would probably have done what you said.

      I’ve been giving some thought to posting some of my other designs in more detail, and will try to get some of those up in the next few weeks. I’m not up at my cabin much in this weather, so I have a bit more free time on my hands.

      In regards to the interior height, it will be about 93-94 inches. It varies by an inch due to the corrugations in the metal ceiling. Being 6’2″ tall, I did everything possible to maximize the interior height. And in case you’re wondering, the roof is insulated on the outside instead of the inside. If you’re interested you can read about it in my Insulation Troubles post.


  3. blaise

    Great site! Can you share a little more detail about how the containers are attached together? In later posts you mention I-Beams on top and bottom, where are they attached specifically?

    I’m considering a very similar build for a piece of beach land, I’m a little worried about corrosion of the containers over time, but hopefully can find some paint that’ll deal with that.

    Also, have you had any shifting over time? there doesn’t seem to be a lot of give in a welded steel design! 🙂


    1. Steve Post author

      Hi Blaise:

      The containers are welded together at all of the corner fittings, and each bottom corner fitting is welded to a steel plate that is embedded into the concrete foundation. There are two 6″ x 3″ x 1/4″ box beams that run the length of the “seams” between the containers. These beams are stitch welded to the upper side box beams on each container. The purpose of these beams was to reinforce the roof when the adjoining walls were removed. You can see pictures of them in the “Raising the Roof” post or on the Gallery page.

      I don’t think you have to worry too much about corrosion. Shipping containers are made of a steel alloy called Corten that is extremely resistant to rust through. Some people even soda blast their containers and allow them to form a surface rust as the final exterior finish.

      I have not noticed any shifting of my containers, and I really don’t expect to. My foundation footings are 6′ below grade, and the wall thickness is overkill by any measure. Between the massive foundation and unitized containers, I feel pretty good about it. In contrast to the containers, I did have some heaving of the deck this winter. My contractor says he’s going to take care of it, so we shall see.


  4. Howard Lowry

    Really appreciate this blog. I have daydreamed about the idea and had settled on the same configuration. The honesty about all issues is appreciated. Thanx, Howard


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