The Floor Dilemma

I fully intended to replace the original floors in my shipping containers with new plywood, although I was not looking forward to the work involved.  I had read of the chemicals used to treat the plywood floors and the potential health risks to humans, so I really didn’t think I had a choice.  Everything that I had read though focused on Basileum SI-84 as the chemical of choice for plywood in shipping containers.  When my containers arrived, I was surprised to find that they were treated with Radaleum FHP-60 instead of Basileum – not that I knew what Radaleum FHP-60 even was.

Container data plate

Container data plate

To find out what the plywood flooring has been treated with, you need to look at the container data plate.  This should be attached to a door of the container, although they could be missing from containers that have been removed from service.  The plate will have a section called “timber component treatment” with three parts separated by forward slashes.  The first part “IM” stands for immunity, the second is the treatment chemical, and the third is the date of treatment.

The active ingredient in Basileum SI-84 is Phoxim, an organophosphate compound.  Phoxim seems to be commonly used against ants and termites, and can be found under the brand name of Baythion produced by the Bayer Corporation.  The active ingredient in Radaleum FHP-60 is theta-Cypermethrin, a 2nd generation synthetic pyrethroid.  According to Wikipedia, Cypermethrin is found in many household ant and cockroach killers, including Raid and ant chalk.

Both Phoxim and Cypermethrin are considered moderately hazardous (Class II) by the World Health Organization.  What differentiates these two chemicals for my purposes is their vapor pressures.  Phoxim has a vapor pressure of 2.63 mm Hg at 20° C, while Cypermethrin has a virtually nonexistent vapor pressure of only 0.0013 mm Hg at 20° C – more than 2,000 times lower.  Why is the vapor pressure important?  It’s easy to encapsulate the contaminated floors of a shipping container to eliminate physical contact, but it’s very difficult to block their vapors, if present, and their subsequent inhalation.

With the walls removed between my containers, I think it’s necessary to install some kind of subfloor on top of the existing container floor.  While this would provide an excellent physical barrier from the treated plywood, I wanted an additional chemical resistant barrier between me and the Cypermethrin just to be safe.  I just don’t trust that Cypermethrin is the only hazardous ingredient present in the plywood – it is made in China after all.

After a lot of research, I decided to seal the plywood with epoxy.  In theory, the epoxy should be both a physical and vapor barrier to the chemicals.  The epoxy I chose to use was Low V from Progressive Epoxy Polymers.  Progressive is not a big company, but they have a good reputation among the boat building community.  They offer a wide range of high quality epoxies for a very reasonable price.  Low V is a solvent free, 100% solids epoxy that they recommend for penetrating and sealing wood surfaces.  The only reservation they had with me using this, or any other epoxy, is that it might not bond to the wood due to the pesticides or any oil staining.  BTW, there is an absolute wealth of information about epoxies on their website – IF you can navigate through the poor design of their site.

Before applying the epoxy, I chose to solvent wash the floors with 91% isopropyl alcohol.  I did this to remove any surface chemicals or oils that would prevent the epoxy from penetrating and adhering to the wood.  I used about one gallon of isopropyl per container to wash the floors.  Be sure to have plenty of ventilation if you attempt this, as the alcohol vapors can be strong.  You will also need to choose your mop carefully, as two different mops that I tried came apart in the isopropyl in short order.

Dried epoxy on plywood floor

Dried epoxy on plywood floor

I applied two separate coats of epoxy to the plywood using a paint roller on an extension pole.  The first/primer coat was thinned with 25% Xylene to aid in penetrating the plywood floor.  The second coat was applied full strength a week later.  It takes several hours to dry to the touch depending on the temperature, and after the second coat it dries to a very hard, almost wet looking smooth finish.  I doubt anything of significance is going to get through that epoxy.

Additional information:

Cargo Containers – quarantine aspects and procedures

World Health Organization Classification of Pesticides by Hazard

Baythion (Phoxim) MSDS

Cypermethrin MSDS

Cypermethrin Pesticide Fact Sheet

107 thoughts on “The Floor Dilemma

  1. Wallace Hunter

    Steve,

    Thanks SOOO much for the suggestion of this site. I can hardly believe how awesome this has turned out, IMO. Mine was planned to be 4 x 40′ containers and one 40′ for a garage separated from the main building. Now that I have seen yours, I am just SOO excited to break ground. Now if we can just get through the closing on this second property… I will surely give you a heads up once we get started.

    Thanks again!

    Wallace

    Reply
  2. Steve Post author

    Wallace:

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’m really looking forward to see how yours turn out, especially since you have an architect to design it for you. Mine is a bit more practical in appearance, at least on the outside. Please keep in touch as you move forward.

    Regards.

    Steve

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Dave:

      The important difference between the Xylene in the epoxy and the pesticides in the plywood flooring is that the Xylene does not stay in the epoxy. By the time the epoxy has fully cured, there should be no Xylene present in it at all – it will have completely evaporated. The pesticides on the other hand are persistent in the wood and are meant to stay active for many years.

      If you are talking about short term exposure from Xylene during the application of the epoxy, then yes you should be careful. It should only be used with adequate ventilation and/or a proper organic vapor respirator.

      I’m actually more concerned with the longer term emissions of volatile organic compounds from building materials such as OSB, spray foam insulation, and finish flooring than I am from the epoxy coating.

      Regards.

      Steve

      Reply
  3. Todd Jaggers

    Steve,

    I have a question, When you cut out the interior walls did you have and flexing or sagging of the cieling once they were removed? You may have covered this already but I just found your blog today and am still reading through it. Thanks
    Todd

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Todd:

      I spoke of this briefly in my “Foundation Plans” post. The roof is reinforced with two 6″x3″x20′ steel box beams on the seams between the containers. The beams were stitch welded (50% coverage) to the upper box beam of each container. The beams were specified by George Runkle of Runkle Consulting who specializes in container housing engineering. There has been absolutely no sagging of the upper beams with these in place. Please keep in mind that you should always consult a qualified engineer before removing any structural components of a shipping container.

      The floor beams are supported underneath by two concrete piers in the center of the span. Since the floor beams just rested on the piers, it did vibrate some when walked upon initially. Most, but not all, of this was removed when the subfloor was installed. I also clamped the I-beams under the containers together with four sets of metal plates and bolts I had laying around. Both of these things seem to have tied the floors of the containers together fairly well.

      Steve

      Reply
  4. Beth

    Hi

    reading your blog and living vicariously……quick question – did you consider a tile floor over the plywood? Easy to clean etc…..and if you have that crawl space under the house, would the vapors go that direction?
    As you can tell I am neither a rocket scientist or an architect ;)

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Beth:

      Thought about tile, but I really wanted a wood floor for a more cabin like feel. I also got an awesome deal on some good looking laminate. I figure I can change it out if I don’t like it and not be out too much.

      In regards to the vapors, there really won’t be any. The Cypermethrin in my containers floor treatment has virtually no vapor pressure, so it should not give off any significant vapors. With the epoxy and subfloor on top, and the undercoating and spray foam on the bottom, I consider the treatment chemicals to be well encapsulated.

      Hope this helps.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. Becky

        Hi,
        I just read this post about tile. I don’t know too much about shipping container builds but I do know about building materials. I’m pretty sure that there would still continue to be flexing with them being metal. I would think you would have problems with tiles popping due to this.

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Becky:

          Under normal circumstances an intact shipping container should not flex. The corrugated steel walls welded to the box beam frame creates a very stable structure. While it is possible for a container to flex if one or more of the walls are removed, I took care of that problem by welding my containers to steel plates embedded into a 12″ thick concrete foundation wall.

          Steve

          Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Erik:

          My containers came with some sort of black tar like undercoating. I’m sure it’s a type of waterproofing/protection for the plywood during transport. I did spray an extra 1″ of closed cell foam on top of the undercoating underneath the cabin.

          Steve

          Reply
  5. mark

    hello Steve I am building a container house with the exact same containers. we removed the floor sandblasted the floor joists and frame to try to remove the black undercoat. we filled the void after plumbing & electrical underground with concrete covering 4″ above seams welded 2 together. still had strong odor so we went after the caulking. removed and sandblasted residue. sprayed HardSeal on after and still smells. I scraped the interior paint and the same strong odor of mothballs!! I am thinking of sandblasting the entire interior I can’t live with this chemical. I also called Harding Container Manufacturer to get specifics on paint, caulk. The irony is I intended on a Green project. And now it’s chasing down the annoying chemicals.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Hi Mark:

      Sorry to hear of your problems. You say you’re using the exact same containers – are they actually from Cherokee West Enterprises? My containers do not have a mothball odor, but there is a slight chemical odor when I open it up after being away for a couple of weeks. I personally think it’s due to residual out-gassing from the spray foam insulation as it didn’t really smell that way before. It was pretty strong right after they sprayed it, and it has weakened considerably over time, but after the windows are opened it goes away pretty quick.

      If the odor is from the paint, there may be options other than sandblasting. If you are planning to insulate with spray foam (soy based in your case), a couple inches of that may effectively encapsulate the paint and odor. Another possibility would be to encapsulate the paint with a coating specifically designed for that. While I have never tried it, another container builder recommends RUSTGRIP to encapsulate the lead paint that can be found in some shipping containers. In the end, the only guaranteed way to get rid of the smell would probably be sandblasting.

      Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. mark

        Hey Steve, Thanks for your quick reply!! The container manufacture is Harding Container Corp. in Long Beach of course they are manufactured in China. But the nomenclature plate looked at first glance the same, but has same wood treatment. I have 5- 40′ high cubes. I am using a product by SafeCoat called “HardSeal”. Once I can prove that it will seal the off gassing. I will coat all interior walls with this “HardSeal” and then “SuperTherm’ ceramic coating works well for condensation abatement and sound insulation some R value. And then frame steel stud walls and ceilings then insulate and sheetrock interior. Here in Sacramento,Calif. valley we have some pretty hot afternoons and this is when the vapors really get excited.
        Thanks for your input and I will keep you posted and send photos when completed. Hopefully a couple of months. This project is taking all my time away from my blacksmithing.

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Mark:

          You may want to reconsider using SuperTherm or any other similar product. Whenever these have been tested by independent parties they have failed miserably in almost every way. I encourage you to read the following:

          Insulating Paint Test – Cold Climate Housing Research Center

          Insulating Paint Additive Manufacturers Exaggerate % Of Advertised Energy Cost Savings

          When I was researching anti-condensation coatings the only one I found that others had success with was Mascoat Marine Insulating Paint. There’s a great discussion of this paint on the C-Brats boating forum here.

          Steve

          Reply
  6. April

    Hi Steve,
    I linked to your site from Jetson Green. I’m really happy to find your thoughts about shipping container flooring, as it’s hard to get this information anywhere. We’re about to start construction on our container house, and my builder has been assuring me that we can seal the floors, and I love the look, but I’ve been just a little nervous. I’m going to keep reading here…thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Weighing the Pros and Cons « Rock n Roll Problems

  8. Teresa

    Thank you for this site!! I bought a 40ft hi cube last week. The poor container has several dents and rust (a few spots that are bahd) and, unfortunately, the basileum treated floor. In considering what to do with this floor, I did think about cutting the metal roof off then taking the wood floor out and turning the container upside down. I would weld the metal to the roof (or do something else for a roof/ceiling) and then take the salvaged wood flooring to make boxes with that would mount on top of the steel rafters (that were previously under the floor). I would make the boxes as deep as I had wood and then fill them up with dirt. My thoughts are that it would supply cheap insulation, the wood would not end up in the dump nor would I be inhaling any fumes from it. The floor on my container is designed to hold 67,000 lbs soooo Im sure it could hold the dirt if turned upside down. Of course I would have to put in a floor that I could actually use. IF I go this route, would I be inhaling vapors still? Do they go down or up or both?

    My brother (who is less “green” thinking then I, but cheap too) is saying I could just pressure wash the floor, then paint it, then put linoleum over it……. what do you think about this approach or putting tile or cement over it? Do you think this might “encase” the fumes?

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Hi Teresa:

      Whatever you do, don’t cut the metal roof off as this will affect the structural integrity of the container. Turning it upside down will also not do anything to reduce the vapors from the treated plywood. Shipping containers are also not designed structurally to have dirt placed on the top or sides. If you really want to go this route, you will need to work with an engineer to make sure it’s done safely.

      Paint, linoleum, tile, and even cement to some degree, are not impermeable to organic vapors. The only thing that comes close, at least that’s easily applied, is a high quality epoxy. In my opinion you have two options, replace the floor with new wood or encapsulate the existing floor with epoxy. Replacing the wood floor is always the best option, but it is difficult and expensive. Epoxy encapsulation, for my purposes at least, was an easy and cost effective that I feel is safe.

      If you do choose to use epoxy, your used container will probably take a little more effort to get it right. Epoxy does not like to adhere to oil soaked wood, so pressure washing followed by a solvent wash may be necessary. Even after that I would still test it first on a couple of the dirtiest spots. My “new” floors even had a few small spots that didn’t take too well – probably a few drops of oil from a forklift. If the epoxy won’t adhere to those you may be forced to replace the wood.

      Best of luck with your project.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. roy

        great job and informative site you have here,many thanx.
        as far as epoxy goes,i read a bit about epoxy back when i was reading all i could find about boat buildng. that said. maybe your epoxy didnt adhere well because you waited 1 week between coats. waiting is fine,provided you wash amine blush(if any) with green scrubby,and sand with a fairly coarse sandpaper. you need to sand to give the second(or more) coat a mechanical bond. youll not get a chemical bond(strongest) waiting much longer than 24 hrs. to recoat. you will i think get some chemical bond,but mostly youll get strength(and propper cure) washing and sanding between coats(longer than 24hrs.
        always better,though not always possible, put your coats on a few hrs apart. good luck everyone, R

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Roy:

          I’m not sure where you got the idea that my epoxy did not adhere well, as I’ve had absolutely no problems with it. While I agree that you will get the best bond applying a second coat within 24 hours, I consulted with Progressive on my application interval and they said it would not be a problem. The low temperatures that time of year precluded full curing in a single day and had to wait until I returned the next weekend.

          Steve

          Reply
  9. Teresa

    Thank you Steve! Im leaning towards replacing the floor. It is my understanding too that the screws are especially difficult to remove. Im thinking maybe of offering the wood for free on craigslist or something (disclosing they are treated with basileum) to anyone who will come remove them. I really would like to see what kind of condition the steel underneath is in anyway.

    Thank you again!

    Reply
  10. Teresa

    One more thought on this, my brother suggest 1/2 dozen layers or so of 6ml plastic that I have laying around here combined with either the epoxy or a high grade rubber paint (both of which I already have around here) and then laying down new untreated ply over the top of everything…… would this block the fumes? This container is being set up for a shop and storage, but I would like to make it easy to convert for living purposes…….

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Teresa:

      Plastic sheets, rubber paint, and plywood are all permeable to organic vapors. The only materials I would trust to completely block organic vapors are sheet metal, glass, and certain epoxies. The only way to be completely safe would be to remove the plywood. An epoxy coating is even a compromise that could allow a small amount of vapors to pass through in certain circumstances. It is a compromise that I, although probably not others, am willing to live with, although much of my decision was based on the specific chemicals my floor was treated with. I would never trust any of your brothers suggestions though.

      Hope this helps.

      Steve

      Reply
  11. Teresa

    Thanks Steve! I guess “vapor barriers” are only for water lol It doesnt seem there is really any such thing as a “vapor” barrier. Oh well, I will just replace the wood. Thank you for all you do and your wonderful site!!

    Reply
  12. zelig

    hey guys i am in the process of building container welding shop/house 2 40′s w/ doors on both ends stacked on 2 standard 40 hc’s spread 20′ apart more on that later.i am also considering the floor delima so i just like 5 minutes ago took my beloved bosch 18v impact driver put biggest phillips bit i had in it and started to easily remove the screws that hold down the floor, the hc are new and upper 40′s very clean wow that was an easy decision the floor goes! just had an idea remove floor put down pan deck/corrugated metal lay out pex tubing pour concrete radiant heating, stain to liking what yall think

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Zelig:

      I think a concrete floor with radiant heating would work well for a full time residence. There are examples of this on the net, but I can’t find the links right now.

      Please send some pics my way when you get started.

      Steve.

      Reply
    2. Rebecca

      This is my plan as well! I was hoping to find advice here.
      My thought: Clean with alcohol, epoxy the floor, fir out for about 1/4″ of a cement floor, lay out the radiant grid, then pour the self-leveling concrete.
      Do any of you think this would work?
      Would the radiant heat affect the epoxy and ‘stir’ anything up?

      Thanks in advance!

      Reply
  13. Barry

    Thank You for a great website. I have a 20 container that had a Basileum floor. I have removed the floor and am going to replace with plywood flooring. The interior has apparently been touched up with some type of spray paint. I have pressure washed inside twice with 2700 psi. I was wondering if the interior paint has or will be a problem after being exposed to the vapors from the old floor. Can you recommend a coating that would seal it, if necessary, such as Zinsser BIN shellac base primer sealer or another. The plan was to use it as an office space with paper and book storage.
    Sincerely,
    Barry

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Barry:

      I doubt there would be any problems with the paint being exposed to the Basileum vapors, especially after being pressure washed twice. The larger issue is what the paint itself might contain. It’s possible that the original paint could contain heavy metals such as lead or cadmium. As I mentioned in an earlier reply in this post, RUSTGRIP has been recommended by other builders as an encapsulating paint.

      Personally, I’m not too worried about lead or other metals in my paint. As long as the paint is in good condition and not peeling, there’s very little harm it can cause. I’m old enough that I grew up with lead paint all around me – I just didn’t eat any of it. I would definitely not recommend sanding it without a respirator on, but otherwise there’s just no obvious route for exposure. All of my interior container metal will be covered with either spray foam insulation or a coat of regular paint.

      Steve

      Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Teresa:

      After watching what you went through, I’m glad I didn’t try to remove my floors. That was a lot of work, but it was probably the right thing to do with an old shipping container like yours. Good luck with the rest of your project, and do send some more pics and movies of your progress.

      Steve

      Reply
  14. Teresa

    LOL, that’s why I really didnt want to have to take the floor out! Now Im having to pop the little circles of wood off (which is a challenge in itself) and grind down the bolts, just so I can do the rust work on the C channels of the floor! LOTS of prep work to do one of these! There is a lot to be said about spending a couple extra grand and getting a newer one with flooring like yours IF they can be found! But for an older one (mine is 2003), this is real peace of mind and soul. I plan on tipping it over to check out the underside for rust as well….. eventually. The tar on the backside of the wood we removed was in tact real well though! I expect the underside to still be in good condition except where the forklifts engaged……. we shall see!

    Reply
  15. Dave

    Steve,
    Thanks for a great website. If I’m going to remove the floors, would you recommend a newer container? Newer containers would seem to have more toxicity (i.e floors pesticides) than an older model- older models having had more time to off -gas and evaporate, but would be a better solution as the screws holding the floors in place wouldn’t be rusty and difficult. After reading about all the toxicity, I am really beginning to second guess the idea of using these structures.
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Dave:

      I would actually be more inclined to remove the floors from an older container. An older container would not only be treated with it’s original chemicals, but could also have had many other unknown, and potentially more hazardous, chemicals stored in it during it’s life here in the US. I knew exactly what my new container floors were treated with, and felt confident that I could safely encapsulate them. It’s also possible that newer containers have less toxic treatment chemicals applied to the floors – at least it seems that way with my containers.

      Not all treatment chemicals “off-gas” either. When you think about it from the manufacturers perspective, you don’t want the chemicals to evaporate away and leave the wood unprotected. The theta-Cypermethrin in my floors has virtually no vapor pressure, and in theory I probably only needed a physical barrier for protection – although I feel more comfortable having an epoxy vapor barrier too.

      Please keep in mind that I made these choices for a hunting cabin that will be inhabited maybe 20-30 days per year. If this was going to be my permanent residence, that I would also have to sell someday, I would probably have replaced the flooring. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in regards to the flooring, it’s a decision each person needs to make based on their own comfort level with the chemicals.

      Regards.

      Steve

      Reply
  16. Jason Rioux

    Hi Steve, the containers (2012 one-trippers) I am planning to buy for my project have been treated with Tailileum 400 (Imidacloprid) and based on my research seems to have a super low vapor pressure of .0000001 mm Hg at 20ºC, which according to the following link, says that this insecticide is non-volatile.

    http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/emon/pubs/fatememo/imid.pdf

    So I’m thinking I can skip the Epoxy step altogether, and proceed with my SM insulation and new flooring on top of it. Thoughts?

    Jason

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Jason:

      Glad to see you did your homework – I wish more people would do the same. As to whether or not you should encapsulate your plywood floors with epoxy, that’s a decision you’ll need to make yourself.

      As I mentioned in my original post, I don’t trust that the chemicals listed on the container are the only ones present in the plywood. Chinese manufacturing has a bad reputation when it comes to truth in labeling. Two of the most well known scandals were their drywall, and milk and infant formula adulterated with melamine.

      The most likely hazardous ingredient, aside from any pesticides, would probably be formaldehyde. This is present in many plywood glues, even in the United States. Formaldehyde is considered a potential carcinogen and has a fairly high vapor pressure. I’m not personally worried about the small amounts of formaldehyde in plywood, but I know a lot of other people are.

      If it was my container, I would probably still epoxy the floor. It doesn’t take that much time and it’s relatively inexpensive – about $100 or so per container.

      Hope this helps.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. matthew g

        $100? Low V 1.5 gal sells for $138, and would you need 2? The wevsite says it covers 150-75sq/ft. Add in shipping and the cost I get is $350. Am I missing something?

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Matthew:

          I just checked my receipts and had purchased 3.5 gallons of epoxy from them back in 2010 for $268, which included shipping. The 3.5 gallons easily coated my three 20 foot shipping containers with two coats – I still have about a pint left over. The other materials (i.e. alcohol, Xylene, mops, buckets, etc.) added another $90 or so to the total cost. So, the total cost was between $90-$120 per container ( I stated $100 per container in the comment you reference) depending on how you want to attribute the costs.

          Steve

          Reply
  17. Jeff

    The chemical listed on my plate is MEGANUIM. Any data you have on this stuff would be appreciated. I am just about to start my first mod project on a container I just bought. Your site is very helpful, thank you.

    JH

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Jeff:

      The active ingredient in Meganium 2000 ST is Chlorfenapyr, an insecticide/miticide commonly known as Pylon Miticide. The two Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) I found for it listed the vapor pressure as either not applicable (N/A) or not determined (N/D). A document from the state of New York stated that the vapor pressure was less than 1×10-7 mm Hg at 25C – that’s significantly less than the vapor pressure of the Cypermethrin used in my containers. Based on that, I would say that Meganium could be a prime candidate for epoxy encapsulation.

      Keep in mind that Chlorfenapyr, the treatment chemical, is not the only chemical present in the plywood. Most plywoods contain formaldehyde, and possibly other volatile chemicals, in the glues that are used. This is ultimately a decision that you’ll need to make yourself based on your comfort level with these chemicals.

      Here’s a few links you may want to read:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorfenapyr
      http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC35810
      http://greenhouse.ucdavis.edu/pest/pmsds/Pylon.pdf
      http://www.fluoridealert.org/pesticides/msds/chlorfenapyr.intrepid.360sc.pdf
      http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/insect-mite/cadusafos-cyromazine/chlorfenapyr/chlorf1202.pdf

      Regards.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. Jeff

        Thanks very much for the information ,

        Is Low V still your epoxy of choice? I live near a West Marine, is there anything in their catalog you can recommend?

        Thanks again for your insight, very helpful.

        -JH

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Jeff:

          I can only recommend the Low V epoxy at this time. It was the most appropriate epoxy I could find when doing my initial research. I’m sure there are others out there, but I can’t spend the time necessary to research another one. Progressive Epoxy Polymers is highly regarded in the boat building community, and was also very helpful in my non-traditional use of their epoxy.

          Steve

          Reply
  18. Al C

    Hi Steve,

    Fascinating site! I discovered it while looking for information on Meganium 2000.

    I have a 20ft High Cube container that I am in the process of converting to an Office. On Saturday I discovered that the plywood floor is treated with Meganium 2000, which discolours to dark brown when wet… While mopping up I got some of the water on my hands and it smelled of weedkiller or something similar, so I freaked out and started trying to learn about the toxicity of this chemical. Actually, there is very little. Of course, it’s toxic to insects, so can’t be good…

    I’m planning to install a false floor anyway, and will probably paint the existing one first. Would you consider a pigmented sealer adequate?

    I also have a query regarding your comments above:

    A document from the state of New York stated that the vapor pressure was less than 1×10-7 mm Hg at 25C – that’s significantly less than the vapor pressure of the Cypermethrin used in my containers. Based on that, I would say that Meganium could be a prime candidate for epoxy encapsulation.

    If I understand vapour pressure correctly, lower is better. If something has zero vapour pressure, it doesn’t evaporate (or sublime) at all, so would pose no risk of contamination of the air near it. Isn’t 1×10-7 mm Hg at 25C an extremely low vapour pressure – like 1 / 10,000,000th of a mm of Hg? On that basis, it seems to hardly evaporate at all, so I don’t understand why you say it might be a candidate for encapsulation. Could you elaborate for me, please?

    I’m planning to create a positive air pressure inside my container (using 12V DC computer fans), which would tend to push any vapours out anyway, but it seems to me that Meganium is preferable to Cypermethrin, on the basis of vapour pressure alone. Would you agree?

    Cheers,
    Al

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Hi Al:

      It’s difficult to claim that one chemical is “better” than another based on vapor pressure alone. For example, one chemical might have a higher toxicity to humans which would negate its lower vapor pressure. Some individuals might also be more sensitive to certain chemicals than others. In general though, I would rather be dealing with a low vapor pressure chemical than the opposite.

      As far as epoxy encapsulation goes, I’m careful not to state absolutes with other chemical treatments that I’m not familiar with. I have no way of knowing if the active ingredient or carrier in Meganium 2000 would interfere with the adhesion of the epoxy to the wood. I would recommend testing a small area first to be sure the epoxy will adhere.

      In regards to using a pigmented sealer for encapsulation, I’ll have to say I’m not familiar enough with those to make a recommendation. For my own peace of mind, I would not be comfortable with anything other than a good epoxy. There’s nothing better that I know of, and the cost is very reasonable – especially compared to removing the floors.

      Best of luck with your project.

      Steve

      Reply
  19. Christina

    Hi Steve,

    My husband and I are building a shipping container home in Uruguay and your posts have certainly helped us out. I’ve enjoyed reading the posts, as well as the comments. I’d like to get your opinion on an issue we’re having.

    We’re building a home out of two 20′ and two 40′ containers. The 20′ containers are parallel and spaced 9m apart. The 40′ containers are stacked perpendicular across the top. The space created between the 20′ containers (and underneath the 40′ containers) will become a large living room area (the openings will be enclosed with walls and windows). My question is in regard to the underside of the 40′ containers which will become the ceiling of the living room. We have decided to keep the original plywood floors (which have been treated with Tailileum 400) due to the low vapor pressure (and coat with epoxy). I’ve read that the underside has been covered with a bitumen wax. We’d like to leave the “ceiling” exposed and paint over the bitumen wax…what do you think? I’ve read that using an aluminum primer would allow the subsequent coats of paint to adhere.

    Thanks for your help!

    Greetings from Uruguay

    Christina

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Christina:

      While I have not tried to paint the underside of my containers, I think you may have trouble getting it to stick. The two things I have tried on the underside are spray foam insulation and a plastic adhesive. The spray foam has held up very well and when I have had to remove small patches of it over the years it has always been well adhered. The plastic adhesive on the other hand did not adhere at all. I had to scrape away the undercoating to expose the metal underneath before what I was attaching would stay glued.

      Your other issue will be successfully encapsulating any chemicals in the plywood. Epoxy on the upper surface of the treated plywood floors may work well, but what are you going to do for the underside. I wouldn’t trust the bitumen wax, if that’s what it is, to prevent any volatile chemicals from escaping into your living space. I also wouldn’t trust the bitumen wax to not have any hazardous components of its own.

      Since epoxy probably wouldn’t adhere to the lower surface of the treated plywood floors, I would replace the existing floors with new plywood.

      Regards.

      Steve

      Reply
  20. Alaska Pete

    Hi Steve. Thank you so much for sharing all you have learned about building with conexes. I’m devouring your site right now, including your most recent post about the many cons of building with containers. My situation is I live with my wife and 2 kids in a small village in western AK called Kasigluk. This is a roadless community – all travel is by plane, boat, or snowmachine. My wife and I are teachers. I own 3 conexes right now, and this summer I insulated 2 of them with spray foam on the interior walls and ceiling, and hooked those 2 up to our local utility for power as well. 2 of them are largely for storage, and the 3rd I keep our little truck in. I wanted a heated, secure space for the truck so its easier to start and so the windows don’t get busted out by bored kids. I might be in there for a couple of hours occasionally working on something in winter, but I would never sleep in there or spend extended time so I’m not super worried about fumes. Also at this point the door has to be open for me to be inside, so there is a natural vent that will be a problem when its -30 and blowing outside but that is another issue.

    I have not yet done anything about insulating the floor. I’ve heard I should insulate with spray foam beneath the container. That isn’t much of an option for me as heavy equipment is almost nonexistent here. I was thinking of putting down 2x4s and putting spray foam between them and then topping with plywood. From what I read in several of the comments above (such as “The only materials I would trust to completely block organic vapors are sheet metal, glass, and certain epoxies.”), that will NOT stop any nasty gases from leaking out/around in the air. Is that correct? If so then I’ll probably just put down plywood over a vapor barrier and fiberglass batt insulation that I got a ton of recently (bought the leftovers from a big project that recently finished work here) on top of the original floor. Would this create a major condensation problem on the floor? Thanks for any help you can give Steve. -pete

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Pete:

      You are correct in that spray foam on top of the plywood would not be a vapor barrier for any organic vapors, although depending on the treatment chemicals this may or may not be a problem. I don’t think I would want to use fiberglass instead of spray foam though. The 1.5″ of marine plywood with its exterior coating would probably act as a vapor barrier and not let any moisture escape if it got through your vapor barrier. Moisture always needs a way out in case it gets trapped.

      I still think it’s possible to spray foam underneath without any heavy equipment. Empty containers aren’t that heavy and can usually be jacked up, one end at a time, pretty easily. From there you can add some railroad ties underneath to provide the height for the spray foamer to get underneath.

      Steve

      Reply
  21. Pingback: Toxicity | Colleen Lashuk architecte

  22. Therese

    Hi Steve. This has been some awesome information! Thanks for taking the time to blog and reply to questions. I’m thinking of using a couple 40′ aluminum containers for a home in Belize (sub-tropical and high very humid) and I”m wondering if those would have the same problem with chemicals, etc. If it’s an old refrigerated container would there be a problem cutting windows, etc? and would I still need the addition of structural beams when cutting away the walls to make it one space?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  23. Mizz Tiger

    Hi Steve, thanks for your great blog and all the information.

    Floor and Isolation chemicals:

    I am thinking of building a container home for my friends living in the Philippines, but I am very conserned about the chemicals in the floor, and possibly in the foam insulation.

    Is it difficult to totally remove the existing floor? How much cleaning does one need to do after removing the exisiting floor?

    I am thinking of isolating the cointainer both inside and outside, to keep the warm sun away. I have seen pictures of how some use wood outside to cover the container. I have also seen many talk about some magic foam that airs up and apparently fills all holes and is good isolation. How about the chemicals in these Foam Spray Isolation products?

    In order to save inside space I am thinking if its ok to use this Foam Isolation outside insted? Where I use the foam spray, then cover it with thick wood pannels, outside the container.

    What are your thoughs on floor and foam spray chemicals? And outside isolation?

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Yes, it’s difficult to remove a container floor. Watch the following video and decide for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpptQFmoXfE

      I’m not sure what you mean by isolating the container, but I think it would be wise to shade the container as much as possible to reduce heat from the sun. Could the “magic foam” you speak of be closed cell spray foam insulation? If so, it’s the best option for insulating shipping containers in my opinion. I have always wondered though why someone would insulate the outside of a container. The low maintenance Corten steel siding is a great benefit, so why would you cover it in higher maintenance wood siding.

      In regards to the chemicals from the flooring and spray foam, I simply encapsulated my floors with epoxy and let the cabin air out for a few weeks after the spray foaming. If you need to move in right away, there are some soy based spray foams without the nasty chemicals but they do cost more.

      Steve

      Reply
  24. Tony Warrilow

    Hi Steve,

    I to thank you for a clear and informative site.

    I have two 20ft hi cubes one of which will be a semi permanent home. Both have the same floor treatment as yours.

    My question is that in the fullness of time (five years) are you happy with your choice in floor treatment. If so I will do the same albeit with Australian suppliers.

    Kind regards.

    Tony

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Hi Tony:

      I’d have to say that I am happy with my choice of floor treatment, although I have absolutely no evidence to back up that feeling. Since the epoxy is covered by 1/2″ foam insulation, 1/2″ OSB, and various types of finish flooring, I haven’t been able to check on its structural integrity. I also have no idea whether it’s ever really done the job it was supposed to. Without some sort of testing procedure, I’ll just have to rely on my original faith in the product and methodology I chose.

      In the end I’m not too worried about it. The treatment chemicals in mine had such a low vapor pressure that it may not have mattered anyway. The epoxy is probably good insurance in case something is in the wood that I don’t know about.

      Steve

      Reply
  25. SteveO

    I am in the early stages of building a 20′ container home that will serve as my house as I build a larger structure, then function as a guest home.

    I used West System 105 marine epoxy with their 205 hardener and it worked perfectly. I had no issues with it not adhering. Now that it has been applied, I’m going to screw 2×4 joists (4-inch dimension vertical) to the container floor, insulate between the joists with closed-cell spray foam, then screw my plywood subfloor on top of the joists. The epoxy sealer may have been overkill in my case as the spray foam provides an effective vapor barrier. But it’s relatively cheap insurance against potentially carcinogenic vapors.

    Thanks so much for your advice! And thanks to everyone who commented above. It was very informative in ultimately deciding how to proceed. Cheers,

    Steve

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      SteveO:

      I appreciate the info. It seems that the West System epoxies are more readily available, so that should be good news to others who want to do this. Are you sure you need to spray foam insulate the floor? Being that the floor is nearly 1.5″ plywood I don’t think you would have any condensation problems like you would with the metal walls. If I was going to do what you are planning, I would probably reduce the height of the “joists” to 2″ and lay down 2″ extruded polystyrene foam panels.

      Good luck with your project.

      Steve

      Reply
  26. Austin

    Steve!
    First and foremost I want to thank you for the time and worry saved from you educating me on this! I’m just beginning my tiny container house and plan to move in early fall 2015. My plan is to sand stain and seal the floors for an industrial look, do you have any issues I will have staining the wood before epoxy? I have also herd of using a polyurethane.. What are your thoughts on that? I really want more of a matte finish so my research will continue on how to achieve that unless you have suggestions! Again Thank You for this education, you’re the Man!
    -Austin

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Austin:

      You bring up an interesting question. If I was going to stain the wood, I would probably try and use a water or alcohol based stain. When I consulted with Progressive Epoxy Polymers, their only concern was that the epoxy might not adhere well to wood that had any oil on/in it. I’m not sure if the oils in stain would behave the same way, but I wouldn’t want to take the chance.

      As for using polyurethane instead of epoxy, I wouldn’t do it. Polyurethane will NOT create a vapor barrier. Of all places to scrimp on a container build, this is not one of them. If you want a matte finish, I would talk to Progressive Epoxy Polymers. I know they have some matte finish epoxies, but I’m not sure they have it in the type that I used.

      Hope this helps.

      Steve

      Reply
  27. Kev

    Great article Steve!

    How much money and time did you spend on the whole process of coating the floor? I’m thinking of building a container apartment and I’m wondering what $$ numbers I will be looking at doing it on a larger scale.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Kev:

      The total cost of the materials was about $360 for all three container floors. This included 3 gallons of Isopropyl alcohol, 1 gallon of Xylene, 3.5 gallons of epoxy, and various mops, paint rollers, trays, and buckets. Keep in mind that all of the mops, rollers, etc. are throwaways when doing this. There’s no way to get the epoxy out of the rollers, and you definitely would not want to reuse a mop that washed a container floor.

      I also figure it took about 6 hours of my time to do this, excluding all the time it took to do the research and procure the materials.

      Hope this helps.

      Steve

      Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Sammy:

      Yes, there are several examples of containers with poured concrete floors on the internet. Do keep in mind though that concrete is not a vapor barrier to any volatile organic compounds that may be present in the plywood floors.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. Maggie

        Thoughts on if a concrete sealant could serve as a vapor barrier? So the concrete would be poured directly on the floor, and then vapor barrier on top of that?

        Reply
  28. Adam nooyen

    Hi,
    I am greatfull for all the information above. Thankyou all.

    My family recently had a devestating fire to our winery/restaurant business in New Zealand. I am getting things running g again and converting 2 x 40ft containers into a commercial kitchen.

    My containers are graded A and contain basileum-84 treated floors. I am considering lining the floor with a 3-4mm laminate sheet, the type used for applying vinyl too. Then vinyl over the top, welded joins and silicon edges. Would this suffice. The kitchen will be used for 6 months, when the kitchen equip is removed the containers will be used for either storage or possibly an indoor play Area for kids for a few hours on a Sunday. Your thoughts or any recommendations here are appreciated. Kind regards adam

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Adam:

      Unfortunately what you suggest would not be sufficient. The only two materials I completely trust as a vapor barrier against potentially toxic chemicals are glass and steel. As these two materials would be both unworkable and cost prohibitive, I chose epoxy as a compromise. Keep in mind that my cabin is only occupied occasionally, and typically only by adults. If I was setting up a container to be used as a kids play room, I would not only replace the plywood floors, but possibly also sandblast the paint from the container interiors.

      Regards.

      Steve

      Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Shaun:

      I found that a cellulose type mop head worked best. I’m sure any type of natural fiber material would also work. The first synthetic foam head that I tried began to fail within a few minutes.

      Steve

      Reply
  29. Matt g

    What do you think of covering the floor with 6 mil plastic instead of epoxy? The edges would be sealed under 2x4s and spray foam and on top would be ridged foam and plywood.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Matt:

      Unfortunately 6 mil plastic is not a vapor barrier for organic chemicals. The best vapor barriers would be plate steel and glass. Even epoxy is a compromise, but it’s worlds ahead of sheet plastic. In the big picture, epoxy coating a floor is easy and relatively inexpensive, and it’s a lot easier than replacing the plywood floors.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. Matt g

        I asked this question above, but it may fit here as well. Has the price of the epoxy gone up since you purchased it? Right now its $138 for 1.5 gal

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Matt:

          It must have as I paid $92 per 1.5 gallon container back in 2010. It’s possible the chemical feedstocks for epoxy have increased as well.

          Steve

          Reply
          1. Steve Post author

            Yes, 1.5 gallons should be enough. And don’t forget the Isopropyl alcohol wash and to thin the first coat with 25% Xylene to improve penetration into the wood.

  30. Zoe

    Hi there

    Just come across your blog, and very worried about the chemicals in the floor of the container that we plan to live in with our 6 year old son.

    I understand your solution re epoxy and will likely go down this route. But I wondered about the underside of the wood. Surely this will give off the same gasses into the sealed box that is the container, and you can’t coat the underside only the top??

    Zoe

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Zoe:

      Yours is a difficult situation, and I’m not sure I would feel comfortable with using epoxy. I chose to encapsulate with epoxy because I was building a part time cabin and not a full time residence. I also knew I wouldn’t have any young children around that could be more sensitive to the long term effects of different chemicals. I know I have mentioned it before, if I was building a full time home out of containers I would replace the floors. I would also give strong consideration to sandblasting the paint out of the interiors just to be safe.

      In regards to the underside, I’m not sure how this would be a problem – as long as the underside was exposed to the outside. If however you are building a living space under the containers, such as a basement or another container, you would also need to replace the floors.

      Steve

      Reply
  31. Eric McClelland

    Hi Steve,
    I’m also super grateful to have come across this page and your willingness to answer questions. So what do you think about aluminum as a vapor barrier? I’ve come across a company that sells rolls of kraft paper with aluminum adhered to both sides. They say they sell to chemically sensitive individuals for sealing vapors of insulation and other building materials. Do you think that could work? I’d imagine stapling it down and taping over staples and seams with aluminum tape. then a proper insulated floor on top of that. Obviously I’ll be screwing down through the barrier in several places, but that would not differ if I epoxied.
    Eric

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Eric:

      Aluminum would be a fantastic barrier, IF it could be fused to the underlying surface. Imagine a floating sheet of aluminum on top of your floor with just a small space of air underneath it. Vapor will release from the floor and then accumulate in that small air space. The smallest break in that sheet, lets say from screw hole or even around the perimeter, would allow those vapors to continually leak into the airspace.

      The strength of epoxy is that it is fused to the the entire surface of the wood. So, while a screw hole may allow some evaporation from that small section of the wood, all the other surface area of the wood is still locked in. Short of replacing the floor with new plywood, everything else is a compromise. The question then becomes, what level of compromise are you comfortable with?

      Steve

      Reply
  32. Tim Stark

    Steve,
    As many others have rightly said, your site and, even more, your neighborly willingness to keep up this ongoing discussion are a tremendously helpful resource. Thank you.

    I’ve got a box with the same chemical as yours in my floor. On the verge of pulling the trigger on low-v, I had the thought of maybe using “rhino-liner” (truck bed coating) for my floor as a a vapor block. Looks like I could do all 40 ft of my container floor for approximately the same amount (prob’ly a little less) as the current low-v pricing would involve. Any thoughts on this possible alternative?

    Best regards,
    Tim

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Tim:

      I tried to find some information on the permeability of truck bed coatings but didn’t have any luck. This would probably be a question best asked of Rhino Linings. I do see that they sell some epoxy coatings that could possibly work, but I would need to do some research before I would trust them.

      The safest bet is to just replace the existing floor with new plywood, although that is expensive and time consuming. The next best option is encapsulation with a material that is impermeable to organic vapors. Two of the best materials for this are metal and glass, although they would be expensive and extremely difficult to use. Which then bring us to epoxy as a reasonable compromise. It’s relatively low cost and ease of application makes it a good choice in my opinion. As always, you need to make your choice based on your comfort level with the chemicals involved.

      Steve

      Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          Yes I did. First I added a subfloor consisting of 1/2″ extruded polystyrene foam board and 1/2″ OSB sheathing. On top of that I installed laminate flooring.

          Reply
  33. Ryan Wiktor

    Steve,

    Thanks for posting all this info. I’ve been pouring over this site for 3 months now. I may bought my first 40′ high cube last week and begin work on it in April in Texas. My wife and 8 year old daughter will be living in it till I retire from the Air Force possibly next year depending on the job market. Planning on future expansion with 4 or 5 more later down the road.

    My question is deals with the floor. My container uses the SI-84 and I was going to use the same epoxy you did till I came across this new product from Rustoleum called Rocksolid.

    http://www.rustoleum.com/product-catalog/consumer-brands/rocksolid/garage-floor-kits

    From what I understand, they were bought out by rustoleum. Particularly, the metallic options appeal to me as they claim it’s 20 stronger than epoxy and looks a ton better. Curious to know what your thoughts are.

    Thanks,
    Ryan

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Ryan:

      It seems as if the Rocksolid product is designed for concrete floors. You would need to talk to Rustoleum to see if they recommend their product for wood floors, and if it also acts as a vapor barrier for volatile organic compounds. The reason I was so comfortable using Low V from Progressive Epoxy Polymers is that they specifically design many of their products to work with wood in the boat building industry. That is one of the toughest environments for an epoxy, being constantly exposed to water and flexing of the wood surfaces.

      This being said, if I was going to live in a container home full time, especially with an 8 year old child, I would replace the flooring with new and safer wood. I would probably even go through the trouble of sandblasting out the internal paint just to be sure. Children are much more susceptible to the effects of toxins than adults, especially ones they would be exposed to on a continual basis.

      Steve

      Reply
  34. Addie Turner

    Thanks for this article. It is one I will show my customers, as so many want to convert new & used containers into living and work spaces. I just shared this with someone today. Really easy to understand & well written.

    With your permission, may I share this on my own blog? I think it will help a lot of people.

    Best regards,

    Addie Turner

    Reply
  35. Pingback: Sealing the floor – brackencreek

  36. Rob

    Thank you for your Blog. I have been involved in two projects. These were construction workshop and office projects. My next one will be for a small off the gird cabin which I can’t get power to.

    The first was a 40 foot box with was divided in half with the one side accessed by the double doors and the other by a walk through door. The walls were framed, insulated and covered with half inch plywood and then painted. The floor was sealed using LineX which is similar to Rhino lining. The spray liner did not just cover he floor but was brought up six inches from the floor as well. We had absolutely no chemical smells. Knowing what I know now I do not thing I would use the lining because it is not vapor safe and the cost is extensive, about $1,600.

    The second project was mine completely. I put down Tyvex barrier and put one inch tongue and grove
    plywood over the floor. I know it was overkill but I was possibly looking at storing a tractor inside and didn’t want to worry about the floor. If I were to do it again I would get a aluminium sandwiched radiant insulation barrier in place of the Tyvex. This type of material would give me and excellent vapor barrier. Even though it is sold as a insulator sandwiched between plywood it needs open space to be an effective insulator. I would go with a thinner plywood and then seal it with epoxy like yours. The sub floor would allow the epoxy to adhere with no problems. The walls were framed out and insulated with two inch foam insulation on the sides and four inch on top. The walls were covered with a good quality half inch plywood. Again 20/20 hindsight I would have used the same radiant barrier on the side. The reason why I like the radiant barrier is I run around with, literally, some rocket scientists who introduced me to the material which they use in satellites.

    A couple big things I learned. When we got the boxes they were brown. The temperature inside would get to way over a 100 degrees. I painted the exterior a beige and the heat dropped dramatically. I eventually painted the roof with the thick trailer paint which acts as an insulator as well as for protection. This dropped the temperature even more. By the time we insulated the box it could be 100 +degrees outside and the inside of the box would not get over 75-80 degrees. Make sure you insulate!!!

    When I went to frame out the box I went to the local home improvement store and got the wood. It was put inside to prevent theft. When I came back a couple days later and opened the box it looked like someone had sprayed a water hose inside. The moisture came off the wood and this would happen to a limited amount with the kiln dried wood that I have seen. My solution, was to mop the walls, ceiling and floor. I then left the box open and let the wood dry stacked inside for about two weeks. When I put it up there was not moisture problem after that. Remember these boxes are designed to keep moisture out so they do a good job of keeping it in too.

    Thanks again for the Blog.

    Reply
  37. Jose

    Dear Steve. First at all I want to thank you for this ammaizing blog. It has been very usefull for my family, we are all grateful.

    However sometimes, as in this post, you have got scary me!. I have been thinking on what to do with my Basileum threatment since 3 weeks… Remove the floor is really expensive but I do not want any hazard for my family. It will be very apreciated if you could give me your opinion about two options:

    1) You said that the metal could work as a good vapour barrier. It will be a good solution to place a thin metal plate over the playwood and seal the joints with epoxy?

    2) I can not find anywhere. Do you know if a polyester resin could stop the vapours as an epoxy did?. In my country is easyer and cheaper to find thes kind of resin.

    Hopping this could be usefull for somebody. Thank you again Steve.

    Reply
  38. jeff estes

    I applied epoxy over our container floor, two coats and it still smelled. So we removed the wood and are now working on putting new subfloor in. Not easy, removing the floor.

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Jeff:

      Not sure what to say here. I cant imagine what smells could get through a sufficient coating of quality epoxy. There are several other things that can smell in a shipping container though, especially if they are not new. For a new container it could be the paint or caulk still off-gassing. Before I would go through the expense of removing the plywood floor, I would first try a thorough power washing of the interior.

      While building my cabin there were all sorts of construction materials that didn’t off-gass easily because of the near impermeable nature of the shipping container shells. One of the worst materials was the Butyl window flashing that I used around the exterior windows. For the longest time whenever I first opened up the cabin on a visit it would have a very strong odor from the Butyl flashing. It has since gone away for the most part, but I wish I had never even used the stuff since it was most likely unnecessary with the windows behind the container doors 90% of the time.

      Steve

      Reply
  39. Annie

    I hope to put a shipping container in ground, and then another container stacked on top , that would be at the level of the ground. All the doors and joints will be sealed in the bottom container, with an entrance to the bottom, from the inside of the top container. My questions is, what do you think would be the best way to waterproof the entire container, and in particular, the bottom, in case there is in ground water coming from underneath the container. I plan to have special ventilation equipment rigged into the bottom container to deal with elimination of co2 and additional airflow, but I’m trying to sort out how to protect the bottom of the container in particular from water, in the event of flooding. I plan to use drain gravel around all 4 sides of the container once it’s in the ground, but do you have any suggestions on how best to protect in-ground containers? I was thinking of spraying the conex with rust proof protectant, and then use FlexSeal or something similar to waterproof the entire container from the outside. Also, do you recommend any particular design of foundation for in ground containers. ANy suggestions would be helpful. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Annie:

      Do not, under any circumstances, bury a shipping container in the ground. Shipping containers do not have the lateral strength to support the loads from earth pushing in on the sides. A container will collapse from these loads, and in your case it will be even worse because you will have another container on top of it. The ONLY safe basement for a container home/cabin is one made out of poured concrete or block. Please find and consult with a qualified structural engineer before you start any project with containers.

      Steve

      Reply
      1. Annie

        There is a container company I have found that modify the containers for in ground placement. They reinforce it with steel bars. And their installers pour concrete surrounding the container.

        Reply
        1. Steve Post author

          At the point you have to reinforce the container, and then pour concrete around it to make it safe, why not just build a concrete structure in the first place. A shipping container is so restrictive in regards to size and structural strength, it just doesn’t make sense to use them underground.

          Steve

          Reply
    1. Steve Post author

      Annie:

      These are not containers, they are purpose built steel underground storm shelters. The only reason they resemble containers is due to their size which is dictated more by easy transport with trucks than anything else.

      Steve

      Reply
  40. B to the OH...

    Hi Steve,

    I had the same question as “Jose” above… forgive me if you already answered it.

    Would it be an effective vapor barrier to put down a thin layer of cold rolled steele and then “caulk” or as Jose asked… “Epoxy” the joints and seams?

    Thanks for your help… It’s appreciated!

    Reply
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