I realize this post is out of sequence, but I hadn’t planned on talking about the electrical wiring. It seemed so routine to me that I thought no one would be interested, but I did have a reader ask about it the other day so here it is.
It was a fairly simple wiring project with about 250 feet of 14-2 Romex wire, 22 electrical boxes, 16 outlets, 5 switches, and other miscellaneous items. Some might question the exclusive use of 14 gauge wire, especially with outlets, but this is just a cabin with a small solar power system and a 300 watt inverter. 14 gauge is much easier to work with, and the wires are protected with a 15 amp breaker for the few times I might be running my Honda eu2000i generator. I had thought about using conduit in case I ever wanted to change or upgrade the wiring, but I just couldn’t justify the extra time and expense for a cabin. If this were my home with spray foam insulation in the walls, I would definitely want to have the electrical wiring in conduit.
The interior electrical boxes needed to be thin enough to fit in the 1 5/8″ steel stud walls, and also not conduct electricity through the steel framing and container walls in case of any wiring mishaps. The best one I found was the Carlon A52151D 2 gang box. The only problem with these boxes is that they are not designed for steel studs. To attach them to the steel studs, I had to use wooden backers in the studs to screw the boxes into. At first I used some 2×2’s, but I had to bend the back side flanges of the steel stud to make them fit. After wasting my time with a few of those, I switched to 1×2’s which press fit perfectly into the steel stud channels.
You can see in the pictures below that I used nail plates on some of the steel and wood studs. The ones available at my local stores didn’t work too well on the steel studs, so I looked online and found the ERICO CADDY Press-On Protection Plate, which worked great for both wood and steel. I didn’t need to use these on the exterior wall steel studs since I just cable tied the Romex to the backside of the studs. The last picture in the gallery shows a custom nailing plate I made to protect the Romex that went around some remnants of the interior steel walls. I originally tried to drill through those steel sections to run the wire through, but it was too thick for my drill even with Cobalt bits. The custom plates work just fine and will eventually be hidden by the trim.
All of this electrical in the cabin will be a real luxury for me. For the first 15 years or so my old hunting shack had no electricity, and I relied on kerosene lanterns and flashlights for all of my lighting needs. I’ll still keep the lanterns around for those nights when I don’t have enough solar power saved up, and also for a little nostalgia now and then too. Another benefit of kerosene lanterns is that they’re nice to bring to the outhouse at night. They not only light your way there, but they provide some welcome heat during the winter months.
You didn’t do bad at all with the wiring. But me being an electrician I tend to look at the “service” side as well as construction aspect of it. For future reference I think 1/2″ conduit would have been a better idea. More or less along the lines if you decide to change from 12v power to a larger genset with 120v, you could easily add/replace the wires to accommodate such w/o killing drywall. Also, how sturdy is that framing? I’m used to seeing on sites where they run a V shaped bar through the middle to help with rigidity.
I do agree that conduit is the best choice, but it is just a cabin. If I was starting with 12 volt power I would definitely have done it just for the reason you mentioned. I had friends advising me on both sides of this issue, and in the end I took the easy route. I’m also the kind of guy that can live without electricity in a cabin, so everything that I have in there is way more than I need.
In regards to the steel framing, it is unbelievably stable on the sides where the spray foam ties it into the container walls. That stuff is like glue and it creates a monolithic structure of container wall, steel studs, and foam. The rear wall, where the foam does not connect to the studs, is definitely less sturdy. I did add some additional support to the back wall, that isn’t shown in these pictures, which did help a lot. Other things such as my kitchen cabinets, built in bunk beds, and a storage room wall in the bathroom should also help stabilize the back wall. The four small dividing walls turned out pretty good since the studs are 16″ on center and have drywall on both sides.
As I mentioned in my Interior Framing post, if I could do it all over again I would not use steel studs. For a one or two inch loss per side, I would much rather use 2×3 or 2×4 wood studs.
I’ll echo the sentiments of several of the commmentors, thanks for the great blog! I’ve been kicking around the idea for a few years and am grateful to you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I have a question, did you ever consider doing any of the prep or interior work on the containers before shipping them to the job site?
Thanks! Looking forward to reading more of your progress.
Glad you like it, and hope it helps you make up your mind. Unfortunately, even if I had wanted to do any work before hand, I would have had to arrange for shipping twice. My containers were special ordered brand new (1 trip) from China and ended up in Chicago before I could ship them to northern Wisconsin. This could possibly be another benefit to buy your containers locally.
The only thing I think I could have done would have been to seal the plywood floors. Almost everything else had to wait for the walls to be removed. This brings up an important point – don’t remove any metal until the containers are welded together. I have read stories of how containers can lose their square if enough metal is removed.
I have thought that this would be the thing to do if one was building something from just a single container. It would be very convenient to build it in your back yard when you had the time, and have it shipped to a site when you were done. I’m not sure my neighbors would like that though.
I was looking forward to more and interesting updates. The Tin Can Cabin must be finished, so the blog quit. When was the last time you were at the Tin Can? Woody
Oh how I wish it was finished. I’ve actually been taking a bit of a break lately, mainly due to weather. We’ve had one of the worst springs that I can remember here in Wisconsin.
I plan to start working again in the next few weeks. My next project is to get the drywall finished. I wanted it to be warm and dry enough so that the drywall mud will actually dry while I’m there – I can’t just leave and close the doors on wet drywall.
Stay tuned, there will be a lot more posts this summer.
Thanks for all the valuable information.
I do have a question for you:
I’m thinking of using two 40′ high cube containers side by side to make a garage. I have not been able to find any information that can help me figure out how to remove the two walls that will adjoin each other along with the front doors and still provide enough support between the two containers. Obviously the removal of the interior walls can be removed once the containers are welded together, but I want a two car garage, how do I create an opening big enough for a two cars that does not compromise the structure of the door frames? Would I need to weld a beam (lintel) across the top for further support? Any recommendations?
I intend to put a roof over the top of the two containers.
Or should I just build a regular concrete slab and wood garage to avoid the trouble and marginal cost savings?
I’m afraid your question is well beyond my expertise. If you are sure of what you want to do, I would recommend that you contact George Runkle of Runkle Consulting who can tell you exactly what you will need to do.
If I was going to build a garage, I would take a slightly different route. I have seen several garages and barns on the net that keep the containers intact and use the space between for vehicles or farm equipment. The containers are then used for secure storage of other items. Take a look at Smart Barn in the UK – they have a number of good designs. The picture below is similar to what I would like to build for storage someday.
Good luck with your project.