We Started Building an Off-Grid Shipping Container Home with Zero Construction Experience

Reader Contribution by Jessica At Pacific Pines Ranch
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Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

 

About two years ago, Pacific Pines Ranch was born from our idea to escape the city life and chase our dreams out in the Oregon forest. We decided to change our life and start from ground zero to develop an off-grid shipping container home, ourselves, with little to no construction experience.

 

The reasons why we decided to meander down this road in life vary. We think it’s important for us to expand our abilities and learn valuable DIY construction skills such as welding, framing, electricity, plumbing, finishing work, mechanics, wood working, concrete setup/finishing, etc. There are so many aspects that go into building a house, and they all offer great experience in the different realms of construction. We wanted to challenge ourselves as individuals and teach ourselves how to build something not only unique, but also to build our dream house with our own hands. Our overall goal with this project is to change our lifestyle and become as self-sufficient as possible, and to learn to live off the grid.

Pros

Shipping containers, like any construction technique, come with many pros and cons. One of the biggest pros of containers are their strength. Each container can hold 55,000 to 72,000 pounds, depending on what size they are. They are made to store large amounts of cargo inside and shipped around the world, which also means that they are extremely durable. They go years enduring the toughest coastal and oceanic conditions and are made to survive the wear and tear of life between sea and port.

 

They are made with CorTen steel, which is a special kind of steel that is designed to resist against corrosion and have high-tensile strength. Because they are used for shipping around the world, they are usually easy to find near any coastal area or shipping port.

 

They are easy to transport due to their design and weight. They also offer great designs capabilities and can be setup in many different ways or configurations, essentially like life-size Legos.

 

Shipping containers are also fireproof, and can withstand intense weather situations such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods.

 

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

 

Cons

 

One of the cons of shipping container builds is they can require quite a bit of work to make them livable. To create any openings, panels need to be cut out, which compromises the strength of the container and can require reinforcements.

 

They can also be hard to get if the building site is not near any shipping area, such as a port or railway hub. Depending on the location and design of the build, they can require cranes to place the containers onto the foundation which can be a costly expense.

 

Overall, they require a lot of ingenuity to make them work as structures, and can be labor-intensive depending on the size of the structure and the design.

 

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

Specifications for Our Shipping Container Home

We put a lot of thought into the design of our shipping container house, and we designed our house to specifically fit our property. We used seven containers to create three levels, plus a rooftop deck.

 

Our land is sloped, so we designed the house to flow with the topography of the land. We took inspiration from how they are used for shipping cargo, and we stacked them the same way to take advantage of how they are made. We have two containers on the first level, three on the second level, two on the third level, a structure on the side to create stairs between the second and third level, and agarage parallel to the containers on the first level. The first two levels are 40-foot-high cube containers, and the third level is 45-foot-high cube containers, so it creates a small cantilever effect.

 

We converted all of the container doors into glass doors so the entire side of our house can be opened. Our goal was to feel outside, even when inside, and have as much windows and doors as possible. Luckily, the weather is very mild where we are building, so we didn’t have to take extreme heat or cold into consideration.

 

One of the more important aspects of our design is simplicity. We wanted the design to be simple enough we could learn to build itourselves.

 

Photo by Jessica at Pacific Pines Ranch

The Joy is in the Journey

That’s a little bit about why, what, and how we are doing our shipping container project on Pacific Pines Ranch. Currently, we have five containers on the foundation and we are working on Phase 2 of our build.

 

We have a long way to go for us to leave the diamond-in-the-rough stage, but eventually we will get there. We are constantly learning new techniques and improving our work day by day. As we like to say out on the ranch, the joy is in the journey.


Jessicais a hardcore DIYer who taught herself how to build, weld, and bring her ideas to fruition. She is developing a sustainable, off-grid property from the ground up in Oregon, where she is building a shipping container home herself. Follow the Journey of Pacific Pines Ranch on YouTube, InstagramandFacebook. Read all of Jessica’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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