Letter Re: Shipping Containers -- A Retreat on the Cheap

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James, to follow up on the recent article, here is some additional info your readers might find valuable on shipping containers for storage and housing....  We have over a dozen at our ranch that we use for storage, so I'll share a bit about that use for containers.  These containers are the cheapest space you can "build".  They are weatherproof, earthquake proof, will probably make it through tornados and hurricanes, in short, they are excellent all around space.

If you can afford them, you should stick to the "one trip" containers because they will be in near perfect condition -- you can always convert these to housing in the future, too, because they will be in the best condition.  Even if you bought a new container from China, they would still have to ship it to you -- therefore these are also "one trip".  When you first get the container, you should inspect it to be sure it wasn't used for hauling some bad chemical or nasty smelling thing.  You should also check for dents and dings and even punctures from fork lifts.  The vendor we used would allow us to return the container and swap it out (we'd have to pay the freight charges.   You can also go to the dock and inspect them prior to delivery, but this isn't always practical.

It's also possible to get containers with double doors, though you might need to special order these.  Color selection is usually limited to gray, tan, olive drab (OD) and occasionally blue and red.   We've opted for the darkest green we could get and in fact had to paint most of the containers with a spray gun setup as they were tan or gray, the most common one trip colors.

If your roads are at all windy or steep, you might not be able to get a 40 foot container into your location.  We could probably get one up there with some extra work, like using a backhoe to move the tail end around the corners, but we haven't tried that yet.  You can also helicopter these things in, but that's just prohibitive and puts on quite a nice show for your neighbors to see what you're doing.

We built flat pads for containers with roadbase gravel prior to setting the containers in place.  Be careful to choose your 1-2% grade for drainage as to where you want the water to go, but also be mindful that rollable items will move inside the containers.  A single backhoe operator can easily move around an empty container and place it within 1 inch or less of where you want it to go.  Make sure you also include a pad in front of the doors to keep the mud under control.

New containers should be painted on the outside, if you want to change the color, and then aired out.  We usually leave the container open and empty for 30-60 days before doing any modifications to the interior, you might also want to seal the wooden floor as it can be quite attractive when finished.    Cargo containers aren't the most attractive thing in the woods, so paint and location, or camo netting are recommended...  Lately, we've been getting dark green factory painted containers, so we don't have to paint them, but you'll still need to peel off the numbers for aesthetics.  In our area, a new, one trip 20 foot container runs about $4,000 delivered.  Doors on both ends are a bit more and for some purposes like housing, you may want to consider this option.  That's definitely a special order item.

If you are using containers for food storage, you will need to insulate the inside of the container with 4 inch foam panels and metal ducting tape to get a good seal on the corners.  This keeps a container comfortably below 65F in the summer even when it's over 100F outside and above 45F in the winter in the temperate climate we have here.  Your mileage may vary based on the interior thermal mass provided by whatever you are storing and your local weather conditions.

We've also installed sliding doors on several of the containers so we can leave the metal doors open and keep critters out.  I highly recommend this, especially for containers that the ladies need access to, say a pantry or nice walk in "closet".  Some of the doors can be "tight", so it's an issue for people who aren't used to wrangling heavy items to open the doors, but my 13 year old daughter is getting pretty handy with these.

Lighting and some power outlets are also a good idea, depending on what you'll be using them for.  You can also install a fan controlled by greenhouse type controllers to blow in cool or warm air to keep the container close to a certain temperature.

Be sure to check your county's zoning ordinances.  The collectivists won't want to miss a single chance to tax something or issue a permit that can be revoked at some time in the future for any reason.  Even though they are considered "temporary", some counties don't allow them, others charge a per year permit fee (I've seen $75 in one place), while others have zero restrictions.  If you are concerned about this, paint the containers to match the environment, place the containers under tree cover and/or cover with camo netting, which makes them nearly invisible from the air and also keeps them much cooler.  It's a little extra work to put a pad under the trees, but it's worth the effort as it will provide mud free winter access and keep the container from rusting, as water will drain away.  In the trees you could have a fire issue, so never store flammable items in these containers. Best, - C.K.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on August 20, 2012 12:39 AM.

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