This Couple Turned 2 Shipping Containers Into A Home Blog Cover

Shipping Container Home With A View In Washington State

Posted in Interviews

Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

We have had several question and answer sessions with different people in the shipping container world.  We welcome conversations with those who have completed their journey since we all can learn from their triumphs and from their setbacks.  This interview is with Jaimie from Kalama, Washington.   In case you’ve missed any of our previous discussions with shipping container owners, you can see those interviews here.  Jaime contacted us after she and her husband completed their shipping container build.

Here’s what she wrote:

I wanted to share a couple of pictures with you on our finished home.  It is totally permitted and legal for occupancy, and except for the foundation and dry walling, we designed and built the entire home by ourselves.

We have been blessed and we love our home, and the lifestyle it affords us to live and the memories we are able to make because we aren’t tied to a bunch of upkeep or a mortgage 🙂 

It was a huge challenge, especially considering its size and the unique challenge with building codes, but we really enjoy it.

Jaimie has some noteworthy ideas about insulation and also offers some crucial insights into building permits.

We hope that you enjoy the interview:

How did you get the idea of building your home with shipping containers?

My husband and I wanted something unique and different from what anyone else had.  I have always loved the aesthetics of metal and my husband has worked in the metal fabrication field for years.  I figured this was right up his alley – ‘honey, can you please build me one of these homes?’  kind of request.

He did have to test and qualify for his WABO welder certification to build our home.  This was just one of the many obstacles that we had to overcome to build it legally and permitted.  Thankfully, he was able to accomplish this quickly, and without a lot of difficulty.

Shipping Container Home Construction

Why did you decide to build your home out of shipping containers?

Before we settled on a shipping container home, we looked at many different options.  We had just purchased 5 acres in a rural area and wanted to build our home mortgage free so that we could get up to the property as quickly as possible and out of the townhouse we were living in at the time.

Ultimately, we decided on building our first home out of containers because it seemed the most cost effective method of reaching our goal. Little did we know the processes and hoops we would have to jump through to make our home legal and livable in our state of Washington.

How long did the home take to build?

From the time we decided that we were going to build our home out of containers, it took us 11 months.  This includes the design, which we did ourselves, to structural engineering that was required by our county Building and Planning department, to permits, fabrication, interior and exterior work.

We did all the work ourselves, except for the foundation, insulation and sheetrock – mostly because it was just as cost effective to sub these items out.

My husband and I spent every evening and weekend working on our home. We experienced a major setback when, about halfway through the project, my husband suffered a major brain bleed.  This delayed us a couple of months, but we were very blessed by our family and church friends who helped us to at least get the house weatherproofed during this time as we were headed into winter.

Part of his rehabilitation and therapy process was centered around some of the smaller projects he could accomplish on the home. This brought him both a sense of accomplishment and worked toward his overall recovery and return of function.

Shipping Container Home Mid Construction

While this health crisis was not something we were prepared for, it brought us closer together, and made us realize just how blessed we were to be able to complete and finish our home, which only adds to our Shipping Container Home story.

Roughly how much did it cost to build?  Can you give us a high-level breakdown?

This really was the most shocking part of the entire project; nothing is cheap when you are working with a unique metal home design.

We spent about $175 per square foot on our home in materials alone.  This doesn’t include any of our labor. We couldn’t repurpose as many materials as one would hope when building a home of this type, especially when trying to build it all to code.

We are the first home in our county, and they struggled trying to fit our ‘metal box’ into their ‘round peg’ rules.  We were able to meet all existing codes, with the exception of our spiral staircase, which I had to go to the Washington State Building & Planning Commission for an allowance.

According to the current code, we could have had a Ship Ladder Stairwell, but our Spiral Stairwell had to have a special variance, which thankfully we were granted!

Shipping Container Home Mid Construction Insulation

Can you talk about the process of building your home?  What were some of the highlights of the process?

We chose to go with one-trip containers.  Unfortunately our 40-foot container was delivered with a gaping hole in the roof of it.  It was quite a job to get it repaired so that it still met our engineering requirements.

Probably the most time-consuming and expensive part of the build process was our windows.  Each window frame was fabricated with angle iron and square tube steel and then welded front and back on a flat surface to make the frame.

They were then welded front and back into the container walls, which is its own challenge. We then had to go through the long checklist of installing the windows so that they were completely waterproof around the sills.  This was a process of vapor barrier, caulking, foam board, stainless metal screws and finally cedar trim.

We then framed the interior walls with wooden 2 x 4’s, essentially building a wooden box inside a metal box.  The metal and wood couldn’t touch at any point, again because of condensation transfer.  Once our electrical and plumbing were complete, we had our foam insulation blown in.

Our finished home has a living room, full size galley kitchen, washer and dryer, full bathroom and small second bedroom in the 40-foot container main floor.  Up the spiral staircase into the 20-foot container is the master bedroom that opens out onto a 20-foot deck that overlooks our gorgeous Pacific Northwest valley.

How did you insulate the containers?

We used closed-cell spray foam to meet all county building & planning requirements for the walls, ceiling and floor.

This was very expensive and one of the things we would change if we could do it over.  The closed-cell foam was used as both a vapor barrier and insulation.  If we were to do it again, we would use a vapor barrier product (which we used in another container on the property as storage and have had no issues with condensation transfer) and then use a panel insulation.

We estimate this would have saved us about $5,000 in insulation costs. But if we have learned anything about this project, it is that you literally learn as you go.

Finished Shipping Container Home

In your experience, what are the advantages of building with shipping containers?

Well, our home can withstand five times the wind that a typical wood home can ;).  Other than that, we would have to say that it has a definite wow factor and will be here long after we are gone.

Unfortunately, the process of building a home of this type is a challenge, and not for the faint of heart.

Would you recommend building with shipping containers?

Honestly, with what we spent building our tiny metal home, we could have had a very nice tiny wood home for half of the cost.

Yes, our home is unique, but logistically it was a very difficult process and not nearly as cost effective as we thought.

Ultimately though, we did achieve our goal of being mortgage free and living at our property in less than a year.  So we accomplished what we set out to do!  We really do love our home and most importantly, are enjoying the freedom it gives us to really live, take adventures, make memories and experience life with our family and each other.

With the challenges we faced building our home, including my husband almost dying, we realize that life is precious and time together is both valuable and such a blessing!

Summary

A special thanks to Jaimie for taking part in the interview and sharing the knowledge she gained through her build.

There are two big takeaways from the interview.  Notice the importance of finding a suitable location to build.  In Jaimie’s case, she was the first in her district to build a shipping container home.  This meant everything was a first for both her and her local planning department.  This can be expensive and time consuming because there are no established precedents for any issues which can arise.

Shipping containers aren’t always the cheapest building material to use.  The merits of shipping container construction should be carefully balanced against the unique requirements of your particular build.  For more information, be sure to read the article on when to build with shipping containers.

Let us know what you think about this build in the comments.

Comments
  1. Sharlo

    Hello, Love the home! My husbad and I are building a shipping container bonus space. We have not been able to find anyone that works with shippinng containers so we have to do work ourselves. Could you give a few more details on framing a shipping continer? How do you keep the wooden frame from touching the metal of the contianer?
    Thank you
    Sharlo

  2. ily

    My wife and I are thinking of building a tiny home in Pierce or Thurston County over the next couple of years. We are considering going with a container build. What are some of the obstacles that you faced with WA and county governments and regulation and roughly how much did you have to spend on permits? Also are they treated tax-wise as a house or a mobile dwelling/RV? Please feel free to email me at ily.goyanes at gmail. Thank you so much for any advice.

  3. Sebastian

    I was wondering how this shipping container homes perform in the hot summers. Is it necessary to have air conditioning? Or does insulation and nature ventilation suffice?

    • Jaimie

      Sebastian ~ Our home stays nice and cool in the summer. We have closed cell spray foam, and it certainly does it’s job 🙂 I keep the windows open in the morning to get the cool breeze and then close the windows and the blinds in the afternoon and our home stays in very cool and comfortable all day long.

  4. Charlotte Jarvis

    I wouldn’t mind a home like this!

    • Jaimie

      Thank you, Charlotte! We love our home.

      • Sharlo

        Love the home! My husband and I are building a shipping container bonus space. There is no help in Oklahoma for this. Could you give more information on how you completed the inside framing. How do you keep the wood from touching the metal? Thank you in advance.
        Sharlo

  5. Lynn Greig

    Any helpful tips you can share for someone starting off?

    • Jaimie

      Lynn ~ Probably the most helpful type I can give, is really figure out why you want a shipping container home. Do you want it because it is different, because it is re-purposed, because it seems to cost less, or do you have another goal? For us, we went into this thinking it would cost less, but because of where we are in the U.S., our home cost us almost 2x as much as a stick built home of the same size. Good luck!

  6. Mark Reeding

    Wow. I wouldn’t have thought you would get planning permission for Washington. Was it difficult?

    • Jaimie

      Mark ~ Our county has very strict building codes, but with lots of research on the code and putting a solid plan in place for each step on how we were going to meet or exceed the code and our structural design, they worked very well with us. I developed a great working relationship with the key individuals at our county who would be approving all steps of the design and build, and I believe this helped us accomplish our goal. They wanted us to succeed, we just had to work together to make our ‘box’ fit in their ’round’ code 🙂

  7. Ahmed

    Have you slept in it during the winter? How did you keep it warm? AR.

    • Jaimie

      Ahmed ~ This is our year round home in Washington. Per our county’s building and planning code, we had to install a heat source. We chose cadet heaters, partly because we didn’t anticipate the need to use them very often and they took up little room. Our home is very well insulated and stays nice and toasty in the winter with the small heaters and very cool in the summer by keeping the windows closed and our blinds pulled when the sun is on the house. (We joke that it is our own ice box, as it stays so cool. Our closed cell insulation does it’s job for sure!)

  8. Randy morris

    How did you brace the forty (mid section) to hold the weight of the 20 ? I have read that to corners are to support weight. Thank you Randy

    • Jaimie

      Randy – Engineering called for a 6″ x 2″ square tube that sat right under the front feet of the 20′ and ran down the side of the 40′. These tubes are welded on both sides of the 20′. We also braced from the underside of the 40′ at the foundation level under the house where the 20′ sat on both front and back.

      • John Cox

        clarification please. When You say front- is this the front corners not sitting on the 40’s corner’s ? And also tubing Ran down ? Down the wall or length of the 40 ?

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