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Self-Contained Living ~ Mi Casa Su Caja
Global Nomadic Housing For Expatriates ~ Part One

by Colin Reedy

The one common experience of all humanity is the challenge of problems.
-- R. Buckminster Fuller

Creating A House To Roam The World Century 21 RoatanA few years ago, when facing a steep rent increase, I surveyed the possibilities for new
housing. I’m a designer/artist and not afraid to be creative when it comes to my living and working space.I can find the hardware store and build walls, basic cabinets, and figure out electricity and plumbing without too many code violations. I’d been practicing on rented apartments and a warehouse space for a few years, but I hate the idea of leaving all my hard work behind me when I move.

Editors Note:
I first met Colin Reedy about 12 years ago. He had just returned from studying design in Milan and I had just returned from Rio de Janeiro. We found ourselves stuck in Portland, Oregon, I as an owner and designer of artist lofts, he as a struggling designer of furniture who happened to end up living and working in one of my lofts. It was apparent from the first moment I saw Colin's designs that he was a maverick genius. A lot of artists passed through those lofts over the years. Some of them went on to a great deal of fame. I can think of few whose work was as immediately exciting as Colin's. Colin Reedy carries with him an enthusiasm for creativity and for his work. He has had a good deal of success, all of it deserved. He travels frequently and has lived much of the past 20 years outside of the United States. He first presented the idea of a nomadic house to me several years ago. I've been pestering him for the past two years to put the concept into a written form for EscapeArtist.com Here's the first installment.

If renting is out, then what are the options? Buying a house in my price range means a huge financial mortgage payment situation and probably a major renovation project. I don’t have the money, time, or interest for this now. Besides, I am not sure I want to live in one place long enough to make a house investment worth it. I like to travel and seem to move often as I search for my ultimate escape destination. The last 12 years have seen me living in Chicago, San Francisco, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Portland, and now Seattle…and I’m hoping to land myself in Australia or New Zealand in a couple years.

Mobile homes and recreational vehicles offer the portability for travel (across land), but mobile homes often use cheap materials and poor construction and still cost many thousands of dollars. An RV is more “travel” than “home” with so much of cost and maintenance involving the engine and mechanical parts. Furthermore, both mobile homes and RV’s usually come pre-designed with little room for customization…and little room in general.

Century 21 Roatan
What you start with

And for my needs, which involves some work area to use tools, make a mess, and keep my stuff secure, and RV wouldn’t be the choice.

So my criteria are: cheap ownership, some measure of portability, security, and opportunity for customization. Solution: a huge foot locker with windows and a door…maybe on wheels! And then I found thousands of just what I needed!!!!

Portland and Seattle are shipping ports and every day I see huge boats loading and unloading giant metal containers. These containers arrive and depart on train cars or semi-trucks, easily hoisted and set in place with cranes or forklifts. Shipping containers are a global standard unit and come in sizes of 20, 24, 40, and 45 feet long with 20 and 40 footers being the most common. Eight feet high and 8.5 feet wide, they are sturdily built to stack up 8 to10 units and connect at the corners with a simple locking device. They can even be found extra tall at 9.5 or 10 feet high. All containers have wooden floors about 1.25 inches thick of plywood or tongue and groove boards. The construction is generally heavy gauge corrugated steel re-enforced at the four corners and center of each long side with a vertical support of steel square tube. And the doors could secure a bank vault! Each of the double doors locks in place with two floor to roof steel poles that twist into position with lots of redundant mechanisms and locations for four burly padlocks. Remember, these containers were designed to survive stormy sea crossings and then be handled and opened by clumsy drunk dock workers in any part of the world.

Century 21 Roatan
Transportable Living Space

Initial investigations only made me more excited about the possibility to create a living/working situation based on shipping containers. Individually, I could get a good used one for about $1500-1800. If I wanted 2 or 3, which seemed like a better scenario, the price could drop as low as $1200-1300 each. These are Portland, Oregon, prices and with the global abundance of containers, I’m sure even greater deals can be found…Hong Kong, Sydney, Rotterdam, Dakar? Prices don’t lower much for size and I felt the 40 footers had the biggest selection and design possibility. Another major is aluminum or steel. A 40-foot steel container weighs about 9000 pounds empty, compared to 6800 for the same aluminum container. Cutting and drilling aluminum is much easier than steel, but welding it requires some skill and equipment not as readily available as for steel. I’m assuming I’ll be cutting windows, vents, and holes for electricity and water so what material I choose makes a difference. I have a little wire feed welder and can get a cutting torch or (better) rent a plasma cutter for $40-50 per day. Side note: a plasma cutter sounds very scary high tech, but uses only air and electricity to cleanly slice thru steel and even stainless steel like butter. All you need is an air compressor. A truly amazing tool, but it will NOT work on aluminum.
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Shipping containers used on ocean going vessels must be inspected and certified every so often because they are stacked very high and subject to rigorous conditions. Containers used on trains and trucks are never stacked more than two high and do not require the same inspections. Modifications such as windows, doors, vents and so forth would not prevent a container from passing inspection as long as it still could be stacked and locked in place. However, steel braces may be required over large holes such as windows or additional doors. So I could ship my modular nomadic studio from Seattle to Sydney, no problem!

What about delivery? If I purchased a container from any of the few companies in the Portland or Seattle area, they would deliver it by truck (anywhere a truck can maneuver I guessed) in either metropolitan area for $150. And a moving fee within the area would be a similar rate. On-site maneuvering could require a crane and reach upwards of a few hundred dollars. Construction contractors often use shipping containers as on-site offices or storage, so this situation is not unusual.
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But where would I put it? And what about electricity and water and all the amenities a normal living situation offers? Ok, here’s the creative part… I saw this as a “phase” situation whereby initially I would NOT reside in these containers. I would need a place with electricity and water nearby while I carried out the necessary modifications. A friend offered a 60 by 100 foot empty lot for $300/month on which I could conduct my efforts and reside later if I chose. I could hook up to his electricity and water as long as needed. Yes, I am back in the “rent” situation, but at about 20-25% what I would be paying otherwise. I felt like I had enough information to start designing.

I searched for examples of prior efforts to modify shipping containers for housing. The companies that sold the containers sometimes made modifications like windows or doors for the contractors to use at construction sites, but nothing interesting.

I found images from Hong Kong where people were living in containers set on huge metal frames in an apartment-like arrangement. Not much had been done to the containers except stairway access. The best examples I found were not for shipping containers, but from mid-century efforts at modular housing or “utopian” mass housing. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the German Bauhaus movement and the French architect Le Corbusier proposed many of the first modern “apartment” buildings with efficient floor plans to equitably house the masses.

Dymaxion HouseDymaxion House-Buckminster Fuller

But the American engineer/architect/futurist, Buckminster Fuller (known best for his geodesic dome designs) probably offered the best examples in his Dymaxion House designs. Fuller proposed mass produced compact housing designs that offered all the amenities of a conventional dwelling. From him I found good inspiration for the bathroom design and maybe more.

I imagine two or three containers configured for living, studio, and workshop. Making use of the outside areas would be as important as the inside areas. Awnings, tarps, decks, balconies, or glass covered green house areas could make the whole situation very comfortable. I started to sketch ideas and I even built a small model of the 60 x 100 foot site with three accurate scaled wooden blocks to represent the containers.
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Next issue:

- configurations that create courtyards and outdoor work areas that maximize the space between containers.
- stacking the containers on top of one another to create covered areas, car parking, and terraces.
- Electricity options from local hook up to passive and active solar.
- Water service for kitchen and bathrooms and rain collection planning.
- Heating ideas for cold climates and venting circulation for warmer climates.

Go to Part Two of this article

 

 

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Roatan Living Real Estate

Century 21 Roatan, J. Edwards Real Estate
Office: Mayan Princess Beach Resort, West Bay Beach
Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

Philip Buck
PBuck@RoatanLiving.com
Roatan: 011-504-9970-3378
US Voip # That Rings in Roatan: 831-359-4244

Roatan Living Real Estate and property for sale serves Roatan the Bay Islands of Honduras. Selling Real estate and Property for sale on Roatan! You can find an assortment of properties to suit your needs. Whether you are looking for an investment property, business opportunity or just an island hideaway property. Roatan real estate includes luxury homes, condos, resorts, beachfront homes, land for sale and development properties located in developments such as Mayan Princess, Parrot Tree Plantation, Marbella Beach, Pristine Bay - Roatan Golf Club, Rohan by the Sea, Palmetto Bay Plantation, Lawson Rock, La Sirena, Infinity Bay, Keyhole Bay and Coral Sands.