21 October 2011

Shipping container homes: the ultimate in self-reliance?

When I was in my 20s, I lived in a small apartment that I called "The Shoebox," because it was essentially a smallish rectangle subdivided into even smaller rooms. Earlier this year, I encountered the idea of shipping container homes, which caused me to flash back to that old apartment. While I was skeptical of container homes at first, over time, I've become intrigued.

The Arkhaus; photo courtesy of thearkhaus.com
The article I stumbled across was from the Bangor Daily News, a newspaper for Bangor, Maine. The story is about Trevor Seip and Jennifer Sansosti, and their container home project, dubbed "The Arkhaus Initiative," or just "The Arkhaus."

The couple state in the article that they want to live off the grid and be more self-reliant (which is what led me to the story in the first place), and they're doing it.

Working on a low budget, they've installed energy-efficient LED lights that run off batteries until they can get their solar panels (already purchased) in place and hooked up. They also collect and filter water from a nearby stream or from their rain barrel on the roof.

The Bangor Daily News article also refers to the couple's website, www.thearkhaus.com. The blog is an great read for those interested in self-reliance, since they discuss problems they've encountered and how they resolved them, as well as presenting ideas they want to try. (Last I looked, they had some very interesting information on root cellars!)

All of the above is enlightening, but I think some of the best information on their self-reliant thinking is in a series of questions and answers about The Arkhaus Initiative that's available on The Containerist's website (which is about — you guessed it — shipping container homes). Responding to the question, "how would you describe yourselves," they say:
The Arkhaus Initiative is a small organization that seeks to create a living solution that combines old world craftsmanship and hand made quality and attention to detail with 21st century technology in the form of a robust, modular, low maintenance, self-sufficient, secure and mobile structure and to do all this affordably without debt and within a small environmental footprint. The members of this Initiative are a tight-knit group that is dedicated to seeking out the good life and believe shipping containers are a powerful irreplaceable tool that can be utilized for this all-encompassing purpose.
As someone into self-reliance, I find this very enticing. Consider the phrases "hand-made," "low maintenance," "self-sufficient," "without debt," and "small environmental footprint"... these qualities are each very important to being self-reliant, and here these folks are wrapping it all up into one container (pun intended) and living the "good life" like modern-day Nearings!

And, they're not alone. It doesn't take much looking to find other similar stories around the Web. For instance, there's Fred & Cynthia, formerly of Colorado in the USA, but now building a new home from shipping containers in the mountains in the Interior of the country of Panama. Or, you can read about Kevin Hayden and his Elysian Fields Project; that's his container home story, which includes a bit of a cautionary tale in the need to secure your site while you're going to be away. Either of these are good reads if for no other reason than for self-reliant inspiration.

Once I got started, I've found many resources on container homes. It's quite amazing to me! There's an entire forum of ideas and discussions about container homes on the ShelterForums.com website (plus, on that home page you can see forums for over 50 different variations on shelter/home construction!).

Generally, the do-it-yourselfers above buy their containers from some local source. However, if you want to have a look at buying new or used containers, you can check out Interport's website. Alternatively, you can see new containers that are designed to be habitable spaces at www.seabox.com.

Finally, I also found a couple of sites that present floor plans for container homes, including multiple-container homes: www.shippingcontainerhousedesign.com and www.containerhomes.net.

Right now, our family's plans ultimately involve finding some good land in a fairly rural setting. Until recently, we'd assumed that we'd be relying on a more common house style. That still may be the case, but I have to say that the idea of a container house is enticing, especially if the costs can be kept very low.

What do you think? Would you live in a container home? Why, or why not?


  1. Thanks for posting the link to my wife's and my shipping container house here in Panama. I'm looking forward to reading your site.

    Although my focus with this project isn't specifically self-sufficiency, it feeds right into the theme of our life here as we will live mortgage free. We can grow abundant fruit and vege crops year round and here in the tropical mountains we have no need for either heating or air conditioning. Our water comes from our well and from a stream fresh off the mountain. We'll have solar hot water and eventually solar electric is in the plan.

    We are close to a Panamanian family that lives off grid, a five kilometer hike into the mountains -- sod hut, dirt floor, out house, no electricity, one cold water tap in the kitchen. But this is no self-sufficiency endeavor or grand experiment for them -- it is the way this family has lived in this tiny house for 70 years or more. They have no car, but walk or take a bus. And although they don't have two cents to rub together, they have Right of Possession to about 30 acres. They grow everything except rice. Chickens and other livestock all roam free. But the thing that impresses me the most about this family is the, well, the sense of family. Seven people live in two rooms and a covered patio. They are extremely close and talk and play together every night. With no TV to watch, they are self-sufficient and innocent in so many ways. I am learning a lot from our new friends, more than they are learning from me; they will be the first I will turn to if the unthinkable ever happens. Indeed, they would hardly even notice if the world financial system crashed or the world ran out of oil.

    Thanks again for the link, Fred

  2. Thanks very much for the comments! I appreciate your stopping by to provide my readers with more information on your story.

    I enjoy looking through your blog; it has lots of great ideas and interesting tales!

  3. Someone posted this link about a shipping container home on Twitter: http://thechive.com/2011/07/26/unbelievable-home-built-out-of-two-shipping-containers-39-photos/

    This was shared on #PrepperTalk, which is worth a visit if you're on Twitter....

  4. Hi,

    Great to see your interest in Shipping Container Homes !

    Feel free to drop by our site and grab a free copy of our new book - The 30 most influential Container Homes ever Built


    There are also a number of free videos and technical drawings for anyone interested in finding out the next level of detail - the "how to" of container home construction


    Let me know if you decide to create your own project.