Remote accommodation is always a challenge in difficult terrain. What
follows is an example of using two conventional shipping containers to
create 90 square meters of living space in dense rainforest adjoining
World Heritage Rainforest. The facility, on a nature refuge is used for
rainforest research. The terrain is extremely difficult and accessed via a
narrow track made by woodcutters in 1928. The techniques are simple and
require only very basic skills. They produce a dry, durable ,vermin
proof, comfortable, removable facility with a low ecological impact.
We cleared the 1928 timber access track by hand using axes and
dragging the material, various distances into the surrounding bush.
All mature trees were avoided, all stumps cut horizontal at ground level
to prevent tyre spearing.
Standard 6m (20') containers were taken down this track one at a time, on
the back of a small tilt truck, the kind used to carry a single car when
they have broken down. These trucks are widely available and cheap to
hire. At less than two tonnes the container could be maneuvered down
a narrow track between large trees and slid off into a confined area
under control, with ease. In extreme terrain the smaller containers
could even be dragged shorter distances behind a backhoe. Some internet
companies sell wheels you can attach to move by
hand or behind a 4WD.
In less severe terrain a 40' container might be better value,
however the larger container at about 3.5 tonnes would require a much
larger truck and a much better road. Unloading would also be a problem.
Shipping containers have wooden, not steel floors. It is important to
leave some air space below them in wet environments. When stacking
containers, most of the weight is carried by the steel frames around the
ends of the container. If you wish to stack containers at right angles
additional internal support for the bottom container may be required. Some
containers have additional support along their side edges but they are
hard to find.
We used two 6m (20') containers placed 3m (10') apart.
The site, in Far North Queensland, is situated in dense tropical
rainforest. The area has slippery red lateritic clays and gets about 6m of
rain per year. The area has many snakes and troublesome white tail rats.
It was decided to raise the containers onto 1.5m concrete stumps to keep
them out of the wet, to keep them out of the splash and to keep rats and
snakes out. We did not try to level the ground as it would break the
protective root cover and result in erosion.
PVC plastic pipe with rebar steel was placed into 600mm diameter X
600mm deep holes. We used a dumpy level and string to get things level.
It is very important to get things level and to have the posts exactly
where you need them - take as much time as needed for this.
The 8 holes and pipes were filled with concrete mixed on the spot one hole
at a time. This took two days.
The PVC pipe is expensive - if you are not in a rush and are on level
ground so that your posts are the same length more or less you can
make a mould for the concrete posts from a single length of PVC cut
lengthwise in half, riveted down one side with a piano hinge and held on
the other side with two luggage clamps. By coating the inside with some
sump oil, the mould comes off easily , the downside is that you can only
do one post per day. We are now using this successfully for fence posts
- 10 so far and the mould shows no signs of wear.
The containers were lifted onto the posts by a small low profile rubber
tracked crane in about 30min. The concrete posts proved to be very solid
We could also have used a backhoe or jacks.
It would also be possible to weld RHS steel sections onto the four corners
and slide a smaller RHS section inside each. With pre-drilled holes you
could slowly jack things up with a very simple jack from a 4 wheel drive
vehicle on corner and one hole at a time. This method would, however
result in more vibration as, in Australia, we found that in order to get
the inner RHS to slide , you had to leave quite a gap. You might be able
to lessen the vibration with a few hammered in wedges.
We joined the containers with galvanised C-section
We used a small angle grinder run off a small electrical generator to cut
holes in the sides of the containers for large windows.
Across the front of the two containers we erected 4 smaller diameter
concrete posts and put an galvanised expanded metal mesh walkway. The
walkway served four purposes. It kept us from tracking mud into the dry
living area. It helped keep snakes and rats out. It connected the two
containers which were separated by 3m. Finally, in the high rainfall, it
permitted the rain to fall straight through so no run off or splash into
the dry container interior. In areas or normal rainfall the walkway could
be made of less expensive material. To the walkway we added a set
of prefab concrete steps. this makes it very easy to check for the
ubiquitous rainforest termites. The containers were also joined together
with galvanised C-section.
The windows had aluminium frames and used to belong to an old church.
Something you might no have thought of is that once the walls were cut ,
the roof got slightly wobbly so we bolted a 2.5m length of RHS steel
across the top of the cut. We had screens made to fit the windows.
Once we had put wooden decking on the C-section joining the containers, we
repeated the process of C-section and flooring at roof level. We wanted to
have a large sitting out area with which to view the rainforest. By
elevating this area we got more light, caught more breeze and were above
the normal flight level of the small number of evening mosquitoes.
On the inside wall of each container we cut out a "conventional" door.
The whole top area is used for sitting out, drying clothes, projects. We
bought three small and very cheap portable carports to cover the roof
area. First, the rainforest leaves are very hard on paint so the plastic
roof area deflects this. Second, we have attached 2 X 6m lengths of 90mm
PVC plastic storm water pipe to collect drinking water. Third, the plastic
roofing reduces the noise of the intense tropical downpours. Fourth, the
roofing provides shade and keeps the container much cooler - shading of
containers is essential if you plan to place them in an exposed location
We used rain off the plastic carport roofs to fill a plastic water tank
We screened the large container doors with aluminium mesh to give
ventilation but discourage white-tail rats.
How to amake a door ... Basically we welded a rectangular frame out
of RHS and attached it where we wanted a door. Next we used an angle
grinder to cut out the part of the wall inside the frame. To this cut out
we attached a second smaller RHS frame and welded the cut out to it.
Between the two frames we attached a couple of stainless steel hinges and
a clasp for a padlock.
This will become out main (mostly dry) entrance. The smallest and
cheapest angle grinder worked best for cutting doors / windows in
the container.We used RHS to make secure, lockable entrance doors from the
decking area. We prefabricated the external and internal RHS frames - take
care to line up the containers ribs to get flat areas and note the rib
spacing differs from container to container , marked it up then cut the
doorway. We then laid the cut-outs on the internal frame, marked them and
cut to fit - this was harder than expected because the rib spacing pattern
affects both where you place a door and the ultimate door size!
Due to the extreme rainfall we had to put some local gravel on the
track. There are frequent drainages across the track to drain
water away and reduce water velocity, the result - no
erosion and all weather access. We always travel at low speed in low
range with the Landrover while under the canopy, a gentle footprint keeps
the track in top shape. Prior to the gravel we had a trip in and slid off
the track all we needed was about 2 hours of dry weather and we
would have the grip to get out - four days later, eating wheatabix and
peanut paste , the rain finally gave us a break and wee decided gravel was
a good idea.
Even in years of exceptionally high rainfall, the containers stay dry and
free of insects or vermin including an astounding 8m of intense tropical
rain! Our research centre is completed. The idea is to build something
simple and liveable. We are very satisfied with the shipping containers.
Then on March 20, 2006 came Cyclone Larry, Category 5 with local wind
gusts to 283kmh!
The plastic carport roof was severely damaged but the shipping containers
suffered no damage at all despite the huge winds and falling branches.
Many large branches fell on the roof but inside remained
We replaced the damaged roof with a steel shadeshed. It was pretty easy to
erect and the pieces were light enough to lift by hand. Notice how most of
the background leaves have been blown away! The shadeshed is attached to
the shipping containers by turnbuckles and chains to each corner, visible
along the line of the white tarp shown below...
Our new guttering to the 1200Lwater tank was much better and we decided to
draw water from just one side of the roof. Later we added a second (3000L)
water tank to collect water off the second side of the shadshed. The
second tank is on the ground and we use a submercible pump to pump it into
the upper tank if we want pressurised water.
Our post Cyclone Larry Rainforest Retreat ... but our structure was to be
severely tested yet again!
On February 3, 2011 Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi Category 5 passed over
the stucture. In the severe winds, the shadeshed shifted and twisted
slightly but the chains attaching it to the roof held. We used a
small car jack to reposition the shadeshed, It was simply a matter of
loosening the chains and raising one corner a few centimetres. The
twisted shadeshed, under tension simply popped back into its original
shape and position.
Two Category 5 cyclones in five years is enough - no more please!
The large cargo doors of the containers have a simple wooden frame erected
across them to which we metal flyscreen attach fly screen.
In the rainforest a dry area and maximum ventilation are the key to
comfort. In high rainfall areas it is critical to get the containers as
high off the ground as possible in order to avoid splashback, things the
creep slither, crawl or bite and in order to keep the wooden floors well
ventilated and easily accessible.
Most recently...we have now replaced the moss covered vinyl tarps on the
sides with polycarbonate sheets in order to block spray from the rain and
let light in to assist with drying out. Our rainforest research facility
cost us about $16,000 AUS all up including two containers, trucking the
containers some 500km, screening in the cargo doors, steel, cement, sand
and gravel, nuts, bolts,three carports, C-section, screens, timber,
decking oil and painting - the lot.
We have 30sqm of totally dry sleeping area, 15sqm of mostly dry cooking
area and 45sqm of covered sitting out area - a total of 90sqm
Kathy Tafel, KTainer, - California - 4 Shipping Container Home (mirror -
no longer on the web)
I like the 24' length. It divides into spaces really easily - in half,
thirds, fourths, sixths, and twelfths. A 20' container naturally divides
in half, fourths, fifths, and tenths. I really like harmonic thirds.
Having the high cube means 9' 6" ceilings. Many homes only have 8'
ceilings in places.
Putting the four together, half the space is public, half private. The
public half are two containers next to each other for living, kitchen, and
dining. The private half are stacked on top of each other, for bedroom,
half-bath, study and guest sleeping. The two sections are joined together
with an 8 foot overlap, or, in thirds.
The long side of the house is then 40' long, and 24' wide, a nice 3/5
ratio. The long side of the house will face north-south, the short side
east-west, for maximum passive solar optimization. Also the tall side of
the house shades the living quarters for the better part of the morning.