Shipping Container Based Remote Cabin Design

shipping container remote cabin - exterior open

The ability to button-up and secure remote cabins helps thwart would-be thieves. Tiny buildings made from shipping containers are naturally easy to secure when left mostly intact. Cutting holes for windows and doors not only opens the home up with natural light, it opens opportunity for break-in.

In this design exploration I show how windows and glass doors could be sealed simply with some hinged and lockable steel shutters. Just for fun I show how the small solar panel array could also be secured inside the center shutter – which opens by folding down. This would keep the panels away from the pry bars carried by thieves, but means they can’t do their work charging the batteries when closed. One solution for this would be to mount a single, 5th, panel on the roof for slowly topping-off the batteries, while the bulk of the solar investment sits safely behind the shutter.

shipping container remote cabin - exterior closed

The exterior of a shipping container should be water proof, so a secondary roof should theoretically not be needed; but anyone who’s been inside a metal shed on a hot day knows that without some shade, metal boxes get hot. Flat roofs also provide little to no potential for shedding water and snow. So adding a second roof over the box to shield it against the elements might be a wise decision. In this illustration I’m showing a metal roof with metal framing.

Another ever-present danger to remote cabins is fire. Trimming a fire perimeter around buildings located in high fire danger areas is always a good idea, and required in some regions; but building entirely with non-famable materials on the exterior can also help save the cabin in a worst case scenario. It’s not a sure bet since it could also cook like an oven inside if the fire outside was to close and/or too hot – but the steel exterior would definitely help. The only exception to this material selection shown here is the wood deck.

Another advantage to building a self-contained cabin from a shipping container is that it can be constructed off-site and delivered by truck. The roof shown here would pose a slight logistical challenge, but the container could be brought in and set onto pre-installed concrete footings. The roof could be mostly pre-assembled off-site and brought in by truck, or assembled in parts and bolted together on-site. It could also be added permanently to the cabin prior to deliver but may need a wide-load permit for hauling unless the eaves were shortened.

In any case building where it’s convenient and not on top of a mountain can speed  construction and reduce cost. The main logistical issues left would be getting the cabin to the site by truck on the windy dirt forest roads and connecting it to any on-site utilities like power, water, and sewer. If the cabin were designed to be very frugal, truly off-grid alternatives could be used for these as well.

A rain water collection tank and plumbing could be added to that shed roof. A composting toilet could be installed in the bathroom. A grey water system could be used to handle the water from the shower and sinks. All power could be derived from the solar system if sized properly with the expected power consumption. A propane tank could be located outside if gas water heat or heating were used.

Inside this cabin could be a bathroom, micro kitchen, table, and sofa/bunk bend.  But many other configurations are possible, especially if the bathroom were smaller or the container longer.

shipping container remote cabin - floor planshipping container remote cabin - inside at night shipping container remote cabin - inside at dusk shipping container remote cabin - living room shipping container remote cabin - bathroom

Most shipping containers come in two standard sizes, 8×20 and 8×40. There are other sizes but these two are most common. An 8×20 is shown here. The cost of containers is fairly standard but costs rise the father they must travel from ports. You see these boxes are what’s used to ship goods from overseas – but many don’t find their way back. Instead they are resold for other uses. The farther you get from a port, the more expensive they tend to be. Check your local craigslist.org for businesses that sell containers near you.

I’m not sure how much of a DIY project a shipping container cabin would be. Certain parts would likely require some professional help, like the transportation. The metal work would also present some challenges to the average owner-builder. But in terms of cost I think a cabin like this could be completed for the same kind of money as a wood cabin. So at the end of the day the main decision factors would be aesthetics and function. If you felt the benefits of a steel box out-weighted the aesthetics of a wood cabin then a cabin/house like this might be the right path.

The illustrations were drawn with SketchUp and rendered with Podium V2, a photo-realistic plugin for SketchUp. I draw design concepts like this mostly for fun – and share them to help introduce ideas to others. Enjoy!

4 Comments Shipping Container Based Remote Cabin Design

  1. Gabe Craft

    I really like your concept Michael. After the 2011 tsunami here Northeastern Japan some schools where I teach used shipping containers as extra buildings. They did however prove very hot in the summer and cold in the winter…
    But, in contrast, your floating roof concept – (similar to the John Wells’ “Field Lab” for example) – is super cool! The roof also reminds me of Vina Lustado’s work too (swoon) ;)
    Thank you for your inspirational work. :)

    Reply
  2. David Lee

    This design is aesthetically and functionally sweet! Very practical and would work in a lot of situations.

    Reply
  3. whitney

    I love your project! My name is Whitney, I am completing a Certificate at Yestermorrow Design Build school in Warren, VT. For my project I am researching the availability of homeowners insurance for tiny homes. If you own a tiny home please take a few moments to fill out this survey. Thank you for your time! https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DXXW3X3 This project is an effort to help tiny homeowners find ways to protect their investments.

    Reply

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