The delivery of the two halves of our container home to their final spot in Baardskeerdersbos was the culmination of a long process.  It was, without a shadow of doubt, utterly exciting to watch the unfaltering precision of the delivery process.

Day 1

At about 12:00 the two trucks carrying the containers and the crane truck arrived at the rendezvous point after leaving Cape Town just after 08:00.  Everybody was tense about the weather since the wind was already quite strong and rain was imminent.  A final check of the gravel road and the approach angles to the entrance to the plot, determined the order in which the trucks had to be unloaded.  The precision with which the drivers negotiated the trucks around the fence posts and pylons (on which the containers had to to be positioned) was an early indication of just how skillful the team was.  It took about an hour to get the first container (the front half of the house) in place, despite wind and rain, and another hour to position the back half.  As a result of intermittent rain the team could not complete the outside work, so they focused on some of the remaining inside work.

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Day 2

Most of the work on the outside of the container house could be completed (i.e. joining the two halves all along the seams), as well as the remainder of the inside work – hanging two doors, installing the shower door etc.).

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Day 3

The roofing team arrived early to start with assembling the light steel trusses and purlins.  By the end of the day it was ready to be erected.

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Day 4

The trusses, purlins and roof sheeting were fitted on top of the containers.

And voila!  A mere four days ago there was just an empty plot, now there is a beautiful shipping container house.

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T-minus 4…

It has been more than 18-months since we’ve bought the property in Baardskeerdersbos, more than a year of planning and research, and just more than 4 months since the start of converting our 2 x 12m shipping containers into a home.

And now we are almost done!  If the weather plays along (i.e. barring serious rain and wind) the eagle should land coming Thursday.

We’ve come a long way:


Local is “lekker” – or is it?

One of the sustainability aspects that became crystal clear while building our shipping container home is how difficult it can be to retain the link between green building practice and the use of local products and materials.

The term “local” describes manufacturing and distribution that are based near the consumer rather than nationally or internationally.  It assumes that manufacturing takes place close to the consumer’s home (i.e. within X kilometres of a consumer) and that goods are therefore transported over shorter distances.

The challenge is that there is no universally agreed-upon definition for the geographic component of “local”, i.e. how far away from you is nearby or “local”? 

Local map

The shipping containers that we used for our container home have been converted in Maitland (Cape Town), the plot where they will stand is in Baardskeerdersbos, and our primary home is in Stellenbosch.  Continue reading

Applying the greenness scale

Earlier on I wrote about having a green mind and asked “how green is green”?  I thought it could be worthwhile to use our process of converting shipping containers as an example of measuring greenness in building.

These are the results of applying our greenness scale to our shipping container home: Applying Our Greenness Scale to Our Shipping Container Home

In the meantime good progress is being made with finishing off the conversion process of the shipping containers.  The final coat of paint has been applied to the containers and shutters; the lugs for fitting the steel roof trusses are in place; the double-glazed doors and windows have been fitted; the electrical wiring and insulation are being completed; and we were able to make a start with sanding the floor.

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Material, Function & Form

You may be familiar with the principle that form follows function, originally associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century.  The idea is that the intended function or purpose of a building (or object) should determine its design and shape.

In view of our experience with building our own furniture for our converted shipping container home I want to suggest a green design principle that says: the recycled material at your disposal should determine the function and form of the end productContinue reading

1, 2, 3 – Design!

The design process of our shipping container house made the project begin to feel very real.  (Previously I outlined why we decided to build with shipping containers, and what it means to us to be “thinking green”.)

Five critical factors that the design of the shipping container house had to accommodate:

  • The house had to be constructed on a 2 000m² plot, fitting into the environment of Baardskeerdersbos, a tiny hamlet on the Aghulhas Plain.
  • We had two twelve meter shipping containers to use, giving us floor space of roughly 60m².
  • It had to be as eco-friendly as possible, despite being done on a shoestring budget.
  • We did not want to recreate what we already have, i.e. a suburban house in Stellenbosch.
  • Aesthetically pleasing design vs functionality vs costs vs green = a tall design order!

Continue reading

Having a green mind

Whether we call it eco-friendly, sustainable, environmentally aware, green – or whatever – the fact remains that all of us are to a lesser or greater degree aware of the environment around us and how we impact it.

For us, this awareness is a constantly developing green philosophy and praxis that also influences how we engage with our shipping container house project.  Soon after embarking on the project in 2016 it became clear that there is no such thing as completely eco-friendly / sustainable / green, at most there are degrees of greenness.  This is an important point since it compelled us to constantly check and re-check the so-called eco-friendly credentials of building processes, products and materials.  Like most other spheres of life, “green” is also subject to marketing and advertising that sometimes take liberties with how they represent something as sustainable or eco-friendly.  The result is that a lot of fact-checking and research is required to ascertain the real extent of the greenness of building processes, products and materials.  (I don’t know if this is something peculiar to South Africa, or if it is the norm elsewhere in the world too.)

We used the following criteria to determine if materials or products are “in” or “out”, green enough or not:

  • Where does it come from?
  • What is the environmental impact while using it?
  • What happens when it comes to the end of its life?

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Why build with shipping containers?

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The two halves of the container house

One of the many interesting things that we discovered on this journey of building with decommissioned shipping containers is the complexity of the various layers of decision-making.

I think the overarching criteria that we use to make all of our decisions during the project boils down to this:

  • How green is it?
  • Is it both beautiful and practical?
  • What is the price tag?
  • Can we operate or maintain it ourselves?
  • Is it a necessity or a nicety?

Continue reading