Firstly let me apologise and warn you marine enthusiasts that this blog post is not a typical Undersea Productions post, and I promise not to do this again, but these are crazy times. This post is all about the shipping container house I just finished building as an untrained DIY enthusiast and avid recycler on a budget trying to protect and encourage biodiversity in my own backyard.
Since April 2012, in between dive trips, shoots, endless cataloging and COVID, I have pulled down three houses destined for demolition(and burning in one case) and taken all those bits and turned them into a home, office and gardens with the structural help of shipping containers. The basic plan was to waste nothing and send the absolute minimum to landfill, and so the hoarding began…..
These are the three previous homes I re-purposed :
“Uncle Les’ house” was in old Tewantin(QLD, Australia) and was owned by the niece of the late Uncle Les(died age 102 I think and he kept heaps of stuff). She couldn’t sell the property because of the derelict building and was happy for me to pull it down. It was a simple dwelling built from Queensland hardwoods and pretty rusty tin. It had no glass windows but lots of incredibly hard wood that is over 100 years old(which is old in Australia). Les also had loads of old bits and bobs and furniture that I kept and cleaned up or repurposed. Main uses : bearers, joists, rafters, battens, soffits, all exterior cladding, furniture, bakelite electrical fittings, floor in kitchen/dining and all external decks, herb spiral, long garden, fencing, tin garden beds.
“The Barn” was in Cooroy((QLD, Australia) and was owned by my houseboat neighbour. It was half eaten by termites and he was going to burn it down to clear the site as part of his property sale. I didn’t get that much good stuff to be honest but all the wood that still had some structural integrity post-termite got put to good use in the build and the termite damaged beams are perfect for gardens as they already have the nooks and crannies lizards and frogs like to live in. The V-J boards the termites didn’t seem to like make beautiful interior wall linings and the barn doors and shutters all look great. The floorboards which were very sketchy make a nice rustic ceiling in the living room. Main uses : studs, ceiling cladding, shutters, internal wall cladding, fence and fence posts.
“The McMansion” was a beautiful two story brick and tile home in Noosa(QLD, Australia) and while the bricks, windows, and tile roof got the bulldozer treatment which was out of my hands, I was very lucky to strip all the timbers out of the place. Along with oversized Oregon pine beams, red cedar doors and wall panelling along and loads of good 80’s era plumbing & electrical wiring and fittings, the upstairs flooring and stud walls were a huge contribution to my new build. Main uses: interior wall studs, studio/living/bed2 flooring, ceiling panelling, internal doors, trims, large exposed timbers, joists, shelving, bed and office flooring, red cedar shutters become master bed door cladding.
Other material donations from friends along the way completed the materials list.
So I collected it all in Tewantin, then trucked multiple loads in my second hand containers and on flatbed trucks 1.5hrs north to Cooloola Cove, the cheapest and best coastal land within 2.5hrs of Brisbane airport.
The goal was to use as many of my materials as possible to reduce landfill and cost, and to create the most habitat for local biodiversity in sync with food forrest, veggie gardens, and herb spiral right out of the Permaculture 101 manual. The greatest assets to this block are the 3 magnificent gum trees(aka widow makers) which bring in and house a steady stream of our most beautiful parrots among many other critters. The whole project was designed and built around these trees – two scribbly gums and a bloodwood.
The block I chose is 1061m2 and had nothing on it apart from a few trees.
Then I dumped all my hoardings…
The main house is two containers connected by a 2.5m floating floor but it looks like three containers side by side. The 40’HC container has a recording studio and bedroom(originally a workshop) on either end and the middle section is cut out. I used that material to create the front and back walls connecting the 40footer to a standard 20′ container. The roof of the middle section of the 40 was also removed to let light in from above but left intact for the studio and bedroom for soundproofing and safety against tree limbs in a storm. The 20′ container has the master bedroom and bathroom divided by a stud wall.
Here’s my design.
I was fortunate to find a local builder to help me with the set-out and get the framing in place using all the best timbers.
Then the seemingly endless task of using up all the remaining timbers. Along the way, cutting holes, removing rust and painting containers.
The bed/bath container gets a stud wall and beautiful walls from the barn. The shower bump out came from the McMansion and was used as a fish pond and water plant nursery. These inhabitants moved to bathtubs until the pond was built.
The kitchen/living/dining/laundry used up lots of nice timbers and an old car windscreen for a kitchen sink backsplash.
Meanwhile the gardens are going in and growing.
The recoding studio is insulated and lined with Soundcheck plasterboard and covered in random soft timbers.
The last of the soft timbers line the office, the outer 3 sides are clad in Uncle Les’ weatherboards. The floor gets the hardwood treatment too.
I tried to go fully off-grid but (thankfully) council shook their heads and said I had to connect to mains water and sewerage. The power though all comes from solar and I have two systems – the first was all 12V and runs the lights and fridge. The second runs the 240V system of power points and can run major appliances like the washing machine, guitar amps and vacuum cleaner.
So my final 5 tips to anyone thinking about doing this for themselves.
- Of course you can do it. But buckle in, it will take lots of trial and error and a lot more time than you think.
- Keep everything but have a place and a plan – if you can’t imagine ever using something, you probably won’t. But everything you pull out of one house you will need for the one you want to build including short timbers.
- De-nail as you go, it is easier removing nails from a piece of timber still attached to other timbers and nails only get harder to pull when you bend them over.
- Organise yourself and your materials to minimise double, triple etc. handing. I could point to timbers I have moved more than a dozen times. Heavy ones too.
- Brace for backlash – your neighbours won’t necessarily see your vision but try not to let them get you down, you’ll get there in the end and it will be worth the effort and stress.
The final images…
So that’s it. Done and dusted. Feel free to leave questions or comments below.
BTW this house is currently for sale. Full details here : https://www.realestate.com.au/property-house-qld-cooloola+cove-136871454