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Modern day pioneer John Wells is doing some interesting work in Alpine, Texas.  On his desert swath in The Field Lab, which is also referred to as The Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, Wells is living off the grid and building an interesting live/work space of shipping containers.

A couple years ago, he built a tiny house, which is powered by 270 watts of solar and four 100-watt small wind turbines.  Now, Wells’ current project is the construction of a live/work space made from four 20-foot shipping containers.  Wells hopes to finish his 1,600 square-foot space for less than $20,000 and has some helpful pointers for others looking to take on a container project.

In mostly Wells’ words, here are 10 things to consider if you’re thinking about using shipping containers in your next project:

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1. Even with all the hype, containers are difficult to obtain and expensive to ship long distances. If you live close to a major port city and have a really big truck and trailer, it’s much easier and far cheaper to get them.

2. Don’t bother with those websites that have you fill out your info and up to four suppliers will contact you with competitive prices – THEY WON’T!

3. The price for a 20′ shipping container (not including delivery) can range from $2500 to $4000. You can stick build a building with the same amount of square footage, that is just as water tight and structurally sound using traditional construction methods for less than the cost of a shipping container – it just won’t weigh as much.

4. Containers provide an extremely secure storage structure which requires a blow torch or dynamite to break into, and they are too heavy to walk off with.

5. If possible, get delivery by tilt bed roll off truck. Otherwise you need a small crane or huge forklift to move and position them – or at least 50 really strong men.  Watch your fingers!  A 20′ shipping container weighs almost 5000 lbs.

6. Rust is the only natural predator that can harm a shipping container, so don’t scrimp on a good paint job.

7. These metal monsters become ovens or freezers depending on the outside temperature, really good insulation and ventilation is a MUST!

8. The real bonus to using a shipping container is the new green phrase “adaptive reuse.” Our trade deficit with the rest of the world is causing these to pile up in our country.

9. If you are going to use one for a structure, stay true to the form. Don’t cover the exterior with other building materials – show it for what it is.

10. While searching the web for how containers are being used: (A) most sites only show computer renderings, and (B) actual completed structures have been built at astronomical cost.

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We’ve mentioned several container projects over the years, including the 10 Shipping Container Projects of 2009.  Maybe we’ll be able to include The Field Lab’s workshop and greenhouse in our next round up in December.  You can follow the process at The Field Lab journal.

Photo credit: John Wells.