Wednesday, October 8, 2014

8'x20' Kitchen / Bathroom / Laundry Unit

ESP floor plan

The ESP module is a concept in development that could inexpensively simplify and speed-up the process of turning buildings such as barns, sheds, or garages into livable homes.  It could also be used to improve the lives of people living in substandard housing situations.  The ESP (Essential Systems Pod) is an 8'x20' high cube steel shipping container that would be fully insulated, and its interior would be completely finished with full kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facilities.  


Why do this in a shipping container? Because they are inexpensive, readily available, sturdy, and easily transported.  In certain communities, the ESP module could be freestanding and shared by two or more families.  Even that would be a huge upgrade to living conditions in many parts of the world.  To do that, the plan could be adjusted so that the bathroom and laundry each had separate entrance doors from the outside, and doors would be added to the kitchen entry.  By eliminating the passageway between the kitchen and bathroom, the kitchen could take on a U-shape, allowing increased storage and counter space.  Using this initial plan as a nucleus, all these adjustments would be simple to do.

ESP cross-section through kitchen

The kitchen would have a two bowl stainless steel sink, dishwasher, refrigerator, range, pantry, base cabinets, counter-top, wall cabinets, and range hood.  It would be fully wired and have outlets, switches, and lighting.  All appliances would be standard sized and the layout would be highly functional.  The design also includes lots of awning windows for natural ventilation, daylight, and views.

ESP cross-section through bathroom and kitchen

The bathroom has a standard full-sized tub/shower combination, a water conserving dual flush toilet, a 36" vanity, a linen closet, and a full-sized stacked washer/dryer.  The wall of the linen closet that faces the vanity could be home to a tankless water heater (that's right, recessed into the wall) to provide unlimited on-demand hot water for the bathroom, laundry, and kitchen.  Alternatively, a small water heater could be located in a kitchen base cabinet,  in the bathroom vanity, or in the linen closet.

As I mentioned, the ESP module could be attached to an existing building, like a freestanding garage for example, to transform it into livable space.  The modules could be prefabricated so that they could be inexpensive and easily shipped just about anywhere either individually or in quantity.  In many locations they could be used to improve the quality of the housing stock considerably.  The units could either add functions the housing doesn't already have, or upgrade and replace it so that space in the existing building could function better for living, dining, and sleeping.

When attaching it to another building I think it makes sense to do so with a short corridor.  This would allow air circulation between the existing building and the new module to avoid moisture build-up and rot. It would also allow any doors and windows on the existing building to remain functional.

I made the video below to more fully explain the ESP module concept, and show it in a variety of situations.  If you enjoy the video, please "like" it on YouTube, share it and comment.


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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

8'x40' Shipping Container Home Design

I've designed and drawn-up my first 8' x 40' steel shipping container home plan.  It's a 320 sq. ft. tiny home design.  While it's specifically designed for a shipping container, there's no reason it couldn't be a stick-built tiny home plan as well.  In fact, if you did that you could put on a gable, gambrel, or shed roof to get some extra storage or sleeping loft space too.

View from the kitchen looking toward the great room.
By definition, a 320 sq. ft. home is pretty modest, but I tried to make it a livable plan with a sensible layout, reasonable amenities, and lots glass for daylight and outside views.  It's not a palace, but I think it's nice for its size.  As you'll notice in the plan, it has a linear layout with a bedroom at one end, a bathroom at the other end, and a great room and kitchen in between..  This could be a guest house, granny flat, in-law apartment, ADU, backyard rental unit, vacation home, or full-time residence.
Exterior including back

Exterior including front

Floor plan for 8' x 40' shipping container home.
The great room has a dining area, living area, propane fireplace (suitable for heating the entire home when needed), triple patio doors on one side and triple awning windows on the other.  This space would have plenty of natural daylight, even on overcast days.

Great room

View from great room toward kitchen.

The bedroom has enough room for a queen sized bed, bedside table, and a large armoire.  I chose the armoire instead of a built-in closet because it allows for more storage and better organization in less space.  The bedroom also features a set of patio doors leading out back.  With the door to the great room open in cold weather, you could enjoy the glow of the fireplace while laying in bed.  If you installed a Murphy-type bed in there, especially one that transforms into a desk when the bed is upright, you'd gain quite a bit in terms of the functionality of the space.


The kitchen is more complete than you see in most tiny homes.  It has a big refrigerator/freezer, full-size stove, 18" dishwasher, large sink, six linear feet of wall cabinets, decent base cabinets, and enough counter space to actually prepare a meal on.  It also has two adjacent closets.  I was thinking that one could be a broom closet and the other could house batteries and an inverter for a small solar electric system.  You might choose to put a water heater in one of the closets, or you could put a small one under either the kitchen counter or the bathroom vanity.

Galley kitchen and two closets flanking the bathroom door

The bathroom has all the standard fixtures, plus a stacked washer/dryer combination and a linen closet.  I debated including a larger shower, or even a four foot tub/shower combination, but ultimately I decided on a 32" shower so I could fit the linen closet in too.

View of the bathroom
Take a virtual tour of the home and listen to my description in the video below.  If you enjoy the video, please "like", share, comment and/or subscribe.  Thanks!

How Much Would it Cost? 
I haven't done an estimate on this design, but I did do a rough one for my first 8x20 design.  It came to about $10,000 in materials (assuming they are all brand new), not including the shipping container itself, or labor.  I'm inclined to say that this design would be about twice as much as my 8x20 design.  Granted, it doesn't have twice as many kitchens, bathrooms, and washer/dryer sets, but the kitchen and bathroom are larger and more developed, and there are more windows and doors which tend to be expensive if purchased new.   See my 8x20 design and it's estimate by clicking here.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Three Bedroom Container Home Design

Connecticut architect Robert T. Coolidge designed this roughly 1,300 square foot container home.  It consists of two 40 foot containers separated by an enclosed area that includes plenty of room for some of the home's essential functions.

Front Perspective

Rear Perspective

The two 8' x 40' containers, separated by a 16'-8" clear-spanned space,  house three bedrooms, two bathrooms, the laundry area, mechanical room, and an office.  The living and dining areas, along with the kitchen and entry, are found in the enclosed area between the two containers.

Plan Perspective
In this experimental prototype design, Rob's objectives were to...
  • Use containers for their strengths
  • Not feel obliged to use containers where they become too problematic
  • Design real, uncompromised living space
Aerial Perspective

When I inquired about what he had in mind for a foundation, he said his initial thought was for a crawl space accessed via a hatch in the mechanical room floor.  Other possibilities include full basement accessed through an exterior cellar hatch, slab, piers, or any suitable foundation that budget and local conditions allow.

Cross Section

The roof would consist of steel trusses and structural insulated panels (SIPs).

View from kitchen toward dining and living areas.
View from the outside, looking in.

As you can see based on the interior perspectives, the living, dining, and kitchen areas are open and airy, with plenty of natural light.  

A problem commonly encountered in container home master bedroom design is that the bed itself is simply too large to walk around comfortably in one orientation, or access is limited to only one side, or too restricted in the other orientation.  Rob got around this problem with a simple two foot bump-out that accommodates the the bed and provide comfortable access from all sides.  With that, the entire bedroom now has a spacious feel.

Floor Plan
If you like this design then I'm sure the architect would love to hear from you.  I suspect he'd be willing to discuss modifications, local code compliance, costs, and any other concerns you might have if you're thinking about building this.  Contact Robert T. Coolidge at:

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MEKA World Container Homes

MEKA World is a Canada based company specializing in metal shipping container homes. They have eight impressive container home designs to choose from.  The number in the model name tells you how many square feet the design has.  For example, the ALP 320 is 320 square feet.  You can find more photos and floor plans on their website,  All photo and image credits in this post go to MEKA World.  

ALP 320 Exterior
The models and current prices (in USD) as of the day of this post are listed below...
ALP 320         $66,800      
SOL 480         $86,300   
VOR 640        $121,500     
THOR 960     $170,000   
HELA 1280   $215,000 
JAM   1920       Contact MEKA World

They have also recently added two micro homes called the TALMA 200 and LIBERTY 200, each made of one 8'x20' container (160 square feet).  Those sell for $29,000 USD and $36,000 USD respectively.  The Liberty is an off-grid model that features solar electricity and thermal, battery storage, composting toilet, and a water storage tank.

ALP 320 floor plan.

ALP 320 Interior

The ALP 320 shown above is a studio model (no separate bedroom).  The SOL 480 and VOR 640 are both one bedroom models. The THOR 960 has two bedrooms, one up and one down.  The HELA 1280 is a three bedroom unit with two bedrooms on the second floor and one on the first. The THOR and HELA both have two bathrooms, the ALP, SOL, and VOR have just one bathroom each.  I love the fact that they show many of their completed designs with solar panels and rain barrels.

THOR 960
VOR 640
HELA 1280
The MEKA World prefabricated shipping container homes are completely finished inside and out.  They are wired, plumbed, and well insulated.  Bathroom fixtures are installed, as are kitchen cabinets.  

Floor plans for the HELA 1280
I will provide some interior photos and the company's website below.

HELA 1280 Interior
Bathroom.  Note skylight over shower.
Bedroom in HELA 1280
You can see and learn more at MEKA World's website:

Click here to go to an older post that features a video about a MEKA World container home.  

Click here to see my first design for an 8' x 20' container home.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Converting Shipping Containers Into Homes

What's the next big thing in terms of affordable and sustainable housing solutions?  Many people are turning their attention toward shipping containers, cargo containers, or ISBUs (Inter-modal Steel Building Units) as they look for ways to create more affordable housing.  Shipping container house plans  are readily available on the internet.  Standard shipping container sizes are roughly 8'-0" wide by either 20' or 40' long.  They come in standard height which provides about 7'-6" of interior height, or "high cube" containers which provide about 8'-6" of interior height.  As I see it, shipping containers have four primary virtues... 

A nice modern house, made from old shipping containers.
  • First, they are inexpensive.  I just looked on eBay, and found them going for between $1,000.00 and $4,000.00 each, depending on size and condition.  
  • Second, they are strong.  These things get fully loaded with heavy cargo, hoisted by cranes and stacked on top of one another, shipped across the rolling ocean, hoisted, unloaded, loaded again, etc.  They're tough.  
  • Third, they are readily available.  Just take a look on eBay, Craig's List, or do a Google search.  You will find them easily and chances are good that there are some close by.   In the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of them laying around, mostly due to the fact that we import so many more goods than we export, and we don't usually send the empty ones back.
  • And fourth, using them is a form of recycling, or up-cycling, which is always a good thing.
A simple shipping container home.
There are some drawbacks to using shipping containers too.  Working with metal is more challenging and less forgiving than working with wood.  Even if you already have a good tool collection and some carpentry skills, you might need new tools and skills to work on these.  Those tools might include a plasma cutter, fire extinguisher, angle grinder, galvanizing spray, and specialized protective gear.  I understand it can be done with a drill and sawzall (reciprocating saw), but it's quite a chore. 

I haven't ever tried cutting into a shipping container, but I have watched videos depicting all the methods.  Based on what I've seen, my first choice would be an angle grinder.  It's basically cutting with the edge of a sturdy spinning abrasive disc.  Images of the three cutting tools I mentioned appear below.
Sawzall (reciprocating saw)

Angle grinder
Plasma cutter
Also, when the sun shines on these giant metal cans, they get hot, inside and out, so you'll need to find a way to insulate them, even if you plan to use them in a mild environment.  Likewise when it's cold out, it will be very cold inside too, unless properly insulated.  One exception to that rule is the refrigerated containers used to ship food that must be kept cold.  Those are very well insulated, but more expensive and harder to find.

Cool home made of recycled shipping containers.
I should also mention that while some people find shipping containers to be beautiful, others may find them hideous.  You could always apply an attractive exterior siding to them if you so desire.

Another neat shipping container home idea

YouTube is loaded with shipping container home videos, and you can find lots of shipping container house plan ideas by Googling "shipping container house plans." 

Shipping container home with green roof.
I've included some sample plans below.  If you scroll down further, you'll find a good shipping container video.  I found the first plan on 
I found the remaining plans below on a site called:

Below is one short example of a shipping container video I found on YouTube.  This particular one features a prefabricated home made from two 8' x 20' shipping containers that, according to the video, sells for about $32,000.00.  It gives you an idea of how nice a small shipping container home can be inside.


Click here to see an entire post about the company that made the home in the video above.  It includes photos, prices, floor plans, and a direct link to the company's web site.  

Below is a video I made about one I designed myself.  To see my post about it  with lots more information, including how much it might cost,  click here.  

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Nova Deko "Milan" 8'x40' Container Home

This 8' x 40' shipping container home design by the Australian company Nova Deko Modular Home Solutions is breathtaking. It's remarkable how seemingly spacious, practical, elegant, modern, and livable this design is.  In my opinion, this unit demonstrates that full time tiny living can be elevated from permanent camping trip to a luxurious yet affordable lifestyle.

Click the images to enlarge.

One look at the floor plan below (they call this model the Milan) and you can see that the designers have seamlessly shoehorned-in pretty much all the needs and wants for a single person, or perhaps even a couple.

Unlike many homes in this square footage range, this home features a kitchen that actually works, including a decent sized refrigerator, dishwasher, deep sink, reasonable counter space, and lots of storage.  While there is only a two burner cook-top, many people rarely use more burners at once.  The oven is probably a combination microwave and convection oven.

 The home is flooded with natural light and has windows for views in every direction.  The importance of those two factors can't be understated in small, full-time living quarters.  The interior living space is extended outside with the help of a large covered deck that also features a privacy screen.

If you looked at the floor plan provided above, you probably noted the 3/4 bath, first floor bedroom, and relatively ample closet space.

Heating and cooling of the space is achieved with a mini-split ductless system, supplemented by ceiling fans. 

The cost of the unit (as of this post's publishing date) is $47,400 Australian dollars.  Naturally land, shipping, foundation, installation, and hookups will cost additional money and will vary from place to place.  Check out the installation photos below.

The company says it's working on developing off-grid versions which won't require any hook-ups for electricity, plumbing, or sewer systems.  They are also willing to adapt the units for use in the United States and Canada.  You can visit their site by clicking the link below.

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