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Shipping Container Home Project – Part 4

I’m back to my shipping container home planning! I said I wasn’t going to focus too much on this project right now because I don’t really foresee being able to afford to build my shipping container home until 2011 but I’m going to ride the wave here. I love to plan things so I’m going to take advantage of this energy.

I went ahead and contacted the City of Tampa’s building division just to see what they would say. This is their response:

“The use of shipping containers for a structure would be permittable provided the structure is NOT portable. The structure must be permanently anchored to a foundation per the Florida Building code 2007 edition with 2009 supplements. The structure must also meet all other applicable building code requirements and City of Tampa site code requirements.”

So it looks like I should be able to do what I’d like to do, as long as the home appears permanent.

However, I have shifted gears a little bit since I first started writing this article. I’m the Queen of Flexible. If I can find a better and/or easier way to do something, I’m all over it. I have decided to build my shipping container home outside of the U.S.

In-between wanting to build in Tampa and now wanting to build in another country, I’d also played with the idea of building one in Hawaii. For those of you wanting to stay in the U.S., Hawaii is very open to your shipping container home project. Hawaii also had many other positive qualities as well. There were many very interesting Meetup groups in Hawaii, great jobs, rent not as expensive as you would think, and in a good location for traveling to other places in the Pacific and Asia. However, it is in severe violation of my natural disaster rules. *Smile* It is still a possibility for me, however, I’ve moved on from the idea.

Without, recounting my entire article about great countries to live in outside of the U.S., I’ll just say this is a shipping container home project and one of the benefits of building a shipping container home is portability. So I’m keeping that in mind when choosing a place to start the project. Even if I decide later I need to move on from my starting point, I can do so fairly easily.

With this having been said, let’s get back the project. *Smile* I’ve been working on assessing my power needs and find it to be pretty fun. There are low power freezers and fridges now, definitely low power lighting and other electronics. An eco home can have all the modern conveniences using less power. I love it!

I also have this idea that it may be more efficient to have separate solar systems for different things which would mean not having one central power link into the house. This may turn out not to be a good idea but I’m playing with it for a little bit. I would imagine, having a small home made solar panel just for daytime-only charging of any type of rechargeable battery or portable device (like cell phones, mp3 players and what not). I would also have a separate system just for lighting; a separate system (and the largest) for the fridge, washer, composting toilet (I may put this on it’s own system too), and AC. Finally, there would be a separate system for televisions, computers, film/video equipment, and recording studio equipment. The reason why I’m thinking of breaking the systems up is because I feel I can make much cheaper systems for the items that consume the least amount of power and would like to purchase a more powerful system for the items that use the most power. This way I can buy a smaller, cheaper system. It may also be possible to setup a small scale hydro-power system in addition to solar power.

I saw this excellent instructable with step-by-step instructions on how to make a wind turbine using magnets to create electricity. I loved the simplicity of it and I think the science of it can be applied in other ways as well.

Since I first started writing this article weeks ago, I have learned so many new things. I’ve discovered the wonderful world of Aquaponics and I’ve seen other applications of the coil/magnet generator used in the above mentioned wind turbine setup. Aquaponics is truly amazing and I feel like I’ve just been handed the keys to my own supermarket without the poisonous products inside! For those of you unfamiliar with Aquaponics, it is the blending of Hydroponics (growing plants without solid) and Aquaculture (basically fish farming). When combined, the fish waste provides nutrients for the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. This self contained system can be used to grow edible fish and plants. You can even grow your own fish food like Duckweed and Algae so you can save money on fish food and spend more time making sure the fish water is safe for the fish and nothing is destroying your plants.

I also stumbled upon an article or two where people have built a small scale coil/magnet generator and attached a home made water wheel to it placed the device in a small creek or where there is running water to generate electricity. Based on what I read, this produced a sufficient amount of electricity for their home for years. I’m thinking of testing this in my Aquaponics system. The system does require a pump which will need electricity. So I plan to use the energy created from the water going back into the fish tank to generate electricity to either power the pump or recharge a batter that powers the pump.

*I’ve learned putting containers into the ground is a bad idea.

So, I’ll review some of the tasks that would need to be addressed:
Water system: I’m thinking of a well and/or rain water catch to an underground cistern that then goes through a whole house filtration system for the kitchen and bathroom sinks, shower/tub and washing machine. I also think having sensors to turn off the water when nothing is in front of it, is a good ideas as well.
Power system: Solar and hydro (wind if possible)
Garbage disposal: I’d like to build a simple 55 gallon drum composting system for organic waste, and I still need to figure out what to do about non-organic waste disposal.
Independent food supply: I plan to setup a rather large scale aquaponics system that can also be used for trade to get things I might need and chickens.
Food storage: There are a few low energy fridges/freezers available and possibly adding a 20′ container to the roof for emergency storage.
Mail delivery: I still need to research this.
Human waste: I will buy a composting toilet.
Cooking: I’ve decided to try a gas cooker (I was thinking of a two-eye hot plate but those things are like 800+ Watts), solar cooker, smoker, grill, earth oven (I’m inclined to experiment with a Fresnel heated oven/stove), and/or rocket stove.
Lighting: I think LED and/or CFL lighting will be good. (note- I’m just not big on using a lot of lights. It’s not something I consciously do, I just noticed there is never more than one light on in my house after dark. So I think I won’t have any problems with low energy lighting use. I also like the idea of installing motion sensor to turn lights off and on.
Internet: I know I can do satellite internet but I need to research my internet options more.
Computing: I’m going to build low energy computers (I’ve been building PCs since the mid-90s and have a plan for a super low energy PC) I tend to use two computers for my creative work; one for administrative/entertainment computing and one for video, graphics design and music recording. The Pico PSU components from mini-box.com are going to come in handy! :)
Landscaping: I’ll be researching what naturally grows in the area in which I plan to live and landscape based on native plants. This is a little different but when I went to my cousin’s house, I saw that every area where Americans would put flowers or some other aesthetic plant, her Jamaican husband had planted food. I joked with my cousin; telling her they were landscaping with food. In her rose bed there is cabbage and collard greens; half of their backyard is corn and the other half is sugar cane. Where one would normally have hedges around the inside of a fenced yard, there is an assortment of veggies all around the house.

Because I’m a lover of technology, I may even toss a few solar powered cameras around the place and do a little live broadcasting.

Seems like a lot to do but most of these things I hope to have completed for before I make a move anywhere. All I would need to do is install them when I get where I’m going. I plan to buy containers in the US and put my belongings and anything duty free in one container and everything I have to pay a fee for in another and ship the containers to where ever I’ll be.

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