Columbus couple using shipping containers to build cabin


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After thieves stole everything of value — including the toilet — from their Vinton County weekend camper, Becky Wolff and her husband, Bill Echols, abandoned their dream of building an A-frame cabin on the property.

They wanted something more secure.

They found their answer in a rail yard in Obetz: shipping containers.

“At first we thought we just wouldn’t build,” Wolff said. “But then we started researching it and discovered that shipping containers are quite strong. You could maybe cut (them) with a plasma cutter, but it sure wouldn’t be easy.”

In February, the Columbus couple paid $6,400 to have three containers delivered to their 12-acre lot near South Bloomingville.

A small one, 20 feet long, serves as a storage shed.

The other two — each 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 9 1/2 feet tall — will become their cabin retreat.

The containers sat on the lot through spring and summer while Echols built a diamond pier foundation — made of steel posts instead of being set in concrete — for the containers.

On the crisp morning of Sept. 28, Mark Anthony and John Gaskill, with the Load Lifters company of Logan, arrived to set the 9,800-pound steel boxes on the foundation.

“There it goes!” exclaimed Janice Wolff, Becky’s mother, as a crane lifted the first container.

Less than an hour later, the containers sat side by side on the foundation. The house had been framed.

“We’ve been working toward this day for a long time,” Wolff said.

Wolff and Echols, who live in a Northwest Side condominium, know they have plenty of work to do before they can move into the steel boxes. The moment the crane operators left, Echols began welding the units to the foundation and to each other.

The couple will next run wood braces along the outside of the containers, allowing Wayne’s Building Supply in nearby Laurelville to add pole-barn siding and a pitched roof.

Using an angle grinder, Echols plans to cut doorways to link the units. After that will come electrical lines, plumbing, insulation, framing, drywall and painting.

In the end, the 600-square-foot home will include two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living/dining area.

The couple will keep the massive steel doors capping the containers and install conventional doors and windows behind them. While away from the cabin, they will close the outside doors and lock their cabin tight.

“I would be happy if next year at this time, we could get in there and move the camper out,” Wolff said.

Wolff and Echols are learning as they go but figure their complementary skills are perfect for the task. Wolff, a 59-year-old chemist at CAS (Chemical Abstracts Services), handles the project planning, while Echols, a 54-year-old UPS worker who is also an electrician, does the heavy lifting.

“When I run into an issue, I Google it,” Echols said.

Wolff and Echols have seen one container home, a model built by Hamilton Remodeling & Building for The Columbus Dispatch Home & Garden Show. They know of no home built of containers in central Ohio, although Bryan Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Remodeling, said he is working with a family to build a 920-square-foot, two-bedroom home from shipping containers in Franklin County.

Echols picked up several tips from a website called Tin Can Cabin, run by a computer programmer identified only as Steve who built a cabin from a shipping container in the Wisconsin woods.

But Tin Can Cabin isn’t, in fact, a rousing endorsement for the process. After finishing his cabin, Steve actually advised against building with containers.

“In most cases, it doesn’t make economic or practical sense,” concluded Steve, who did not respond to a Dispatch request for an interview.

In addition to the difficulty of working with metal and the limitations the containers place on a cabin’s design, containers simply cost more in the end, Steve found. He said he spent $36,000 on his 480-square-foot cabin, considerably more than the $20,000 he estimates a comparable conventional cabin would have cost.

Wolff estimates that her cabin with Echols will cost about $40,000 when finished.

The Tin Can Cabin allowed for two instances when shipping-container homes made sense: if the owners want to make an “architectural statement” or if they want a secure structure.

The first doesn’t apply to Wolff and Echols, who plan to hide the containers behind siding and a roof. But the second does.

Echols and Wolff see another advantage: Containers are termite-proof. Besides, Echols added, “We feel good we’re reusing something that’s just been sitting around.”

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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