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Old 02-20-2014, 09:10 AM   #1
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Shipping container cabin/office


I am in the process of converting a 20í shipping container to an office/cabin space. I already have the container on my property, and will utilize it as a living and working space when I go hunting. I donít really need it as an office, but thatís what most of the builders Iíve talked with refer to it as.


Anyways, I found a kit on ebay that can convert my container into a cabin. It uses structural insulated panels on the interior and then it has an access panel with a window and door that is actually behind the cargo doors. I like this idea because when I am not on the property I can securely lock it up, and from the outside you have a normal looking container. They quoted me $3500 for everything including electric (which I donít need). The price is out of my budget, so I am wondering if I can make the same thing myself for less than $2500.


All that needs to be done is insulation (around r-13), framing, drywall, and the access panel with a window and door. I will be doing everything myself, except for the insulation. Looks like I can get spray foam insulation on a 20í for less than $1300. I am no expert when it comes to building, but I have the right tools to get the job done.


So what costs am I looking at to get this done? Is there a better way to go about this? Again, I like this idea because I can close up the container and nothing is visible from the outside.



I attached some pictures they sent me which shows what the finished product looks like.
Attached Thumbnails
Shipping container cabin/office-office-container-front.jpg   Shipping container cabin/office-office-container-plywood-installation.jpg   Shipping container cabin/office-mobile-office-red-interior.jpg  

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Old 02-20-2014, 01:25 PM   #2
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Shipping container cabin/office


It is good to have enthusiasm to go with a limited budget. I assume you are doing this without need for a permit, so you don't need to spring for permit fees and inspection. If you do need permit and inspection, add those costs to the project. If you plan to insure the cabin, talk to your insurance agency first, they are unlikely to automatically insure the building and contents.

As for construction, you could of course hire out the insulation, which is what I would do. DIY foam insulation has certainly been done by people on this forum, and you will hopefully get some feedback on how easy it is to get it right.

You will need to cut holes in the container to install the door, and install some studs, probably metal, where the door posts go. Same for windows. Figure in the cost for a prehung metal door, and any windows you need. Electrical wiring can probably be done with wiremold, but there may be local codes that affect it. You could use EMT or similar, that is probably what I would do, but the electrical folks on this forum will probably have a better idea.

If you want plumbing, got to add costs for fixtures, piping etc. Presumably you will need a septic field, but maybe your local codes allow a PortaPotty or Clivus Mulstrum (not sure of spelling there).

For lighting, you could go low budget and use a few fluorescents, or you could go big and get some spots, maybe some downlights, or just use lamps. You may want to put in a ceiling, figure costs for a drop ceiling if you want the "office" look, or maybe drywall for the traditional ceiling. For flooring, you could use concrete, tile, or wood I suppose, but for a cabin maybe a couple inches of concrete is good.

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Old 02-20-2014, 01:52 PM   #3
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Looks like a fun project. I used a bare container as a jobsite office/storage once. That was the hottest office I ever had. Even with the doors open on both ends. The summer heat made it almost unbearable. My concern would be the insulation and venting.
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Old 02-20-2014, 05:02 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Daniel Holzman View Post
It is good to have enthusiasm to go with a limited budget. I assume you are doing this without need for a permit, so you don't need to spring for permit fees and inspection. If you do need permit and inspection, add those costs to the project. If you plan to insure the cabin, talk to your insurance agency first, they are unlikely to automatically insure the building and contents.

As for construction, you could of course hire out the insulation, which is what I would do. DIY foam insulation has certainly been done by people on this forum, and you will hopefully get some feedback on how easy it is to get it right.

You will need to cut holes in the container to install the door, and install some studs, probably metal, where the door posts go. Same for windows. Figure in the cost for a prehung metal door, and any windows you need. Electrical wiring can probably be done with wiremold, but there may be local codes that affect it. You could use EMT or similar, that is probably what I would do, but the electrical folks on this forum will probably have a better idea.

If you want plumbing, got to add costs for fixtures, piping etc. Presumably you will need a septic field, but maybe your local codes allow a PortaPotty or Clivus Mulstrum (not sure of spelling there).

For lighting, you could go low budget and use a few fluorescents, or you could go big and get some spots, maybe some downlights, or just use lamps. You may want to put in a ceiling, figure costs for a drop ceiling if you want the "office" look, or maybe drywall for the traditional ceiling. For flooring, you could use concrete, tile, or wood I suppose, but for a cabin maybe a couple inches of concrete is good.
Yup, no permits necessary. I was planning on doing an "outhouse" of sorts. Not staying there for many days at a time, maximum 3 days at once.

I don't think I'll need to make any cuts into the container itself. My point in doing this is to have something that fits inside the container, with nothing exposed on the outside. I'll just be framing the inside of he container. I want it to look like the attached picture once I'm done.

I think the biggest costs at this point are the insulation, AC/heat and then a decent door and window. Framing and drywall should come under $600, no?
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Old 02-20-2014, 09:45 PM   #5
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It sounds like a really neat project and especially for a hunting cabin should work wonderfully. I'm assuming you're going to have power to it for heating and lighting? That picture looks like a 20' container, is that correct?
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Old 02-21-2014, 04:40 AM   #6
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there isn't anything shown that can't be bought @ apron/vest stores consider generator over elec lines
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Old 02-21-2014, 07:35 AM   #7
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Looking like a good recycle project but I personally would need 1 egress window at the opposite end of the entrance.
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Old 02-21-2014, 08:01 AM   #8
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Any place that sells windows and doors has a scratch and dent or ordered the wrong size area or check at your local Habitat for Humanity store.
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Old 02-21-2014, 02:25 PM   #9
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Yes, its for a 20' container.

I was debating the use of a generator. I'll need to figure out how much power I will be using first.

A back window isnt difficult to install, but it goes against my plan to keep the outside shell/structure of the container intact.

Also forgot to mention that the container has small vents at each of the corners. I haven't had any moisture issues, so I do not foresee any problems coming up.

Last edited by Bubs77; 02-21-2014 at 02:29 PM.
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Old 02-21-2014, 03:07 PM   #10
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Once you get the insulation and sheetrock up, you may have issues, unless the corner vents are run through the new walls.

also lock backs on the cargo doors so that they don't shut in windy conditions might be a good idea.
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Old 02-21-2014, 03:58 PM   #11
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I would not use drywall. I would use some type of paneling or moisture resistant material. In constant temperature swings drywall will not hold up good. You can save alot of money by using foam panels for insulation.
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Old 02-21-2014, 06:08 PM   #12
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Also forgot to mention that the container has small vents at each of the corners. I haven't had any moisture issues, so I do not foresee any problems coming up.
Those things are not exactly vents as you would find in a house. They are for relieving internal pressure in the container during air transport.

Before retiring, I worked for a defense contractor who turned ISO containers into all manner of portable military field equipment (kitchens, showers, laundries, latrines, water purification systems, etc.). The U.S. Army has a program called Force Provider that consists of portable camps made up entirely of containerized stuff. I helped to design a lot of it.
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Old 02-21-2014, 06:10 PM   #13
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Those things are not exactly vents as you would find in a house. They are for relieving internal pressure in the container during air transport.

Before retiring, I worked for a defense contractor who turned ISO containers into all manner of portable military field equipment (kitchens, showers, laundries, latrines, water purification systems, etc.). The U.S. Army has a program called Force Provider that consists of portable camps made up entirely of containerized stuff. I helped to design a lot of it.
Thanks for the info, I don't have any problems installing a whirlybird or side vent. Would that address any ventilation issues?
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Old 02-21-2014, 06:23 PM   #14
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Thanks for the info, I don't have any problems installing a whirlybird or side vent. Would that address any ventilation issues?
Sure would. When I was a college student I lived in a mobile home that had a wall vent bath fan. Release the chain on the spring loaded insulated sealed door to run, pull the chain and lock to stop and seal. Best one ever invented in my opinion. One may ask why they aren't popular in houses. Good grief, people wouldn't have one of those unsightly things that looks like trailer trash. It must look the part whether it's worth a dam or not.
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Old 02-22-2014, 08:12 AM   #15
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Thanks for the info, I don't have any problems installing a whirlybird or side vent. Would that address any ventilation issues?
Yes, either would work.

As JustinK mentioned, I would not use drywall. Especially if this container will ever be moved. If you like, I can provide some information on how to construct what you want. Bear in mind, though, that the military requirements I worked with were far more demanding than what you'd probably want or need.

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