About

We are Fred & Cynthia, formerly of Colorado in the USA, now living in the mountains in the Interior of the country of Panama. This is a journal of our adventure of building our new home from shipping containers. There will be hurdles to jump, experiences to treasure, and who knows what else along the way.

(Update: After a long rainy season start up of clearing the lot, building a fence, bringing in electricity, and pouring concrete columns, we now have containers welded to the columns and are working on the actual house construction.)

Just Google “shipping container houses” or “shipping container homes” and you will find a movement (maybe too early to call it a trend) that is well underway. Although not a dwelling, we find this site, Puma City Shipping Container Store, particularly interesting because it is portable, traveling the world, and displays the incredible strength and design flexibility of this type of building. Here are some more: 10 Shipping Container Homes.

Here they all are like ducks in a row.

In addition, as things strike me as interesting, I will be adding stories about our life here in Panama.

DISCLAIMER: By the way, this site is about how we did it. We may not have done it right, and we are not telling you how to do it. If you take any of this and apply it to your own project, or tell someone else about it for their project, you are all on your own and you take full responsibility for your actions. Reminds me of the sign in the old repair shop. “Repairs: $5. If you help: $25.” Or this one: “Answers: $Free. Answers backed by thought: $25. Correct answers: $50.”

So here we go, follow along, and enjoy! You might want to start at the Table of Contents page to see all posts with descriptions.

68 thoughts on “About

  1. Thanks very much for the comments on my recent shipping container home blog post! I appreciate your stopping by to provide my readers with more information on your story.

    I do enjoy reading your posts; you have lots of great ideas and interesting tales!

      • hi been following for a while now, I admire your hard work ,ideas, courage in pursuing such a big proyect, not easy but hey only persistence,hard work gets you there,im in the same boat a little less work maybe but aint easy in 100 plus degree weather with all the rain , mosquitos, recluse spiders, scorpions, centipedes …. you name it, but hanging in there look me up on facebook its hacienda orama verde vieques click me up ill accept we go from there in detail what is it im copying from your ideas lol later thank you Angel

        • Hi Angel,

          Thanks very much for your compliments. Yes, persistence and hard work make all the difference, especially if you are after something nice and unique. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it! It sounds like you are building in a dandy of an environment. We’ve got it all, too, with the exception of the heat. I admire your courage, too!

          Cynthia is the Facebook representative in the family. I don’t have a clue about it (I guess I’m one of the four people in the world that aren’t FB connected…)so I’ll have to have her look you up when she returns from the States next month.

          Feel free to copy anything I’m doing, just do your own work to confirm that I am not screwing up really badly.

          I hope to be back to work soon. I just took two weeks off, and then got the flu for another ten days so am recovering from that. Thanks again and good luck with your project! Fred

  2. Love your blog, also read Terry & Clydes.
    We will be moving in April 2012 and are so excited.
    Can’t wait to start the retired life.

  3. hello from Georgia Fred; We found you page through Clyde and Terry’s blog. We too are looking at Pannama for retirement as soon as I can get my SSI disability started, hopefully soon. I was going to use containers to build a shop but found a company that sold Rino Shelters in Maine cheeper. Now I wish I had gone with containers as a drainage problem runs water through the shop when we get hard rains. I look fwd to chatting with another expat in panama so as not to screw up when we are ready to make the move. So we’ll keep in touch and continue to drool over the pic’s, Please keep posting,God Speed
    Clint and Rachel

  4. Hi Fred and Cynthia, We all miss Panama (especially this time of year) and all our friends down there. I can’t believe it’s been 3 years since we came back to the states. I just ran across your blog and seeing your pictures and videos made me really homesick for all of you. Glad to hear things are going well for you both. This is a great way to keep up on your progress and adventures.

  5. Being that we are looking to retire to Panama, and would also enjoy the cooler climates/higher altitudes and find these home intriguing, we will be watching your blog with deep interest. Perhaps we will someday come and visit your finished product!

  6. Wow, and bravo! Quite a project and we look forward to following your progress … Best wishes to you both for this new Panama adventure!
    Patricia in Tennessee

  7. Hi Fred,
    Just signed up for your blog. I’ve seen this done before with shipping containers, really cool ! My wife and I are planning a move down there in the near future, we’re looking at Puerto Armuelles. Just took an early retirement and want to either purchase a fixer-upper or buy a lot and build an “A” frame house on. Is your place finished yet ? Looking forward to seeing pictures !

  8. I am looking at building in Cambutal. I also am thinking about using shipping containers. Where did you buy yours from and what is the cost per container?

    • Hi Joan, We bought the containers in the port of Colon here in Panama. We paid about $4,000 per container, delivered, and placed on our columns with a crane. There may be a high season and a low season for containers, and the price will vary. We got a price of $2,500 during the rainy season but our soil was too soft to support the crane. Too bad! Fred

  9. Hi Fred and Cynthia!
    Just recently I got onto Container homes – what a surprise to find you building one right in Panama! I am living here since more than 20 years and slowly we are thinking to move to the countryside and build our own dream place!

    I wonder if we (Mum, Dad and 2 kids) could come by sometime and learn from your experience in the DIY-Container-Home-Construction department! ??

    WHERE is your “mountain retreat”?

    [Personal info edited out]

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Best Regards,

    Thomas

  10. Very cool! I am doing a similar project in Costa Rica. I´d love to share pics with you. Do you have a good source of containers in Panama? I will be in Panama City later this week and would love to see what it takes to import them to Costa Rica. We don´t have much of a stock of containers across the boarder here. I look forward to hearing from you!

    • Hi Bernadette,

      Sorry for the delay, my computer has been down for more than a week now.

      My source for containers has dried up here, but we purchased them from the port of Colon here in Panama. They cost me $4,000 delivered to me in the interior of the country and put up on columns. I would think that you could add a couple thousand dollars if you had to buy them in Panama and have them shipped to Costa Rica. And if you, not being a registered agent, are the owner of them in Panama, the RED TAPE will be brutal getting them across the border. Add months. And storage fees. Ugg. I did a quick Google search and found several ports in Costa Rica, so you may be much, much better off canvasing the ports there. I’d love to see pics; I’ll email you off post. Regards, Fred

  11. Hi Fred

    the house looks great!!

    My wife and i are traveling through mexico and central america and i have a huge interest in shipping container architecture. I wonder if you’d mind us dropping in to see it in person (if we make it that far south).

    you can check out our blog here for our background
    http://www.theDangerz.com
    but if you wouldn’t mind shooting me an email id love to ask a few questions!

    bryan

  12. I stumbled across your blog searching for a sink base..I’m not sure why you came up but I am certainly glad that I found you. Great stuff!

  13. Fred and Cynthia,
    We are the couple you met in the shopping center in Santa Clara with our grand daughter last month.
    We loved seeing your blog and reading all about your current construction. Wow!
    We just wanted to thank you again for talking with us about living in Panama. It was very valuable to us!
    We will be excited to follow and see it all get finished.
    Best always, Suzanne and Bill and Lizzy too.

  14. Will do! And if you ever need anything while visiting in the Denver area please let us know. We would be more than happy to help.

  15. Hi y’all! We were very excited to find your blog..gotta love Google…anyway, my husband and I are moving to Panama very soon (August). We are living in Bogota at the moment and have seen amazing things done here with containers for restaurants and retail locations so Randall (my husband) started looking at the home building aspect of using containers and is excited to see that the concept is already in Panama! We would like to visit and see y’all’s project when convenient. We are renting in Panama City until we find/decide where we want to put down roots. Unfortunately, our move to Panama is not for retirement…yet. ha! But we do love it and look forward to exploring and finding our spot. Thanks for all the great info in your blog. We look forward to tracking progress until we can meet.

    • Hi Debbie & Randall,

      I’m happy that you are enjoying my blog! Remember, I’m making this up as I go along :) You can use any of my ideas, but build at your own risk! Drop me a line when you are ready to visit El Valle; Cynthia and I would be happy to meet you and give you the twenty-five cent tour. By the way, the prevailing advice is to rent in Panama for a year before buying/building. We didn’t do that, but in hind site I think that we should have. Regards, Fred

  16. Hi Fred and Cynthia!

    My name is Jose, and I’m an architecture student from Panama. Recently I’ve started to work part time with a foundation that is doing some social projects with communities in Darien and I’ve been looking for economic ways of bringing architectural and construction solutions to the people. I was wondering if you think container projects may be viable or not, and if the answer is yes, how can I get access to containers here at Panama? Wich company do you recommend?

    Thanks and sorry for my bad english!

    • Hello Jose,

      Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment; our Internet has been down for several days.

      You ask a good question and I am not sure that I know the answer. Here are some of my thoughts:

      1. Architecturally and aesthetically there is a limit to what you can do with a container if you want to keep the cost very low. I think that Cynthia and my project has interesting lines because of the more expensive and time-consuming spaces between containers. You could Google “shipping container housing images” to see quite a variety of projects.
      2. In the Darien you would have to deal with the heat. One good solution would be to build a typical metal roof above the container to shield the container from the sun and to provide for air to move between the container and the new metal roof. The roof should be large enough to keep the sun off of the sides of the container, too.
      3. The wooden floors are very toxic from pesticides and you would have to install some kind of barrier. I suppose that could be an epoxy coating with a plycem subfloor and tile installed on the plycem, but this is just a wild guess. It may or may not be enough and you would need to investigate this very well.
      4. The paint in containers is toxic and may not be appropriate if the housing is inhabited by young children who might eat the paint. Similar to the lead paint issue in the States pre-1978 I think it was. I have heard that some builders will sandblast all the paint from the container and start over with less toxic paints.
      5. On the up-side, the houses would be easy to transport if there are roads and if the roads are good enough!
      6. The metal work — cutting, welding, are common skills in Panama.
      7. I think that the budget for each unit could be quite reasonable, but I would think that you would want to do a cost comparison to the standard concrete block construction that is so prevalent in Panama.
      8. As an architectural student, perhaps a good project for you would be to do a side-by-side comparison with a standard block house. Consider cost, aesthetics, occupant acceptance or rejection to the design/concept, lifespan of the dwelling, quality of life for the occupants, etc.

      We got our containers at the Port of Manzanillo in Panama. You can check with the various companies. We paid $4,000 each for our containers delivered to our site and placed on the columns. I understand that containers are less expensive during the rainy season although I do not know if this is true.

      So the short answer from me is, “maybe, depending…” I am sorry that I can’t give you a definite yes or no; I just don’t have experience beyond my large-canvas art project! I have heard of emergency housing container projects for Hati, for example, but I do not know if they have worked or what the outcome was.

      I wish you all good luck with your project, and remember to ask the people who would live in such a project what they would like. Remember the client!

      And by the way, your English is EXCELLENT!

      Best regards, Fred

  17. Thank you Fred and Cynthia for the tour today, it was very enjoyable and informative. What a pleasure to meet two such highly creative and sweet people. I truly appreciate the time from your busy schedule and wish you nothing but the best of luck in the future.

    • Thank you Cynthia! It was a pleasure to meet you also. You are always welcome if you venture back this way. And thank you for the tips on my watercolor painting, I will implement them when I next take out the watercolors… after the house is a bit more under control! Glad you liked the 25-cent tour. Fred

  18. Hey Everyone. I just started my own shipping container house project in Melbourne Australia. I’ve done a lot of research using this website and others. It has been a big help to see so many great videos and especially the problems you have encountered.

    Please have a look at me website and let me know what you think.
    http://www.odpod.com.au

    cheers
    Craig

  19. My wife and I are considering to put a shipping container onto some property and turn it into a weekend getaway/cabin setup. My research turned up your blog, and I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed reading it from start to finish, learning a lot along the way. Thanks! (Although now I think I must go and find a few “how to weld videos”, since that seems like a pretty essential skill.)

    BTW – We’re in Corsica, and we’re also ex-pats. :)

    • Hi Henri,

      I’m happy that you found my blog enjoyable. Necessary skills for shipping container housing: cutting holes, filling holes with windows and doors, welding, caulking, and painting. Have fun and stay safe! For me, this is a giant art project. For a cabin you wouldn’t have to spend the 3.5 years that I have so far; you could be up and running fairly quickly. If security while you are gone is an issue, I would consider putting a sliding glass door just inside of the container end doors. When you go away, just close the container doors and you are safe from all but the most determined thieves. You could make a roof overhang over the open end doors and make a “front porch” for when you are at the cabin. For windows, you could make (weld!) an industrial strength awning that drops down over a window. Lock it from the inside and you are good to go. If heat from the sun is an issue, you could build a roof a couple feet above the container roof so that the wind will ventilate away the hot air. Good luck! Fred

  20. Hello,

    I have reviewed your site a few times now and wanted to thank your for the effort and time you took in providing all of us with a lot of good information. I am currently planning a move to Panama and am just now searching for a shipping company. Do you have any recommendations for shipping companies that will allow you to use your own container. We will be shipping out of Oakland, CA, and there is a very good supply of lightly used (one-time) containers for fair prices. There seems to be no reason to ship a container to Panama and not own it. No matter if you use it to build a fine home such as yours, or as a simple secure shed, the price is right. My specific questions to you are arranging delivery of the container to your property after finished with customs. I will be shipping to the customs in David and wanted your impression of this over customs in P.C. I would be sending it to Bocas Town, and still need to confirm getting it to the island, but have time for those details.

    Thanks again, and your comments are appreciated.

    • Hello Garry,

      Thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in answering you. Cynthia and I have been here for over six years now, so our shipping info is way out of date. Plus, the company that we used is no longer in business (they were terrible…). However, you may want to check out some of the Yahoo Groups in Panama, specifically Americans In Panama and Viviendo In Panama. Go to http://www.groups.yahoo.com and search for Panama. These common interest groups have archives that have a lot of useful information about moving to, and living here. You can probably find a shipping agent and a Panamanian Customs broker on these groups. What I do know is that your container must be seaworthy (officially certified) and will have to be insured, and once it arrives in Panama it must be dealt with promptly or the storage fees mount up fast. Try to arrange arrival when there are NO Panamanian holidays such as Easter Week because ALL business stops for the holidays and the storage fees continue. Sorry, but that is all I know about shipping.

      This is all one big adventure and the first year is full of fun and red tape from the Panamanian government. After you receive and clear your container, you will have to hire a trucking company to move it to Bocas. We used an agent who arranged the purchase, transportation, and lifting the containers onto our columns. I have lost her contact information, but you can do what I did — join the Panama Yahoo Groups and post your questions to the group. Someone is bound to have answers for you.

      Good luck with your move and enjoy the adventure. Thanks again for your comments. Fred

  21. Hi guys, project looks great ,just found your site this morning . I am down on the Peninsula de Azuero outside of Pedasi . We too are working on our container home for the last 7 years or so .Would love the .25 cent tour one day and swap a story or two . Not sure of your location ,but I am heading to Panama City in middle of March and would love to pop in if its along the way .
    Thanks and take care
    Kevin

  22. Hello, we are planning a trip to Panama to check out some of the locations. I was wondering if there are any kind of restrictions on using containers as a home there, or what are the building codes like? Thank you for any info you can give.

    • Hello Diane,

      Unless you are way, way off the radar, you will need to have your plans approved. You will need to find an architect who you can convince that this it a good idea. You should be able to see the architect get excited. Once the architect is on board, there should be no problem. The architect will draw the plans, work with the engineer, and get all of the required stamps and permissions for all aspects of the project. This process cost us the very Gringo price of $5,000. He wanted $10,000 but we negotiated to the $5k. Go way back to my first couple of blog entries and see what I said about the process. By the way, at almost four years into our project we have yet to see anyone from the government cross our threshold. I understand that the final (and only) inspection to get the certificate of occupancy is by the fire department. This process sets the value of the house and starts the tax exoneration process. Good luck and enjoy the adventure! Fred

  23. Nice work Fred.

    We have just finished our 14th month in Boquete. I am keenly interested in building a Container House in this area. First we have to select a property, then get building. There is a two-container house right by the side of the highway between Boquete and David. It never seems to be occupied.
    I would like to meet some workers around here who have experience in this method of construction.
    Bob

    • Thank you Bob,

      I’ve had a great time (although exhausting) building this house. It can let loose the creative process where the sky is the limit to your design. The big skills to look for in workers are concrete, welding, and cutting. They just have to wrap their heads around doing these skills in a different format. I’m on the job working every day (except Sundays) and keep everything on track with constant vigilance for getting what I want.

      Good luck with your project, I would love to see it as you progress. Thanks again for your comment. Fred

  24. Hello Fred and Cynthia,
    Your place is looking spectacular !
    Many new additions since last july/august when I stopped by to see you and the progress on the casa. Fantastic.
    I will be in El Valle during the month of july. My tenants are moving into their “new” property in the valle, and I will be taking back my casa and doing some spruce-ups before using it again.
    I will make sure to stop by to see you when I go to the valle.
    Take care fred. jim from long island, new york

  25. Hi Fred & Cynthia,

    You are living my dream! I was actually born in what used to be the Canal Zone, until 2000, I think. I left Panama in 1977 after high school. I have dreamed about returning to Panama for our retirement and my wife, who I met there while her father was stationed there with the Air Force, is equally excited about the prospect. Once smitten by the country, the fauna and the people, it never seems to leave you!

    I saw that someone else had asked you where you purchased the containers. So, I won’t dredge that one up, again. I was curious as to whether there were any building code issues for you. As I said, I used to live there and went into the Interior, frequently. So, I realize that may be a silly question, considering some of the houses I saw there. Back in 77, the locals in Punta Chame lived in 1 room houses that had no doors or windows, just cutouts. But, I thought I would ask, to be sure.

    Personally, I am looking at two general areas; somewhere between the coast near David and the hills/mountains of Boquete or El Valle, or somewhere with similar terrain in the Los Santos province (i.e. Pedasi).

    I am really impressed with all that you have done and how it has turned out. Providence has a way of pointing you in the right direction. I saw my first construction, using containers, at a lumber mill, just a month ago. It got me thinking. Then I stumbled across something on the internet that talked about this and buying containers cheap. I decided to search for more information. Specifically, I was looking for someone selling containers in Panama. No sense paying to have them brought down there! Anyway, I immediately saw the link to your site.

    I am subscribing to your blog, to keep up. I am serious about our goals. So, if you have any pointers that would benefit someone who is more than just curious about what you are doing there, I would certainly welome them and the email communication.

    Thanks for putting your site together and inspiring me all over, again.

    Mark

    PS: Prayers go out for Cynthia that everything will be fine, medically.

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes, Panama has a lot going for it. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. But if you can find that pocket climate that you like and can adjust to the cultural differences, it can be a pleasant place to live.

      As I said in other places, we bought the containers from the port of Colon. $4,000 each, delivered and placed with a crane on our columns. It has been a fun and daunting process and I can’t wait to be done. Mostly just floor tiles and bathrooms to go plus some paint and finish.

      As far as building code issues, there really wern’t any. We found an architect, sold him on the concept that was new to him. He redrew my plans and worked with an engineer to plan the columns and other weight-bearing concerns. He got all the stamps and approvals. It was relatively easy, although somewhat pricey at $5,000. He wanted $10,000 but we wheeled and dealed. I guess the important thing is to get an architect on your side. The planning process is required for a house of this size and this visibility, although for the one-room houses that you saw years ago and still exist, I am sure that nothing is approved.

      Thanks for your very nice comments and good luck with your dreams. Pedasi seems to be up and coming. Just take the time to travel around and get a good feel, rainy season and dry season, of the places you might like to settle.

      Thanks again, and thanks for pushing my subscriber number over the 200 mark! Fred

  26. Fred and Cynthia, hello guys. I am amazed at your dedication and persistence. Also, you are such wonderful people, willing to give so much time and patience to folks with no experience of containers homes. Believe me when I say apart from your blog, I got to learn a ton of things from the comments section. You have answered almost every query I might have add with your answers in the comments. keep up the good work. Something tells me I will visiting this blog often.

    • Hi Travis

      Thank you so very much for your kind comments. I enjoy detailing in print how I have built this house. And if it helps others, what greater joy is there? Just keep in mind that I am doing it the hard way, fabricating everything myself rather than just cutting a hole and caulking in a vinyl window. Not that either is right or wrong, it is just that I enjoy making a unique space. You are welcome to use any of my ideas but just remember that I am making it up as I go along and offer no guarantees! Good luck with your container home endeavors. Fred

  27. Fred,
    Have been friends with Cynthia for years, living in the Sacramento area of California. Regrettably, you and I have never met and I would ask for more than the 25 cent tour, it’s a bit of a way to your place from ours.
    Having a mechanical background and retired too, I am totally impressed with what the two of you have done! Very methodical, even though it might not seem that way to you.
    Since I have Cynthia’s email address I will send her some information on a more personal note.

  28. Fred/Cynthia’

    You have just become the ‘Holy Grail’ to save my wife’s sanity and my momentary Nirvana.

    Background: We have both relocated to The Philippines, have bought a small concrete abode but with 1200m2 of land. Since I have expanded the Abode from 60m2 to just over 200m2 in a year, it will be the office, restaurant/Bar (small) and store.

    We (Wife and I) laughed at many of your photos, many hit home with a assuring echo ‘We are not alone’ – likewise we have a Dog, Saber, and is just as pictorially evident in our journeys development.

    We have just landed 2 x 20’ ISO’s and in turn will be made into 2 rooms for visitors (Possibly staff). My next endeavor is the core business, in a nutshell a Gym made from 40’ ISO’s, 6 units, the cut-outs will become a climbing wall (40’) as a feature.

    Like you, I had to pick-up new skill sets like welding, both Arc and Oxyacetylene have been part of my journey, also the ‘way we do stuff’, AKA the local way V’s ours (Or in my case and all too often ‘Google’) has been a eye opener, in some cases amazing, in others a utter shock.

    In that – And getting to the point; your site is, and will be an invaluable tool and my motivator, likewise has given my ‘wife’ faith, and that alone is priceless! So thank you and, thank you…

    Will (We) be an avid follower(s) and really (We) appreciate that you took the time to share your story in such detail; it is a pick-me-up and a much needed tonic to spur me on and provide the other half with added trust. To boot, I took a few ideas, tips and will implement.

    Again, thank you for sharing and found your build inspirational, and wish you all the best….

    • Hi Kevin (& your wife),

      Wow, I don’t know where to start. I know that I am an artist and a builder, but I didn’t know that I was a marriage counselor! Thanks very much for all the compliments. Please feel free to steal any of my ideas, just be aware that I am making it up as I go along!

      To me, having to learn the new skills is more than half the fun. Frustrating and nerve wracking at times, but fun nonetheless.

      I’m glad that I could make you laugh. Sometimes we forget to laugh at ourselves and life is so much better when we do. Let me know if you have a blog or website, we’d love to laugh at your photos, too!

      Regards, Fred

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