Interior Walls, Wiring, & Plumbing ~ Projects In Progress

This post is mostly about building walls inside shipping containers.

Having been in construction since I was six, I know that there is a natural rhythm to most construction projects. There are periods of time when important work is being done but progress is not very visible. The job seems to be crawling. Then there are the periods of time when the job seems to be flying and progress is very visible. One’s moods can swing on these phases if one is not careful.

I think that the job has just moved from a crawl phase to a flying phase.

Having worked six weeks in the yard, Armando has finally finished filling holes, leveling humps, and removing lots of trunks and roots. He has planted some grass and the yard is starting to be a yard. Additionally, yesterday we moved five coconut palm trees and two other palms (Cousin Christine — yours is being planted this weekend) that we had been holding in a nursery area at our rental house. We planted three of the coconuts by the electric service entrance wall at the southeast corner of the lot. Instant transformation, they are softening that concrete corner. This progress is exciting and a big boost to our moral. We can actually begin to see The Warmth of Home emerging from Job Site Mud and Muck.

Three new coconut palms soften the corner of the lot.

The floor between container 3 and container 4 is ready for rebar and concrete, but we are holding off on that until we do some more infrastructure in the area. It is nice to be able to walk on the floor and be able to more accurately gauge how the spaces will feel. Here is the floor ready for concrete:

We’ve been working on the interior walls in number 3. I used 2″x3″ galvanized steel carriolas to make the wall framework. I framed the walls with the 2x3s as horizontal purlins (a style seen in old barns; the purlins go sideways so that the exterior board siding can be installed vertically). We will screw 4’x8′ Plycem (tilebacker / cement board) sheets to the steel stud work.

Building the walls goes like this: First, determine where a wall will go. I have chosen to place the wall so that the framing is in alignment with an outward bend of the corrugated siding of the container. Perhaps a photo will help:

You can see that the framing for the new wall is placed where the container siding is outward.

Next, I cut a carriola bottom plate to fit between the walls of the container. I drilled some holes in the carriola, measured from two points at the end of the container to get the wall parallel with the container, and screwed it to the floor with 3.5″ drywall screws. After the Plycem is up, the concrete floor will lock this wall in place, so the screws are only a temporary placeholder.

Then, as you can see in the photo above, I cut a vertical stud to sit on the bottom plate. At the top of this stud, you may have to cut a notch out of the stud to fit around the beam at the top of the container like this:

The top beam sticks out more than the bottom beam so you have to cut a notch.

I did this at both sides of my new wall and welded the studs in place.

Then, I cut purlins and welded them in place every two feet on center up the wall like this:

Plycem can now be screwed to the purlins.

By placing the wall where the container corrugations go outward, I can now put the Plycem in place and it will make a nice inside corner. I’ll probably run a small bead of urethane caulk around the Plycem to seal any insect highway gaps.

Here's a scrap of Plycem showing how it will make a nice corner against the container.

Here’s an overview of the three new walls in container 3.

Three new walls framed.

At the far end of the container is a hallway; I will cut holes in the container for a doorway from the living room, into the hallway, then into the master bedroom. By the way, this is the only hallway in the entire house. I avoid hallways if possible; they are major space wasters.

The next space toward where I am taking the photo from is a half bath, accessed from the hallway.

The next, larger space will be a walk-in closet off the master bedroom and studio space for Cynthia’s torchwork (making glass beads), her seed bead stringing, and fabric storage for sewing projects. These spaces will be dehumidified.

The final space, the one that I am standing in in the photo above, will be an eight-foot square deposito (storage closet), accessed by the existing container end doors. This deposito will be for outdoor tools and equipment.

But before the Plycem goes up, I have to do some rough electrical and plumbing. Here’s some electrical roughed in in the half bath:

I cut holes for the conduit with an angle grinder with a cut off blade. I welded the rough-in box to the wall framework.

As an aside, I finally got my plasma torch repaired in the city. Two, four hour round trips, $50 to diagnose, $25 to repair, and $0.39 for the new part. When I got it home, I fired it up, cut a nice round hole in a carriola for the electrical conduit. Fantastic! Then when I went to cut a second hole, it made a wild clicking sound (relay going bad?) and shut itself down. Okay fussy, finicky machine, fine, die that death if you want to. I’m done. So instead of nice round holes, I have nice square holes cut with the angle grinder. No law against round peg in square hole.

The above wall happened to be placed above a container floor beam so I couldn’t drill straight down for the hole for the conduit. Instead, I used two elbows to relocate the hole. Later, the concrete floor will cover this conduit:

Oh, one thing I discovered is that where there it a forklift pocket on the side of the container…

there is a steel plate under the wooden floor, so it is easier just to swing the conduit and relocate the hole through the floor away from the steel plate. This is all working for me because we will have the three-inch thick concrete floor to cover these conduits throughout the entire house.

By the way, speaking of the wooden floor, the floors in our containers are mahogany, just a tad under one and a quarter inches thick. We will be pouring a concrete slab floor because it is the surface that we want. Also, it will cover the wood which is no doubt heavily drenched in pesticide. Before I work in the containers, I use a large fan to flush the fumes. Otherwise it can make your eyes water.

So far I only have roughed in the water supply for the toilet in the half bath. I brought some PEX tubing with me when we moved to Panama and decided to use it to make the pipe stub-ups. I like PEX a lot, but so far have not seen it here in Panama. Here is some PEX, the brass fittings, crimps, and the crimping tool:

Blue for cold, red for hot. Same stuff, just color coded for easier identification .

Here’s the toilet stub-up:

You can warm PEX with a torch, bend it, and it will keep its new shape. I welded two pipe clamps to the side of the container. Later, this bathroom wall will get Plycem. That and the concrete slab will hide the plumbing.

The PEX, the PVC electrical conduit, and the PVC water pipes can all be cut with this dandy pair of shears made for the job:

In the meantime, Armando has been working for two days grinding away remnants of the container siding webbing in container 4. I’m glad that he has the Power of Youth still on his side.

You can see that he is wearing safety glasses (and not-seen earplugs), and the guard amazingly is still on the machine. I insist on it even though most workers here think these safety devices are mere nuisances. I’ve seen two nasty cuts from guardless machines and I’d just as soon not make a trip to the hospital.

Next I’m on my way down the mountain to see if I can get the DeWalt angle grinder that Armando has been using repaired. I think the switch has given up the ghost; it has had some rough duty during its life on this job. I’ll probably buy a second one, too; a guy can’t have too many angle grinders.

If you are considering a container house project, I hope that I have given you some good tips from my experience. Take what you want but you are on your own. Have fun. Keep the guards on your tools and be safe. It’s a jungle out there. At least it is here in Panama!

That’s all for now.

8 thoughts on “Interior Walls, Wiring, & Plumbing ~ Projects In Progress

  1. I didn’t quite get why you used horizontal perlins as opposed to vertical studs like in regular wood wall construction. Can you elaborate?

    • Kyle, I think that the ultimate reason for choosing horizontal purlins is a very, very small one. We wanted to see the screws (that attach the Plycem to the carriolas) in a horizontal line across the room rather than in vertical lines up and down studs. It seemed to us that a horizontal line of screws would make the eight-foot-wide container seem somewhat wider. Structurally I think either way would have been fine. This was a case of function follows form. Thanks for your question.

  2. sir am an architecture student and am doing research on the houses made with shipping containers the pro’s and con’s of it how it is done like the services and construction of it. It would be really helpful if u could help me with any kind of study material u have on this.

    thank you ,
    manisha

    • Hello Manisha,

      Everything that I am doing I have either learned on the Internet (Google is my friend) or by simply inventing it myself as I go along. I have detailed everything I have done on this blog, and you are welcome to read through the posts. But I am sorry to say that I do not have any study material. Thank you for your comment. Fred

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