I was recently asked by the YouTube channel, SHELTER MODE, if he could feature our container house on his channel. He asked for a short story about our build and for some construction photos. In sorting through thousands of photos, I thought, hey, why not make a post about it for him. And anyone visiting here for the first time could see some of the process we went through without plowing through all 200-plus posts. Here is the story. At the end are a lot of photos from the way-back machine. Continue reading
To recap from my last post, I have for some years now wanted to try my hand at aquaponics. Aquaponics involves fish and vegetable growing. In short, the fish excrete ammonia, which is toxic to the fish. But bacteria process the ammonia and produce nitrite and then nitrate. Vegetable plants are grown in the water that is rich with the nitrates, feeding the plants, and then the water is returned to the fish. It is a nearly closed loop system, just needing input of fish food and an occasional small dose of, for example, iron. But to do all this at the scale I want, I need a greenhouse. Continue reading
PART I ~ A Very Long-winded Introduction To A Significant Project
Sorry, no pictures this post.
Time sensitive note: I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic kinda knocked the wind out of my sails. But today I determined to sit down and write. I hope you are all well. We are watching the world change in front of our eyes.
For some years now, I have wanted to grow our own veges. But our soil is rock hard and would need significant augmentation to be successful soil. And if the bugs flying in the air and/or the leaf cutter ants marching on the ground don’t eat the leaves, then the grubs underground will eat the roots. And then there are the rabbits. And the windy season would leave the leaves in tatters. And the dry season requires constant watering as the soil turns to stone. And the torrential flooding in the rainy season is no help either. And who wants to bend over and work the soil at 70+ years old anyway. The only dastardly thing we are missing here is deer! So I tabled the desire. Continue reading
We’ve been thinking about building a reserve water tank, and here are some reasons why:
Reason 1. A few weeks ago, a neighbor set a small fire of yard debris, then left for his house in the city. (I know, I know, I will refrain from comment…) A few hours later, Cynthia looked out our kitchen window and yelled, “FIRE!” I knew that that house didn’t have any water as a new well was being drilled. So I ran to the neighbor of the property on fire and roused the sleeping caretaker. Continue reading
At long last, the house is what I am calling 99.9998% complete! I have a very short list of unfinished items, most of which I can do in a day or two. But yesterday and today Cynthia and I staged the house and took photos inside and out. Here is a video with 93 pictures. To save you from me imposing my music choice on you, there is no sound. You can make it full-screen if you like:
So that’s it. Five-and-a-half years and all I have to show for it is 93 lousy photos!
I still hope to make a nice video. Stay tuned.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
I’ve been working on the kitchen cabinet doors.
I planed the wood for the cabinet doors to its final thickness, cut the pieces to their final widths, then plowed a groove to accept the glass panels. Here is a photo with the boards cut to width and the groove cut:
I used to have a router table, but the humidity here made Purina Mold Chow out of it. I looked all over Panama for a new router table but couldn’t find one. So using a small shop bench and a quarter-sheet of plywood, I made my own.
With the router set up with a single cutter, I easily made the groove for the glass panels (photo above). Next, I calculated the size of the stiles (the side pieces of the doors) and the rails (the top and bottom pieces of the doors) and cut them to length with the miter saw. Here I am sizing the doors and cutting the pieces:
I put double cutters on the router and cut the ends of the rails. Here is my makeshift router table. The router hangs upside down under the plywood:
Here is a close-up of the double cutter assembly that cut the ends of the rails:
Here is a photo of a stile (on the right) and a rail (on the left):
When all was said and done, I had a pile of pieces and parts, ready to assemble:
Whoa! Not so fast! Before I assemble the doors, I need to drill holes on the back of the hinge-side of the door stiles to receive the hinges. Here is my setup for drilling the holes with my grandfather’s antique drill press:
Now with everything measured and ready to assemble, I calculated the size of the glass panels and ordered the glass. I had to wait the better part of a week for the glass to be cut. There is one glass company that we like to use, and they didn’t have any of the frosted glass that we wanted for the doors. It would be weeks (months?) before they would have any. But they did have frosted safety glass, basically two sheets of clear glass with a frosted safety film sandwiched between the panes. Although it cost a lot more, we went with it.
While I waited, I applied a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish to the edges of the stiles and rails where the glass panel will slide into the grooves. This will keep me from slopping varnish all over the glass when it comes time to finish the doors.
Next I pulled all the hinge stiles out of the pile and screwed the hinges onto the stiles. Then I screwed the hinge onto the cabinet. These hinges easily come apart into two pieces, making hanging the door really easy. These are Blum brand and have several adjustment screws for aligning the door in the frame. Here are the hinges shown with the parts connected and separated:
I also took some time and installed the drawer slides onto the wooden carriages that I previously built:
These are Blum brand self-closing drawer slides, the best. They aren’t cheap, plus I had to import them from the $tates. Here is a close-up:
I finally got the call from the glass fabricator, and drove down the mountain to collect my order. Back home, I wasted no time in assembling the doors.
I let the glue dry for a day then sanded the doors smooth and ready for varnish. Now they look like this:
For the first coat, I painted on a coat of sanding sealer. Basically thinned down varnish, sanding sealer soaks into the wood, raises any grain that is going to raise, then dries hard and is very easy to sand. It leaves a satin-smooth surface for the polyurethane. Here I am applying the sealer. Notice that I don’t have to cut close to the glass because that part of the wood is already sealed:
Here are the doors all hung out to dry overnight:
After sanding the sealer, I applied a coat of polyurethane, let it dry overnight, sanded the doors again, then applied a second coat of finish and let them sit another day. I finally got to hang the doors and install the handles that we bought about a hundred-years ago. I like to mount the handles so that the top of the handles line up with the horizontal line of the rails:
We think that they look great. But now we can’t just reach down and pull something out of a cabinet; extra step — remember to open and close the doors!
The drawers are next and I have already started working on them. But this will wait for my next post.
In other news, just as a downpour arrived, Armando dug some of the yucca that we have growing on the other side of the road. He couldn’t wait to show it to me as it is Guinness Book-qualified BIG!
Water from a long gutter at the front of the carport/bohio dumps a lot of water! The water goes under the fence and into the drainage ditch:
The garden is growing on steroids this rainy season; there is a lot of sun but the downpours are substantial and deeply-soak the soil. Here are some going-crazy maracas:
And some going-crazy ferns and what-ever-they-are big purple plants:
And last but best, Cynthia just completed a glass platter. This one was an amalgamation of two projects that she didn’t like. So we got out the tile saw and cut both projects into small pieces. She then arranged them into a new piece that is really fun to look at. Cyn named the piece, “Amalgamation.” In the photo below, the platter is casting a long shadow in the morning sun:
We made a little video about it:
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
We’ve spent the past week or two essentially electrifying the rest of the house. With very few exceptions, the electrical phase (pun intended for you electrical engineers out there) is now all done.
The work involved several days of me under the house and Cynthia inside the house, the two of us fishing, running, and pulling about 500-feet of wire. After all that wire was placed, I spent the better part of a week wiring all the plugs, switches, and lights, and installing the switch-plate covers. The results are illuminating and it feels very good to be able to walk through the house and turn on any light we want. Cyn is thrilled to no longer have to trip over extension cords.
I may have mentioned this before, but many years ago when I was in my early twenties, I helped an older electrician by pulling wires and crawling under houses, doing the work for him that he could no longer do because of his failing health. In the process he taught me a lot, including the principle of “a path of light” through the house. So now, thanks to Ernie, we can walk from room to room to room, switching off one light switch and turning on another without ever being in the dark.
Following are some photos that show the completed electrical work:
Back in the kitchen, there was a big-ugly-stinking-mess at the shelving and electrical panel to the right of the refrigerator:
Using my homemade, DIY sheet metal bending brake, I formed some aluminum shelving and also a cover for the electrical panel. To cut the aluminum, I set up shop in the carport:
My shop is a mess, but I had just enough space to bend the cover for the electrical panel:
Here are the shelves and panel cover in place:
The door can be opened to access the electrical panel:
So with just one or two tiny electrical details left to do, I can almost cross this one big task off my list. I consider the electrical work a success — I had just two small issues to figure out — I transposed two wires on one three-way light switch, and in the bank of switches in the kitchen I inadvertently screwed a switch mounting screw into a bunch of black wires, causing a dead short when I flipped on the breaker. Once the smoke cleared, both issues were easy to figure out and fix.
Next week I have some more aluminum to cut and bend to make shelves for the little office, plus make a few remaining shelves for in the walk-in master bedroom closet.
In other news, I spent a lot of last Sunday modifying my new GoPro camera. GoPros can take excellent quality photos and video, but the fixed lens gives somewhat of a fish-eye effect. Also, the focus is fixed so that the foreground and the background are always in focus. But a modification kit exists called the Backbone Ribcage that removes the stock lens and allows for using virtually any other lens made for photography. Of course I had to give it a go. Here is what the modification entails:
Here I am readied to do surgery. The original GoPro is at the bottom left. The other parts and pieces are for the modification:
Here is the camera all torn down and ready for the rebuild:
And here is the final product with a nice little wide-to-telephoto lens:
Everything worked well, but when I tested the camera, the video came out black even though I had removed the lens cover. I sent a quick email to tech support and heard right back from the owner. He told me that he once made the same mistake — the iris in the camera was shut completely down, preventing any light from hitting the sensor. Duh Fred.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
As I mentioned in my last post, the long shipping container wall in the living room/dining room/entry was calling out for some art. So Cynthia and I looked through our photos and found eight pictures of flowers that we had taken around the property. I uploaded the photos to AllPosters.com and received the prints a couple weeks later.
Now what to use for frames? Easy would be to buy some frames off the shelf at Machetazo or other local store. But as you know, this whole house project isn’t about easy. So, NO!
But what? With our concrete counter tops, benches, and shelves, well, why not concrete picture frames? That sounded exciting so I got right to work.
Last time, I posted the following photo of the form work for our concrete picture frames. I still needed to apply some strips of wood to make a recess in the back of the frame to receive the glass and pictures:
After I had the forms assembled, Armando mixed a rich (more cement than normal) batch of mortar and placed it in the forms.
Two days later, I pulled the forms. The new concrete frames looked quite good, but they had air holes and honeycomb here and there. They looked even better once we applied a coat of dark-gray grout to all the surfaces that would be seen. When the grout was dry, I sanded the frames smooth.
Next, Cynthia and I, each with a sponge, walked around the table a dozen times applying 24 coats of sealer as we made our rounds around the table:
The next photo shows the frames all sealed, although they still need to be fine sanded and one more coat of sealer applied. These things are heavy — fifty-pounds each! My next step of the process was to drill holes in the tops of the frames, tap in some plastic expanding anchors, and screw in heavy-duty hooks.
Now with the frames ready for hanging, I moved inside the house. Armando and I screwed a 20-foot length of sliding door track high on the wall.
We chose to hang these frame-beasts with chain hanging from wheels that I inserted into the sliding door track. Here is a photo of the wheels:
Cynthia and I cut the chain and set the glass and photos in the frames.
With everything assembled, finally, we hung the frames on the chains and we were done.
Here are some shots of the photos mounted in the frames and the frames hanging on the wall:
Here is a panorama of the entire wall:
Now, isn’t that better than a huge blank wall?
We couldn’t be more pleased, and the whole project — enlargements, glass, wood for the forms, screws, sand/cement/sealer, door track, wheels ($14 each and we needed 14 of them), chain, and miscellaneous bits and pieces, and Armando’s labor sits at around the $500 mark plus about six person-days of work. It couldn’t have been easier!
Plus, we have one photo/frame left to hang in the half-bath off of the living room.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
The day after my last post about tiling the walkway, we tiled the bottom step to the carport floor and installed a few missing tiles here and there. I thought that that would be the end of our supply of tiles, as I had estimated the job with a very sharp pencil.
But we did have nine tiles left over, just enough to tile the ramp to the back yard with only the tiniest bit of scrap left over:
To fill out the day, we moved operations to the electric meter wall at the corner of the property. Armando and I had tiled it a couple of years ago, but the stucco at the top of the roof line was too smooth to bond the tiles to. One-by-one and over time, the tiles loosened and fell to the ground. Francisco roughed the stucco with a hammer and chisel, then Anibal painted on a bonding agent, and we cut and fit the tiles. Here is a photo that Cynthia took of the crew:
At the end of the day our tile crew was all caught up until time to tile the carport floor, and I was about to dismiss Anibal and Francisco for lack of work. But I really didn’t want to lose them as it may be some time before I could get them back.
Anibal and I got to talking; he still had no other work on the horizon, so we decided to start the carport floor the next day. I had previously purchased the rebar for the floor, but we still needed sand, gravel and cement.
There still isn’t a lot of mixed sand and gravel deposited on the river banks, but Ramiro’s brother, who lives next to a river, had the ten-yards that we would need. He promised it for the next day. Then I went to town and ordered 30, 94-pound sacks of cement that were delivered the next day.
The next day, Armando, Anibal, Francisco, and I prepared the carport area for the pour. We have used this area to mix concrete on for five-years. Some areas were quite thick with remnant concrete and mortar, and to level the floor it was tough work with pick-axe, sledge-hammer, and shovel. We used a string to determine the level of the floor and picked away at the high spots and filled the low spots with the chipped-out debris. This took most of the morning. Here are some photos:
We dug a trench along the front edge of the slab to allow for more concrete here — I don’t want the slab to crack the first time I drive over the edge! In the next photo I am driving rebar into the ground, making support for a 2″x4″ metal cariola form for the concrete:
When we had the earth scraping and filling done to allow a five-inch concrete slab, we moved on to the rebar. Here Armando cuts some rebar with the angle grinder:
We measured for the cross-pieces of rebar:
Then we cut all of the cross pieces:
Here the guys wire the rebar together:
After the rebar was in place, we drove some long pins of rebar into the ground, then I welded angle iron to the pins. Using a string from front-to-back of the carport, we adjusted the angle iron (by hammering on the pins) to set the top of the slab:
Now we are ready for concrete.
The sand and gravel mix didn’t arrive in the afternoon as promised, but I was told that it would arrive early in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow arrived, along with the men at 7:00 a.m., but still no material, so Ramiro called his brother. It seems that the two-block-long road down to the river was too washed out and the truck couldn’t use it. So, the delay was caused — if you can understand how much work this must have been — by the three men having to physically wheel-barrow all ten-yards uphill on the deeply-rutted two-block “road” to the truck. Uugh!
The truck arrived with the first four-yards at 8:30 and we got right to work. Spreading out the entire four-yards, the men then added the cement,:
then they mixed and added water:
After the pile was mixed, Armando grabbed the wheelbarrow and kept at it all day long:
Anibal and I placed the concrete and struck it off using the angle iron guides:
We caught little breaks when we could:
We ran out of concrete when we were almost done with half the floor, and had to wait an hour-or-so for the second four-yards to arrive. Here is the floor half-done and starting on the second half:
With just a bit left to do on the floor, we waited again for the arrival of two-more yards of sand and gravel. This was a lot of mixing in one day for our small crew:
The next photo shows the slab ALL DONE! Also, note that the driveway is a mess of sand and cement (this stretches all the way to the front gate), making it difficult to walk into the house without bringing in a bunch of junk on your feet:
So I sent a WhatsApp message to Jesus (man with truck) and ordered four-yards of gravel for the driveway. Yesterday, Armando and I spread the pile. We’ll still need at least another load, but I’ll wait until we are all done with the sand pile Here’s a panorama with the driveway almost all graveled:
So having the floor slab done was a big surprise for us, we thought it would happen in June or July. But here it is at the tail end of May and it is in and done. Now just to tile it…
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
This blog entry marks my 200th post on PanamaShippingContainerHouse.com. Cynthia and I began this house-building project on June 6th, 2010, just two-weeks away from five-years ago. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Tackling much of this Big-Person’s Erector Set myself, I’ve had to push pretty hard, and keep on pushing pretty hard, if I ever want to see the project completed. As such, there has been a never-ending stream of items-become-reality.
I have become conditioned to frequently having something new to enjoy, appreciate, be frustrated by, and be proud of. As an artist, I like the creative process. It feeds me. It stimulates my brain.
This is not to say that it hasn’t been exhausting and that I haven’t wanted to walk away. Many times. The size of the project, the learning curve of creating a unique, owner-designed and owner-built shipping container house, the new skills that I have had to learn, plus the general decrapitude of my age (I can see 70 from my house), have been daunting.
But artists wouldn’t have it any other way, would they?
I know that the house isn’t done yet, however several readers have asked me if I would do it again — If I knew then what I know now, would I do it again. It’s a hard question to answer (indeed even some of our political elite have fallen into the trap and bungled the answer). And like a politician, I’d like to dodge the question and ask a different one.
Are we glad that we built this shipping container house? The answer, from both Cynthia and myself, is a resounding, “Yes!”
Would we do it again? (Ah, you still want me to answer that question…) “NO!” But not for the reason that you think. We think that building anything from shipping containers is a cool idea. We think that this has been a worthwhile exercise. We have learned a lot. We can’t identify any major mistakes along the way that have made this a stupid idea. We love the way that it is turning out.
But we wouldn’t do it again because we are more artists than builders. A builder can replicate the same house a thousand times, maybe flipping the floor plan every other time. But an artist — an artist is in it for the creation of new ideas, new expressions, new processes, new enlightening. So no, we wouldn’t do it again.
The house “works” for us in its design and materials. The containers provide a modular design grid that allows for a very fluid and usable living space. The large spaces, such as the 16’x40′ kitchen/family area, work well here in the tropics where airflow and ventilation is everything.
The still-somewhat-uniqueness of using shipping containers has enlivened the project, even more so than if we had built a good design from the standard concrete block method. We’ve enjoyed knowing that we’ve taken four containers out of the junk pile and up-purposed them into a home that has a lot of living potential.
Lastly, Cynthia and I have created this design from the ground up. We didn’t buy plans on the Internet, and we didn’t hire out any of the creativity. We’ve worked well together to solve really-difficult issues. Often Cynthia won’t like my ideas or I won’t like her’s.
But our philosophy around this is that if one of us doesn’t like the other’s idea, we look for a third option. We’ve discovered that the third option is never a compromise. Neither of us has had to give up anything along the way. The Third (or Fourth — or Seventh) Option that we find is always better than what either of us has thought of individually.
To everyone who has followed along, subscribed, or commented, thanks very much. I haven’t “monetized” this site because I like it the way it is. I’m not even selling the idea. This blog is my diary, and I’ve enjoyed making it public. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.