Rethink Your Life!
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The Work of Art and The Art of Work
Kiko Denzer on Art

[Cob] building with shipping containers, straw bales, and cob

Elizabeth Evans vesperlight at
Thu Jun 26 14:37:44 CDT 2008

I know I'm usually just a lurker -- but if the list can discuss
straw-bale/cob hybrids, mobile-home/cob hybrids, superadobe/cob hybrids,
cordwood/cob hybrids, and conventional/cob hybrids -- all of which I have
seen discussed here -- I don't see why we can't discuss shipping
container/cob hybrids.

That said -- if I can ever afford to stop lurking and start building, I will
buy the top books on both cob and superadobe (my top 2 choices), read them
cover to cover, make phone calls, ask questions, take workshops in the
method I choose, and build some small trial projects to get a feel for it.
This is a reasonable investment to make in the safety and durability of the
roof over my head (hopefully, the roof that will last the rest of my life
and my son's life and my grandchildren's lives).

On the subject of high ceilings, take a look at  This designer suggests that you
could build one of his roofs, then build up cob walls to meet them, with
shelter while you work.

I have also looked at the info available on shipping container building and
am intrigued by it. Shipping containers can be covered inside and out with
conventional siding and sheetrock or with more natural alternatives or
recycled matariels-- they don't have to look like corrugated steel. You can
get high ceilings by stacking them (lots of possible configurations) and
cutting out the metal between them...

For the list:  Used shipping containers are cheap (around $2000 last time I
did a search) because our trade deficit means that shipping containers used
to ship goods to the U.S. are piling up in railyards. Recycled shipping
containers can be installed on concrete piers with a minumum use of concrete
and are actually another ingenious solution for low-cost housing (not as
cool, wonderful and ingenious as cob of course...) How "green" they really
are depends on all of the other decisions that going into how they are used.
And you obviously want clean containers with no nasty residues.

I can't find a link, but somewhere there's a page showing a shipping
container that was used to build a minimum impact research base for studying
a jungle site.  They put it on piers (no excavation) and set up solar

If you want to play with designs, try mock-ups in cardboard for a hand-on
3-D trial, or download SketchUp from Google and invest a few hours in the can download shipping container sketches (and many other
standard building features such as windows and sliding doors)  from their a landscape...and stack them up....

It occurs to me that if you can incorporate it aesthetically into your
design, you could use a container for temporary shelter while you build a
cob house, and use it for a garage/workshop/garden shed when the home is

Just my 2 cents.


On Wed, Jun 25, 2008 at 6:12 PM, Selvoy Fillerup <selvoy at> wrote:

> All:
> I'd like to discuss the possibility of incorporating recycled shipping
> containers with natural materials (such as straw bales and cob) to create a
> natural/industrial blended home. I prefer the organic look and feel of
> natural materials and would like to use containers as a skeletal framework
> on which to build. Does anyone have experience with both methods of
> construction?
> From what I have seen, people building with containers tend to weld them
> together to form large, boxy structures. The containers always seem to be
> situated next to or on top of each other with the walls or floors cut away
> to open up the floor plan. The homes look nice and polished, but they
> frequently come off as a little too sterile for my taste and they're
> downright repulsive to my wife.
> While I'm okay with an industrial looking home, my wife has threatened to
> leave me if I ask her to live in one. She hates the corrugated walls and
> boxy feel. This is where we agreed to compromise. She'll allow me to build
> with containers as long as she gets 9+' ceilings and doesn't have to look at
> corrugated walls. And therein lies the architectural challenge: How do I
> build an affordable home given the fact that container walls are corrugated
> and the height of most containers is between 8 and 9 feet high?
> What we have come up with are several designs that separate the containers
> instead of stacking them together. Separating them adds to the overall
> square footage of the house, but it also reduces the number of containers
> required to create the same amount of living space. I'm unsure of how best
> to make high ceilings, but copying the boxy structures is one solution. I
> know of several ways to cover the walls, but we both prefer the natural,
> organic look.
> As an architectural challenge, I would like to work within the parameters
> of the containers to create a comfortable living space using natural
> materials for insulation. I feel that both methods of construction are
> environmentally responsible. Additionally, used separately they are very
> cost effective in terms of construction, maintenance, and longevity. But
> what about using them together?
> If anyone has thoughts on my wahoo ideas, please let me know. Better to
> find out I'm in left field now than after I begin construction. If anyone
> would like to visit on the phone, I'd be willing to arrange a time to do so.
> Thank you for your time and consideration.
> Selvoy Fillerup
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