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Tiny Home 160sq ft Shipping Container Home

Ultra-Tiny Low Cost All Electric Home 

Here I briefly explore my next home that never worked out. The objective was to make it truck portable (in a 20ft shipping container), with a totally functional kitchen, bathroom, shower, sink, toilet, washer dryer all in one, murphy bed, love seat, AV setup, and as much storage as possible. As fate had it, this never came to be, and I ended up moving to an urban apartment with underground parking ^^ which worked out perfectly :) At 375sq feet, the apartment is tiny, but more than 2x bigger than the container home I was planning ^^ Woot woot, still good practice in minimalist living. The following was the plan that never became reality, but it contains some solid ideas that I would like to share anyway if you care to take a look.

The interior of the container will be framed out with wood, spray foam insulated, and then finished with sheet rock, and tile in the bathroom. It will have a small shower, sink, toilet combo with windows, a tiny kitchen with a sink and window, 2 burner electric stove, 10gal water heater, and stacked 2.5ft euro-style compact front loading washer dryer setup, a murphy bed, a couple of other windows, and 1 entry door. The goal is to keep the entire project costs under $9,000, and that is going to be a serious challenge, but I know it is possible!

The whole operation is going to run on a single 50amp 120v electric setup. The water heater needs 15amp, the washing machine needs 15 amps, and the stove-top needs 15amps. We will refrain from running any more than 2 of the high draw systems at once to keep the power footprint well under the breaker limit. Storage is going to be the most challenging aspect. Everything will be optimized for storage. Extensive custom DIY cabinets will provide most of our storage. Clothes are going to have to be folded for storage. The love seat will have storage underneath, and so will the "coffee" table. We are going to have to be very creative with storage. For example in the bathroom, waterproof overhead storage will hold our toiletries: soap, shampoo, makeup, shaving stuff, ect.


Dealing with moisture inside a shipping can is a major challenge. These things are known to turn into "hot boxes" in the summer, and "Ice cubes" in the winter. Sealing them off "inside' results in a condensation prone structure. The tiny interior volume complicates moisture accumulation issues. Not as bad as a space station, but not easy either. Moisture management will consist of three main techniques.

"Window venting" in the shower and kitchen sink area will provide for "fair weather" moisture reduction.

A duct-fan extractor with heat ex-changer for "heat recovery" will provide for "cold weather" moisture management.

A compact compressor based condensing de-humidifier *energy hog* will enable moisture stripping of the interior air during the worst "rainy, winter" days. There is a thermal benefit, as the waste heat from the dehumidifier will warm the interior on these nasty days. I will need to fabricate/ DIY a dehumidifier (to make it more compact) because in the dead middle of winter when it is raining outside, cooking and taking a shower in this space will create too much interior moisture that can not be effectively "vented".

The grey water will be drained into a naturally occurring drain field. All cleaning and personal hi-gene products will be non-toxic, plant based, bio-degradable. This will will reduce the land impact of the water drainage. Human waste management will be accomplished with a composting toilet, and urine capture/ remediation. The human waste output will be processed to eliminate any smells, so that the drainage field does not emit anything off-putting.

I will make every effort to reduce my water use, water footprint to minimize water consumption and grey water drainage output. I currently urinate in 1/2 bottles, save up my urine, and combine the bottle collections with a #2 deposit in the ceramic. This has reduced ring staining of the toilet bowl, while also slashing water consumption associated with urination.


Thermal insulation of the structure will be accomplished with a combination of metalized mylar, ceramic nano-sphere epoxy, and spray foam insulation behind sheet-rock. All interior timbers will be pre-painted with a thermal isolating primer/ sealer to enhance their insulating properties. All sheet rocks panels will be painted with thermal paint before installation. Using this combination of insulation techniques, a net R value equivalent of 30 or better will be accomplished with minimal interior shell space intrusion; which is essential to maximizing the livable interior space.

Heat production will be limited to a tiny electric space heater. With less than 150ft square feet of space, a low ceiling height, and packed interior, the air space requiring heating is tiny. Even a 400watt space heater would be sufficient to keep this small home package 70deg warm in freezing winter weather conditions. A white ceramic roof paint will reject the blazing high summer sun energy.

We may install an air to air heat pump in order to facilitate heating/ air conditioning, but that depends on our ability to find a reasonably priced heat pump system.

Why not an RV?

RV are heat leaky, smelly, plastic based structures that off' gas toxic chemicals in their cramped spaces. The RV can be easily stolen because it is light and wheel based. Moving a container requires a robust forklift/ small crane setup and a tractor-trailer truck. They mass of the loaded can will exceed 7500 lbs, making it extremely hard to steal.

Breaking into a steel container is hard. Using a combination of secured windows and reinforced entry, the container is an extremely robust intrusion resistant structure. In an earthquake, the structural properties of the contain make it extremely resilient to damage.

The relatively high mass density of the container structure adds "dampening" acoustical properties, so that in  stormy weather, the interior remains still and quiet. Rain on steel is noisy, so an offset screen roof system can reduce "storm" noise if desired and cost effective.

The systems in the structure will mirror those used in small RV with similar features. The container is better than an RV because the rectangular cubic shape of the container does not have to be aerodynamic, and is therefor optimized for maximum interior space relative to the net exterior dimensions. Logistics companies designed these containers to be space; packing efficient for cost efficient transportation of "goods".

Saving Money

The primary costs are going to be land rent/ utilities and construction. Assuming a fixed $12,000 net construction hook up ready to go cost, and $300 reoccurring rent/ utility monthly costs, the 5 year or 60 month costs would be $30,000, or $6,000 per year, or about $500 per month.

At the end of the 5 years, the container is still a home, and has residual value therein. It can be moved to the next plot of land that Meg and I buy (Our first land) to function as a "guest" sweet. We anticipate that our second home we be exactly 3x larger, using 3 containers instead of 1. This would yield 2 more rooms, a "guest" bathroom, space for roof mounted solar, solar hot water, and a full sized fridge, a dish washer, and normal sized washer machine and dryer.

The Goal

Minimalism combined with low impact low energy low cost living. Meg and I never plan on having children. Meg and I are comfortable with the idea of living in a tiny energy efficient space. We have shared ideologies about eco-friendly living that is honorable to God and friendly to all other life-forms.

The primary goal here is to absolutely minimize our net energy footprint while maximizing our ability to "Save" income every month, so that we can rapidly accumulate enough capital for "Safety and Security" and for the financing of the acquisition of land and construction of our larger (but still very small) second home. Land is expensive and so is home construction. If we plan on living in a large custom made tiny home, we will need to live a very frugal lifestyle together when first married.

A secondary objective exists in this homes ability to be relocated to our future "first lot" so that we can live on the land while our second home "version 2" is under construction. Upon completion of our second home, version 1, this energy efficient, space optimized 20ft container home becomes a guest house, with added storage that Meg and I can use :)

No Mortgage

Meg and I never want to leverage a mortgage loan from a bank. We would like to pay for our homes free and clear, so that if something bad happens to one of us, we can survive on the sole income of one of us. By living well below our means, we have financial security built into our lifestyle.

Less than 160sq ft of usable space is on the extremely small side for a home for 2 adults and a cat. When you consider that the build out is going to cost about $55/ ft (me doing all the contracting work) , its also an ultra low cost way of living.

Living Below Our Means

Meg and I desire to live far below our means so that we can steadily build up enough capital every month to help other people, animals and charities and causes that we care about passionately. Many middle class people could afford to "do more good" if they were more realistic about their "needs" I understand that having more space is nice, but make no mistake, having a lot of home space is a luxury. Larger homes are harder to clean, harder to heat and cool, more expensive to paint and maintain, and in general cost proportionately more because of higher taxes and other costs associated with a large home.

Helping Other People

Meg and I both believe that we were put here on earth by God to help other people. Meg would like to inspire her passion for Art in other people through teaching. I would like to inspire my passion for energy efficiency, gardening, sustainability and eco-friendly living in other people and businesses as a career. Even if one of us makes a high profitable breakthrough that generates a lot of wealth, we would still never live in a large home. At the most, 1100 square feet will probably be the largest home we ever live in. It is my dream to build a completely off grid passive-house on a food farm. Perhaps that will be home version 4 or 5: it is very hard to know. Meg and I are both "getting off to a late start" in life, so we have to be very careful fiscally, especially early on, when we move in together.

I wrote this posting to layout my thoughts on the subject so that Meg and I can refer to this as a reference point. In approximately 6 months Megs living situation is going to change. In less than 2 days my living situation is going to change. Because of these changes, our plans for a container home have evolved from purely theoretical state to a more pragmatic and concrete stage of thinking. We not only think about the container home, we now plan on "doing it".

No Solar This Time :( 

I will have to give up on solar for the tiny home. The cost of solar energy is outside the scope of the budget for this project. We will work to reduce our energy footprint as much as possible with energy efficient designs, appliances and devices. Using LED and automated controls, it will possible to achieve very low net energy consumption. I imagine less than 10kwh per day will be the electric footprint of this home. I think showering and laundry are going to be largest net energy consumption sources. Hot water would need its own evacuated tube solar setup to actually work well.


Who is going to rent us land space with water, power and drainage to enable this can to become a home? That is the real question to answer! The land rental costs remain enigmatic as does the location of this potential space. We must over the next several months identify where the Container home is going to go, purchase and have the container delivered and moved into place, and build out the interior once spring arrives. My objective is to leave the space I am living in currently within 6 months.

What about all my Stuff?

This is complicated issue that require me to reduce the material complication of my current life. I live in a huge home with my parents, and over time I have accumulated far to many "things". Without any realistic space constraints, I have been gifted and purchased enough stuff to fill a small 3 bedroom home. I will not be able to take most of my things with me. Meg has a similar issue.

What about our clothes and essentials goods needed to live?

I will do my absolute best to maximize the interior storage capacity of the 20ft container home. That being said, the volume capacity of a 20ft shipping container is intrinsically small. I will have to prune my clothing and shoe collection to a practical level, so will Meg. This is going to be a challenge for us both because we both have too many things; too much stuff.

Less Stuff

I first conceived of this tiny container home idea when watching HGTV. I saw the tiny spaces that people pay large amounts to rent in New York and Tokyo. These spaces are always in huge multistory buildings that are incompatible with solar energy and gardening. These spaces are also not portable, so investments into interior finishing are lost when you move. I saw some articles on about other people who are living in tiny homes. A you-tube documentary about "tiny homes" further inspired my thinking.

Edible Gifts

When I was staying with my friend Jun in Tokyo in 2010, I learned that it is rude to give a "durable" gift in Japan ( I brought my hosts luxury French soap, thank God ) . The living spaces are so tight for most people in Japan, that the social norms there encourage everyone to give "consumable" gifts. High quality "food" items are common gifts in Japan, for example. Meg and I are in the process of adopting this "consumable gift idea" into our own gift giving strategies.

Gifting it Away

Every year Meg and I are given material things by other people. These "gifts" have accumulated over time and compounded our problem with having too much stuff that we rarely if ever utilize. Small LED based electronic toys for example have been gifted to me every Christmas because my mother, bless her heart, knows that I love RC toys and anything that has LED's. I will ultimately gift these toys to young people that I know, whom live in larger homes with space for "Toys". We will recycle, sell, and donate things that are not adding value to our lives, and that we cannot take with us to our tiny little metal space-craft of a home in the container.


What about the sentimental stuff. This subject is more challenging for Meg than I. I plan to photograph and digitize printed photos, so as to turn material objects of memory and meaning into digital files. A digital camera and scanner will be used to this effect, and the process has already started. My extensive DVD collection will be gifted to my father until it is feasible to rip the content onto HDD's, tens of terabytes will be required. Cloud storage is still cost prohibitive, and the drives required to store all the content locally are still too expensive at this point.

Condensing Desktops

I will work on condensing and consolidating content from my different desktop computers. We will only have room for at most a single desktop computer, and that will be the bulk storage machine. A single exterior backup drive will backup the primary storage disk of the desktop, and a second drive of this type already in use will continue to backup the laptop. We will always have at least two bulk drives in operation. 1 for bulk storage and one for backup of the bulk storage.

Streaming Solution

What about entertainment "content". Streaming is the solution. Meg already shares a digital Netflix subscription with me. Meg and I both listen to music through streaming services, primarily the free ad supported Pandora. We will need to get a 4g internet solution in our container to enable streaming and the other utility functions of internet. Internet is no longer a luxury. I pay my bills and do my banking online. I have gone paper-free as much as possible. We can stream entertaining content, books to the kindle, iPad, Nexus 7 or laptops.

No Dishwasher?

That is my name! I will use some water saving techniques that other people use to maximize water saving (pot soap water soaking, rinsing, ect) Meg and I already sometimes "share a plate" when eating together to minimize our dish utilization. Together we will work to clean using advanced methods, light  water pressure rinsing, bucket soaking, composting anything possible, alcohol and uv sterilization. We can achieve dish sanitation without a dishwasher, but it will be tricky! It will in some ways be like living on a space station...

What about smells?

We will have to run the washing machine frequently because of its tiny capacity. The only kind of machines that will fit in our homes and run on 120v power, are tiny high efficiency European home/ RV style units. We not have space for and cannot accumulate dirty smell emitting laundry of any kind.

Activated carbon filtering will scrub human/ cat VOC's from the air. The carpet free design of the can will reduce dander issues, while a HEPA filter will keep suspended solids out of the air.

The composting toilet will vent VOC's via a tiny low power constant on "PC" style fan that gently extracts air from the "head" 24/7/365: While this will create a tiny heat leak, it will reduce loading of the activated carbon unit, while keeping our home "fresher". One of the advantages of a small home is that exchanging the interior air completely is fast. If any smells arise, a complete volume exchange of the interior are can be accomplished in less than a 5 minutes. The heat-exchange setup on the air extractor will enable this to be done in an energy efficient way that reduces heat loss.

While I worry about the "cat box" I know that it is possible to add activate carbon to the cat litter, and that anti-smell cat litters exist. I know that a small vent setup can be added to the cat box similar to the one employed on the composting toilet, so that a small steady stream of slow moving air is constantly pulling any smells out of the cat box and venting them. Cat urine is the one that worries me the most, but we will figure out a way to make it work. Cat hair will be addressed with the "Ferminator"

What about Buying "Bulk" to save money.

We will not have interior storage space for bulk anything. If we do purchase anything in "bulk" we will have to store the primary quantity of it "somewhere else". Our fridge is going to be extremely small, and we are going to have to buy perishable foods almost daily. These issues are going to be ongoing challenges to address when we live there together. I imagine that we might have to build an exterior "Storage" space if we hope to have any bulk storage for anything. This will be dependent on the agreement we establish with the land owner that rents us space for our container home.

Can we wash sheets in this setup?

One at time. This is not a full sized washing machine, and cannot handle large loads. Our water heater will only be able to generate enough water to run one load ever 4 hours or so, especially if we take showers, which also need to be "fast" water saving types; "Submarine" style. Meg and I will likely alternate shower days on "low activity days" since we plan on doing cardio every 1 day on and two days off, or 10 times per month. Taking a shower before bed will help to keep the sheets cleaner longer, and will make marital fun more enjoyable in general. Yes, we can wash sheets in this setup.

What about our bicycles and cars? 

No room for these either ;( Even my electric bike folding mountain bike is large when folded in half, and heavy). We will have to park outside with this one. Our bikes will have to be stored in someone else's space... :/ hmm. Hopefully the land owner we end up working with will have a space that we can store our bikes in, alternatively we could store them in a small shed, built separately. It is possible that my parents may allow us to store our bicycles at their next home.

Driving Less 

Meg and I both use the bus when it is practical to do so. We both plan to minimize the use of our cars whenever possible. I will have to sell my motorcycle, and plan to do so anyway to liberate some capital for this project. Avoiding the use of our cars is another money saving strategy. Fuel, Insurance, Tires, Maintenance, Repairs, Depreciation, oh My.... cars are expensive. Every additional mile driven costs money. The cost per mile for Hank the Tank is close to $1, while Astro the hybrid runs about $0.40. That is with relatively cheap sub $4/gal gas.

Walking/ Cycling More 

Meg and I would like to embrace sustainable transportation choices as much as possible, and both have already done so. I purchased a hybrid vehicle, and use the bus regularly to avoid driving it. Meg got a free truck, and uses the bus when practical to avoid using it. We both are able to using bicycles for fair weather transportation, and I am considering rainy/ cool weather riding since such a large fraction of the year here consists of murky weather.


I hope we are able to find a sunny plot of land for the container home. Both Megan and I love growing food producing plants. While our efforts may be limited at this container home, we plan on one day growing and canning a lot of food. I would like to produce potato alcohol for profit, and Meg wants to grow organic peppers in a hot house. We both have overlapping interests in growing food crops/ gardens. A small garden is possible almost anywhere, and I imagine we will figure something out even at our first home.

2008 Tour with Astro (Almost no Space) 

In 2008, I toured America in my car. Astro and I went through every state west of Missouri except Texas. It was an epic 28,000 mile trip that lasted from 77 days from June 14th 2008 to August 30th. I averaged about 360 miles per day. I spent 4 nights total in hotels, and 4 days with relatives in Kansas, and 4 days with relatives in Colorado, and 6 days with friends in California, I also camped out for multiple days at lake Taho and Lake Mead. Of the about 50 days I was on the road, I camped about half time in my tend, and half the time in car. I cooked using a single pot setup about half the time, ate ready to eat style foods for most of the rest of the time (often while driving) and at at restaurants a dozen or so times. This trip gave me a good reference for what it is like to have almost no living space.
Astro has a total interior usable volume of 112 cubic feet: roughly 7ft long x 5ft wide x 3.2ft deep. My tent is also tiny, 4ft wide by 6ft long by 3.5ft tall, but it is a rounded pyramid, not cubic shape, so its interior volume is less then half that of Astro, strictly for sleeping.

Dorm Size Perspective Adjustment

WSU dorm experience: this epitomized tight housing. That said it was just a room, the bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry were shared and thus externalized. In my first dorm, Debo and I lived in a 72sq ft space, evenly divided, roughly 36sq ft per person. This was extremely snug. I guess the container home is going to be similar.

Realistic usable volume and space of the Tiny Home.

The exterior dimensions are approximately 8 ft wide x 8 ft tall x 20 ft long : 160sq ft or 1280 cubic feet.

The build out of the interior insulation area is going to eat up about 10sq feet. Leaving 150sq ft.

The shower toilet sink setup will span the width of the finished interior 7.5ft to a depth of 2.5 feet, using up about 20 square feet. Leaving 130sq ft.

The entry, kitchen, stacked laundry, storage area is roughly 7ft b 7.5ft, using about 53 square feet. Leaving 77sq ft.

The love seat, "coffee storage table" murphy bed, TV, storage and everything else has to fit in the remaining 77 sq ft.

Bigger than Astro and Bigger than my Dorm Room

It will be sort of like living in a large walk-in closet or small spacecraft/ space station. This will encourage Meg and I to spend more time "outside" and socializing with other people in public places. We could both benefit from more socialization!

It will be cute, fun, quaint, strong, small and efficient. In addition to windows, fiber optics will be used to pipe in more natural light! LED lighting will augment the windows, light fibers and sun.


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