Shipping containers have long been a staple of Treehugger, as have tiny homes. Throw in solar power, off-grid living, and transformer furniture, and you are pushing every Treehugger button.
Built on a hill near Mansfield, a small town 110 miles northeast of Melbourne, Australia, Robbie Walker has designed a tiny home built out of two shipping containers that shows both the strengths and weaknesses of shipping container designs. Containers are a common sight, used for storage in agricultural areas, so these fit right in: "adding another couple to the top of the hill seemed like a logical, contextual choice. It also means there's flexibility to relocate the containers in the future if desired."
One of the containers is used for living and has a wall that folds down with the help of hydraulics. This provides a big deck and opens up the space inside. Another glazed wall is covered with heavy-duty industrial expanded metal mesh, which acts as a sunshade when up or can be hydraulically lowered to enclose the space while letting in light and allowing views.
The hydraulics must be hard to handle or take more electricity than the solar panels can provide: The Airbnb listing says "Please note, the hydraulic window remains fixed closed for safety reasons and keeps the tiny home true to its off grid nature. The deck remains permanently open."
However the solar panels do have enough juice to run the 12-volt fridge and lighting and there is also a hot shower and a proper plumbed toilet, avoiding that Treehugger button that many do not like to push—the composting toilet. We have asked what the toilet is connected to and will update when we receive a response.
The fold-down transformer furniture is clever; built out of the same plywood as the interiors, one can only see the pipes and hardware that supports it. The beds have self-inflating foam mattresses that evidently fluff up to a comfortable thickness—I wonder how hard it is to close the beds and deflate the mattresses at the same time. He accommodates three kids with a triple bunk at one end and a double bed at the other.
There is an additional roof on top of the roof, designed to catch rainwater which is collected in 265-gallon bladders, one on each container. The second roof probably helps keep the heat out, which is a big problem with shipping containers. Walker acknowledges this in the videos and the description:
Walker is dealing with the usual problems that arise when you are trying to live in shipping containers. He removes an entire wall of the living container to open it up to the outside, which is going to require a hefty 20-foot long beam to hold up the roof. And he acknowledges they are not great for thermal control. Again, from the Airbnb disclosure: "Please note that due to the nature and location of the Tiny Home, during the cold winter weeks and the hot summer days you will need to pack your adventurous spirit."
This Treehugger has often been ambivalent about putting people in shipping containers that were designed for freight; they are narrow and they are hard to heat and cool. But Walker has accepted their limitations and acknowledged their industrial character, and it probably is a lot of fun, especially if you have an adventurous spirit.
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