HVAC installation for the OKC container home

After plumbing had commenced and electricity was past initial inspection, the installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) for the OKC container home became the next major challenge to tackle.

It took a long time to decide upon and finalize the choice for my ultimate HVAC solution. A combination of multiple options, unknown needs, financial considerations and aesthetic preferences all combined to make this one of the hardest decisions in the entire process. Yet another complicating fact is that, in Oklahoma, the climate varies greatly in line with all four seasons.

So, there was considerable back and forth with my architect regarding potential solutions and how they would be implemented. For example, window units would provide an ultra-cheap-but-ugly-and-noisy candidate. I wanted something a bit more sophisticated for this project, which sits in a residential neighborhood. Mini-split systems, in which a wall-mounted unit handles air inside while an outdoor unit pumps heat, were also considered to be too noisy and potentially ill-equipped to handle the job. These systems are commonly found in hotel rooms around the world and look sleek, with most units employing remote controls, but their cost and the need for more than one eventually eliminated them as a viable option.

Eventually, the architect convinced me to “think like an engineer” and opt for something that would potentially exceed the requirements of the space. Better to have it and not need than need it and not have it, as the saying goes. Unfortunately by June 2015, Treece & Rhines, an OKC-based installer of HVAC systems whom the architect and I had consulted with in March 2015 leading up to the container’s June delivery, inexplicably blew me off completely once I tried to contact them after the cube was lifted into place.

It was yet another case of contractors writing me off for unknown reasons (too busy, too small a project, too little money to be made, they go out of business, lose their license, etc.). I really tried hard to reconnect with Don Treece, making multiple phone calls, sending multiple emails and making unannounced stops by their office in Bethany to only leave a message with the receptionist, but I couldn’t get so much as a call back.

Oh well.

In the interest of moving the project forward, I eventually chose a system based on the advice of the shitty first electricians. They had an in with a York representative that would allow me to purchase a sizable split system at cost, and indeed I felt like I got a deal on the air handler and 1.5-ton York heat pump I bought from the rep. The same electricians who led me to Mr. Hungate would have eventually installed it as well, but I fired them before they weren’t even close to having power connected to the cube anyway.

In the meantime, the outdoor unit crammed up the inside of the cube for awhile.

By now, it was October 2015. After contacting a few random HVAC specialists online, the new electrician, Scott Minney from MinnTech, suggested a guy: Jason Nelson from All Pro Services.

At first, Jason seemed like an OK guy, and definitely one of the more intelligent and attentive contractors I had met throughout this process. He met me promptly after Scott contacted him, took notes and seemed very interested in the project overall. He originally quoted me $3,446.

I felt this was a bit high, and, after doing some research online, I found some averages for HVAC installations broken down by square footage, and by all accounts those numbers supported my suspicion that the bid was too high.

Here’s what I found:

1,000 sf home = $6k-$12k
My home = 320 sf
320/1,000 = 32% size of average
32% x $6k = $1,920

2,311 sf = $8,760 in 2011
My home = 320 sf
320/2,311 = 13.8% size of 2011 avg.
13.8% x $8,760 = $1,208

Here’s what I told him:

While I understand that taking a straight percentage with regard to size fails to account for labor and materials, I fail to understand how my job could be priced at almost half as much the cost of a job for a home that’s three times bigger.

Bottom line: I want you to do this work; I NEED you to do this work; but I also need to save money wherever possible or else I won’t have enough left to finish the project.

Is there any room for you to come down from your original quote of $3,446?

Thanks again for your time and cooperation. I really appreciate it!

Lo and behold, he actually acquiesced and lowered the quote down to $2,200, which was right where I needed it to be. Treece quoted me $5,600 to install a Daiken 1.5 ton mini-split in March of 2015.

What I did not need, however, was the ensuing headache of asking him to redo basically all the work he did for me.

For example, after the first day of him working, he got a lot of work done alright, but it looked terrible. Under the container, the supply lines were sagging, strapping was bent and twisted, and the lines protruded in an ungainly fashion as they eventually exited from beneath the container to connect to the heat pump. When I pointed this out to him the next day, he agreed to tidy up the work beneath the cube, but he was unwilling to disconnect the heat pump so that it could be moved and oriented in such a manner so as to reduce the angle at which the supply lines stuck out of it. Code requirements had determined the orientation originally, and my ignorance led to this detail going unaddressed until it was too late.

At this point, I’m just glad things are progressing again, and quickly at that. I had paid him for half of the work about five days after hiring him, but there would be a delay while the duct work was being fabricated. In the meantime, there was an unsettling incident in which we were scheduled to meet at the container, but he wound up arriving an hour earlier than we had discussed. Because I thought we would be meeting at the originally scheduled time, I had not left a key hidden in its usual place. Rather than call me to say he was early or wait for me to arrive, Nelson just goes ahead and lets himself in, picking the lock of the door handle to the back door. He does what he needs to do and leaves without telling me anything.

When I called him later to ask how he as able to get in, he admitted to breaking in, which was almost as refreshing as it was disturbing. (It should be noted that a garage apartment I had been living in earlier that year was burgled while I was out working on an oil rig, and damn-near EVERYTHING of value that I had was stolen, so I was still very sensitive to the idea of home security and protecting my space.)

The bright side of that unfortunate incident was I now knew not to rely on the door handle’s lock alone, and instead always deadbolt the doors. I also knew the HVAC guy couldn’t be trusted.

Once the duct work arrived, Nelson installed it, but, again, it’s a very sloppy job: the ducts aren’t hung straight, strapping is bent and sloppy, and there’s mastic compound smeared in an ugly fashion at each of the duct joints. When I raise this concern, he tells me it’s all pretty standard and that I can just paint the ducts, which is what I’ll have to do, because he also refused to clean up the job unless I was going to pay him more.

Oh, and one more thing: When he had tightened up the supply lines below the container, he also managed to shoot a screw through the metal floor of my bedroom, something I had to point out to him specifically and ask him to remove.

From there, it was just a matter of getting the system inspected, but to do that, a contractor friend (FINALLY someone I know and can trust!) would have to perform some specific tasks so that the thermostat could be mounted and the last air vent put into place.

And that will be the topic of the next post…

No drop ceiling for the OKC container home

As I mention in the last post, I had been working under a pretty long-held assumption that I would eventually install a drop ceiling along the interior of the whole OKC container home. This would allow for the installation of lights and HVAC ducts to be hidden from view. I had told the electricians as much, but then, after we failed our first inspection,  they told me that I would have to have that drop ceiling installed so they could finish out the lighting install and re-order an inspection.

So, I began researching drop ceilings and how to install them. It seemed easy enough, as long as one was working with a traditional ceiling. Because the container ceiling is metal and shares its material with the roof (a detail that differs greatly compared to a traditional roof/ceiling relationship), there were no trusses on which to install the drop ceiling. I thought for awhile about improvising a solution based on a grid of ceiling wire from which to hang the ceiling grid, but it ultimately seemed like too much work for too uncertain an outcome.

I decided instead to forego the drop ceiling altogether.

At which point, it became necessary for the electrician and I to work out a system for mounting lights. What we came up with was, I think, a great compromise in terms of practicality and cost, and it provided a further benefit of augmenting the overall INDUSTRIAL feel of the container’s interior.

OKC container home lights
Sorry this is a dark pic. I’ll take better ones that highlight how cool these little adjustable spots are…

Scott from MinnTech even helped me pick out the lights to use based on the features I wanted and the overall aesthetic of the cube.


OKC container home light
These are the lights that run two-by-two in the living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom of the OKC container home.
OKC container home light bulbs
This is what the bulbs look like that fit into the adjustable spots.

Now that we had the lights mounted (and dumped a bag of concrete on the remainder of the exposed conduit leading from the back of the cube to the meter pole), it was time to call in a re-inspection.

We passed.