OKC container home deck: You get what you pay for

I have dreaded writing this post, mainly because it concerns the aspect of the OKC container home that is most embarrassing to me: the back deck.

The back deck took longer than planned to get installed — mainly for monetary reasons. My usual work partner was unavailable (and slightly unwilling) to take on a project as substantial as I wanted this deck to be. Add to that a diligent search for the most affordable quote from local contractors, and the wait was about a month from the site being ready for it to the work actually beginning. When I finally did pull the trigger on what I thought was an excellent deal, I only wound up getting exactly what I paid for.

Live by the Craigslist, die by the Craigslist

container home deck
A cheap futon, rug made from recycled plastic and Christmas lights have been added to the deck as the weather has warmed. These items also serve to mask some of the deck’s shortcomings, which I will eventually remedy this summer (I think…).

When the professional deck contractors I contacted in OKC wound up returning quotes in the $5,000 and $6,000 dollar range, I began to despair. That would make the deck one of the most expensive single aspects of the container home so far.

So, I turned to CL.

I love CL. Used it all the time in California and even some here in Oklahoma. It didn’t take me long to find a post for an independent contractor (more like just some random kid) who said that he worked to support his wife and kids and would never screw a client over. He seemed like one of those simple, good-hearted, salt-of-the-earth people based on the writing in his post, and so I decided to give him a shot.

The kid came out, and we looked over the site and talked over the requirements. he took some measurements and said he would get back to me with a quote. When he did, it was only like $2,000, including materials (only $1,400!). He said that if things wound up being more expensive or that if he messed up something and had to gov over budget that he would absorb the cost personally. Although he said he had never built a deck this big, he said it should pose no serious problems.

So I got him a Home Depot card for the $1,400 and told him he could keep any that was left over. He began working right away, by himself, and completed the whole job in a total of about four days.

The problems became clear, however, once he was finished.

‘A big ol’ bag of mashed-up a–hole’

Even though I knew at first glance that the deck had problems, I didn’t want to go over it with a fine-toothed comb and point them all out to him. At $2,000, I figured I could remediate whatever he had messed up.

Problem was: He messed the whole thing up.

NONE of the decking boards had two screws in them, which would (and has) led to cupping of the wood, even though it was pressure-treated. Some of the screws in the decking boards weren’t even screwed into a corresponding foundation board AT ALL! Just hanging there loose.

Further, the balusters along the borders of the deck were unevenly spaced and would not pass code. Very few of them were leveled true, and mostly not even level with each other. The stairs are a nightmare. Some of the deck boards extend all the way across the width, but others have been cut at random and the remainder made up at uneven intervals.

Last (and these are nit-picky issues, I grant you), much like the cock-ups from the roofing-insulation guy before, some of the boards were facing with the label side up, while others were properly installed label-side down. And I had specifically told him to remove the paper labels stapled into the ends of each board before installing, and yet they persist to this day.

As my good friend Morgan Brown of HB Contractors joked:

“This looks like a big ol’ bag of mashed-up asshole!”

A lesson in Zen philosophy

And so, as Morgan helped me go over all the mistakes made in the construction of the deck and how to remedy them, he offered some sage advice in the process. I had wanted to call the CL guy up and complain, tell him to get back out here or else face a lot of bad press on CL, but Morgan pointed out that that would be futile. If a guy is going to do a job so poorly from the outset, he’s obviously incapable of doing it right at all. It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing: It wastes your time and annoys the pig. Don’t do it.

At the end of the day, I had gotten what I wanted: a deck of a certain size that I could stand on and lord over my back yard, a place to enjoy breezes and sunsets and entertain friends. Was it perfect? No, not by half, but it did exist. My feet were off the ground, and it had cost half as much as some quotes and taken half the time, too.

I have a deck. It exists. It sucks, but it is mine.

I have a deck.

Take the OKC container home 360 tour

In the course of my day job, we recently acquired a 360-degree camera. I was fortunate enough to use this device to take some pics of the OKC container home in 360 degrees. Take the OKC container home 360 tour below by clicking the play button on each image and then using the mouse to navigate each immersive space. For those of you with VR headsets, you can click the three dots in the upper right of each image and activate VR mode, then use your camera and headset to view each area as if you were there:

Front yard

Living room




Back deck

Container home windows coming soon…

From the get-go, the plan had been to fill the opening where the standard container doors go with floor-to-ceiling windows. Unfortunately, budgeting issues caused me to delay that mostly aesthetic aspect (or so I thought) in favor of paying for more practical things that I could actually afford.

The unexpected snafu caused by that delay only became apparent as the weather grew colder. Because the natural doors have no insulation and are essentially one sheet of metal, the inside of the doors basically gets as cold as the outside of the doors. When the weather sank into the teens in Oklahoma City during December, I was getting massive amounts of condensation on the interior of those doors, which is right behind my couch. Further, that condensation was eventually freezing, so it was like I had a big block of ice right in my living room.

So much for thermal efficiency.

Through a combination of determined miserliness and motivation borne from being uncomfortable at home, I finally pulled the trigger on calling a regional company’s OKC offices, Thermal Windows, and getting a quote on floor-to-ceiling glazing for that much-neglected yet highly costly aspect of the project.

Decisions, decisions

I was struck with a bit of deja vu upon being presented the options for solving my end-cap problems. Looking at the image of computer renderings above, the models on the left and right sides were quoted far cheaper than the one in the middle. At the same time, the one in the middle was the one I really liked. After some hem and hawing, I decided to go with what would make me happiest, and soon enough a representative came out to get the measurements exactly right.

These will be similar to the Pella windows installed throughout the rest of the container: dual-paned and thermally efficient, with a layer of argon gas filling the inside space between the panes.

Hiccups in the process

I was told from the time I ordered the windows (late December) that they would not be available for install until sometime in mid-February. Once again my ignorance with regard to lead times in contracting for residential construction needs was laid bare, but at least I had my foot in the door.

Or so I thought.

There was some confusion as to the color of the window trim I had chosen. I forget the specifics, but it was something like the color I had selected originally wound up being unavailable in that particular material. So, I had to re-submit a signed order form. Then, I received a phone call one Friday morning in January from the install guy who had originally came out to do the initial measurements. He told me he was notified earlier that week that the factory had “lost” the measurements, which had “never happened before.” Although he could not properly explain why he waited several days to tell me of this delay, I advised him to come out right then to redo the measurements.

Waiting game

Today is Feb. 10, and I haven’t heard a peep from Thermal Windows. I expect they could be coming to install any day now, and I can’t wait to take those pictures, but dang: not a very professional company so far. We’ll just have to wait and see how their final install works out and if they’re willing to give me a discount should the delays add up to a significantly longer than expected install date.

Squirrel Park container development going up in OKC

The Squirrel Park container development is making fast inroads in northwest OKC. Located in the Asian District on the southeast side of the intersection of 32nd and Classen, the development consists exclusively of container structures and was designed by the same Londdon-based firm that created the OKC SEA complex near Deep Deuce. Eventually, an artist’s rendering of the project dictates that it will look something like this:

Squirrel ParkFrom an archived post on OKCTalk.com from August 2015 (presumably made by Pete Schaffer, the developer):

Developer Peter Schaffer received approval yesterday from the Planning Commission to move forward with the project, which will feature four unique homes. The units at Squirrel Park will initially be for lease with the possibility of being sold as condominiums later.

The units will span two lots on the south side of NW 32nd just east of Classen and represents more urban infill where housing demand has surged in recent years.

The architect is AHMM of London, the same group that designed the recently-completed OKSea project, which was also formed out of containers.

AHMM continues to make an impact on urban Oklahoma City, having already designed Level, Mosaic, The Plow, Duncan Bindery, the American Energy Partners fitness center and the recently announced Bob Moore Headquarters.

Here’s a gallery of more images from that same archived post:

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Looks like it’s going to be a really sharp development. Given that permits were issued in 2015 and construction seems to be only about a month down the road, I feel a lot less bad about the fact that my single-unit home took two years to build from concept to move in.

HCI: Available for giving container home presentations

So, since founding this blog and moving into my high cube, I’ve subsequently been fortunate enough to have various groups within the Oklahoma City metro ask me to give some presentations on container homes — specifically MY container home, of course.

Real estate appraiser’s group

In September 2017, I spoke at a meeting of the Appraisal Institute’s Great Plains chapter. Kelly Hogan with Scope Property Valuation Specialists had heard of me by chance through a mutual friend, and she was needing to provide some kind of presentation for the Great Plains chapter’s monthly meeting.

There were about 30 to 40 people in attendance, all of them hyper-aware of the local real estate market. Their questions were largely related to the more technical side of property ownership, zoning and taxes, but they also had more personal curiosities about design choices and the practicality of living in 270 square feet.

Main takeaway: Because there’s no loan classification for container homes yet, a significant amount of difficulty exists in getting a container home loan, either for buying or borrowing against an existing one or borrowing in order to build a new one. Personally, Bank of America (my bank since 2008) denied my application for a loan (although I imagine some kind of self-financing could be arranged in the event I sell my unit). At the same time, there are a few large-scale container projects (to be discussed in a future post), that seem to indicate that if your project is big enough (or you know the right people) one can secure a loan for these types of unique structures.

Earth Rebirth: Environmental consultants and sustainability collective

Speaking to members of the Earth Rebirth environmental collective Oct. 5, 2016, in Norman, OK. (Photo by Deon Osborne)

The Earth Rebirth organization based out of Norman, Oklahoma, contacted me in August about presenting to their group in early October. Even though the appraiser’s chapter turned out to be a good meeting with an engaged and curious audience, this was the type of organization more in line with what I thought constituted the “container home market,” because the ideals of Earth Rebirth (sustainability, environmentalism, recycling, etc.) are reflected in the container home itself.

There were somewhere between a dozen and 20 people in attendance during the course of the evening’s talk, and many were already familiar with container homes and other tiny living solutions, having done their own research already and currently seeking to downsize their living situations.

Main takeaway: People who are sympathetic to the environmental and sustainable aspects of container developments are very enthusiastic about the concept but largely lack the funds to start their own projects. (See lack of loan availability above.)

Minimalists.org OKC group/Tiny House Collective Oklahoma

A man by the name of John Stuart happened to attend the Earth Rebirth session, and he subsequently invited me to speak to members of his group(s) shortly thereafter. (OKC minimalists can be found here, while the local tiny house collective exists online here.)

A much more modestly sized group of like-minded individuals gathered on a recent Saturday afternoon in the sanctuary of City Pres church in OKC, which will host meetings for free. Much like the environmentalists from the previous meeting, this group consisted largely of people who had already gone down the online rabbit hole of container home research, and one had even purchased a vacant lot in northeast OKC with the sole purpose of container development.

Main takeaway: Again, the desire is there, but the money remains and issue, and I emphasized that there’s no real money to be saved on the front end of building a container home unless you have the tools and are able to do a significant amount of the cutting and welding yourself. Further, for building within city limits, obtaining permits and hiring out inspectors can add up to a prohibitive cost for most people.

Would you like me to present to your group?

I hope this gives you an idea about what kinds of groups I’m available to speak with. Of course, I’d gladly talk the ears off anyone who will listen. Currently my presentation appearances are performed gratis, but secure your place early before demand rises high enough for me to start charging! 😉

Please feel free to email me for availability and more info: josh@highcubeindustries.com