As was alluded to in a previous post, the last of the windows have been installed in the container home end cap. It’s a highly satisfying finishing touch that makes the interior look and feel bigger while also adding a touch of class to the curb appeal.
Interior acoustics have improved, too, versus the previous metal doors, and it’s warmer on the couch now that there’s less thermal transfer between the outside air and the interior surface of the end cap.
Last, replacing the industrial look of the natural cargo doors with sleek glazing from Thermal Windows definitely brings the project into the 21st century of modern design aesthetics.
(For the technically minded, these are Comfort Select 36 low-E argon gas-filled dual-pane windows. Much like the Pella windows throughout the rest of the container home, they were selected for their energy efficiency.)
Here’s how the process went down last week:
First panel for the container home end cap
It was a crew of three led by John (kneeling behind window above, obscured), who has 15 years of experience installing windows. His young crew members were attentive and efficient in working as a team to steady the heavy glass panels during a rather windy afternoon.
With the first panel tenuously held into place with one screw on the left-hand side, the second panel was brought in to butt up against it. A strip of vinyl known as snap trim was later hammered into the thin channel between the two panels and would eventually fill all the gaps between panels and the end-cap frame.
This weld in the end cap’s frame, as well as its counterpart on the other side, threatened to be troublesome for the installation of the third panel. The original measurements had allotted for some expansion of the frames, but all three panels would need to be raised simultaneously to make a proper fit.
Through the use of shims and a pry bar, the crew was able to work around the welds and slide the third panel up and into place.
From there it was just a matter of installing the rest of the snap trim, drilling the remaining screw holes and inserting screws through the window frames and into the end-cap frame. Last, a bead of caulk was run along the interior and exterior borders of the window frame, and the glass was cleaned with a spray solution and paper towels.
Of course, the next thing to do is get some curtains. It feels a little like living in a fishbowl or some kind of weird performance-art piece at the moment, especially at night when the lights are on inside but it’s dark outside.
I hope to get some that can be raised UP from the floor instead of DOWN from the ceiling. That way I can get the benefit of the light, sky and trees without exposing myself to the neighbors.
One last note: As was planned, the cargo doors remain operable. Although I intend to leave them both wide open 99 percent of the time, I will have the option to close the end cap in case of extreme weather or extended absence.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Apologies for the delay in progress updates for the OKC container home. I have been reluctant to post about what has been, to date, the worst aspect of construction, mainly in terms of execution and results.
After searching for a residential spray-foam contractor for several months and then waiting for the weather to cooperate, I finally found a guy who was both interested in the project as a whole and also seemed competent, SEEMED being the operative word. We had to wait for the weather to reach a suitable threshold so that the foam could cure properly, and that itself was a wait of one month, and then waiting for scheduling availability created another month’s delay.
Finally, dude showed up to do the work. (I’ve decided to omit the contractor’s name because, in fairness, he was trying something new and untested in light of the uniqueness of my project; however, if you would like to avoid hiring him, message me directly or comment and I will give you his name.)
We had originally discussed and agreed to him spraying two inches of closed-cell foam on the roof’s exterior. Then, Morgan and I would coat the foam ourselves using a product based on his recommendation (more bed liner, most likely). He had told me he would build a scaffolding around the roof so as to block the wind and also trap any errant foam during application.
Sounded like a plan.
When dude showed up, however, he springs on me the idea that he can avoid building a scaffolding by instead building a wooden frame around the roof perimeter and then laying plywood panel across it, under which the foam could be sprayed. Further, the plywood panels would have plastic sheeting on them to which the foam would not stick. That way, the panels could be removed, and Morgan and I could proceed with a protective coating as planned.
BUT THEN, dude suggests that if he were to omit the sheeting and just allow the foam to adhere to the panels, I would have a rooftop surface on which I could walk and potentially develop a patio. The only caveat was that he couldn’t guarantee how level the plywood surface would be given unpredictable expansion of the foam between it and the roof.
After some discussion in the driveway, I eventually went with this latter plan, as the idea of a walkable rooftop appealed to me.
I should’ve stuck with the original plan, though, and not let dude off the hook from what he originally told me, because the results were far below expectations and in fact constitute the most embarrassing/lackluster aspect of the container to date.
Eventually, all the roof work was completed. Having the insulation on the roof made an immediate difference in the climate control inside, and now, if I’m heating the space, the thermostat will usually crawl one or two degrees above the set temperature AFTER it kicks off. It also stays cool for a long time if I need AC, and it only kicks on a couple times per night (that I’ve noticed).
So, despite the headaches of dealing with yet another sketchy contractor, addition of insulation has made a positive improvement to the container’s efficiency.
Just try not to scrutinize it too closely when you come to visit.
Constructing the skirting was one of those projects that I envisioned in my head as being pretty straight-forward and easy, but damn if it didn’t wind up taking about two weeks (and still has some finishing touches left to do!)
Building the panels we wanted to use from scratch was painstaking, plus they were heavy and cumbersome to move around after they were assembled. Even after powering through panel creation, we then had to face the many tedious tasks of pre-drilling holes in the concrete piers from which we could mount brackets and then affix the panels to them. We also shot screws through the bottom edge of the container directly into the framing of each panel. Last, a series of stakes driven into the ground behind each panel further stabilizes the skirting, and we caulked and coated all the joints for waterproofing in addition to painting the whole deal with truck bed liner.
A miscellaneous post including the pouring of the parking pad for the OKC container home, passing final electrical inspection, passing plumbing rough inspection, and installing one of two pocket walls.
For some reason, finding and hiring a concrete contractor to pour the parking pad was one of the most difficult hires of the whole job and spanned the course of two seasons. One guy quoted me more than $5,000, but I had already had an earlier bid for around $1,200. Another guy played phone tag for about a month before sending his son, but his son was such a greasy slime ball who tried to upsell me from the bat that I couldn’t trust them at all. Eventually, I put a message in a bottle and tossed it into the high seas of Craigslist. Since I wasn’t needing a licensed contractor, all I wanted to do was find an able body with the time, know-how and will. And right price. I found that person in Seattle native Bryan Childreth. He had pics of previous work and could start ASAP, so we worked out the details and he was able to perform and provide labor, arrange the gravel and concrete deliveries, and hire the Bobcat driver for a smooth $1,000. The work was completed during one below-freezing day in mid-January.
Now that we had all the drywall completed and lights installed (including that pesky “future plug” in the bedroom), we were ready to have MinnTech call in final inspection.
We passed electrical inspection.
Plumbing rough inspection
With the hot water heater installed, we called for the rough-in plumbing inspection and passed
Installing a pocket wall and door
The installation of the pocket wall and door was actually one of the first things Morgan and I had wanted to tackle once I hired him, but we soon realized we would need to have that area drywalled before the pocket door kit could go in, and at that point we just decided to drywall the whole place before starting on this otherwise silly wall.
After that, it was just a matter of painting and priming the newly installed partition.
NEXT TIME: Trim all around and some progress on the kitchen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Providing power to the OKC container home was one of my first priorities after the dust had settled from the installation process. The only thing left to do was find a licensed electrician who could dig a hole, set a meter pole, install a meter base on it, and run a line from the pole to the house. Sounds simple, right?
Call Okie? What for?!
We’ve seen the billboards and heard the jingles, but calling Okie before I dug my meter pole was one of the most frustrating, pointless things I’ve ever done. The idea is that, to protect public utilities and other underground “assets” maintained by telecom companies, people can call their local office of the USIC and have them mark their property for buried electrical cables, gas lines, sewer pipes and other infrastructure.
What actually happens is a guy comes out and marks maybe just the gas lines, because that’s all he can find and all the City pays him for, but meanwhile you receive a report saying there’re actually eight stakeholders in your area with potential assets buried on your property. To have those lines marked, you have to contact each company individually.
Two of the eight operators included in my report were oil companies, and they make the list because, at some time in the past, there may’ve been drilling activity on or near your property, and pipes or other equipment may be buried in the ground there. One oil company on the list was easy to contact: They have an active well pumping up product about four blocks from the container. Another was impossible to reach, as they were based in Colorado and couldn’t care less about my good intentions regarding their potential assets beneath my backyard.
AT&T was another one, Cox was another. After contacting each and being met with varying degrees of ambivalence and bewilderment, I eventually gave up, reasoning that, had these companies left anything truly hazardous in their wake, they would be more prone to remediate.
At some point during hours-long searches on Yelp and CraigsList, I had eventually found an electrical outfit called Red Hot Trade Services LLC. After some back and forth with one of their crew, we eventually staked the meter pole’s location and had set a date for installing the meter pole.
On that day, the electricians arrived shortly before a large auger truck. The auger truck was hauling a huge telephone pole. A surprisingly helpful guy from OG&E had given me some guidelines regarding the pole’s location, and he gave me the impression that it needed to be located within a certain radius from the closest existing power pole.
OK, so we had picked out a spot and have the auger truck start drilling. Things are going well until the operator runs into a hard spot. He decides to pull out of the hole so the electricians and I can examine the obstruction. Although we can’t see anything at the bottom of the hole, some cement dust was clouding up the hole’s opening, and it smelled like cement as well. We decided better safe than sorry and picked a new position for the hole.
But then the same thing happened. And again. And again. Five holes were dug in all that day, but not one of them would accommodate this huge pole the electricians had brought, because the auger operator insisted the hole be five and a half feet deep, and I insisted we remain within OG&E’s assumed guidelines for placement.
Out with the old, in with the pole
Eventually I learned from OG&E that the radius stipulation I had been given previously was more of a loose guideline and not a hard-and-fast code-related rule.
Now he tells me.
Then, after many delays and excuses from Red Hot about how they couldn’t hire the auger truck to come out to my property again because it was in the shop or they were busy with other stuff, I finally hired Moore Electric.
They showed up the same day I called them for an estimate, took a look at my huge telephone pole lying in the yard, asked who I had hired originally, and then shook their heads knowingly and smiled in that perturbing way only a true blue-collar hero can smile: “There’s your trouble.”
These guys from Moore had a smaller pole installed the very next day. They brought out a Bobcat with an auger attachment and three dudes under the age of 21 who completed the work in about 25 minutes.
With that, my confidence in Red Hot was all but shot. Still, it had taken me so long to secure them as the contractor for electricity, and as I couldn’t get any other electrical contractors to call me back, I decided to give them one last chance.
I allowed them to install a meter base on the newly installed pole.
To date, Red Hot’s original too-huge pole remains on my property. If anyone needs a giant pole for something, it’s yours for the taking (if you can haul it off). The Red Hot boss had tried to haul it off in a normal truck and with the help of one other person, so at least I got the benefit of those humorous moments when they realized their workers had royally screwed up.
Sorry for the long delays between posts lately! Other work and life stuff has been getting in the way of me updating as much as I’d like. Tune in next time when I cover the ongoing installation of the plumbing systems!
The delay had been so long between formulating the blueprints and delivery date that I completely forgot one little detail: shims. The foundation was engineered to be higher at each end than in the middle, ostensibly to account for any sagging and also to avoid high-centering the box during placement. When it was set into place, there was a gap between the top of the middle foundation and the middle of the box’s bottom rails.
I was a little dumbfounded with how to proceed at first, but after a couple of days I snapped out of it and started making some phone calls. I found a place called Metal Supermarket in OKC that could frank ate some plates for me, and then I also contacted a local welder who could weld the plates to the box, the foundation and each other.
Here’s a pic of the finished result, taken months after the fact so the welds and plates have oxidized:
There was some spalding of the concrete from the heat of the welding. In the future it may be beneficial to build the foundations with a metal cap that covers the edge of the concrete. Otherwise, the whole thing was welded into place at all four corners and the shims fit perfectly. I forgot to mention above that, in addition to a welder, I also had to hire a forklift to come lift up one end of the container so the shins could be placed on the middle supports. Personnel from Allied Steel, the same company that had the boom trick for the container’s placement, did that work. Kent from Metal Fusion did the welding work.
More than a year’s worth of work finally culminated in the delivery of the OKC container home to its residential lot in southeast OKC. It was early June 2015.
Torrential rains during May caused many weeks of delays, because the crane truck necessary to hoist the box onto the foundation walls is so big and heavy that any wet ground would likely precipitate the formation of huge gashes in the lawn or maybe even a wholly stuck truck.
Eventually, the conditions cleared, and a delivery date was coordinated with Cisco. I hired Allied Steel to provide crane services, and, to save on costs, they let me do the rigging.