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.

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.

Roof insulation for the OKC container home

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.

container roof foam
To install spray foam insulation on the container’s roof, a 2×4 frame was laid around the container’s upper frame.
spray foam container roof
Sections of 4×8 sheets of plywood were laid across the 2×4 frame and screwed together.
container roof spray foam
Closed-cell foam was then sprayed underneath the plywood sections, thereby adhering the wood to the container roof via the foam.
spray foam container roof
The end result left a lot to be desired. First, each plywood she had been installed upside down, with a big black stamp reading THIS SIDE DOWN facing up. it’s hard to see in the picture, but a regular expansion of the spray foam in each plywood sheet had caused peaks and valleys between each section of plywood. Some sections had way too much foam under them; others, not near enough (if any at all).
seam between plywood panels
This shot typifies the seams between plywood panels across the roof. Morgan and I would eventually shave these down to create a smooth, sloping seam, and then cover them all with generous amounts of caulk.
container roof spray foam
When I asked the spray foam guy to come back and add more foam to sections of plywood that seemed like they had more give than others, I would find several holes that appeared to have no extra foam sprayed in them at all. You can see how this hole, drilled after the installation, lacks excess foam flowing out of it, as had been the case with every other seam between plywood sheets.
foam seams
Work begins on smoothing out the foam seams between panels.
container roof structure
Morgan wound up having to make cuts to the edge of the plywood/2×4 roof structure. I had originally asked dude to do it; he tried, gave up and called another guy. That guy did a terrible job, so this is Morgan setting about fixing it.

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.