Container home end cap receives windows (finally)

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

container home windows

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.

Second panel

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.

Third panel

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.

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.

Windows and doors for the OKC container home

Author’s note: Edited 8/10/15 to update window and patio door glazing as WITHIN 2014 Energy Star performance standards.

From the outset, developing a strong thermal envelope was foremost in my mind. In addition to increasing energy efficiency with regard to climate control, a strong thermal envelope will increase my chances of having the container home Energy Star certified. Such certification then leads to the potential for thousands in tax credits, and I believe it would bolster my credibility as a green builder from a marketing standpoint.

Besides insulation, windows and doors are the primary saviors of thermal efficiency within a home.  They’re so crucial to the performance of the thermal envelope that Energy Star has a special criteria just for them. When you buy an old home (a fixer-upper), you’re buying all the old windows and doors, too (unless they’ve been replaced, of course, but in my limited experience I find this rare). So a 40- or even 60-year-old house may have doors built with 40- and 60-year-old technologies and considerations. Add to that the shifting sands of time wearing on the foundation, and eventually the cracks literally begin to show around windows and doors in the form of lost heating, cooling, and the money that purchases each. In fact, “A typical home contains a half-mile of cracks and gaps behind walls and around windows and doors, along with dozens of holes for pipes, vents, ducts, lighting, and wiring.

windows and doors
The container home as displayed during the fabrication process at Cisco Containers in Tulsa.

These windows are cookin’ with gas

With the plans mostly finalized, it was time to actually select the windows and doors that would transform the container (at least visually) from a big metal box into a tiny metal house. My architect contacted Womble Company in OKC, and Greg took our order from there. Womble deals in Pella windows, and the models we chose for the kitchen, bath and bedroom windows all contain “Advanced Low-E Insulating Glass.”

“Low-E” refers to “low emissivity,” which means a coating has been added to the glass during manufacture that makes it better at distributing and absorbing heat and cold than an untreated window. The effectiveness of the coating is measured by what’s called a U-factor or U-value; values closer to 1.0 are inefficient, while values closer to zero are more efficient. For example, untreated glass has a U-factor of 0.84, but my kitchen, bath and bedroom windows have U-factors at or below 0.25 0.29, which is JUST within the 2014 Energy Star minimum of 0.30 for this geographic region. (Because the windows were purchased in 2014, they are beholden to the 2014 standard). You can learn more about emissivity here.

Most low-e glazing furthers efficiency with the use of argon or krypton gas filling the internal gap (or gaps, if triple glazed) between the panes. Mine have argon filling their gaps. Krypton is more expensive, but, according to Green Building Advisor, “Don’t be tempted to buy glazing without argon or krypton gas … In almost any location in the U.S., argon gas and low-e coatings will quickly yield energy savings exceeding their cost.”

A final set of three windows will be added to the natural opening of the container, but I’m waiting until being closer to completion to do that, the idea being that I may need to move large objects in or out of the cargo doors. The cargo doors, by the way, will remain functional once the windows are installed in that opening, as I wanted to retain the option to shut the doors and lock them in case of severe weather, extended absence or zombie apocalypse.

The Doors

The sliding-glass patio doors are 0.32 u-factor, which is also within the 2014 Energy Star range. I also have a barn door-type panel that I can close to reduce sunlight exposure on the patio doors.

barn door open
With the barn door open, the patio doors can receive sunlight and airflow.
barn door closed
With the barn door closed, the patio doors are completely blocked from sunlight and other weather. The barn door also features a deadbolt that can only be accessed from inside, and, if necessary, padlocked as well.

Otherwise, the doors of the container home are metal security doors from Tell. We decided to go with their Spartan series of doors for the main entry and bedroom openings. The handles for the doors are from the Cortland series in satin chrome, and the deadbolts are single cylinders in satin nickel. Both are currently primer gray, but I will likely paint them once construction has finished.