Okay, so it’s been two and a half weeks since I posted on our progress- and there’s a good reason for that. The clearing process has been laborious and time consuming. The good news is we have cleared enough space for the house to include a sizeable front and back yard. We’ve also uncovered some beautiful Oaks and other trees that were hidded behind all the brush. The land is taking shape and offering her gifts as each layer is peeled away.
The next step is to dig the holes for the foundation piers and pour the concrete. We have decided to bring in the shipping containers two at a time, the first two of which will be the most important as they will function as the control center of the entire house. This is where the hot water heater, major plumbing, AC and electical panel will be located. Shane has been hard at work engineering all these plans and we are taking it slowly so we don’t make any mistakes!
Shane bought a small portable AC unit yesterday that we’ll be using to keep the house cool as we work. Here in south Texas we’re experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, and we are already under severe heat warnings from the National Weather Service. The result is that we have to plan on slowing things down a bit during the heat of the day.
Randall has been such a blessing- not only because he has an amazing back hoe and mad skills to operate it, but mainly because he is helping us engineer this project and has taken the time and love to plan it out step by step with Shane. He gently points out details we’ve missed and humbly guides us in the right direction when we get carried away. Words cannot express my gratitude for all the guidance and love Randall has shared with our family. We could not do this project without him.
I don’t have any photos to post right now, but I promise to have a few posted by the end of the week!
The land clearing process was a work of art. The uncleared land was the raw canvas, and the back hoe worked tirelessly like an artist’s favorite paintbrush. As each layer was peeled away the beauty and shape of each tree was revealed. Animals scurried out of the way and the land began to take shape and offer her palatte for us to build our home.
The first task on the list was to clear an area for a burn pile. Randal’s method is to “take the path of least resistance” and let the mature trees guide his path. A seasoned veteran at clearing land, he keenly sizes up and judges each tree and shrub so he can weed out the undesireables. The trees that look promising are left and then later he returns to perhaps thin more out based on other factors such as shade quality, competing trees and the potential size and shape of the tree once it’s had some time to fill out.
Randall has a unique way of clearing the land that ensures that the plants he digs up won’t grow back. Most people clear land by using the bucket to simply sear off the plants and trees at ground level. This leaves the root base, which sometimes consists of huge root balls, that can later form shoots and grow back into full sized trees by the next growing season. Randall counters this potential issue by using the back hoe to dig deep and then pulls the brush up by the roots. He uses the back hoe to shake each pile free of any dirt from the roots and sets the pile to the side. Once he has a large enough pile of brush and trees he uses the bucket to push it over to the brush pile.
And this is exactly what he did. Little by little Randall cleared a beautiful spot for the home. He revealed a small grove of Oaks to the East (by the master suite), a few single trunk well formed Mesquites to the West (by the children’s rooms) and beautiful Wild Persimmons to the South (in view from our future back porch). Shane was in awe how each tree looked so completely different once the brush was removed from around the base. The beautiful potential of our land was made clear to him, and although he won’t admit it, I’m sure it made him a bit misty. I know I was as he described it over the phone.
Shane came home for the weekend, and today he’s heading back down to Goliad to pick up the septic tank and start that process. Although I miss him terribly during the week (I have to stay in Houson since Ian is still in school), it’s a small price to pay for getting a head start before the heat of summer sets in. I’m looking foward to heading down this weekend to check out the 10,000 lb septic tank! Who knew I could be so excited about such a thing? 🙂
This weekend we spent time soaking in the land and figuring out exactly where we want to build our home. Once we started looking around I soon realized that the picture I had in my minds eye was a bit off from the actual geography and size of the home. As Randall (our dear friend and long time resident of Goliad who is our expert, consultant, and co-builder) walked the perimeter of the home I quickly saw that we had to move the house quite a distance South from where I had initially thought it should go. This shift gives us plenty of space between the new home and the existing home and also gives us plenty of room to build a parking area and drive.
The area basically looks like an impenetrable thicket of wildness. We talked at length about the types of trees we’ll be keeping (Texas Live Oak, Wild Persimmon, Hackberry and some of the nice Mesquites) and the ones we’ll be digging up (Catsclaw, Blackbrush and any of the small or competing trees). It’s hard to imagine what it’s going to look like once it’s cleared, and Shane is looking foward to uncovering the secret treasures behind the curtain of brush. We’re snuggling the house between some of the bigger trees in the area so we we’ll have a head start on using shade trees to help keep the house cool.
Because of the current drought here in South Texas, Randall is going to have to clear out a pretty large area for the burn pile and we’re going to have to wait until the burn ban is lifted to actually burn it. The only problem this poses is we need quite a bit of space to put the 6 containers until we’re ready to put them in place, and this burn pile area will take up quite a bit of this space. One thing I am excited about though, is that once the burn pile is burned it will make a great spot to start my garden. The ash will fertilize the ground and the area will be cleared and ready to go!
We also discussed the curent septic tank (that needs to be upgraded) and tossed some ideas back and forth about where to put the new tank and how we could put both houses on the same septic system. This won’t put too much pressure on one tank since we are planning on running an extensive gray water system to support the fruit trees we’ll be planting.
The clearing starts tomorrow (Tuesday) and marks the unofficial ground breaking. Stay tuned for big tractor pics!
The day has finally come. We paid for the 6 shipping containers that will soon become our home. In the last month we poured through books, websites and blogs to figure out if this was something we thought we could actually pull off. The main obstacle I found was that there are really only two kinds of websites related shipping container building design- the kind that focus on using containers as storage sheds or makeshift offices, and the polarly opposite kind that feature designer homes developed by high end architectural firms. This made it difficult for us to conceptualize our modest home in terms of our unique needs and vision.
What made the decision easier for me was that we actually ran across (quite by accident) a shipping container building in our neighborhood that is currently under construction. Using 11 containers stacked 2 high, the space will be used primarily as an office building. After touring the property and briefly consulting with Vic Cherubini (President of Epic Software) and a few of the contractors, I realized this was something we could do, too. And it was Vic that encouraged us to write a blog. He confirmed that there are very few websites dedicated to the average Joe who wants to turn these containers into a home without the use of a team of engineers and architects. Check out his blog about his shipping container project at www.epicsoftware.com.
Another obstacle we faced is that the country is currently experiencing a shortage of these shipping containers- especially the 40′ high cubes we’re looking for. Because the price of steel has sky rocketed, the Chinese are reusing their containers instead of their old method of just purchasing new ones to get their exports out faster. The result is that the Houston shipyard hasn’t been selling any surplus containers for more than three months. This has driven up the price considerably. Last year the average used container cost around $2,000. After getting quotes from $3,800- $5,400 we ended up finding them for $3,400. This upset our budget substancially. After consulting with a few dealers though, we soon realized the price is only going to continue to rise for at least a few more years, so we had to make the decision to move foward or shift gears.
The consensus between us was that we can, and should, move foward. Besides being a much quicker building method (the framing is already done!) the possibilites are endless when it comes to the layout and design. And the idea of using a recycled materials in our dream home fits prefect with our lifestyle and core belief system. And so it goes with the first phase of our project.
I’m feeling a bit nervous. We have so much work ahead of us. Feelings of joy and a little fear of the unknown swim in my consciousness. Paying for the containers today really solidified our intent- there is no turning back now!