Project RIPPLE: The Journey to deliver the first shipping container home in the Republic of Ireland
By Carol Tallon
Full steam ahead
In their current form, shipping containers have been around since the 1950s but have only become a popular construction material in the past decade. This global housing and architectural trend spread to Ireland in the form of small or student projects, none of which are believed to have been built to be fully compliant to building regulations.
That was the situation until two pioneering projects proved that, with the right team on board, building out of scrap metal was possible in Ireland too: NI architect Patrick Bradley’s house and the RIPPLE project in ROI. Bradley’s use of two shipping containers to create his home was recently chronicled on TV show Grand Designs.
Project RIPPLE, meanwhile, was executed in November 2014 bringing together 65 professional and trades people, suppliers and supporters to create what’s believed to be the very first, fully-compliant, home in ROI, made entirely from a disused shipping container. Here’s the story of the conversion of scrap to home as told by Carol Tallon.
People are choosing to live in a different way. Simply put, innovation within the property market in Ireland has not kept pace with changing global trends, for example, people are moving away from the notion of permanency or lifetime debt. In a more moveable society, there is a need for more flexible approaches to home ownership. A low cost model of sustainable housing was inevitable after the property market crash; building with shipping containers is simply one potential solution in a country that has sufficient space to accommodate different lifestyle choices.
While the initial aim of project RIPPLE was to come up with a low-cost model of housing, that could be rolled out quickly and without the long lead-in time that traditional housing requires, it became clear that there were a number of challenges unique to building such structures in Ireland. Not least, our climate demands a greater level of insulation, and given the size of the container, this needed to be achieved on the exterior rather than the interior of the unit.
It took two years to plan the project and during that time the general property market in Ireland recovered at a pace much quicker than expected. This eliminated many sites and opportunities that were thought to be available at the outset. While difficult for the project, the rapidly rising house and apartment prices reinforced the need for a low cost model for housing, particularly in the capital. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the introduction of new, more onerous building regulations in early 2014, which meant increased compliance issues and with that, increased costs for all self-builders.
The completed high-spec bespoke home, as delivered, would cost you €55,000 but a 40ft shipping container can be converted into a fully-compliant home from €25,000 direct labour or €35,000 using a contractor. The completed home consists of an entrance into the kitchen, with lounge/seated area to the right and storage cupboard to the left. The hallway leads to a fully-accessible bathroom, with full wc and shower, then into the deceptively spacious bedroom with extended height, double bunk beds and built-in closet.
The process below is an outline of this particular project. There were some aspects and challenges unique to it; for instance, this was a three day build and more importantly, it was an entirely voluntary and charitable project. All labour and materials were donated or sponsored. This meant working with what we had and using the labour available within the short time frame available.
Given the limitations of the temporary site, preparatory steelworks were done offsite. Markings were made using a chalkline then permanent marker on the interior of the container for window and door openings, chimney exit and roof pipes for solar panels. This was done by recreating the floor plan inside. The next step was to put in acrows (steel bars used for temporary support from floor to ceiling with threads for adjustable heights) before cutting out the side of the container; this entailed removing the sidepanel to reveal the steel cross members and then cutting out the side of the container along the markings using an angle-grinder. When cut, the team set about making the steel supports around the openings to give new strength to the structure. These were connected to the steel cross-members of the floor.
On the roof of the container, the four lifting points were extended to allow for superinsulated fibreglass roof whilst still allowing for the container to be transported.
On the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Kilmainham, Dublin with a team of 20 to 30 people on site, the rusted and slightly battered 40 ft container was delivered by an articulated lorry with a crane on its back and placed on a firm, level site of concrete and gravel.
As we were aiming for passiv or near passiv haus standards the entire container was wrapped in an airtight membrane then the exterior timber frame was built around it, using 4×2 inch timbers. The insulation was cut to size and placed between each of the battens. Then a second layer of insulation was screwed on the outside of the timber frame in larger panels. The entire building was wrapped again in another watertight membrane.
Inside, a sheet of membrane was sealed to the floor and two layers of insulation placed on top. Marine plywood was then screwed into place to create the floor.
Our design choices meant that the rippled interior was left exposed so we had the walls and ceilings spray painted in a light grey colour. This is generally the method used for commercial projects but works well for houses too.
Similar to a traditional self-build, the first fixes happen concurrently, as follows:
- Timber studding – to create the walls and interior spaces
A combined effort between plumbing and electrical on the roof was required for the hot water solar panels (evacuated tubes). The exterior was then sealed using glass reinforced polyester (GRP) and a roof was then created using fibreglass. The downpipes were subsequently put into place.
The windows and exterior doors were installed and then tinted to add to the energy performance of the glass and for aesthetics. At this stage, all electrical and plumbing was completed and connected. The joinery, bespoke double bunk beds, storage spaces and the kitchen were installed; an interior designer coordinated the bespoke design.
With watertight, breather membranes completed and battening prepared, the external cladding began. While the original RIPPLE design provided for a more traditional timber cladding, a design choice was made to experiment with bamboo, to truly stunning effect.
In terms of exterior finishes, up-lighting and down-lighting fixtures were installed across the outside of the clad building. A quality, composite decking area was fitted, creating raised access into the building. Finally, the site was landscaped and opened for viewing.
On day four of the build, Sunday 30th November 2014, this stunning home was donated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to support their work to help the homeless. It is envisioned that this new home will be located at the charity’s women and children shelter in Longford, Bethany House, subject to site suitability and local planning approval. It is hoped that the unit will be used as an alternative to unsatisfactory hotel or B&B rooms for families for periods up to three months, while they are waiting for more permanent accommodation.
The use of converted shipping containers to provide emergency accommodation is not unheard of; Australia started using these dwellings in 2007. This has to be good news following a year of reports about the rise in homelessness in Ireland and the doubling of the number of families in emergency accommodation since last year. This project will take one family off that list. While one is not a big number it is a good place to start.
Since embarking on this unusual build, many similar projects at various stages of planning and preparation have come to light. To date, planning permission has been granted for at least two container builds, one in Dublin and one in County Cork, with many more expected throughout 2015 and 2016. Containers make an ideal structure for a self-builders due to their ridged frame, manageable size and versatility. So what are you waiting for?
Photography by Tania Flores and Stephen Fleming
RIPPLE: Creating Ireland’s first, fully-compliant, shipping container home in 3 days at IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) Dublin 8 from 27-30th Nov 2014
For more than two years I have been working with an incredibly innovative, dedicated and – most importantly – patient architect, Derek Trenaman and his team at Ceardean Design & Construction in Dublin to create the very first, fully-compliant, shipping container home in the Republic of Ireland.
During those two years, the general property market recovered at a pace much quicker than expected and this eliminated many sites and opportunities that we thought were available when we started. The rapidly rising house and apartment prices made us more determined that a low cost model for housing was required but the challenges mounted ahead of us. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the introduction of new, more onerous building regulations in early 2014, which meant increased compliance issues and with that, increased costs for all self-builders.
With each new challenge came a new solution and over the many months, the design plan changed and evolved. Most recently, we were invited to carry out this build on the site of Electric Picnic music festival in August. With great hesitation, we had to turn down that opportunity. The team continued, never once losing faith in the project and the shared vision. As a result of the massive collaborative effort of our professional team, supported by contractor Ken Mariner, master problem-solver, and his team at KSM Construction, not forgetting our
vital engineer Vincent Brady and our inspired landscape architect Daibhi MacDomhnaill, this build will now take place later this month on the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Arts (IMMA) in Kilmainham, Dublin 8.
Innovation within the property market in Ireland has not kept pace with changing global trends, for example, people are moving away from the notion of permanency or lifetime debt. In a more moveable society, we need more flexible approaches for home ownership. A low cost model of housing was inevitable after the property market crash, this is simply one potential solution in a country where we have sufficient space to accommodate different lifestyle choices.
All of our professionals’ time and the building labour have been donated to this project without charge, for that we are hugely grateful as we could proceed without it. Also, we were fortunate to have the support of many key material suppliers who donated and sponsored everything required to create this new home. A special word of thanks goes out to the following people and organisations, without their help there is no way that we could have funded such a special and worthwhile project: Hear Me Roar Media (UK) who donated the shipping container; Stephen Lawlor our Quantity Surveyor; Ciara Smullen our interior designer; Kingspan Insulation who offered up not only the necessarily materials but also gave us access to their technical team of experts, Kingspan Environmental and Nordan Windows to name just a few. The list of people and business helping us out grows every day and, very genuinely, our appreciation grows every day as there is a very special intended use for this new home, once completed.
In December, this 40sq.ft home will be donated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who are planning to locate the container home at their Deerpark Hostel site in Cork City. This hostel currently provides shelter and emergency accommodation to homeless men across Cork. It is hoped that the unit will become a home for people in need in time for Christmas.
There is still a lot of work to do and some outstanding items that we need to convert this container into a comfortable and full-functional home by the end of November, if you think you can help us out, please contact me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The entire build will be documented for Irish and Spanish TV, also, the Container Home manual (to be published via ROARLondon) will be available from May 2015.
Full List of RIPPLE Contributors