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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been wracking my brain over this and just thought of throwing it out here to see if any of you have any thoughts.

I'm seriously considering buying some land in a remote fishing village on the Alaska Peninsula. We'd be moving there within the next few years -- I know the climate is terrible, but it will suit me just fine! :sing: The problem is that the local vegetation doesn't include any trees big enough to use for building material, and there are no local building supply stores. EVERYTHING (except food you grow or forage) has to come in by air or on a once-yearly barge.

My contact there says that they can handle off-loading and moving 20' shipping containers, but that 40' ones are difficult. Winters get down to 25 degrees below zero, with wind. Summers can be wet (with wind). The house can be small, but has to have private space for two people (who don't sleep together -- I live with my mentally handicapped daughter, so two sleeping areas are needed, and one of them needs to be big enough for DD to have room to play), and it needs to have quite a bit of storage space for a year + of food and everything else that we need.

It also needs to be quick to build (winter comes early in Alaska); easy to build (I probably won't have a lot of help); and inexpensive. Hmm. Well-insulated should go without saying! Heat will be from a wood/coal stove as some of the local 'trees' are big enough for firewood, and there are coal seams in the area. They haven't been used in quite a while, but the locals have relocated them and are going to start using them again. Minimal electricity will be from solar -- some of the locals have wind generators, and I may do that eventually, too, but it would come later.

So, taking all those factors into consideration, I'd like to start preparing now, get the materials together, or possibly even build the house in sections (in shipping containers, perhaps?) so it would be ready to go. I kind of like the idea of using shipping containers for the house, although when the time comes, I'd have to have them hauled individually to Seattle to go on the barge. (How are shipping containers moved? An axle and wheels put under them? Or do they go on a trailer?) But once on location, they could be put together, the perimeter insulated and sided, and a roof put on the whole thing -- that seems like it would be fairly quick. Shipping costs could get awfully high, though, with several containers to go on the barge. If I built from scratch, probably one or two containers would hold all the materials for a house, and when they were empty, I could use them for a barn.

So, does anyone have any good ideas about how to solve the problem? My contact there says that people have had house logs floated down from Dillingham; shipped from Anchorage to a village on the Gulf of Alaska side of the Peninsula and then hauled by Snowcat (in the winter, when the marshy ground is frozen) across to the village; or brought in by barge. She says that the barge is the cheapest way to go -- and I don't want a log house, anyway (logs are too heavy for me to build with by myself, and there are too many cracks in the walls for the wind to get into). The Alaska Natives (all of them, Eskimo, Indian, and Aleut, except for the Indians in Southeast) built underground, and that's what I'd like to do, with proper waterproofing and insulation. Well, it wouldn't really be under the ground -- my thought was to build on the surface, and earth berm with a sod roof. But it would still be a lot of work to do by hand, and I don't know if I could get it finished before winter. I should ask my contact if there's a backhoe in the village that I could hire to move the dirt, I guess.

Right now this is just a mental exercise, but hopefully my Dad's property in Alaska will sell next spring and I'll have some money to start working with. So throw your ideas out, please!

Kathleen
 

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Voice of Reason
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I can't imagine using a metal shipping container in -25 degree weather without heavy insulation. I suspect that the least expensive way to do that is to put a 2x4 frame and R-13 fiberglass on (or in) the container. I don't see that as providing any financial advantage over constructing a 2x4 frame cabin.

In colder climates 2-story homes are more confortable than single story homes. That's because you can stay up in the warm air bubble on the second floor. They construct homes in Greenland & Iceland that way for that very reason.

If I were you, I would consider a 2-story cabin like some of these. Their plans are only $20.

http://www.storageshed-plans.com/cottageplans/cottagecabinplans.htm

I built Plan:C120BB.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Nevada, I've seen the pictures you've posted of your little house -- it's cute! I don't want a two-story house, though, because my daughter has trouble with stairs (her problems aren't all mental).

I do agree with you about the amount of insulation needed to make shipping containers habitable -- probably three or four inches of foam insulation on the outside, plus the siding. I thought there might be a way to glue that all together, though, the way they make SIP's.

Kathleen
 

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I agree that shipping containers as a home in a very cold climate is going to be a problem. We live in -25F winters here every year and whatever is in the container stays real cold all day. A stick-frame cabin is the way to go.

Since building materials are scarce you will want to build with durable materials. I just build a greenhouse with all redwood and cedar so that I only need to do it once. More expensive but the wood should never rot or have insect issues.

I would get you plans, and get the lumber (other materials, fixtures, plumbing, etc.) loaded into the containers and ship them out of Portland or Seattle. When complete, the storage containers are a very secure way to store extra stuff or can be great "barns" for storing animal feed and hay.
 

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I don't want a two-story house, though, because my daughter has trouble with stairs
If you have a compelling reason to avoid 2-story construction then I understand. The foundation for a single-story home will be larger and material costs will be higher for the rest of the home, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

But regardless if how many stories you make your home, I'm still wondering what the advantage of using the storage container will be. I've always seen those as practical in warmer climates, but not in a cold climates.
 

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You might want to look into a kit home made up od SIPS panels. They are extremely well insulated and lightweight, and could be shipped to you IN 20 foot containers. I have read that two people can erect the walls in a day.

This place has some ideas and examples. http://www.farwesthomes.com/

But do a search on SIPS homes, cabins, cottages.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I can't imagine using a metal shipping container in -25 degree weather without heavy insulation. I suspect that the least expensive way to do that is to put a 2x4 frame and R-13 fiberglass on (or in) the container. I don't see that as providing any financial advantage over constructing a 2x4 frame cabin.

In colder climates 2-story homes are more confortable than single story homes. That's because you can stay up in the warm air bubble on the second floor. They construct homes in Greenland & Iceland that way for that very reason.

If I were you, I would consider a 2-story cabin like some of these. Their plans are only $20.

http://www.storageshed-plans.com/cottageplans/cottagecabinplans.htm

I built Plan:C120BB.
I've just been looking at those little houses, Nevada. You are correct about the benefits of a second floor. I could have my bedroom upstairs, if we did two stories, but my daughter is so slow negotiating stairs that I wouldn't want to have her on the second floor. She can't do ladders at all (we tried bunk beds for her, and of course she wanted to sleep on the top bunk -- took me fifteen minutes every morning to help her get down!). The thing is, though, that if anyone could benefit from the extra heat, it would be her. I prefer my bedroom cold! It's been getting down in the twenties here at night lately, and I'm still leaving my bedroom window open -- and throwing off the covers toward morning!

I do look at house plans for ideas, but as long as they don't get too complicated, I can draw my own. I may have a friend go over them to make sure I don't forget something on the materials list, since in that location it would be a major headache to suddenly realize that I'd forgotten something. But I have two or three friends locally with engineering degrees, and a BIL who is an engineer and does house designing for various clients, not to mention a couple of friends who either are or used to be contractors. So there are lots of resources for checking my plans over, LOL! I'm going to try to attach one of the plans I'm considering. It's not the only one -- I've already had a couple of good suggestions for alterations. But it's about as small as I care to go for the two of us, since we'd need so much storage space (and have two large dogs!). This plan is 16' X 32'; the two rooms on each end are eight feet square, ignoring wall thickness.



Kathleen
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
You might want to look into a kit home made up od SIPS panels. They are extremely well insulated and lightweight, and could be shipped to you IN 20 foot containers. I have read that two people can erect the walls in a day.

This place has some ideas and examples. http://www.farwesthomes.com/

But do a search on SIPS homes, cabins, cottages.
Thanks for the link -- they are in Washington, and already ship packaged units in shipping containers, so that may be a good resource. They seem to be just shells, though -- I'll have to find out prices, and figure out what it would cost to finish them.

I've been doing a little looking into SIP's. We had a video out of the library where a guy built a small shop with 'remnants' --- leftover chunks of SIP from a local manufacturer that had to be pieced together. (If I could find a local manufacturer, I'd offer to take their remnants off their hands, LOL!) Even piecing things together, he and another guy built the shop in a week or so -- and that included building slip-form stone walls on the outside! (The video was by Thomas Elpel, if anyone is interested.)

Kathleen
 

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If you haven't seen this documentary or read these books you need to.
This is the coolest man I have ever read about. I have seen his documentary at least 10 times just because I love it. No plans to move there. If these links don't work just google "Alone in the Wilderness". There is even a video on him you can watch.

http://www.dickproenneke.com/DickProenneke.html


http://www.dickproenneke.com/

http://www.aloneinthewilderness.com/http://

video.google.com/videosearch?q=alone+in+the+wilderness&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7GGLR&um=1&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&resnum=4&ct=title#
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Yes, we have his book around here somewhere, and have watched the documentary quite a few times, LOL! It's pretty neat the way he makes everything from scratch! It reminds me of the Little House on the Prairie books, where Laura tells how her father built their cabin when they first moved to the prairie. I've always thought it would be a really neat challenge to try to do that -- but much of it would take both more time and more carpentry skills than I have. I've done quite a bit of framing, and a little bit of furniture-making, but had access to modern power tools, which makes the job a lot easier. (That is one reason I want to start on my house now and pre-build at least some parts of it -- because here I have electricity and power tools; there, I won't have them.)

Kathleen
 

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You may want to look for local Alaskan advice regarding building on permafrost.

A friend bought house in AK while stationed there (Army) that wasn't built properly and it had problems with the permafrost melting. He couldn't sell the house legally and when his was transferred he ended up letting the bank take possession of the house.

deb
in WI
 

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Just a few thoughts off the top of my head:

If you are looking for speed, it might be easier if you put the kitchen and bath on the same wall for ease of plumbing your water and drain lines.

Again, for speed, I would definately drop the cool box. Looks like a ton of time for a small space. Could you build on something later?

Personally, I would try to do a 24 x 32, but that is just me. It would give you more options, more storage, possibly another bedroom, etc.

Clove
 

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I just wanted to say I really like that plan you put up. Even if your daughter can't use the stairs well, I'd still put a loft in, or at least a shorty one(the ceiling for it is like 5')

Have you ever seen those sleeping "closets" in Scandinavia? You've got the bunk, with shutter doors, and built in drawers and closets underneath and alongside. That way the wasted floor space in the bedrooms is added to the living area. And the bunk is cozy and warm, since the bed is enclosed. I always thought that was a great idea. The painter Carl Larssen shows this idea in some of his paintings.
 

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Kathleen,
It would help to know the village that you are looking at. Is there a reason to pick that area of Alaska? It is EXTREMELY expensive to ship there. Getting a loader big enough for a container can be expensive if possible at all. I ship all over the state and work with companies that build out there. If you give me a village, I can ask a buddy about it. He goes out there all the time. My son just got back from Atka and Dutch Harbor.

Can you actually purchase the land or is it native?

These people build cabins in remote areas.

http://www.friesenscustomcabins.com/home.htm

There are alot friendlier places to live in Alaska. Access to medical help, banking, post office, can vary. Remember that rural Alaska has more than its share of sex offenders and alcoholics. Rural Alaskan people are also moving into the cities due to fuel costs etc....
 

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You may want to look for local Alaskan advice regarding building on permafrost.

A friend bought house in AK while stationed there (Army) that wasn't built properly and it had problems with the permafrost melting. He couldn't sell the house legally and when his was transferred he ended up letting the bank take possession of the house.

deb
in WI
And snow! Some places, the snow piles so deep, you can only leave the house from the second floor, and that's just here in Oregon!

From a storage standpoint, if you go with the plan you designed, I think you will need a garage of some sort, or an additional storage shed attached to the house for winter storage. Also, your planned clothes storage volume might not be enough, because coats for outside take up a lot of space, as do all the other extras you will want in case you can't get enough water to do the laundry.

Your plan, though, is a very good start.

Also, looking at this and reading about her mobility issues, are you sure there will be enough space around the wood stove for her to move safely? If she were to trip and fall against the stove, I shudder to think how bad that would be for her. I mention this specifically because when I was six, I accidentally fell and landed with my left had against a hot wood stove. It hurt more than I can describe, and I would hate for anyone else to go through that.
 

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I tend to agree with the suggestions of both moving the kitchen and bath near each other preferably running water lines in a single inside wall.
Also the suggestion of a loft, personally I would have one over both bedrooms and use a vaulted cieling in the main living area. the lofts would provide extra storage /pantry space .
I havent search the SIPs panels though would figure they were similar to what we call stress panels. a sandwich of OSB on the out sides and ridged polystyrene core which provides very good insulating values.
these can be prefabbed into complete homes and put together in a matter of hours.
Things to consider would be the snow fall. if its high use a steep roof pitch and I'd suggest a smooth metal roofing (concealed fastener standing seam) which will prevent snow build up. this might also become a concern when planning exits.
An advantage of the steep pitch would be more loft storage space.
You might also be ahead to place the "Cool box" in the floor of the pantry accessable by a trap door rather than added to an outside wall .
 

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I wish more of our Alaskan members would join in. Its sorta off topic, please dont be offended but I have two thoughts SCREAMING in my head.
With her special needs do you really want to take your daughter here?
Like "ALASKA" magazine recently point out the answer to the question "Whats dangerous here?" Is "EVERYTHING HERE CAN KILL YOU.".

The other thought is from what your saying and asking it would appear you will bein way over your head.
Can you find a place to rent and try out a winter and spring there?
 

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I wish more of our Alaskan members would join in. Its sorta off topic, please dont be offended but I have two thoughts SCREAMING in my head.
With her special needs do you really want to take your daughter here?
Like "ALASKA" magazine recently point out the answer to the question "Whats dangerous here?" Is "EVERYTHING HERE CAN KILL YOU.".

The other thought is from what your saying and asking it would appear you will bein way over your head.
Can you find a place to rent and try out a winter and spring there?


Edit,
When I read this its sounds harsh ,I dont want to be mean Im just worried for you.Id like you to know Ive built several houses in Alaska and a few in IL Im building one now. Ive lived and worked in the remote bush and going into a project like this on my own would be over MY head.
Now working with all the resorces of the US government Id feel a lot better. Or if I had a lot of friends and family there.
I might be making some wrong assumptions here. Im assuming you have limited resorces and will have a limited income when you get there and expect to have to do most of the work on your own .
Im also assuming you dont know a lot of people there and that is the scaryest part. Remote villages tend to be VERY clannish . (Clannish is certainly the appropriate word cause the alsakan natives tend to think in terms of Clan not tribe). You HAVE to get along with EVERYONE in a small town.
 

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Ross Chapin has some really good plans for small cabins as well. My DH and I have thought about buying a small pc of land for one. We would build one that is more like a studio though since we don't need a lot of space....
 
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