Plans, plans, plans

The pic above shows a lovely spot for a container home, no? Apart from the potential to perish in the Flame Zone of course. Plans are coming together to reduce that risk as much as possible, and to try to make this build feasible, affordable and beautiful.

There has been a bit of a gap since my last post since life and work got in the way. However, during that time I have managed to get my site survey done, which will form the basis of many plans for the DA including a landscape plan, a site plan and a vegetation management plan. I have also detailed out the first concept house design into floor plans and elevations.

Since this build involves a new wall structure and quite a lot of Flame Zone extras that all have to comply with a range of Australian Standards, and I also have a day job to get on with, I have been talking to a shipping container company about the actual build part. To be honest this was always the plan, much as I would love to get in there with angle grinder and welder and do it all myself (well, at least part of me would), I would also like to be able to live in this house very soon.

container house pic Norway
Example of a pre-built container home – this one is by NovaDeko Modular.

Part of the attraction of the whole project is the pre-fab modular bit – where the containers are all fitted out off-site, shipped in and within a couple of days they are all connected up and ready to live in. That also reduces the amount of transport needed for bringing materials on to the site, and the amount of wasted building materials. Plus it removes the risk of potential timeline blowouts from miserable weather and trying to get various trades all lined up at the right time so that nothing is delayed.

My customised floor plans are below. I finally managed to find and chop up some 3D stairs in Sketchup so a cut-out showing the stair structure is included too, just visualise a large pantry cupboard under them, and maybe an oven.

Floor plan - ground floor
Floor plan of ground floor – the containers are 12m long by 4.8m wide when combined. Bedroom 2 is small and likely to be an office/library. I am still considering whether to have a large sliding door (clad in reclaimed timber, as a feature), or just keep it completely open plan from the living space. (Yes, I remembered to put dimensions in the floor plan, I just cropped them off for these pics).
Floor plan - top floor
Floor plan of the top floor – this floor will have only one container, with the floor cut out for half of it creating the double height ceiling over the back of the lounge/dining, then one large loft room about 6m by 2.4m, opening onto the rooftop deck (top right).
sliding door reclaimed timber
Reclaimed timber sliding door, which might feature between my living and office areas, except it would be larger at 1.5m wide. (click on pic for source)
Stairs in the kitchen.
Sketchup cutaway showing the stairs in the kitchen that will house a pantry and appliance, then run up into the top story loft.

I am now waiting on the CAD files for my site survey, which I will use to put some concept drawings together to take to RFS and Council. It is time to start pulling all the pieces together; the contour survey shows the property details then I add on the planned house footprint and elevations, water tank location, nearest fire hydrant, Asset Protection Zone and planned changes to vegetation etc.

I figure there is no point hiring a draftsperson at this stage to make lovely final drawings if the concept gets knocked back.  So it is time to dredge out the decades-old graphic designer skill set and see if I can remember how to whip up some technical drawings. How hard can that be?

First Draft House Design

With a footprint of around 60 square meters, my container house concept is pretty close to meeting the criteria for the “Tiny House Movement”. The values behind the design are definitely shared – realising that we don’t need as much space as we think, and using space in a more efficient way. Then there are the advantages of not having to heat and cool a large space, consuming less energy and less “stuff” in general (having nowhere to put it helps), and, critically, not having to clean a crazy number of bathrooms.

Seriously, how many toilets does a person need? And how much time do we spend in there each day? If your health and diet are OK, it’s likely that for most of the time the bathroom is just dead space.

Reducing debt around home ownership is also a major factor, avoiding a mortgage trap and being able to maintain freedom. I have to admit I am addicted to freedom. In my case the BAL Flame Zone issue is blowing the budget out a little, but hopefully not much and certainly not anywhere near as much as it would for a traditional home.

Small does not necessarily mean plain though and given the lovely private block of land that I am very fortunate to have, this design process is all about letting the outside in. Letting in the light and the view, but not the bushfires.

So here is a draft design, consisting of 3 forty foot containers, two on the bottom and one on the top. I am new to SketchUp so please forgive errors, lack of details, yada yada. My floor plan is looking much neater than this 3D effort. I have left in the default SketchUp dude for scale, in his bomber jacket with clipboard.

Imagine a classy finish inside, timber feature wall, wood stove with corrugated iron backing, and nicer furniture (no offence SketchUp). Plus a railing around the deck of course.

View of house from front.
Front of house, windows and double glass doors face the view. Lounge/dining on left, then home office, then main bedroom (with built in robes). The kitchen and bathroom are behind the office and bedroom.

In this design the living space works out to be about 5m x 4.7m which is not a bad amount of space. I now carry my tape measure with me everywhere I go and my friends and family are getting used to me randomly measuring bits of their houses.

I have offset the bottom containers a bit so that the design is not just a plain box, but also so that I can put in a dining nook and tuck the dining table out of the way. I don’t use my dining table much, and the nook will also function as a cosy book reading spot, or an alternative office space where I can put my feet up and work on my laptop. Under the seat will be storage space.

Dining Nook
Dining nook idea to save space in the living area, includes a comfy couch for lounging – taken from here

To open up the space a bit more, the floor of the 2nd story container is cut away over the living/dining area below, so there is a double height ceiling in that section. That still allows for a good sized room in the rest of the top floor container, which then opens up onto a rooftop deck via glass doors. These will be high cube containers so with insulated ceilings should still give about 2.5m in ceiling height. That’s a crazy 5m high ceiling section, pretty cool no? While I’m not into dead space from extra toilets, dead space from high ceilings and extra light I love. There has to be somewhere for artworks and a feature wall too, and this space has lots of potential.

The stairs leading up to the 2nd story loft are in the kitchen, and are looking very dodgy in the drawing (sorry about that, no time to draw each stair and no idea how!). The stairs will have a pantry cupboard housed underneath and maybe a pull out bench for extra work space in the kitchen. Sorry Harry Potter no room for you.

Cut away showing double height ceiling
Cut away section showing double height ceiling area, and the dodgily drawn stairs which first run along the wall in the kitchen, then take a 90deg turn and cut above the kitchen. The stairs were tricky to fit in but this way they provide useful kitchen storage.
Cut away of back of house
Cut away showing the back of the house, with bathroom on left, then kitchen with stairs running along the far wall. The kitchen is not properly drawn in, it’s just that long bench shape that represents the bottom cabinets, sink/stove etc. There will be overhead cabinets as well, plus a linen cupboard and laundry cupboard.
kitchen
Visualise a kitchen more like this – smaller overall of course, long and narrow with bigger overhead cupboards. I like these colours too. Taken from here

The 2nd story container is pending DA approval of course, but hopefully the roof top deck will stay put either way. It would be a tragedy not to be able to sit on top of the house, drink in the view and do a bit of twitching arm-chair style (that’s bird watching for anyone who thinks that twitching sounds unhealthy).

I am meeting a surveyor on site this week to get my landscape plan underway. Once that is done, along with concept drawings of the house and steel-based wall structure etc, it will be time to chat to the RFS about whether the overall design concept is OK for BAL Flame Zone, and also chat to Council about the design in general and clearing of the block. At least it’s a very small footprint to have to clear.