Whether you call it a cottage or a cabin, Jason Rioux's summer home built partly out of shipping containers near Bobcaygeon, Ont. is pretty cool. With its rustic décor and innovative off-grid approach this solar-powered getaway is an interesting take on shipping container architecture.
It has a large octagonal central room built in a standard post and beam style, it's got your wood stove, some comfortable couches and a beautiful ring of clerestory windows that keep it nice and bright. Radiating out from there are seven steel shipping containers, each serving a different purpose: bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, mudroom, rec room and bathroom.
The exposed wood, high ceilings and natural light make the hub of this 1,450 square foot cabin feel super cozy.
"It's just the neat feeling of sitting in the center and being able to know what's happening in every room. It's the center action point, and it's got such a good vibe around, the flow, the lighting, the natural lighting, backlighting coming in to the space. It's turned out very, very, well," says Rioux.
Buildings and homes built out of steel shipping containers have become a popular trend over the past decade. As a building material shipping containers have the benefit of being modular, stackable, relatively cheap, incredibly sturdy and very common. Rioux picked up his seven sea containers from a shipping yard for less than $5,000 each.
Ocotopod power system
Rioux is an energy guy. He used to work for Ontario Power Generation on giant coal and natural gas fired plants and now he's transitioned to working at energy storage development firm NRStor. And while NRStor is looking to get into the business of selling Tesla's sexy new product, the Powerwall, his own cabin runs off a much simpler system.
Outside on the roof of a gazebo sits a humble 4-module solar PV system. This one-kilowatt solar PV and six-kilowatt-hour battery system powers the entire cabin. That's pretty small as the net-zero homes we usually feature have eight to 10 kilowatt systems. But Rioux is able to do it thanks to extreme energy conservation -- no energy-sucking toasters or microwaves -- and by using DC power as much as possible.
The energy efficient LED lights, fridge and air circulating fans all run on DC power directly from the solar/battery system. A small inverter provides power for the TV and radio and other small appliances.
A one-foot length of inexpensive LED strip lighting cranks out plenty of light and uses only one watt. In the central living room, Jason made a beautiful handmade copper light fixture that is jammed with the stuff. It kicks out a ton of light for only a few watts.
Solar-powered water tower
One of the most important features of any cabin is the water system. Rioux uses a solar-powered DC trickle pump to take water from his well up into a 300-gallon water tower above the central living room. Powered by two small solar modules, it's totally separate from the house's energy system.
"And so, the beauty about this is that pumping the water to a water tower gives you energy storage in the form of elevated water and so that when you want the water for at your fixtures or flushing the toilet there 's no electric pump that kicks in to pump the water again, it's gravity-fed to those fixtures," says Rioux.
Bathing happens in an old school, Finnish sauna. A wood stove heats the sauna and heats buckets of hot water for bathing.
An innovative hybrid heating system
An airtight wood stove in the central room heats the Octopod. But to get warm air into each shipping container he has an innovative DIY solution.
"What we have are very high-efficiency DC-powered basic computer cooling fans that circulate the warm air from this living room space and push it through the ductwork, and push it all the way... to the back end of each of the containers," says Rioux.
He got a 10 pack of the computer fans from Alibaba Express for $20.
To keep the heat in the house it's insulated with high-density spray foam insulation. It's got R values ranging from R9.5 to R45 depending on the part of the house that you're in.
And Rioux built it all for less than $100 a square foot. The total price for the Octopod comes in at $130,000 for 1,450 square feet. He wanted to demonstrate sustainable building methods in Canada's climate with shipping containers and he did it.
And thanks to its hub and spoke design there are also seven V-shaped rooms on the outside of the cabin for storage, patios and extra rooms. The cabin has decks on two sides, one overlooking a small lake and the other outside of the sauna.
The Octopod is a quirky off-grid home that combines rustic cottage touches with modern technology. And it's one of the most interesting places we've ever had the chance to visit.
Jason Rioux's shipping container cabin. The cabin was built out of seven containers in a hub and spoke pattern near Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Photo Courtesy of Jason Rioux
Jason Rioux shows his unique sea container cabin that he designed using seven sea containers that radiate out from a central great room that is all tied to gather using a post and beam structure. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
A super wide view of the great room in the sea container cabin shows the hub and spoke design, the elevated water tower and the windows that make the great room a bright, open space in the cabin. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Jason Rioux wrapped a string of LED strip lighting in a copper fixture as the feature lighting in the great room of the sea container cabin. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
By using a DC powered fridge, LED lighting, DC powered fans and a limited number of AC powered appliances Jason is able to power his Sea Container cabin using a one-kilowatt solar system and a battery system that can store six kilowatt-hours of electricity. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Jason Rioux uses wood heat in his Sea Container Cabin and plans to wrap his stove pipe and heat glycol that will flow into an old VW Buggy gas tank which will feed the heated glycol into an in floor system of pipes that will heat up the cement slab floor under the great room in the sea container cabin. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Each shipping container has its own low power DC computer fan that pushes warm air from the core of the cabin into each of the shipping containers via a three inch pipe. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
The kitchen of the sea container cabin features gravity fed water, a copper counter top and propane cooking, Photo by Jason Rioux
A great room forms a hub at the centre of the se container cabin. Seven containers right out from the centre forming a 1,450 sq. foot unique cabin near Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Photo by Jason Rioux
Jason used spray foam insulation for his Sea Container Cabin. It's very important to get a good seal and manage moisture issues when you are using cold steel shipping containers in northern climates. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
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