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A 9-year-old project idea finally came to life when Ian and Janna Ebeling started building their 4,000-square-foot shipping container home in Isanti this April.
This is not your average build, as the Ebelings are using shipping containers, which are usually seen on cargo ships or train cars. The containers are made of steel and have the strength to handle shipment overseas; they are resistant to high winds and most severe weather conditions.
In the last five years or so, shipping containers have been used creatively to build more than just homes. Many people around the U.S. have used shipping containers to build apartments, cabins, vacation rental houses and even restaurants.
The idea came to Ian’s mind when he was at a friend’s business location in the middle of winter. His friend had a shipping container behind the business used to hold tools. When Ian went inside to get a tool, he found it was nice and warm. Only a small heater was being used, as the whole container was spray foamed, trapping the heat inside.
“That’s when it clicked. I’m like, this is really efficient; you could make a house out of one of these,” Ian said.
Initially, there was a lot to think about with this project. Most importantly: What is it like to live in a shipping container?
“He’s very, very handy and really driven. When he puts his mind to something, he wants to do it,” Janna said about her husband, Ian. “So when we started to talk about how he wants to do this and everything, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re going to live in a container home; I’m going to live in a box.’ Once we started talking about it more and looking at what he was talking about, we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s actually really cool; I like that idea.’”
When it came to this unique build, there was a concern for size. They wanted to make sure it would be big enough for their family of four, but it eventually led to over a 4,000-square-foot home.
“What’s interesting is, when he had all these different ideas for design and then we’re meeting with the engineer and then we’re talking about what we want and what we want to see done and how we want the layout to be and everything, all the sudden it grows into this. But I think there’s a lot of fun features we have,” Janna said
Three years ago, the Ebelings bought a farm house on 60 acres. It was a 100-year-old house and needed serious updates. It was torn down in April 2021, and that’s when they began building their new home.
Initially, the thought of just putting containers together sounded simple compared to building a regular home.
“I liked the idea of how easy it sounded at first, building like Lego blocks. The design that we chose with the can reliever and the rooftop patio and the way that we designed this, there wasn’t anything quote ‘easy’ about this,” Ian said.
The Ebelings planned to build on a budget. Luckily, Ian is able to do a lot of the projects himself and with the help of people he knows.
“I felt that we could do this for a fraction of the cost because of the people I know and my capabilities to do certain things, maybe not everything, but get my hands in everything,” Ian said.
The Ebelings have a budget of around $370,000. Although, with the market fluctuating recently, the price of products like steel and wood are not exactly cheap, leaving their budget a little uncertain.
The shipping container home is being built just on the edge of the Ebelings’ 60 acres. Currently, they have the foundation and six full-size containers in place. A part of the layout plan is to have most windows on the backside of the home so they can have a wonderful view of trees and the wooded area throughout their land.
The home will contain three bedrooms, three bathrooms, three patios and many unique touches.
“We like to entertain. It’s something we can grow with our kids. It’s kind of like a house and cabin all in one too, because we have the ability to entertain and have people over,” Janna said.
Two containers on the second level will be used for two bedrooms for their kids and one bathroom to share. The master bedroom, bathroom and laundry room will all be within two more containers, also on the second level. The three patios will be spread amongst each level, with one off the back of the home. Another will be on the second level just next to the master bedroom. From the second patio, a spiral staircase will lead to the third that will be on the roof of the master bedroom.
One question to answer when building a home made completely of shipping containers is how to keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. To avoid thermal bridging, the containers will not be visible inside or out, as their walls will be spray-foamed for insulation from the outside.
“We have in-floor heat. We have forced air for the air conditioning and for the heating upstairs, so you’re going to see that spiral duct work. A real industrial feel, that’s what we’re going for in the main center of the house,” Ian said.
The outside of the shipping container home will be made of commercial aluminum, stone and glass to give that modern and industrial look.
The Ebelings are launching their Facebook page and YouTube channel called Sunfish Budget. Their YouTube channel will walk viewers through their entire project start to finish. You can follow their Facebook page for more updates. They have hopes that with the spread of their unique shipping container home, something even greater will come from it.
“We’d love to do something for our community out of this place. Who knows what will come of it,” Ian said.
Ian, 42, runs his own business, Onsite Auto Glass, that he started at only 20 years old. Janna, 36, also works at Onsite Auto Glass. The Ebelings have two children, ages 9 and 7.