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Old 01-15-2009, 05:57 AM   #1
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Has anyone converted a shipping container to an RV trailer and if so can you provide some info/pics of the build? I talking about the 20' and 40' intermodal containers that are used to ship cargo around the world. These would make an excellent platform for a custom trailer build since they are already watertight and almost indestructable (as compared to a regular trailer). You could probably even use one as a body on a coach if you engineered it right. Of course an HDT would be needed whatever route you took, but this is what I plan on buying anyways. I'm leaning towards the custom trailer route.
- Mount it on a custom dropped frame with air ride suspension.
- Insulate the walls on both sides and floor underneath and install a covering of some type to protect the insulation and make the rig look like a "normal" RV.
- They already have harwood floors so any floor covering is possible.
- The design possibilities are pretty much endless since the box and floor framing is already built strong so adding items (walls, slideouts, windows, doors, etc) shouldn't be an issue.
Although it would be much heavier than a normal RV it would be solid, quiet inside, and allow for some true custom features while still being well within the weight limits of an HDT. You can also get the containers cheap to start the project with.
Everyones thoughts?

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Old 01-15-2009, 05:15 PM   #2
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I don't like to rain on anyone's parade but,...IMHO using a shipping container might end up being more work than building a shell from the usual sq tubing.
Conventional builds are either on 16" or 24" centers and everything depends on this when adding components. I don't know if containers are or not but, this would be consideration.
You would also be spending a lot of time doing modifications for exterior openings and a slide-out
I would agree, weight would be a factor. Also, "top heavy" would be a major factor.
Think about running down the highway & the usual hills & curves you encounter. A factory motorhome or truck conversion can be a hand full in an unexpected situation.

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Old 01-15-2009, 10:31 PM   #3
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11,000# to start with and then add the interior which averages 2200#....if you were off roading a lot or in the desert somewhere alone....I suspect they would work out but the weight issue-insulation issue-noise issue-would be a problem.....I could build it-but it would cost you a chunk of change.....and I'm not sure you'd be a happy camper when it was done-even to your specs......geofkaye
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Old 02-07-2009, 10:57 AM   #4
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I like this site because everyone is open minded and has the artistic vision to see possibilities that users of most "normal" RV sites don't believe is possible.
I looked through and you can buy 40' container/trailer combos for much less than $10,000. This excites me as it makes the container conversion one step closer to reality. I originally thought I would need to build a custom frame but after seeing the trailer chassis I realized they can be modified to meet my needs and they already have a VIN and all the safety gear (brakes, etc).
My current thoughts are:
- Change the wheel size to ones that are shorter for maximum use of the container space.
- Cut the frame in front of the wheels and behind the 5th and drop it to lower the container height as much as possible (most are 13'6" stock height).
- Modify the floor of the container over the wheel area to allow it to drop lower over the wheels. You would still have plenty of headroom in the container since most are over 8' tall inside.
- Fabricate lower storage compartments under the trailer for all the utilities and storage.

The containers are built in a way that the perimeter frame work is the supporting structure. The thick metal walls add even more strength and rigidity but can be modified (openings cut) without worrying about loosing structural integrity (I researched these several years back for a possible business of converting them for mobile offices, sleeping quarters, etc).

I'm still trying to determine how to best attach exterior and interior wall and roof covering. Exterior wall: you start with the steel panels that have alternating bends, cover this with a combination of spray on and rigid insulation held in place with sikaflex. Now comes the problem of securing the outer panel covers securely. I have thought of welding angle iron vertically to the side walls spaced 12-16" apart to have a solid surface to sikaflex the wall panels to. Let me know of any other ideas you may have.

I'm not worried about the overall weight of the finished unit. Its going to be pulled with an HDT, and the reason I like the concept of this build is it's an indestructible, well insulated RV that can be lived in year round with plenty of head room and it will last forever (as compared to the commercial built units). The container is also waterproof to start with so its a good platform to build off of. Everyones thoughts/ideas?
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Old 02-07-2009, 09:05 PM   #5
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I once worked for a company that used shipping containers for storage, it was a real pain to cut doors into the sides of them and usually weakened them to the point were we had to empty them to move them.

Here is an idea for you that would be way easier and probably save allot of time too. Buy a used 5th wheel flatbed trailer, then build 2x2 walls that you can insulate, and sheet it with .050 steel for your "bulletproof construction" Just remember to locate the door openings 4-6" off the deck of the trailer so you can lay down 4-5" of Styrofoam board insulation. then run your wiring and plumbing in that space too. I once built a race car trailer with steel sheeting, it gets heavy, but it takes a beating.

Done up right no-one will even know your "man of steel" secret. whereby a shipping container might get you nixed from some campgrounds.

Have you looked at the absolute bargains on racing junk for enclosed car trailers? Your 10 grand might get you one with a generator and possibly a small living qtrs.
2001 GMC 6500 Topkick, 22' box, dropped frame, designed to fit into a 9' garage door. 3126 CAT 6spd Man Lo-Pro 19.5's w/ 3.07 rear axle ratio
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Old 02-08-2009, 03:27 PM   #6
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Thanks for the reply. I have considered going the drop flatbed route as well and building a frame as you mentioned. I think in any event I'll need to build custom because this will be for full time living and I want to customize it to my needs and durability. This won't happen anytime soon so I have lots of time to research and find the right platform. I also still need to get the HDT I want and customize it :-)
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Old 02-08-2009, 04:10 PM   #7
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Gentlemen, It is an alternative method, however I just built a 18' x 8' box plus bunk over cab for my project using 1 1/4 square in the walls, 2x2 square in roof, 4 inch channel in the floor, and truck side alum .040, and 1 piece roof alumin, and trim angle. material costs including fasteners was about $3800.00 Time is cheap when its yours. Compared to the work and cost of converting a shipping container the new construction would be much nicer. Just a thought.
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Old 04-04-2009, 01:19 PM   #8
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I've been iterating over the design of something like this based on use of a Fontaine Infinity TSX drop-deck flatbed as the base.

The TSX is manufactured for hauling conex containers, and has the conex twist-locks fabricated in such that two 20-foot or a single 40-foot container lands correctly on the attachment points.

Along the way, a couple of thoughts have occurred as the design has evolved. In the most recent iteration, I have been thinking about the use of the space between the trailer deck and fifth-wheel deck as infrastructure/storage space, similar to the way space is used in a standard coach for storage compartments, tankage, mechanical, etc.

This lead to thinking about either custom-framing (aluminum square tubing) my own ISO-based frame duplicating the dimensions of the ISO Conex container frame, or using only the steel frame from commercially available containers. I'm currently leaning toward the latter, and have researched the modification of Conex containers pretty thoroughly so I'm comfortable with the idea.

I would be inclined to cut down two containers to a height that would allow the container top to match the fifth-wheel deck height. These would form the base/infrastructure/storage layer. The living/working quarter layer would be composed of two twenty-foot containers and one ten-foot module, providing the main shell for the unit.

Here's a crude photoshop image of what I'm currently visualizing:

The appeal of using this approach is multiple - I like the idea of using a commercially available platform that can be repurposed (i.e resold or used as a flatbed hauler), it will already have a VIN and necessary certification, the cost is reasonable ($15K or so for a used trailer), and the modularity of the Conex. These have been used in a variety of ways as portable housing and offices by both commercial and military organizations, and there are hundreds of parts, options and lots of support for using them as other than cargo containers. Given the current economic downturn, there is a glut of used containers on the market as well, reducing their cost.

I still have considerable work to do before I call the design complete, but the more I've worked it, the more satisfied I am that it is viable. My current cost estimate for the HDT and completed rig is around $125K based on used components.
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Old 04-04-2009, 02:10 PM   #9
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Glad to see someone else shares my enthusiasm for containers :-) As you mentioned they have been used for years as housing, offices, etc after being heavily customized using the base container as the platform. Building a 5th would be no different. I would build several slide outs into mine and welding a frame around the cutout opening would retain the structural stability.

Why are you thinking of 2 twenty footers instead of one 40'? Are you doing this to have them as separate rooms that you could pull off if needed and replaced with a different module? I like the pic you attached. Did you photoshop that or find it on the web?

Great ideas. Thanks.
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Old 04-04-2009, 02:48 PM   #10
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The photoshop image is my original, cut/pasted up from the image in Fontaine's PDF brochure.

The twenty-foot vs. forty-foot debate is one I have day-to-day. Handling twenty-foot containers is possible without specialized equipment, a forklift or truck-crane can be used to do the lifting/moving. A full-on forty-foot is harder to move around.

Aside from mobility/ease of handling, they both have merits:

- single forty-foot container might be easier to waterproof than two abutted twenty-footers
- I'm a module freak in general, so twenty-footers might be easier to mix and match for config flexibility
- in looking at container costs, depending on your region twenty-footers might be less expensive

My ultimate goal is to use this as a semi-portable house, moving it between three sites, one in Texas, on in New Mexico, and a third in Wyoming. When stationary, the modules would sit configured on foundation pads. When mobile in RV-mode, the modules would be loaded on the drop-deck trailer. I am planning on leaving one or more modules at each site over long periods of time as "base station" units.

This is a conceptual floor-plan from the current design iteration:

This plan uses two full twenty-foot containers, one ten-foot module, and two cut-down containers as the infrastructure/support layer. Notionally, two slides are used in the bedroom module, and single slides are used on the kitchen/living and office/bath module.

We've been full-timing in a thirty-six foot travel/tag trailer for more than a year, purchased new and then modified. I removed the built-in RV furniture, and replaced it with standard residential furniture, including two recliners, a desk/chair, standard queen bed, and other amenities. We use a flat-panel LCD TV, a 26" Samsung mounted on an articulated Iconix mount - this allows the TV to be angled for visibility for any seating location. I am using a similar plan for this project.

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