Off-Grid Solar Powered Shipping Container Tiny House Has It All

Australian design pushes every Treehugger button, if you have an adventurous spirit.

shipping container cottage opened up

Anthony Richardson

Shipping containers have long been a staple of Treehugger, as have tiny homes. Throw in solar power, off-grid living, and transformer furniture, and you are pushing every Treehugger button.

Built on a hill near Mansfield, a small town 110 miles northeast of Melbourne, Australia, Robbie Walker has designed a tiny home built out of two shipping containers that shows both the strengths and weaknesses of shipping container designs. Containers are a common sight, used for storage in agricultural areas, so these fit right in: "adding another couple to the top of the hill seemed like a logical, contextual choice. It also means there's flexibility to relocate the containers in the future if desired."

Interior of living room

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

One of the containers is used for living and has a wall that folds down with the help of hydraulics. This provides a big deck and opens up the space inside. Another glazed wall is covered with heavy-duty industrial expanded metal mesh, which acts as a sunshade when up or can be hydraulically lowered to enclose the space while letting in light and allowing views.

Hydraulics detail

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

The hydraulics must be hard to handle or take more electricity than the solar panels can provide: The Airbnb listing says "Please note, the hydraulic window remains fixed closed for safety reasons and keeps the tiny home true to its off grid nature. The deck remains permanently open."

proper toilet in bathroom

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

However the solar panels do have enough juice to run the 12-volt fridge and lighting and there is also a hot shower and a proper plumbed toilet, avoiding that Treehugger button that many do not like to push—the composting toilet. We have asked what the toilet is connected to and will update when we receive a response.

rear of container

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

"The look and feel of the containers retain an industrial edge. A heavy-duty industrial paint is used externally to tie all the elements together. Inside, plywood is used for floor, wall and ceiling surfaces, a nod to the plywood floors found in standard shipping containers. Plywood even continues into the bathrooms where Robbie has used an epoxy resin usually used to seal timber boats. If it's good enough for a boat, it'll protect the bathroom."
Living with fold-down dining room table
Dining room table is folded down.

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

The fold-down transformer furniture is clever; built out of the same plywood as the interiors, one can only see the pipes and hardware that supports it. The beds have self-inflating foam mattresses that evidently fluff up to a comfortable thickness—I wonder how hard it is to close the beds and deflate the mattresses at the same time. He accommodates three kids with a triple bunk at one end and a double bed at the other.

There is an additional roof on top of the roof, designed to catch rainwater which is collected in 265-gallon bladders, one on each container. The second roof probably helps keep the heat out, which is a big problem with shipping containers. Walker acknowledges this in the videos and the description:

"This part of the country can be wild, there's extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. The containers are insulated and protected from the elements but, equally, they need to be operated to stay comfortable. It's similar to the way a sailor most operate a yacht; you need to open a window to catch a breeze, close down at the right time to avoid the bugs, but that's part of the fun and a process that brings you closer to the elements and nature in this beautiful part of the world."
sink and folded down walls

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

Walker is dealing with the usual problems that arise when you are trying to live in shipping containers. He removes an entire wall of the living container to open it up to the outside, which is going to require a hefty 20-foot long beam to hold up the roof. And he acknowledges they are not great for thermal control. Again, from the Airbnb disclosure: "Please note that due to the nature and location of the Tiny Home, during the cold winter weeks and the hot summer days you will need to pack your adventurous spirit."

End view of shipping container

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird

This Treehugger has often been ambivalent about putting people in shipping containers that were designed for freight; they are narrow and they are hard to heat and cool. But Walker has accepted their limitations and acknowledged their industrial character, and it probably is a lot of fun, especially if you have an adventurous spirit.

night view

Anthony Richardson via Bowerbird