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Aussie couple builds off-grid mobile home with 2 containers

Paul Chambers had began building a home out of two shipping containers as a project, but when his wife got tired of suburbia and put their four-bedroom home on the market, his project became the couple’s full-time home.

Paul and Sarah Chambers were living in rural Scotland when Paul received a job offer in Australia. They packed their belongings and moved to a large home with a pool in an Australian suburb. After only a few months, they began to tire of spending so much of their income on their home. They also felt they’d lost touch with nature and a more active lifestyle (“there weren’t even any trails for walking”, explains Sarah).

So they sold their home and moved with Paul’s “project”: two shipping containers he’d been transforming into a kitchen/bathroom + bedroom/living room. They found someone willing to let them park their new home on their rural property in exchange for making improvements to the land.

When the couple first moved onto the property, the home was a very simple shelter and over the following three years, they built the containers into a proper home.

“There was a tv show that came up in the last couple of years… it was a reality show where contestants were going to build a shipping container house in a day and I was just incredulous thinking how were they going to pull this one off because I’d been at it for two and a half years. It turns out they were just decorating a ‘Wendy house’ and they never actually lived in it so they never got to find out just how bad their design was. They would have froze and they would have been miserable.”

“There’s as much effort goes into building a shipping container house as there is in a real house because you need real insulation, you need to make it warm, you need flowing water, you need power points, it’s a real house.”

Their home is completely off the electric and water grids. When they first moved to the bush they used a 3kw Honda generator, but they’ve since installed 2Kw of photovoltaic panels and a bank of batteries and phased out the generator. They have enough energy to power their home with all its conventional appliances, including a standard fridge/freezer. For heating, they rely on firewood (collected from fallen trees on the property; they have “not cut down a single tree”). For air conditioning, they use fans and AC “during really hot days”.

In the beginning they had to rely on water deliveries, but Paul has since installed an extensive rainwater capture setup- both on the roof and gutters beneath the home- which provides for all their water needs: 65 square meters of rain water collection in 10,000 liters of storage. The indoor bathroom includes a shower, but Paul built an outdoor, open air bathtub which they heat with solar in the summertime.

They’ve also created an extensive vegetable garden inside a netted garden cage (after the animals and hot sun destroyed their first attempts). For eggs, they have two hen houses.

Paul has published an ebook explaining how he built the home including a step-by-step guide: buying and moving shipping containers, a wiring diagram and schematics, installing solar panels and a breakdown of costs (He has also been creating his own videos detailing the process).

“Could anyone do this?,” responds Paul to my question. “It’s been a lot of effort and it takes persistence. I’d say persistence is probably the key to it.”