When you have a site that is focused on a certain theme, you eventually attract like-minded people. One fine day, I got a “hey” from a lovely person named Jen patting me on the back for my website, along with a link to a website she operated with a cool dude named Trevor. I kindly said thanks and checked out their site. I was instantly drawn to what they were working on–and why not–it’s a building project with shipping containers! I began flipping through the images and reading about what was going on in their neck of the woods and it was like a dream in progress. The scale of the project is small compared to some other stuff I have seen, but to me, it’s not the size… it’s the pursuit of the dream of building with shipping containers and being as self-sustaining as possible.
I have been communicating with them for the last few months; Jen being cool enough to post some relevant comments on my site and saying “hey” occasionally. Since I am envious and appreciate what the two are doing on the opposite end of the United States from me, I wanted to showcase their project on my site and figured the best way to approach it was to do a Q & A session with a handful of questions that popped into my head. So folks, here it goes….
The Arkhaus Initiative represents the combined efforts of three people. Officially founded by Trevor Seip in January 2008. It began simply as a way for Trevor to begin focusing his own ideas and designs related to the concept of living “off the grid” on a limited budget. Existing more in his head than in the real world until May 2009 when the Initiative took delivery of its first twenty foot long steel shipping container. Jennifer Sansosti, who has been a part of the project since the very beginning, has lent her artistic talent and tech savvy webmaster abilities to manage thearkhaus.com and has provided an indispensable soundboard for ideas as well as another head in the ongoing task of research and development. Trevor’s father, Craig Seip has offered his expertise in wood working, years of experience building yachts, and general contracting, to serve as our Technical Supervisor. While Trevor or Jennifer could say “Hey! Let’s build a rain water harvesting system!” Craig figures out exactly which bolts are needed, or the type of wood and materials we’d need to actually make it happen. Between the three of us we have succeeded in getting the first prototype operational, with the second prototype on its way. Many materials and supplies have been donated and we’ve had the benefit of other individuals who have contributed their knowledge, time and effort to help us along the way. We have met a lot of great people since undertaking this endeavor.
Why the affinity toward containers and not conventional means?
Containers are the ultimate utilitarian prefab dream come true. They’re modular, portable, absurdly strong, durable, wind and water tight free standing steel structures and all this without any modification. No other prefabricated living solution can touch shipping containers accessibility and affordability. They’re built to international standards, can be transported using infrastructure that spans the globe and all modes of transportation therefore requiring no special accommodations to bring them to the user. After dutifully performing their mundane but important job they’re often left to rust, piled up in vast dock yards on the east and west coasts of North America. Conventional housing here means building on site from the ground up. And little has changed in the industry since WWII. Its expensive, usually requiring the home owner to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, they constantly require maintenance and consume more than they produce. There has been little progress towards self sufficiency in the US with many convinced more nuclear power or huge swaths of desert covered in solar panels or massive wind mill farms are the only way to substantially reduce energy costs. And after changing their light bulbs to CFL’s and separating their bottles and cans from their garbage most people have no idea how to take any more meaningful steps towards self sufficiency. The Arkhaus Initiative believes in decentralization and a move away from the rusty “grid” we’ve been so dependent on for nearly a century. Finding independent, renewable methods that provide the basic necessities today rather than waiting around in a gated sub-division for corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to solve all our problems while our electric bills and property taxes reach record highs.
3. Do you feel that satisfaction that most people feel when you drive up to the project location and see what you have created thus far, or do you feel like the satisfaction is still not there yet?
We were just talking about this the other night when we enjoyed a small celebration that the ARK160B “Studio” prototype, being fully operational, now offers its occupants free electricity from the Sun, efficient heating, purified rainwater to drink and a place to relax and even sleep while still serving as a place to store tools and other supplies. So after months of having the boxes existing more as glorified storage sheds we have finally begun to enjoy the cozy minimalist comforts the studio has to offer. We are not resting on our laurels just yet however as a lot of work still needs to go into the next prototype. But there are few things more satisfying than to come up with some off the wall idea and the next day build it and make it work. And this project has been full of days like that!
In our own way the Arkhaus Initiative is truly writing the book on post modern self-sufficient living solutions. Finding our own custom tailored solutions to what Dmitri Orlov refers to as your Four Needs: Food, Shelter, Security, and Transportation. So the project represents more than just a house. It is a complete overhaul of our entire life style. Some solutions may work for us but not for other people. And often there are many different avenues one could take to meet the same goal. Heating would be a prime example where many viable options exist, with unique advantages, disadvantages, short or long term costs and benefits. All these things have to be weighed and considered one by one. Daily habits need to be formed and others discarded. These two prototypes we’ve built represent a journey that will one day be measured in decades. So far it has been an incredible six months since construction first began. Looking ahead, we have several family members and close associates who would like to make room for a corrugated steel shipping container in their life. We are excited to consult with them and encourage their own projects and eagerly seek to network with new people whenever possible.
5. Do you find yourself wanting to give up sometimes because things may not be going in the right direction or do you have undying passion, undaunted by letdowns?
Once the first container arrived that was likely the point of no return. From then on it has been self-sufficiency or bust. Sure, there have been letdowns, frustrations, tempers and disagreements. When the rules haven’t been written on how to do something this is sure to create a lot of friction but it is from these conflicts that true solutions are found. Otherwise we’d be forced to give up, or at least fail to move forward. We care too much about the project and feel as though we’re all on the same page regarding what we perceive as the “Big Picture” and so day by day, week by week, and month by month these containers have been incrementally but steadily transformed from the inside out. It is starting to sink in as to how far reaching aspects of this project are and how our perseverance has already begun to pay off. In just a few short months we succeeded in building a warm place to sleep and having 100% of our electricity needs provided by the Sun, with perhaps more than a quarter century of usefulness left to enjoy from these systems.
Now to answer your question, we cannot give up on our need to have a secure, warm, dry place to sleep at night or safe clean water to drink. No matter where you go or how much money you have these are issues you cannot escape and we all share. Most Americans are in a losing battle with the rising cost of living. Simply trying to buy all the necessaries of life paycheck to paycheck is not a very sound strategy to engage in when virtually everything from world population to the cost of food is rising exponentially. Dramatic, localized, individual action is necessary to secure the four basic needs we all have in order to maintain you and your family’s standard of living. Otherwise you must be prepared to compete with everyone else in the global market for every single watt of electricity or gallon of gasoline you need, paying cash as you go, sinking deeper into debt as a result while your standard of living declines.
With all that in mind, we would be far more daunted by the task of living and paying our bills were it not for these prototypes and what they represent. In fact it was exactly this feeling of dread and uncertainty that helped to spur us on to begin this project and since then we have never looked back. As it stands now we may never have to worry about an electric bill again, yet we know people who earn six figure incomes, working hard every day, but are stressed out and depressed because their electric bill is going up and their expensive house is now worth less than the mortgage their bank signed them up for just a few years prior. This seems to us to be quite a revelation and motivates us to keep pushing ahead no matter what.
6. How far from other people is the project site and why did you choose it?
Trevor picked the location to be in a semi secluded corner of his family’s farm. The total property is somewhere around sixty acres, most being divided between two large fields (the farmer grew soybeans this year). His family was gracious enough to allow him the use of the land for the time being while the prototypes are built and we are lucky in that regard because otherwise it is unlikely we would have had any other place available to get things started. Just having a place to sit these containers without raising a stink from neighbors or the authorities is half the battle and being a working farm the this allows for a variety of multi-use barns and sheds to be constructed on site as opposed to a subdivision with a lot of restrictions on what people can and cannot keep on their property. It is key that we do not require a permanent foundation and of course being totally independent of any power, water or sewer utility services. When the time comes to move them again, in a matter of minutes they can be loaded and hauled off and in a matter of weeks any trace of our presence will be consumed by the wild grasses, flowers and brush. This particular spot was picked due to its relatively flat geography adjacent to a large open field with potential for both wind and solar power. It’s also a straight shot off the main driveway making it easy for the trucks to unload the containers. ARK160A is oriented with its doors facing south, with ARK160B oriented west. This configuration helps create an inner courtyard area between the two boxes, adding to the feeling of privacy within the perimeter of the “Compound”.
7. How would you describe yourselves?
The Arkhaus Initiative is a small organization that seeks to create a living solution that combines old world craftsmanship and hand made quality and attention to detail with 21st century technology in the form of a robust, modular, low maintenance, self-sufficient, secure and mobile structure and to do all this affordably without debt and within a small environmental footprint. The members of this Initiative are a tight-knit group that is dedicated to seeking out the good life and believe shipping containers are a powerful irreplaceable tool that can be utilized for this all-encompassing purpose.
8. What do you think all of this will cost when it’s all said and done?
We have kept accurate records of our expenses for materials and supplies and are confident we can complete both prototypes for approximately $10,000 USD. This includes the cost of the containers themselves.
Although we don’t think we’d consider selling either prototype any time soon, it is not out of the question. We welcome any and all offers!
Thanks for hosting this Q&A here at the Containerist.com! We’ve been seeing a steady flow of traffic from your website and really appreciate the exposure. It is always great meeting new people and getting a chance to talk about our project! Keep checking in at thearkhaus.com for more updates and pictures as things continue to progress!