Shipping Container Barn: Part 1 – Planning the Location

This is the first installment of a multi-part series on how we turned two shipping containers (conexes) into a four-stall barn, milking parlor, and feed storage room.

Please note: I will not be giving any prices during this series. Prices are always changing. You may choose to do some of the jobs yourself that we hired others to do, or you may choose to hire out some of the jobs we did ourselves. Please do your own research for pricing in your area for the items you need to buy and the jobs you need to hire out.

Our original barn was so adorable. We bought our goats first, boarded them with the breeder, and went home to build them a place to live. We hastily put the barn together using privacy fence panels and lots of Simpson straps. It worked so well, we eventually added onto it – a metal roof, an annex to the north side for a separate pen, and a sunporch on the south. We loved that barn. So many happy hours were spent there.

Various stages in the original barn’s evolution

However, 8 years of goats cribbing on it, shoving each other into it, and the general wear-and-tear of our harsh winters began to take its toll. The barn was repairable, but we decided we could better use the available paddock area if we built a new barn along the property line. Taking down the original barn (which was in the center of the paddock), and putting a new barn at the property line would give the goats a much larger and efficient yard.

Our property is just over a half of an acre, and has a gradual slope from north to south, and from east to west. The southwest corner is lowest. About 30 feet further south than where we wanted to put the new barn, there is a roughly 30-feet-down, 30-feet-wide slope to the lake that borders our property. The exact area where we wanted to build the new barn had a 4′ drop from the upper end of the space to the lower. We discussed various ways to get a level structure on the sloping ground – building a retaining wall; building two or more individual (but connected) wooden structures that stair-stepped down the slope of the ground; or having one long structure that sat on the ground on the higher end but sat on 4′ pillars at the lower end. If you’ll forgive my rough sketches, I’ll show you what I mean.

One long structure would require high stilts on one end.

Retaining walls can eventually move, particularly with frost heave, and building a heavy barn on a retaining wall would only add to the problem. The amount of infill we would need would be expensive and difficult, too. So we scratched that off the list. Building four or five structures and connecting them in a stair-step fashion had a lot of potential and we liked that idea at first, but decided we wouldn’t like the way it would look. Having one long structure with an end up on stilts was also not a great idea, as it would create an awkwardly big space underneath – not big enough to actually use for anything and too big to just fill in with dirt or rocks. The tall pillars wouldn’t look very nice, either.

Several cabin-like structures would solve the pillar problem but reduce the efficiency of the barn.

Then we had an idea that turned out to be perfect for us: repurpose two 20′ shipping containers into a sturdy barn that would last for decades and fit our problem space at the same time.

Our solution: use two 20′ long shipping containers.

Shipping containers (conexes) are easy to come by here in Alaska. Sometimes they are pretty beat up and sometimes they are only used once and are in great shape. They commonly come in 20′ and 40′ lengths, and we decided to buy two 20′ conexes and step them down the sloping ground. We also decided to spend some extra money to buy two that were used only once and were in like-new shape. This is the most expensive way to buy a conex. If you’re not particular about the condition of the conex, you can easily find them less expensive than the ones we bought. Shop around to see what’s available in your area; you might get a good deal on one if you’re okay with a little wear-and-tear or a few dents.

Now that we had decided on a plan, we could start the project!

Please continue to Part 2 to see us begin.

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