(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-5pm Eastern

container cottage by the sea goes off grid

Playful Container Cottage by the Sea goes Off-grid

By Wayne Groszko Rise Renewable Energy Expert
Aug 1, 2017

On the windy shore of Mira Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, a jumble of bright blue and white shipping containers arrived one day. Curious neighbors and fishing boat captains asked, “What are you doing with those?” Amid the shaking of heads and raising eyebrows, architect Colleen Lashuk and her clients explained that they were building a summer cottage.

They met their goal with this playful structure, a hybrid of steel and wood that includes seven shipping containers – six 20-foot containers and one 40-foot container. The long blue one forms a high bridge over a sheltered outdoor deck from one side of the cottage to the other. Wood framing defines the rest of the structure around the containers.

container home lift

Why containers?

“They are a fun material to work with at a seaside site. They were made for the marine environment, which is what we have here,” explains Colleen.

The team bought used “single-trip” containers in Nova Scotia, which means the containers were used once for shipping goods, then put up for sale on the market. The 20-foot containers cost $3800 each, and the 40-foot containers were $4500, plus the cost of shipping to the site.

Colleen says, “I don’t think of it as a big recycling thing. Those containers could have been used for shipping again. But they were available and in excellent shape, with no rust. It’s just fun and inspiring to work with these block-like containers.”

container home lift 2

How They Used The Containers

In this thoughtful design, Colleen used each container as its own room and then designed the wooden parts of the house around the containers. Some containers are bedrooms, one is the kitchen, and one even contains three small washrooms. The building will be used to host large family gatherings in summer, so many bathrooms are needed.

Walking down the hall on the inside, you can imagine you are on a ship, with containers on your right and left and one high above you in the ceiling. The original bright colors and even the container ID numbers are still there as reminders of the voyage at sea.

Colleen used the strong points of the containers to her advantage in the design. As she explains, “Containers are strong at the corners, not in the middle. So, all our containers are supported on their corners, either by another container or a supporting post.” This helped keep the cost under control by minimizing the need for structural reinforcement of the containers.

For the same reason, she specified only small window openings in the walls of the containers. For the bigger windows, she used the open ends of the containers to frame window openings. The steel doors are still there for a cool look and wind protection, opened like giant shutters for the windows.

container home by the sea

Passive Solar Design

The larger windows are concentrated on the south side of the building for solar gain to provide heating, especially in spring and fall, when the sun angle penetrates deep into the structure. The owners don’t plan to use the building in winter, but the solar design, reasonable insulation levels, and a small wood stove make it possible that they could.

container home

Local Sourcing

Colleen exercised her sustainability values by sourcing the wood for the project through local sawmills. The deck boards from Nova Wood are made of larch, a local tree species that is naturally rot-resistant, requiring no toxic wood treatments. And the wood-framed windows are from Norwood in the neighboring province of New Brunswick.

With local employment a priority, Colleen hired local metal workers to cut out the windows and prepare the containers instead of, in her words, “having them kitted out in China,” as some people had suggested they do. This way, local contractors could show off their skills, and the result is beautiful.

container home hallway

Off-grid Solar Power

When the time came to get electricity for the cottage, the owners decided to go with off-grid solar panels. It was an easy choice to make, not only for the low emissions but also because the building is located 700 meters (nearly half a mile, or seven power poles) from the nearest power line. It would have cost them $25,000 to get a power line installed. Instead, they paid $25,000 for a solar power system from Appleseed Energy, and now they have no power bills to pay.

container home bedroom


The insulation is closed-cell spray foam, applied to the interior of the containers and the wall and ceiling cavities of the wood-framed sections. The underside of the structure is spray-foamed too. The whole house and its deck are elevated above the ground on concrete pillars. The insulation value meets the basic building code but doesn’t go beyond that because the owners don’t plan to be there in winter, so the winter heating bill is not a significant factor.

container home bedroom 2


What do you need to watch out for when creating an innovative building like this? Well, mainly the learning curve of everyone around you. The team had to get the bylaws in Cape Breton Regional Municipality adjusted to allow them to build with shipping containers for starters. Then, finding engineers and contractors who were excited about the idea took a bit of searching.

Another challenge was finding a heat recovery ventilation system that would meet code and work well in this building with no ducting. Code in this jurisdiction requires heat recovery ventilation in case the structure is ever used in winter. But the architect and owners didn’t want any ducting in the building; for one thing, it would take up too much space in the small containers. They solved this with Lunos, a heat recovery ventilation system that doesn’t need ducts.

container home kitchen counter

The curtain wall was a bit of a nuisance. It’s a large glass and metal window area near the middle on the south side. It leaked rain during windstorms, and it took many service calls to get it fixed properly. Colleen says she would choose a different design or product for that part in the future, especially where for a building so exposed to ocean weather.

Finally, when they needed to get the electrical wiring inspected, the team had difficulty getting the inspector to come out. In Nova Scotia, most of the electrical inspectors are employed by the power company, and this building is not connected to the power company lines because it’s off-grid. But the inside wiring still needed inspection to get an occupancy permit from the municipality. They eventually got it worked out and got the inspection done; it just took longer and required more phone calls. If you are building off-grid, check with local electrical contractors to find out who does the electrical inspections where you are.

container home by the sea sunset

Summer fun!

The cottage has turned out to be a delight for this large extended family and their friends. When I spoke with Colleen, she was happy to report that the owners had just hosted a party with 100 people at the cottage, proving that small containers can make big fun by the seaside.


  • Completed: 2016
  • Shipping containers: 7
  • Interior floor area: ~1800 sq.ft.

Why we love it!

  • Beautiful big deck with sheltered and open parts
  • Creative use of shipping containers
  • Designed for the season, it will be used in (summer)
  • Off-grid solar power
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-16T19:44:42+0000
Wayne Groszko

Article by:

Wayne Groszko

Wayne Groszko is a consultant, researcher, and teacher in Energy Sustainability with 13 years of experience. He has taught at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Community College, in the Faculties of Engineering, Environmental Science, and Energy Sustainability Engineering Technology. Wayne is also President of the Community Energy Cooperative of New Brunswick, and has worked as Renewable Energy Coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia. He holds a B.Sc. (Hon.) from the University of Calgary, and a Ph.D. from Dalhousie University.