By Matthew Gauk - Red Deer Advocate
Published: January 18, 2010
From the road, it looks a bit like a post-apocalyptic country castle.
Neighbours might be forgiven for thinbking the property is some sort of commune.
But Bill Glennon maintains that building his retirement dream house out of 31 sea containers (sea-cans) is a reasonable, rational - and indeed practical - thing to do.
"It's not a pink elephant,"Glennon quipped outside of the under construction complex southeast of Rimbey.
He has 17 - 5,000-kg containers set up at angles like a Jenga tower. He had a crane contractor come in to set them up.
There are two levels at the moment, although the bottom level will eventually be backfilled and only used for storage. Upended containers are set up at the corners like towers and a space in the middle where he's going to build up the earth for a drive-up garage.
A third level is expected on top, for a grand total of 5,000 square feet of living space.
Inside is a disorienting maze of mostly dark tunnels with mounds of tools and a thick layer of sawdust covering everything. There are half-finished stairs and even a space for an elevator.
Each container costs #3,500.00, including shipping by semi-trailer truck up from Calgary.
The project came about because Glennon lost his construction job in Fort McMurray.
A former plumber who had experience in carpentry, scaffolding, electronics and welding, and an interest in energy-efficient construction, he started playing around with small block models about two years ago, imagining how he could build a unique home.
His wife Roseann happened on a flyer for sea container homes, and with their purchase of 20 acres by Parkland Beach, the rest was history.
"This is the only one of this kind in North America, from what I know", said Glennon, explaining that most people who use sea containers for construction do so for add-ons to their normal houses.
The containers are made of high-tensile steel and can withstand damage in case of natural disaster and are coated to prevent rust, said Glennon, who has been adding high-end insulation to keep things warm.
And for reasons ranging from conservation to a distaste for oil companies, Bill and Roseann are aiming to be "100 per cent off the grid", she says.
They already power their onsite mobile home, as well as the lights in the sea container building, with solar panels, and have plans to put a windmill on one of the towers.
While it's a lot for one couple and the occasional subcontractor to handle - to the extent that Bill sums up the project as "scary"- they can usually rely on their 17 year old daughter Kala for help, unless, of course, it's on a morning when the solar-powered shower goes kaput, he says.
The project started last September and Bill hopes to have most of it finished by September. Despite its current monstrous appearance, he says that when he's finished the building will look like any other nice home - windows and all.
He knows what he's getting into. Bill lived in a single sea container on the property last year, and the single-room residence is so homey that it's easy to forget one's in a container meant to haul goods across the world's oceans.
"It's actually quite comfortable", he said.
By Matthew Gauk - Red Deer Advocate
Published: June 14, 2010
The sea container chateau atop a hill by Gull Lake remains relatively untouched since last year - at least on the outside.
While snow piled up and mud bogged down, the Glennon family have been working like ants inside the metallic labyrinth, slowly shaping the layout of their future home.
Mom Roseann took a grinder to the walls and started slicing through the high-tensile steel, leaving doorways and open spaces in her wake while the remaining sheets got stacked outside like cord wood.
And 17-year-old daughter Kala was letting sparks fly in the basement as she welded together door jambs and the beams to the sea can floor.
"I pay her to do this and she gets good experience. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty," said dad Bill, whose brainchild currently looks more like a movie prop from Mad Max than the low-lying, stately country home in his blueprints.
He's got a lot of work ahead of him this summer, a fact he readily admits.
But Bill has no shortage of motivation for the project on quiet rolling farmland.
"The wife wants to be in here in June of this year," he said, chuckling. "She doesn't want to spend another winter in the mobile. Oh, it's so cold in there."
The level of the soon-to-be four-storey structure that has seen the most advancement is the basement, consisting of eight cans pushed together in the dirt in a C shape.
The interior has been painted, there are heavy doors in place with grout installed, there are solar-powered lights and electrical outlets, the beams are welded to the floor and there's a heat fanned down from a new wood stove on the next floor up. In a few rooms, the Glennons have even gotten so far as moving in bookshelves and desks. It's also where the sump pump moves excess water and other unwanted mateials out to the pond, a stone's throw away on the 20-acre property.
The most exciting part for Bill, though, is the prospect of wine and root cellars in the 2,200 square-foot space.
New stairs take you up to the next level, where Bill has finished a work room, home to his tools. This will be the rather gigantic garage area - complete with a painting workshop - as soon as he can get the engineering done on a heat sink, which will sit below where the vehicles pull in.
Sea cans are laid out for the next level up, but it's unreachable right now except by ladder. No work has yet been done to form the inside of this level, which will be home to a rumpus room, his daughter's bedroom, a TV room, bar and laundry facilities.
Although they have the sea cans on the property for the top floor, those haven't yet been installed. This level will be turned into three bedrooms and the kitchen. Above that, Bill plans to pour a concrete roof for a viewing area (he hopes to have this done by September), set up more solar panels (he already has 16 in place) and possibly put a wind turbine on one of the two upended containers that currently stand as towers looking out on the west country.
"I kind of just want to have a nice place to set a telescope up and watch life go by," said Bill. "On a clear day, you can see the mountains."
The Glennons have had an "unbelievable" number of people at their property since their project was first publicized, and have started a guest book for those interested in checking out the unique construction.
The sea can house is located between Parkland Beach and Rimbey.
By Paul Cowley- Red Deer Advocate
Published: Dec. 4, 2010
RIMBEY - Sea can by sea can, Bill Glennon's ingenious dream home is taking shape on a picturesque hill near Gull Lake.
Twenty-five shipping containers in place, hald a dozen to go.
If all goes well, a crane will hoist those last few heavy steel containers three storeys and into place before Christmas. With a little cutting and welding, those rectangular boxes more usually stacked high on ship decks or dropped on to rail cars will become the frame for a master bedroom and two other bedrooms. On the same floor will be the kitchen. A deck will eventually be built above.
Glennon, 57, expects to be living in his remarkable home sometime next year. Not a moment too soon for his wife Roseann, who longs to get out of their chilly mobile home a stone's throw away on their 20-acre farm property about eight km southeast of Rimbey. "She can't wait," he says with a grin.
This monument to inventiveness began taking shape about two years ago when Glennon moved to this rolling property with beautiful views in every direction about two years ago. The former Fort McMurray resident had been a carpenter, scaffolder and alarm technician before retiring to pursue his goal of creating his own self-sustainable Shangri-La.
"The whole project here isn't just building a house out of sea cans," he says, standing in part of what will be a 2,000-square-foot workshop, complete with painting booth and a garage fit for the biggest RV or truck.
"It's about being off the grid. It's about being self-sufficient."
Sixteen solar panels are already in place and more will be mounted on the roof when he's done. A small wind turbine built out of old coffee cans sits twirling in one corner. It's just a test model for a version he plans to build out of oil barrels. Between solar and wind, he expects to generate about four kilowatts of power, more than enough to meet his electricity needs.
The Glennons have been growing some of their own food and raising a few chickens. The bowling ball-size potatoes and the one chicken they've cooked so far were delicious.
"We'd like to be able to get most food from the property itself," he adds. "We're planning on getting a few goats, maybe a few more chickens and just keep going."
Excess water from the home will travel through a sump pump to a pond he hopes to stock with trout or some other game fish. He already has his fish culture licence.
In the basement of his home, he shows off the complicated-looking system of pipes, meters and tubing that will form a highly efficient system to provide hot water for washing and showers and an in-floor heating system, which will provide most of the heat needed to keep rooms comfortable. High-efficiency wood stoves will do the rest. Root and wine cellars will also be located in the basement.
Above the workshop will be daughter Kala's room, and games, TV and sewing rooms.
The project has become a family affair. Kala built the stairs to the upper storeys, and various brothers and sisters of Bill's have stopped by to help for a few days or weeks. Even his 85-year-old father got in on the construction.
Kala, who aspires to be a nurse, said her friends aren't always sure what to make of the project. But she is enjoying the experience.
"It's unique. I'm glad to be a part of it."
Helping hands have also come from outside the family. An electrician friend, Wade Rankin, has donated all of his time just because he likes what the Glennons are trying to do. Other volunteers stop from time to time to boost the workforce.
Many others have come by just to gawk. Glennon figures two to three people a week stop by to see what he is doing. Some just happen to notice it when they are driving by, others have heard of it through the grapevine or seen his website at www.glennonseacanhome.ca, which offers a blow-by-blow description of construction along with dozens of photos. A YouTube video he created on the house even ended up on Pakistani TV.
Glennon has taken to keeping a guest book. "Amazing" and "impressive" pop up frequently in comments.
Since construction started with the first excavations in September 2009, Glennon has put in eight- to 12-hour days, seven days a week.
"I'd love to be done," he says when asked if he ever gets tired of the routine.
But while he expects to be living in the home sometime next year, he admits he will probably never really be finished.
"When I'm done, it's done. There will always be something to do."