From the road, it looks a bit like a post-apocalyptic country castle.
Neighbours might be forgiven for thinking 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, including shipping by semi-trailer truck up from Calgary. Glennon estimates the home’s final cost at $600,000.
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.
“Mobiles just don’t give us the room we want, and we were tired of the old designs in homes,” said Roseann.
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.