The big-city lifestyle isn’t for everyone; it certainly wasn’t for Joseph Dupuis.
At 26 years old, Dupuis was living in Ottawa, working whenever he wasn’t attending college classes full time, but still living paycheck to paycheck.
So he procured three shipping containers and combined them into a 355-square-foot, off-the-grid home.
Joseph Depuis. Click photo for slideshow.
The cabin is designed to be dismantled, moved and erected in a new location with limited resources and time, he says. After living there happily in the country for two years, he’s selling his unique cabin for $58,000 Canadian (or about $44,000 U.S.).”The scope of the project was to build something sustainable, something comfortable, something I could live in and save my money,” Dupuis says. “Shipping containers are nearly indestructible.”
With the concept in mind, he needed only a place to start building. In the summer of 2013, Dupuis’ father purchased a 100-acre farm in the country just outside Ottawa. As Dupuis helped create a road across the property, he came to a clearing near the far back of the farm.
“It was just beautiful, and I’m like, ‘Dad, this would be the perfect place for my shipping container cabin,’ so he said to go for it,” Dupuis says. “We started that afternoon, working on the logistics.”
He dropped out of school and borrowed money from his father to purchase the materials and get the project off the ground.
Aside from his conceptual drawing, Dupuis had no plans to follow for how to create the cabin. He’d built a lot of treehouses and forts growing up, and lived in a tent for three summers, but that was the extent of his experience with unusual homes.
He really had no other choice but to learn by doing. So he did.
Dupuis spent 12 to 14 hours a day putting together the home–laying the foundation, installing doors, building cabinets where he wanted them, putting in the radiant-heat floor. Dupuis’ father helped him problem-solve. Dupuis calls his dad “a genius.”
It’s not much too look at from the outside. Click a photo for a slideshow.
Three months and plenty of trial and error later, Dupuis had completed his project.The home–essentially one big, rectangular room–is completely off the grid, Dupuis says. A nine-panel photovoltaic solar system provides electricity, which is stored in several large batteries. The solar system was far and away the biggest expense, costing $25,000 on top of the $20,000 he spent on everything else.
The home is warmed via a system of heated glycol pumped under the floors, with a fireplace as a backup source of heat for particularly cold Canadian winters. Dupuis trades firewood for the use of a neighbor’s water, which Dupuis keeps in a 150-gallon holding tank. An accumulator pump charges the kitchen and bathroom faucet and shower.
“It’s so different from living anywhere else,” Dupuis says of his home. “When you’re living off-grid, you have to make a constant effort to use energy smartly.”
To cover his (much lower) living expenses and repay his father, Dupuis worked days as a carpenter and nights as a machinist. On a typical winter day, he’d wake up at 6 a.m.; take care of his dog, Beatrice; build a fire in the fireplace; heat water on the wood stove for coffee and oatmeal while preparing his lunch; clear 3 miles of driveway with his tractor; go to his job as a carpenter at 7:30 a.m.; come home to take care of Beatrice; cook and eat dinner; put more wood on the fire; and head to his second job from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The next day, he’d do it all over again.
Whenever he wasn’t working, he’d cut wood, maintain his farm and solar equipment, and work on the cabin.
After living in the home the past couple years, Dupuis has decided to sell. He has entirely repaid his dad and has returned to school at Algonquin College, where he also works.
He’s also starting a business to “bring relatively inexpensive renewable energy to the masses” and looking to reinvest the capital he put into the home.
But he’ll miss the cabin. “When I lived in the city, I didn’t have much of a community. Everybody kept to themselves,” he says. “But in the country, I had neighbors and it was a community-based life. We were all working together to live.”