Building a ‘normal’ styled home is generally not a task for the faint- hearted. So when it comes to building one with shipping containers it is no surprise that you will encounter a heightened sense of stress and anxiety throughout the process and you need to be well aware of the processes and the amount of work that goes into the project itself.
With housing affordability constrictions, permits required for house extensions, urban density, and lack of developable land unless you are out in the sticks, shipping container homes have been widely hyped as an affordable, simple building alternative for years. But, although they are unquestionably cool there are some things you need to consider if you are thinking about sticking into the Australian housing market with a shipping container home.
Brenda Kelly, 36, from Auckland, New Zealand, embarked on constructing her own dream shipping container house six years ago after quitting her job at a regional Bunnings. She now runs IQ Container, has seven builds so far and has consulted on a handful of custom builds. Brenda shares her story, and what you need to understand before you dive into creating a container house yourself.
She has always been passionate about small space layout, living within one’s means with all the essentials but nothing excessive, freeing up money and time to live life instead of spending years working to repay a surplus mortgage. In 2011, she was ready for a work adventure, and before she knew it she had compiled a comprehensive business plan to construct a house for myself which doubles as a display unit, together with her resignation to her own job at the regional Bunnings.
The notion of a transport container to her was that it’s the ideal compact, affordable, low maintenance, durable shell in which to fulfill her ambitions. She visited several container modifiers to discuss her vision and found one that stood out from the rest. They were able to source single trip containers for her at a competitive price and do the essential steel function such as cut-outs as well as framing. From her memory the containers themselves price around $11k, however, you will need to remember to account for the crane hire costs.
The very first tip shared from her was that for anyone considering doing so themselves, do not go in thinking it is a cheap as chips option. Even though the containers themselves are very reasonably priced everything that goes into them is just like a normal home. Make sure you embark with all of the information and facts and be prepared for some questions from your council. Or, consider the pros and cons and save yourself some grief.
Brenda’s design comprises a 12-metre container that features an entrance, sitting room, kitchen and her main bedroom. At a second 6-metre space is her office and a spare bedroom.
You will, however save money on your bills if you decide to include sustainable options to your build. She used a unique form of closed cell foam insulation and insulate to 1.5x building code demand reducing the demand for heating and cooling in her container house. She also installed UPVC double glazed doors and windows, which offer superior efficiency over conventional aluminum double paned glass windows.
The council approvals were the consuming part for her. Given the builds unique character, the responsibility fell on her to convince the council that her design and material selection fulfilled, and in many cases, exceeded building code. You will need to do lots of research, and as seen by Brenda’s experience it took her 2 years of liaising with her local council with lots of paperwork and research in order for them to be comfortable with their proposition.
The next tip is to look at how you plan to reside in the area. Unless you plan on joining a couple of shipping containers collectively, they are very narrow, so the distance has to be well thought-out. You will need an engineer sign-off on your cut-outs and strengthening, and a specialist insulation is required which unfortunately increase the cost. Getting a residential builder for the job may not necessarily be the best option as it is more of an industrial build site.
Shipping containers are super liveable, and suited to anyone with an open mind. They are like Lego for grownups. While one person’s passion is for small container houses for someone else they may want to scale up and out just like a house extension, the only limitation is your imagination (and perhaps your wallet).
Things to consider when constructing a container home:
- Price: due to their structural integrity in many cases they just require minimum bases so are an ideal cost-effective solution for steep or sloping sites. As warned by Brenda, while they are affordable they should not be seen as a “cheap” alternative to traditional housing. Container designs vary from approximately $29,500 — to $300,000 in Australia and may need the assistance of commercial painting services to complete the interior.
- Lifespan: Shipping containers are almost indestructible. They’re earthquake, fire and hurricane resistant and if preserved will far outlast the 50yr life-span our building code demands.
Layout of shipping containers: if you plan to have the containers stacked on top of each other or need heavy lifting that requires cranes, permits will also need to be obtained to fulfill the requirements.