Haege: Shipping containers offer sustainable, cost-effective housing options
Every year when I attend the National Association of Homebuilders International Builders’ Show, one of the main attractions is the New American Home, a showcase home built to display innovative construction technologies and the latest building products.
Commercial shipping containers you see stacked on ocean-going ships or cross-country trains may not look appealing to live in, but they have been popular housing options in Europe for years and are popping up in many beach communities in California. And now we are starting to see some container projects right here in the Detroit, with the main target audience being the millennial generation.
“Today’s millennials are looking for a life experience in a home and they want it to be uncluttered and more sustainable,” said Leslie Horn, CEO of Three Squared Inc., threesquaredinc.com, a commercial, residential and mix-used property development company that is testing the waters with container projects in Detroit.
The company’s first project will consist of nine shipping containers constructed into a three-story unit in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Horn said it will start off as a model for the company’s other Detroit projects, including a 20-unit structure in the Woodbridge section of Detroit with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units that range in size from 640 square feet to 1,920. She said Three Squared will eventually launch larger project in North Corktown that will consist of apartments and town homes.
Horn said construction of container homes generally costs an average of half of other building methods and takes a fraction of the time to build. The units are also more energy efficient than their counterparts because of the high-gauge steel used to build them.
“These units will meet and exceed building code and will be more cost effective for buyers, somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 a square foot,” she said.
That cost effectiveness is one reason companies like Three Squared will target the younger generation. But there are other factors that interest younger home buyers. Andy Madeleine, a 27-year old film producer who recently moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, currently lives in a 450-square-foot studio apartment and is comfortable living in a smaller space.
“I like the concept of smaller living spaces like container homes, and I think my generation is learning to live with less, both because of necessity and out of a value shift,” Madeleine said. “From a conservationist perspective, repurposing recycled or unused materials like a shipping container creates less waste, and their modern, industrial aesthetic is appealing to me and would be fun to design around.”
The design can incorporate just about anything a traditional home would, and with the ability to stack the containers, it isn’t limited to one story. For example, one container home project in Venice Beach, Calif., built by container building developer International Port Management Enterprises, goipme.com, used three 20-foot containers to provide a 1,000-square-foot home. The unique home design included skylights, sliding glass doors and windows to bring plenty of light into all of its rooms. The containers also provided room for a modern kitchen, bedroom, home office and a bathroom with a steam room.
Horn said there is also growing interest amongst a slightly older crowd. “Many empty nesters are looking to un-clutter and downsize, and are interested in living in high-density, walkable communities,” Horn said. “So these container homes can be an option for the Baby Boomers as well.”
Three Squared isn’t the only developer getting into the container home market here in the Detroit area. Modeco Development, modecodevelopment.com, is currently building a single-family, three-bedroom container home on Rochester Road in Royal Oak.
According to Modeco CEO Nilesh Patel, using containers to build a home has many advantages over traditional homes.
“The beauty with containers is that you can customize the design based on a person’s needs and the size and shape of the lot without adding the type of costs associated with traditional custom-built homes,” Patel said. “And because these containers were used to ship all kinds of goods across the oceans, they are very air tight, and we use spray foam insulation so they are extremely energy efficient.”
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