By Thomas Spahr
The emergence of shipping container homes evokes a wide range of emotions from “OMG! I love it!” to “Ugh, what the f#@k!” But like it or not, shipping container homes and buildings are popping up throughout the metro area as minor part of a larger sea change in new infill construction. They offer creative builders a fast, green, sustainable, and, most importantly, inexpensive way to build a house. Since the containers are factory made in standardized shapes, they are easy to work with, especially if you are working with a narrow or odd shaped lot. Think of shipping containers as giant Legos you can stack or push together to form your own boxy Voltron of a home.
A used shipping container costs about $2,100 for a 20’ used up to $3,000 for a used 40’ container. New containers are not much more expensive, running from $3,000 for a new 20’ container to $6,000 for a 40’ container. However, used containers will
need to be thoroughly cleaned as there is no knowing what it was used to ship previously. Cost to complete the project can vary widely depending on the size of the home, level of finish, cost of labor, insulation, shipping cost, etc. $80-100/sf seems to be the average cost, though like any other home, you can always have a nicer home when you spend more. One Denver couple built their 4,000 square foot home from nine containers across from Chaffee Park for about $500,000.
If you like the idea of owning a shipping container home, but the idea of doing it yourself conjures up images of unboxing a giant IKEA nightmare project, you can go the prefab route. Companies are emerging with pre-designed shipping container homes that can be plopped onto your site and completed in days. Quik Build LLC offers a six-container, 1,920 square-foot home that can be completed for $184,000 (plus shipping costs), with the majority of it manufactured from its factory in New Jersey. Canadian company, Honomobo, offers IKEA-esque prefab homes that can be shipped anywhere in North America within 10 weeks. Their designs seem best suited for alley carriage homes, including units designed to go over an existing garage, which could be great way to add additional passive income to your existing home (Hello, AirBnB). A 208 square foot studio costs $39,800 and the 1,216 sf model costs $162,728. Colorado-based Rhino3 offers a local option for prefab, customizable shipping container homes, starting at $40K.
A major concern with shipping container homes is controlling the temperature inside. Metal is a great conductor for heat, so the containers will get too hot in the summertime and too cold in the winter. This issue can be resolved with high-quality insulation. In addition, it is also important to purchase used containers from a reputable source, as mentioned earlier, these units were not meant for human habitation and various chemical off-gassing may be an issue depending on its previous use.
However, the biggest hurdle is realizing how this type of home would fit into a given neighborhood and how the neighbors will respond. In most neighborhoods, a container home will be a fish out of water and not everyone is going to think a it is as awesome as you think it is. Haters are going to hate and you will likely enjoy some ridicule on Denver Fugly. Groups like Fugly are a response to projects that don’t match the quality of and sensibilities of some of Denver’s beautiful and historic neighborhoods. It is important to make sure to communicate plans with neighbors and make sure this is something that will be a welcome addition to your community so you don’t rock the boat.