A Shipping Container Home Builder Shares Her Top Tips
Shipping container homes are growing in popularity as an affordable, environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional homes. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be? And what things should you consider before you decide you’re ready to take the leap?
New Zealander Brenda Kelly build her own shipping container home several years ago. Her design for her own home incorporates a large shipping container which provides an entry, sitting area, kitchen and her main bedroom. In a second smaller container, Kelly built her office and a spare bedroom.
She loves her home so much and is so passionate about the industry that she quit her job and now runs a New Zealand-based shipping container home building company called IQ Container. Here’s what Brenda had to say about her own experience building a shipping container home, and the advice she gives to her clients.
On why she chose to build a shipping container home for herself:
I’ve always been passionate about small space design, living within ones means with all the necessities but nothing excessive, freeing up time and money to live life rather than spending years working to pay off an excessive mortgage. In 2011, was ready for a work adventure, and before I knew it I had compiled and comprehensive business plan to build a home for myself which doubles as a display unit, along with my resignation to my job at the local Bunnings.
The appeal of a shipping container to me was that it’s the ideal compact, affordable, low maintenance, durable shell in which to fulfil my aspirations. I visited several container modifiers to share my vision and one stood out from the rest. They were able to source single trip containers for me at a competitive price and do the required steel work such as cut-outs and framing. From memory the containers themselves cost around $11k.
The first tip I’d share for anyone thinking about doing this themselves is, don’t go in thinking it’s a cheap as chips option. While the containers themselves are very affordable everything that goes into them is as per a normal home. Ensure you embark with all the information and facts and be prepared for some questions from council. Or, consult the experts and save yourself some grief.”
You will however save money on your bills if you add sustainable editions to your build. I use a special form of closed cell polyurethane foam insulation and insulate to 1.5x building code requirement reducing the need for heating and cooling in my container home. I also installed UPVC double glazed windows and doors, which offer superior efficiency over traditional aluminium double glazed glass.
On zoning and building codes
The council approvals were the consuming part for me. Given the builds unique nature, the onus fell on me to convince council that my design and material selection met, and in many cases, exceeded building code. I did a lot of research and development, compiled a stack of paperwork and international studies and liaised with council closely for around two years to ensure they were comfortable with my proposal.
On being comfortable in your shipping container house:
My next tip is to consider how you’ll live in the space. Unless you plan on joining a couple of shipping containers together, they are very narrow, so the space needs to be well thought-out. You’ll need an engineer sign-off on your cutouts and reinforcing, and a specialist insulation is required to name a few unique aspects which unfortunately add to the cost.
As with any small home, every nook and cranny was utilised and furniture had to be dual purpose. I have desks and sofas that convert to spare beds & beds and couches that incorporate hidden storage.
I had a big clean-out when I downsized and donated a lot of goods to charity which was quite freeing and rewarding. Since then there is not a single thing I’ve missed or thought “I shouldn’t have gotten rid of that”.
I thought long and hard about the design to ensure from the outset there was space for all my essentials.
On shipping container homes and the environment:
My waste water system is vermiculture based. It’s completely gravity fed due to my site being sloping so no pumps or equipment is required. Tiger worms in a large tank break down both my black and grey water which then passes through a series of plant filters which serve as a secondary treatment system prior to be dispersed throughout my site.