Jason Rioux’s family weekend cabin isn’t your standard vacation home. The 1,300-square-foot structure is made of shipping containers. Nestled right outside of Bobcaygeon, Ontario in Canada, the cozy cabin, known as the Octopod, is surrounded by stands of trees. It’s made of seven shipping containers and includes a washroom and covered sauna.
Built with sustainability in mind, electricity for the cottage is provided by a battery-powered generator. The water system is a solar water pump. There’s a water tower inside the house that pumps the water up to a giant tank that gravity feeds to all the fixtures throughout the cottage.
A trend that’s growing in popularity in recent years, shipping container homes have obvious appeal. Besides having the option of living off the grid, you’re using reclaimed materials to build out all the traditional features of a home. “It’s nice not to be dependent on the outside world,” said Rioux of Sea Container Cabin in Toronto. “If we were to live here, the only thing we would really need to survive is food.”
As there’s not much of a market for a shipping container home, chances are you’ll have to build your own. If you’re interested in constructing a shipping container home, here are some financial and logistical considerations.
Work With Its Advantages
When building your home, you want to work with a shipping container for its strengths and advantages: the fact that its modular and is super strong. “People who want to live in them are attracted to their style, look, feel and character,” Rioux said.
As long as you’re designing with advantages of a shipping container in mind, you can do it in a cost-efficient manner, Rioux explained.
“Sometimes people might want to build a home that looks interesting on paper, but it’s costly to build,” Rioux said. “If you’re smart in your design and usage, you could build a lower-cost home than one that’s traditionally constructed.”
For instance, you’ll want to reap the benefits of the shipping container’s steel structure. If you design your home so you keep the giant steel doors and shutters, you’ll enjoy the added security and protection. “If someone wants to break into your cottage, they’ll probably go to the cottage down the road because it’s too much work,” Rioux said.
Know the Costs Involved
While the cost of the shipping containers themselves are inexpensive – you can get a 20-foot by 8-foot shipping container for about $2,800 in the U.S. – your home needs to be insulated properly to avoid any potential issues with condensation and mold. You can install either external wall insulation or internal wall insulation. In turn, you’ll probably spend more on high-quality insulation.
The costs largely depend on a number of factors. For the Riouxs’ cabin, which is a two-bedroom, one-bath home that has a covered space for a sauna and to store their ATVs, it cost them $100 per square foot.
Understand Your Financing Options
Your options for getting a loan on a shipping container home include a mortgage or a personal loan. “If the home is built in compliance with the building codes for single family homes, it can be financed just like any other single family home,” explained Nathaniel Crawford, a broker associate based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Note that shipping container homes might not be considered real estate. That’s because to be considered a piece of real estate, there has to be property taxes on the asset, explained Shawn Breyer of Breyer Home Buyers in Atlanta.
“Without a recorded title and [property] plat, there are no property taxes and isn’t considered real estate,” Breyer said. “A shipping container must be connected to a permanent foundation with utility hookups.” If the shipping container doesn’t have a permanent foundation, you won’t be able to get a mortgage.
When building a shipping container home, you might be able to get a construction loan. But it can be tricky because shipping container homes aren’t standard, lenders might be nervous to offer you a loan. That’s because banks aren’t sure what the value might be and aren’t always confident about a shipping container home being used as collateral, Rioux explained. To boost your odds, work with an established contractor and have your construction plans ready to show the lender.
Understand the Process in the Buildout
When working with contractors, because shipping container homes are unique projects and contractors aren’t familiar with the process, be prepared to work with 10% of the price of the project up front, then the remaining 90% once the shipping container home has been constructed. Once the home has been built and it gets appraised, you could get a loan from the bank, Rioux said.
What’s more, contractors might not want to take on the job for a fixed price. They might be willing to work on a time and materials agreement, Rioux said. What that means is you pay for the materials and pay the contractors an hourly rate. So it’s on you to get estimates, obtain the materials and pay extra if the project suffers hiccups or takes longer than expected.
While building shipping containers come with a special set of challenges, you’re bound to enjoy a unique experience. “Living off-grid affects how you feel living inside a shipping container more than the structures themselves,” Rioux said. “It’s just fun to be inside a durable, impervious structure in the countryside.”
Have you thought about living in a shipping container home? Let us know in the comments!
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