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Florida owner Roger Bennett is about to move into his new home, and as he leads a tour of the construction site, he explains his decision to build not from traditional materials but from containers from ‘shipping.

Using metal boxes salvaged from the global supply chain, Bennett says he will spend about $ 100,000 less than if he had built a similar house out of concrete blocks.

Lumber prices started to skyrocket during the pandemic, but Bennett did not have to deal with this price pressure. “There is no wood,” he says of his steel and stucco house in Lake Worth Beach.

In an era of skyrocketing construction costs, soaring home values, and a shortage of homes for sale, shipping containers – long a symbol of consumer culture and global commerce – have gained attention in as an alternative building material.

Abundant supply of metal cans

Lumber and other building materials are scarce, but old containers are plentiful. The standard canister is 40 feet long by 8 feet wide, or 320 square feet. Used shipping containers are available on eBay for under $ 3,000.

Besides the cost advantage, container homes are still far from common. But proponents of container building are passionate about changing that perception. In Denver, start-up real estate developer Stackhouse markets a 62-unit complex made up of containers.

For prices starting at $ 45,000, buyers will get a 320 square foot unit in a building organized as a cooperative. To make it easier to squeeze such a small living space, the high-rise building will include storage lockers on the ground floor, as well as “privacy cubicles” – corners where residents can work or relax. relax away from their small apartments.

Stackhouse co-founder Janelle Briggs compares the price to that of an SUV, and she says the interest is high. While the wealthiest Americans can afford to haul two or three homes, many workers can’t even afford a single property.

“We’re running out of space in the cities,” says Briggs. “People are excited about this way of life because all other options are taken away from them by investors and the wealthy. I don’t think the American dream of homeownership is gone, but people are realizing that the ability to afford it is being taken away from them.

If the Stackhouse project in Denver proves successful, Briggs hopes to expand the concept to other cities.

Small houses, small market

The shipping container trend is swimming with the flow in some ways, and against it in others.

On the one hand, soaring home values ​​have created a crunch in affordability. In expensive markets in California and elsewhere, homes are beyond the reach of most wage earners. This seems to bode well for the demand for economic alternatives.

On the other hand, neither buyers nor builders have shown much interest in small homes. According to the Census Bureau, only 3% of all new homes sold in the United States last year were less than 1,400 square feet.

And with buyers demanding more space for home offices and home gyms during the pandemic, the median size of new homes has increased over the past year. The typical new home sold in 2020 was 2,333 square feet, up from 2,322 square feet in 2019, according to census data.

Sheri Koones, author of Downsize: Living Large in a Small House, agrees with the premise that many Americans are looking for alternatives to McMansions.

“I believe there is a huge demand for small houses,” says Koones. “Lots of millennials graduate from college with massive student loans, and they’ll have kids later on.”

Koones defines the small as less than 2,000 square feet. As for the 320 square foot units marketed by Stackhouse, Koones is skeptical: “I haven’t seen huge demand for something this small.

The approval process can be a challenge

Along with the Americans’ love for floor space, there is also the reality that shipping containers are new to many municipalities, and getting approval can be difficult. Big builders don’t build container homes, leaving projects to intrepid homeowners and pioneering entrepreneurs.

“Local zoning varies from municipality to municipality, and it’s very complicated,” says Briggs. “This is one of the reasons the shipping container houses haven’t taken off.”

Some construction companies have specialized in building containers, and these contractors can help homeowners navigate local codes and design and build homes.

In Florida, Bennett hired a general contractor for his project, and he admits he had to go through some steps to get his house approved. The hurricane risk in South Florida means the area has some of the strictest building codes in the country. His contractor therefore had to prove that the structure of the container would be as durable as any new house.

When it comes to size issues, Bennett sees his house as some kind of compromise. The main living area is just 640 square feet, the size of two shipping containers. This includes space for two small bathrooms and a kitchen.

To make the space more convenient, he added a 550 square foot garage that will hold the washer, dryer, and water heater, as well as sports equipment and a car or two. Bennett ultimately aims to add a swimming pool to the small backyard.

“It’s not a big house,” he said, “but it’s a big house.

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