Avant-garde Container Homes

Redefining modular container home living
Image: RoxBox

Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind; large ones weaken it.” –  Leonardo da Vinci.

Living in shipping container homes has become a trend worldwide, even right here in our own backyard. According to the Recent Container Homes Market Overview published by Allied Market Research, “The global container homes market size is expected to reach $73,070.5 million by 2025, from $44,768.6 million in 2017.”

Beyond the idyllic charm, modern aesthetics, use of natural light and innovative sustainability (though questioned by some), creative container housing can offer much more than meets the eye.

We are no longer talking about the ephemeral containers of yesterday… Imagine marrying the concepts of luxury lifestyles and container home living. “It is possible to have an elevated lifestyle and a more conservative home at the same time,” says Josh Abbey, principal architect and cofounder of Box & Boulder.

Indeed, there are pros and cons to container home living to take into consideration, which we shall explore. First, let’s review the basics and see what is unfolding here in Colorado.

Container home basics

Container homes are dwellings made from steel shipping containers. They are reusable, intermodal containers that transport goods. Masterclass.com states, “Shipping container homes, like tiny houses, RVs, or silo homes, are rising in popularity as potential homeowners seek out alternative building solutions to the traditional multi-bedroom house.”

They have multiple use cases, including mother-in-law suites, permanent homes, vacation rentals, cabins, affordable housing and offices. It is also possible to combine multiple containers to create a multilevel space.

A Colorado connection – luxury container homes

“I really think that once we got away from the cabins in the woods and things like that and started to become more of a modern aesthetic, blending the metal corrugation with the clean wood, things changed,” says Anthony Halsch, Founder and CEO of Denver-based ROXBOX. “Our innovative approach to fabrication and customization allows us to create amazing products that support modularity and outside-the-box thinking.”

ROXBOX Residential is one of the manufacturers of modular container homes, building high-end, shipping container dwellings that are said to be durable, pleasing to the eye, functional and sustainable. They build the LuxBox accessory dwelling unit (ADU) model and custom shells for individual home buyers, as well as work with developers to produce units at scale.

“We currently specialize in just shipping container structures and we have had three kinds of silos that we work with: commercial, industrial and food and beverage. And now the fourth arm is our residential line,” says Brian Zolot, marketing and media director.

According to their website, “The demand for attainable housing has never been greater and we want to do our part to help maximize residential sustainable development. We therefore have partnered with our friends at Box & Boulder to develop models that showcase the luxury possibilities of shipping container homes.”

Enter Box & Boulder, a development company that specializes in high-end, modular container homes, built around the concepts of sustainability, durability and tranquility. The company reuses 40-foot steel shipping containers that have made only a single trip across international waters. These containers are typically discarded or scrapped for parts even though they are structurally sound.

There is a blending of traditional building materials, one-trip storage containers and modern building techniques. “We bring together modern design with contemporary opulence, including heated driveways, radiant floor heating in every room, smart home features throughout, top-of-the-line appliances, five-piece full master bathrooms, over 1,000 square feet of decks and patio space, skylights to flood the home with natural lighting, 20-foot high ceilings and lots of windows.”

“We’ve done luxury homes before, and actually, the materials, the insulation, the finishes, all the stuff that you see in these homes is actually on par with a typical, traditionally built, luxurious house, or if not exceeding it in some areas,” says Abbey, who has worked on projects for the Ritz-Carlton, Hilton Conrad and Wyndham Grand.

“Also, we’re trying to make a product that lasts longer than a traditionally built home,” continues Abbey. “We want these modified boxes to basically stand up against a traditionally built tiny home in terms of longevity and basically outlive it. You can pass it down. It’s mobile and could be transferred between families and generations.”

Luxury in a box

There are currently three options to choose from when selecting a modular container home from ROXBOX and Box & Boulder:  models, shells and custom builds. Though LuxBox is the only model available at this time, additional models are forthcoming. When sold as a shell, ROXBOX designs and builds the container homes’ framing, doors and windows; a general contractor then completes the finish work on-site. Custom builds are available only to developers wishing to build a minimum of five units.

The LuxBox (a result of the ROXBOX and Box & Boulder partnership) is a luxury ADU which sleeps two to three people, utilizes a 40-foot high cube, one-trip shipping container with high-end finishes. Prices start out at $147,000, with an additional $45,000 for rooftop, stairs and exterior decks. Pre-construction costs are additional, and it is highly recommended you invest in the required engineering and approvals for your location.

Specs and modifications:

40-foot “high cube” one-trip shipping container

  • One bedroom that fits a queen bed
  • Full bathroom with shower
  • Washer and dryer
  • Living room
  • Full kitchen with high-end appliances and cabinets
  • Unique windows and doors including two sliding glass doors
  • Interior and exterior paint
  • Demising walls
  • Framing, insulation, flooring, lighting, finished walls, electrical and plumbing
  • Optional exterior decks and/or rooftop deck with stairs
  • Optional exterior cladding on all or part of the unit
Container home deck option
Image: RoxBox

Container homes: pros and cons

Some advantages of container housing include shorter construction times, ease of transport, siting flexibility, increased use of natural light and more predictable costs. Depending on who you talk to, container homes can also be more environmentally friendly than traditional homes.

Potential disadvantages, according to Build with Rise, are sustainability and structural challenges. “Shipping container homes are not always effective recycling. Most factory-built container homes are built from ‘one-use’ containers that have only had a single trip. These containers tend to be in good shape, without dents or rust, so they are nice for building with, instead of containers that have gone ‘out-of-service’ and may be damaged from years of use. Taking a box with lots of shipping life out of service after a single use isn’t effective recycling. And there is way more steel in a container than you need to build a house – if recycled as steel, it could make enough steel studs for 14 framed houses the same size.”

Shipping container homes can also have structural issues. “A shipping container is very strong at the corners, but the roof is not that strong, so typically you need to build another roof over it, especially where there will be snow,” states Build with Rise. “Also, the corrugated steel walls are essential to the strength of the structure. This means anywhere you cut out a large window, or door opening requires new reinforcement. And when they are stacked together to make larger homes, welded (expensive) reinforcement is needed wherever two containers join at a spot that is not a corner. Any later renovations require significant engineering and welding.”

While there is industry acknowledgement that container housing may not, in fact, promote sustainability, there is a belief that the advantages offset any challenges. “We’re not cutting down more trees, and we’re using a recycled steel box and that also helps with a durability conversation,” says Davin Burkhart, chief growth officer of ROXBOX. “These structures are going to last a lot longer than other structures. We also think about the implications when it comes to disaster relief and the impact that disaster is having on residential or commercial, just buildings in general.”

Cost, value and timeline

Nextadvisor.com notes that “When you factor in the costs of customization, permits, government approval, materials, and labor, a container home can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $175,000 according to Rise, an online resource for sustainable home improvement.”

The good news is they seem to be holding their value. “A well-maintained shipping container home can retain its resale value much like a traditional home,” Build with Rise. “They’re relatively easy to resell since they can be loaded onto a truck and shipped almost anywhere.”

ROXBOX and Box & Boulder state that the high-end dwellings are designed, built, and delivered in six to eight months.

Evolving mindset

“It’s a whole different kind of mindset change from back in the 80s when McMansions were in,” says Box & Boulder’s Abbey. “Now you feel a little bit more responsible, and you start to realize what is essential in a day-to-day life and what isn’t. What I really love about Colorado and this kind of tiny living experience is that you use nature, you use your external surroundings as your living space.”

The formula seems to be working for the ROXBOX team. They have gone from manufacturing in a 5,000-square-foot-warehouse several years ago to their current 35,000-square-foot-facility as they continue to refine the look and feel of the homes.

One thing is for sure: modular container housing in Colorado will undoubtedly continue to evolve and blur the lines in the traditional housing market.

The LuxBox is available now in Colorado and California and will be available nationwide in the coming months. ROXBOX will be rolling out new container home models starting in a couple of months. For more information, please contact ROXBOX Containers by visiting roxboxcontainers.com, or emailing [email protected].

Valarie Johnson

Valarie is Editor-at-Large of Colorado Builder and has a 25-year, award-winning career as a publisher, editor and writer for local, regional, national and international publications. Valarie is a Colorado native and enjoys hiking, traveling, meditating, kayaking, yoga, reading and spending time with her husband and family. She can be reached at [email protected] or (303) 502-2523.

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