Storage container units are all the rage on HGTV, but they’re starting to pop up in real life too. So let’s talk about them. Today I have an interview with James Roberts who handles design and engineering at TAYNR, a container home builder in Sacramento. I hope this will be insightful and interesting. Anything to add? Let’s talk in the comments.
Ryan: What got you into the storage container business?
James: I first became aware of “shipping containers” when I was a Signalman in the US NAVY. Seeing them in different commercial ports was common. After the NAVY I moved to Miami Beach where I met Sujan (Project Manager at TAYNR), and we would see shipping containers on large cargo ships, cruising in and out of the Miami Port all the time. But Denmark was the first container build I ever saw. And then London had container condos and a shopping center. Thailand, Laos, Korea Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil all have many small pop-up businesses, single family homes and commercial buildings. During recent visits to China and Hong Kong, I saw new construction sites with 100s of containers modified for worker housing.
Ryan: What type of buildings can you make out of containers?
James: The possibilities are endless. The ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit), the shipping container, is manufactured to carry heavy cargo of all kinds, to be stacked, and withstand extreme weather conditions while being transported across the seas. With that said, they are incredibly strong, and if modified correctly, they can be used for an endless amount of structures. Australia has been using containers for housing and commercial structures for 40+ years. America has recently (+/-10 years) started to use this building method for single family and multi-family homes, commercial store fronts, popup food stations, business marketing structures, etc. The worker housing units would be an excellent source for all means for temporary housing in the US. Emergency, migrant, farm, homeless, camping, etc. The list can go on.
Ryan: What is the maximum number on stories you can do?
James: They are manufactured to stack on top with the weight bearing on the four corner posts. It is common to see them free-standing 6 boxes high at the port. This is without reinforcement or anything securing them together. You can imagine that with additional engineering and structural support, this could easily be doubled, possibly tripled.
Ryan: Tell me about the accessory unit you built in Oak Park (the blue unit below).
James: Matt and Jamie Leonardo contacted me in late 2016. They bought their Oak Park home a few years before and had worked up some equity. Originally there was a non-permitted home along the back alley way that had to be torn down in order for their loan to be approved. Replacing this structure for a revenue generating dwelling was pretty much in the plan from the beginning. I do not remember where/why they decided to build with a shipping container, but we met, discussed a plan and moved forward. This home will actually be showcased on an upcoming episode of You Live In What, premiering June 29th at 9 pm on Great American Country Network (GAC), an HGTV affiliate.
Ryan: Do units get extra hot on the inside because of the steel exterior?
James: No, our units are meant to perform extremely efficient by design. By nature, corten steel will absorb the heat from the sun. This is a factor that is taken into consideration from the beginning and we have many different ways to address this. For instance, the Oak Park container home is insulated on the inside and has reflective paint on the outside. Also, a weather barrier and facade were installed on the exterior of the container to allow for a 6?+ thermal break. The roof has a 3:12 sloped standing seam roof with 3’6? eves to provide additional shade along with the insulation and weather barrier laid out inside the roofline, and it has 2 mini-split for heating and air.
Ryan: What type of units do you find most clients are asking for these days?
James: Our highest demand for individuals is an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) that can be installed in existing backyards for in-law quarters, guest homes, or as a rental unit to capture additional income. The TAYNR models are designed to be “building blocks” offering both 20′ and 40′ multi-block models. 1, 2 & 3 bedroom units with 1 or 2 baths.
Ryan: How long does it take to install an ADU?
James: Foundations can be installed in 1 day, and installation of the ADU is typically 5-10 business days depending in the model size.
Ryan: Is it fairly easy to get a storage container unit permitted?
James: “Easy” is absolutely not how would describe it. However, because we have our pre-designed models and engineering understood, this does simplify our process.
Ryan: Do you know if there is a limit to how many units can be added in a backyard?
James: Any residential lot in California can have one ADU as long as the property setbacks and design review conditions can be met. So far the only issue I have run into is physical access, which TAYNR now offers an alternative modular product that can usually meet this conflict.
Ryan: Have you found some areas not willing to allow containers because of design restrictions?
James: Usually this is due to the City/County design review. Some areas require the ADU be cohesive with the existing structure. As long as budget allows, this is not an issue because we can design a facade to satisfy this point.
Ryan: So far I’m not aware of any stand-alone single family container units in Sacramento. Have you heard about any yet?
James: There currently is not a stand-alone unit in Sacramento. Stay tuned… we have one in the works.
Ryan: What are the costs like for a storage container accessory unit?
James: Models and pricing are listed on our website (here).
Ryan: Are permit fees any different for containers compared to stick-built homes?
James: No, they are not. Our builds are required to meet the same building codes and are permitted the same as a traditional build.
Ryan: Anything else you want to add?
James: One of the biggest misconceptions is that building with containers is “cheap”. This is not the case. Although there are absolute savings if the build process is followed properly. Meaning, the onsite work should be performed while the ADU is being built in the factory, so the overall start-to-finish construction is significantly reduced, saving you a lot in labor cost.
Ryan: Thanks for doing the interview. You killed it. Everyone, please check out TAYNR’s website. All photos in this post are TAYNR projects (images are property of TAYNR).
CLOSING APPRAISAL THOUGHTS: Container homes are an emerging trend in the market, so it’s important to stay in tune with this phenomenon. I’m excited to hear TAYNR is building a stand-alone home too because that’s not something the market has seen yet. It’s worth noting one of the struggles with stand-alone container homes is the potential of financing hurdles: 1) The unit might not be large enough in size in the eyes of the lender; and 2) A lender might ask an appraiser to use container comps to show the market accepts this type of property. Well, right now there aren’t any comps (yet). But the market is craving alternative products like this, so lenders over time will hopefully adapt to this emerging trend.
Questions: What do you think of container homes? Any insight or stories to share? Loan officers, any tips on financing? I’d love to hear your take.
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Gary Kristensen says
Great article Ryan. In Portland, backyard ADUs are extremely popular due to public incentives and reduced regulations. I have not come across a container home as an ADU, but if I did, I would have no problem comparing it to other similar homes with similar size and quality ADUs. I think if the finished product is attractive it would be an acceptable alternative to a site built unit and possibly even be more desirable given Portland’s acceptance to all things weird. In Sacramento, I will leave that up to you.
Ryan Lundquist says
Thanks Gary. I can see these fitting in very well in Portland. The blue unit in the first photo is really something as an ADU. I actually posted it on my personal Facebook and I was shocked at how many comments, questions, and “likes” there were. People like these units and I think many would feel comfortable with an ADU especially. Though will lenders bite on a 300 sq ft stand-alone property? I’d love to hear from some loan officers.
Jamie Owen says
This was such a nice interview! You asked all of the questions that were on my mind. I really love the look of these kinds of structures and the fact that they are repurposed is a big bonus! Fantastic article. I love reading about this kind of thing. Cleveland has few of these being used as commercial space in the downtown area. I have not seen any being used residentially yet. Hopefully we will in the near future!
Ryan Lundquist says
Thank you Jamie. I was really excited to write this article. I think there is a place for alternative housing and the market craves it for many reasons. It’s cool to hear you’ve seen some in Cleveland too. We have a few breweries in Sacramento made of containers, and I know of a commercial office building being planned out of containers. It seems like commercial has been more prominent than residential so far, but I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing more residential in the next bit of time. Keep me posted with what happens in your market.
On a side note, it’s interesting to consider what appraising storage containers and tiny homes might look like in the future…
Shannon Slater says
Great post! I really like the concept of these. I know of a builder in the Dallas market that builds high-end homes from containers. http://mgoodendesign.com/ We have not come across any ADUs in our market yet but I imagine we will at some time in the future. Thanks for covering this interesting topic.
Ryan Lundquist says
Thanks Shannon. I appreciate you sharing the link too. Wow!! Those are something else. I can see how containers would fit well with modern applications too because of the straight lines.
Great info Ryan. I shared with my FB peeps. Thanks
Ryan Lundquist says
Thank you sincerely Kim. I appreciate that very much. I’m fascinated with this trend.
Alby Heredia says
Hey Ryan, Do you know the cost of the containers vs. just building the frame out of wood?
Ryan Lundquist says
Hi Alby. Thanks so much for asking. I’m not sure what everyone charges for container homes, but TAYNR has their fees listed here: http://www.taynr.com/models.html In some cases the costs end up being about the same, but in others it seems less expensive. It’s not cheap though like James noted in this interview. I think sometimes see examples on TV where someone buys 10 acres and they’re good to go under $100,000 for everything. That’s just not going to be realistic – especially in California.
Kaye Swain says
This is a topic that has long interested me, due in large part to the option of using it for in-law quarters. Great for an aging in place option for many active boomers and seniors.
But it also has the possibility of being a good option for first time home buyers IF they can get the necessary permits, loans, etc.
I’m curious if this would be compared to manufactured homes?
Thanks again for a very interesting post – off to share. 🙂
Ryan Lundquist says
Hi Kaye. I love your thinking. I’m also interested in these units. The price point for first-time buyers really could work well if everything came together. Unfortunately the buyer would probably have to own the land already, so there is some cash needed here. If a lender comes up with a construction program where the land can be bought along with the unit, that would be amazing. Maybe there is something already, though most custom builds tend to take place after the land is already purchased. There is some real potential here.
I probably wouldn’t personally compare them to manufactured homes. I like where you’re going because you’re thinking out of the box. For me the problem with manufactured homes is they’ll be much larger in size, and they are much less expensive too (most likely). Cost isn’t everything when it comes to value, but it is worth considering.
Thanks for sharing. Let’s keep watching this trend.
By the way, for any onlookers, the blue unit in the post is actually on Airbnb. Just a heads-up. And I don’t get anything for mentioning this, and I don’t get anything for doing this interview either. This is just me watching the market with interest. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15343026?location=Sacramento%20County%2C%20CA%2C%20United%20States&s=fdWAC4nj
$60K for 160 sq ft? That is kind of outrageous!
Ryan Lundquist says
Yeah, it’s not cheap. That’s for sure Renee. Thanks for pitching in some thoughts. By the way, sorry for the slight delay in response as I was out of town.
Great article, containers are steadily becoming an amazing reusable resource for various applications. More modular homes and apartments keep popping up all across the country due to the cost effective aspect and limitless customizable ideas.