Upon hearing the phrase “shipping container home,” you may think of a structure that’s industrial or boxy. In reality, shipping container homes are only limited by your imagination. Jason “Tug” Huddleston, owner of Hudd Construction Inc., is currently building a shipping container home in Gainesville. He shares his vision as he gives the grand tour: a beautiful home with wide open spaces; a home of ingenious design and craftsmanship; a home where each room gets a fabulous poolside view; a home to last through the ages.
Shipping container homes are here for the long haul, according to Huddleston. A stylish and eco-friendly product, they’re hard not to love, he added. By repurposing decommissioned shipping containers, we can give them beauty, life and purpose.
This process is known as upcycling, where outmoded materials are transformed into something useful and beautiful. Upcycling differs from recycling in that materials aren’t broken down to make a low-quality consumer product. Instead, upcycling gives discarded items the chance to be refashioned. Recycling a shipping container requires it to be melted down, which releases tremendous amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
The allure of using shipping containers to build a house centers around the affordability of the project as a whole. A shipping container home will go up in four months — faster than the average stick-built home. The shipping container itself acts as a cooler once insulated, maintaining a pleasant atmosphere in the middle of muggy Florida summers without breaking the bank. On top of that, the building material costs for a simple container home are unbelievably low, according to Huddleston — at least half of the price per square foot than an average stick-built home.
Stephen Bender, an architect and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Florida, reminds his students to “achieve efficiency and beauty through design.” A shipping container doesn’t need to become an elaborate project — that certainly takes away from the appeal. With shipping containers, you work with what you have. You think outside the box, but also create within the box.
The durability of shipping containers makes them the perfect home for Florida residents, who need stormproof housing. Shipping containers live out their days at sea, enduring baking in the sun, turbulent waters, rough weather and battering from cranes. Not only will residents be completely safe inside a shipping container during a hurricane, but also their home will last longer than most. Shipping containers are “very structurally sound in high winds,” Huddleston explained.
That was exactly what drew Tom Fox to the idea of using shipping containers to build his ideal hurricane-proof house. After a trip to London where he saw Container City, Fox knew shipping containers were the way to go. Fox and Bender worked together to create the first shipping container dwelling in Gainesville. Standing three-stories high, with giant solar panels casually leaning on the rooftop deck, Fox’s house is arguably the coolest looking house in the area. Four years after being built, Fox still gets visitors who will drive from as far as Alabama to see his charming home.
Besides infamous storms, Florida’s geography as a peninsula creates various shipping container junkyards in ports surrounding Gainesville. This makes buying shipping containers a cheap chore. When purchasing the containers, precise measurements are kept on hand, and blueprints are consulted to see if it’s possible to purchase containers that have gashes or dents. It pays to be strategic, as imperfect shipping containers cost less. If the impurities are going to be sawed out, it’s worth buying damaged goods.
It’s all these qualities that make shipping containers the perfect material to create low-income housing. Bender has paired up with Crisis Housing Solutions to conceive a multi-family housing proposal. Rather than enslaving the American population to formulaic, luxury housing, Bender and CHS want to develop durable, cost-effective housing out of the perfect building blocks — shipping containers.
“It’s important that people have safe, healthy, and psychologically elevating places to live in,” Bender said.
To create these invigorating living spaces requires stacking containers in a way that invents interesting, yet social outdoor spaces. The puzzles that shipping containers present fascinate Bender. The idea is to fashion communal areas that incite neighborly bonding. Bender’s ultimate goal is to make affordable single family designs that stray from the formulaic luxury homes currently being mass-produced. This multi-family proposal has been developed for the South Florida area, but Bender can easily see this type of construction happening in Gainesville.
Although Bender will tell you that “the best architecture is inspired by great clients,” there are limitations to shipping container building, so don’t let your creativity get the best of you yet. There are thousands of shipping containers in the world currently, but few have been decommissioned in comparison, meaning buyers have to be practical. Bender tells clients to dream big, but also to have a savvy engineer keeping them grounded. It’s important to remember to work within the constraints of the shipping container by making efficient modifications to the beautifully simple framework, he said.
Where does one buy a shipping container home? There isn’t a real estate market developed quite yet. Your best bet is contacting a construction company or architect who has previously worked with shipping container homes. Huddleston urges anyone in the market for a shipping container home to do extensive research to figure out if a shipping container home is right for you. If you’re the kind of person who appreciates green technology and sustainability, a customizable shipping container home is something to explore.