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Will the Shipping Container Home Concept Catch On?

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Traditional timber and concrete homes aren't quite going away just yet, but some builders believe using shipping containers will emerge as an effective and inexpensive way to construct homes.

Shipping containers - the same massive steel structures that haul cargo from land, sea and air worldwide - are not only durable, stackable, and readily available, but also relatively cheap, costing on average $3,500 per unit.

One of the first major Canadian projects, constructed in July 2013, is located at 502 Alexander Street in Vancouver and used 12 shipping containers stacked three-storeys high. Each of the 12 units, which cost roughly $82,500 a piece to construct, are about 280 to 290 square feet with wood laminate flooring, separate entrances, bathrooms and equipped with a washer-dryer machine.

The container homes were part of a $3.3 million social-housing project, which also included a heritage restoration of an adjacent 16-unit Imouto Housing for Young Women. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. contributed $2.6 million to the funding, the City of Vancouver pitched in $92,000 and B.C. Hydro supplied two of the containers and an additional $90,000.

Seeing the completion of that served as inspiration to a pair of entrepreneurs in Alberta who just completed that province's first pilot container home on Ellerslie Road near 181 Street in Edmonton at a cost of $60,000. Three workers completed the 640-square-foot demonstration model in four days using only a crane, wrench, caulking gun and drill.

Sergio Torres and Chad Osman of Avante Global Trade figure that assembly time is one tenth of a normal home with the cost at about one-third, but add that the structure of the steel containers is more sturdy than conventional homes.

Expecting that 1,200 square foot models will sell for $100,000, which would include such basics as insulation, in-floor heating, drywall, exterior panelling, air conditioning (where required) plus LED lighting, tiled bathrooms and open staircases, the partners are optimistic that the container concept will fly.

The Canadian Real Estate Association reports that the average home price in Alberta for March 2014 was $402,933 and slightly lower nationally at $401,419. With the considerable cost savings to be gained, one can expect that as more container home models and styles become available, buyers will step up.