Californian Couple Follows Australian Container Homes Trend
A Californian couple have built a new container home having seen loads of them here in Australia. Container home building is booming over here! Let’s firstly look at the Auerswald’s home in Dana Point, California before reflecting on the Australian construction trend that led them to do it.
Dana Point container home
A couple who had taken a long break in Australia returned to their home in Dana Point, CA with a dream to build a large home out of mostly recycled materials. They demolished the home on the site and applied for planning permission to build the home that has a ground floor of local stone and a first floor of shipping containers.
Max Auerswald is a stonemason by trade so it is almost natural that some of the home would be of the material he knows and loves. The main aim of the home was to both build a larger space for their planned family and to make it as sustainable as possible.
Speaking to the Dana Point Times, Max said, “I hope this project can inspire people to think of ways we can repurpose items creatively. This movement could shape the availability of affordable housing.”
Part of the sustainability focus was in using shipping containers that had been used, as opposed to buying in new ones. New ones can cost US$5000 while a decent used one can cost as little as US$1800. Cost is a factor but these containers may only ever do one trip before being abandoned. The ones that have done one trip and are put out for repurposing are the best, but even so that’s an awful amount of energy used in manufacturing a steel box for maybe a 5,000km one way trip.
Containers need to be selected carefully as they can be used to carry toxic substances, and the wood floors are impregnated with heavy duty pesticides and fungicides that can also be toxic to humans over a longer period. These chemicals need removing as part of the preparation. Other elements of preparation include cutting holes for doors and windows, and strengthening the container where those holes have been cut.
The Auerswalds had been travelling in Australia where they saw a number of examples of shipping container architecture. This is quite easy over here as the modular construction method has been on trend for a while.
According to Perth Now, container home construction has seen rapid growth over here in recent times. CEO of Container Build Group Jamie Van Tongeren reckons that “Interest has been doubling every year for the last six or seven years,” he said. “It is never slowing down, it only seems to get busier — it’s a cheaper, quicker way to build.” He’s recently opened offices over in Hawaii!
Sydney has been one of the places where container construction has been booming. Thanks to the obscene property prices people have identified containers as a means of keeping construction costs down. Though Sydney is a bit of a node where ‘cargotecture’ is flourishing, container homes are popping up all over the place. Just look at the Gateway Gazette to see just where and how they are being constructed – from holiday resorts, to deep in the Outback, you’ll trip over them even in unlikely places!
This isn’t to say the homes are for people hating hermits living as far as possible from humanity. Just look at this large home in Gloucester, NSW! According to The New Daily, speed of construction was a major reason for building the home in this way: “It was partly the location that prompted the container build. It is difficult and expensive to get tradespeople to work for long periods of time in remote locations.”
Planning approval – a must
For all the ease of eventual construction, container homes still need to be approved by local planners. In 2017 we published a blog on the Gateway Gazette that showed some of the hurdles required to meet local planning requirements.
We said, “as a unit of construction in its own right, shipping containers meet many of the Australian core building regulations: “They do not have problems with getting council approval for the use of shipping containers in Australia as they have a five star energy rating, which appeals to local councils. Insulating the homes requires only a tiny amount of energy as they are air tight reducing the chance of drafts or warm air leakage.””
The ABC website reported in September last year that here in Australia, “Almost all councils treat a permanent shipping container almost exactly like they would any other building on your property. That means you will need all the proper approvals, engineering, plans, and inspections just as you would for a granny flat or similar building. That is the same deal for the container you want as a backyard shed.”
That containers already tick some planners’ boxes doesn’t always mean you’re in for an easy ride. Admittedly across the Pacific in California, the Auerswalds at the beginning of this piece again: ““I cannot stress this enough. It took a village,” Max said. “Without the help of my father, my uncle, all my friends and family in the construction industry, this would not be possible.”
That ‘village’ had to work bloody hard too! The Dana Point Times said, “The project the couple had in mind required a minor site development permit entitlement from the City of Dana Point, because the initial structure was legal nonconforming, meaning it no longer met present zoning and building regulations.
The entitlement was submitted in March 2017 and approved in September 2017. The building check plan review was submitted in December 2017 and approved in November 2018, with a permit being issued within the month. Approval for converting the shipment containers to meet code required working with inspectors on a state level, a more strenuous process.” Yup – they had to deal with bureaucrats high up in the chain.
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