Edmonton Journal: Edmonton company thinks outside the shipping box

Article by Bill Mah, published April 16, 2014

There is nothing to suggest that the little two-storey house in a southwest Edmonton field is made from four shipping containers.

It has exterior wood panelling, a back deck, a second-floor balcony and big picture windows, but the bones of the contemporary-design home are really four corrugated steel boxes usually seen stacked on trucks, rail cars or cargo ships.

Keeping their homes’ surprising origins under wraps is just how Sergio Torres and Chad Osman want it. The men are partners in Avante Global Trade, an Edmonton company that is turning shipping containers into housing, warehouses and even a 24-unit hotel in Mexico.

“They’ll arrive on site looking like just containers, but when it’s all put together, you’ll never be able to even tell that they were containers,” Osman said.

The 640-square-foot cottage in Windermere is the company’s demonstration model. It was assembled in four days with two or three workers using only a crane, wrench, caulking gun and drill. The pilot home would cost about $60,000.

Used shipping containers, which cost about $3,000-$4,000, can be stacked Lego-block style to create basic structures and even more upscale homes.

“The prices of houses are increasing dramatically and this is just a great solution,” Torres said. “This house can be assembled in just about one-tenth of the time of a standard house and the cost is about one-third. The structure without question is sturdier than a conventional home.”

Durable, easily dismantled and transportable, container homes could become work camps, affordable housing, recreational cabins and emergency accommodation during natural disasters.

“The main advantage of this system is that we’re able to put these houses up very quickly in whatever design,” Osman said.

A 1,200-square-foot container home from the company would sell for about $100,000, depending on design.

Insulation, in-floor heating, vapour barriers, drywall and exterior panelling make the metal boxes comfortable inside, the pair say. In hotter climates, air conditioning is added.

With brightly painted walls, LED lights, heated floors, tiled bathrooms and an open staircase, the demo home feels more like a sleek getaway than a stack of shipping containers.

Torres said the shipping-box homes may not be a fit in all areas.

“There are a lot of restrictions in neighbourhoods that are already done. Student housing at the university should not be a problem. Lakes should not be an issue. Camps or reserves would be ideal.”

A 70-unit apartment complex made of containers has eased a housing crunch in the Eagle Ford Shale region of Texas. Other cargo-container housing projects in Canada include the CanStay Motel made of Sea-Cans in Estevan, Sask., and a women’s social-housing development in Vancouver made out of 12 recycled shipping containers.


Check out the video here