About a month ago, the City of Hamilton completed its first free-standing residential structure made primarily out of repurposed shipping containers. In layman’s terms, they’re getting one of their first container houses!
I will admit that I actually love the examples of container construction I’ve seen! Whether it’s the Stackt Market by Front/Spadina. Or Market 707 by Toronto West Hospital. Or the hundreds of full-on residential homes across the world being made from repurposed steel shipping containers, I love the ingenuity as much as I love the contemporary industrial chic vibe they give off.
Mind you, the example in Hamilton is not going for small or compact space; this is a full-sized 3-storey multi-bedroom single family home. But, it got me thinking about the fact I’m happy that it’s happening.
My History in Construction
Part of the reason I made the move from owning a construction business to real estate was that I loved the fresh perspective of a clean slate in new construction housing. I love building character and designing on my own canvas. Still, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the older quirky houses because I love character. Something we have to acknowledge is that consumer design and construction has become pretty bland over the last few decades. It’s nice to see more effort in new builds the last few years. Through the 1980s and 1990s, everybody’s houses looked the same inside and out. It was so boring!
What stands out the most about container houses for me isn’t just one thing. It’s a mix of a great location combined with a smart layout. They’re typically smaller, and are highly customizable because of the relatively quick assembly time.
Container Houses: A Real Solution to a Real Problem
But what I like most is that container houses aren’t meant to be a cynical substitute for ‘real’ housing. They ARE real housing, and they can be designed and built fairly quickly for less than traditional construction methods. Like Uber was to urban transportation, or Napster was to the recorded music industry, container construction is a disruption of an entrenched way of doing things. While not ‘cheap’ (one container, retrofitted to be habitable via wiring and insulation, can cost up to $40,000 each), this style of construction doesn’t require building so much as it requires assembly like a massive lego project. And who doesn’t love Lego?
The Bottom Line
Overall, I think the concept of container houses is great for a range of spaces in residential uses. Just like it has been in commercial uses. I think that it is likely to catch on more for secondary structures first here in Toronto. The City of Toronto passed bylaws in 2018 and 2019 which seek to ease restrictions on secondary structures in residential areas – and it mainly impacts the housing-starved downtown core.
Personally, I’d love to see Toronto become a leader in both laneway housing, as well as construction of container houses. I think that there’s so much potential in the alleyways of Toronto! In the same way that Los Angeles is the city of pool/guest houses, I think Toronto could become the city of laneway housing. I think container houses could be a great way to make these reclaimed spaces lively and vibrant!
Check out this awesome example of a container laneway house in Toronto as proof!