Thinking Inside The Box

Kashief Schroeder – co-founder and owner of Container Container Intermodal Trading CC (CIT) – shares his top tips on building a container home.

Container homes provide first-time builders a quicker, more economical way of achieving their dream homes.

Container homes take simple living, creative design and affordable building to the next level. It is not surprising then that the trend for modular houses is booming; before launching headlong into your own container build, some preparation is required. Here are the top tips for every stage of building your dream container home.

Get council approval

Most councils are open to innovative types of building and recognise that alternative housing adds diversity to their town. Do thorough research on property restrictions before you buy the land. Have detailed plans drawn up professionally and develop a good relationship with your council; this will save you time and help you to deal with any hiccups
along the way.

Purchase your container

Buy your container through a reputable company. They will help you choose the right kind of container for your needs, as well as ensure the container is structurally sound, waterproof and has not transported anything dangerous. There are two types of shipping containers: one that has reinforced square tubing side top rails and one that has flat bar side rails. Buying the reinforced side railed container will ensure that your home is better structurally sound, and you don’t have to pay extra building costs to reinforce the container sides later. Building with a refrigerated container is ideal as they already have insulation but comes with different challenges.

Most purchases require an upfront payment after you have seen the container and have the appropriate documentation with a container reference number. A SARS/customs EDI release (SAD500) is very important as it give assurance that the container is legally in South Africa has not been used for any illegal activities and is not part of any investigation.

Design your home

To achieve amazing things with your modular build, simplicity and great design is key. The more ambitious the designs are, the more time and resource-intensive it will be to build.  When deciding on how many containers to use make sure you have considered how much space you need to live comfortably on a daily basis. Many holiday homes make use of only one container; however, you may need more space for daily living.

Be clear on the vision for your home to simplify the whole building process. A great way to do this is to look at showhouses. They will give you a good physical indication of how effective use of space can transform a container, as well as provide inspiration for your design.

Get a professional to draw your design in 3D. It will give you and your builder a better feel for the space. A professional designer will be able to arrange your living space in the best possible way for your needs.

Plan your construction

As many container homes are built on vacant land you need to install infrastructure – such as foundations, running water, power and sewerage – before you start your build. Luckily container homes can be built off-site while you lay the infrastructure. This off-site building method is ideal for remote builds or smaller urban plots where neighbours are close by – building a container home generates twice the amount of noise as a normal building.

The South African building industry is relatively new to handling modular framed structures and it may be challenging at first to find an experienced container home builder that will quote a fixed price. However, there are experts such as Len Douglas of Inter Modular Concepts (IMC) that will give be able to give you a fixed quote. On any build, skilled labour is the chief variable; by planning and thinking everything through beforehand, you will be able to monitor these costs.

Phase your build

It takes around three and a half months to have the container ready for occupancy and depending on the amount of infrastructure you need. Have clear lines of communication with your building team, do regular site visits and create a realistic, detailed building schedule. This will keep everyone motivated, reduce stress levels and ensure the budget is not exceeded.

Pre-order materials, such as fixtures and pre-cut timber. This is a great way to lower building costs and ensure the building schedule is realistic – you can plan according to the delivery dates of the materials. Keep in mind that you will need a secure, organised, watertight space to store all the materials and equipment if you are building onsite.

Budget your build

Your budget should include the cost of the container being transported to site which will require a crane, labour, materials, equipment hire etc.  The average cost of a simple high-end container home is between R825 000.00 to R1 million – as with any build it is wise to include a contingency budget of about 13%. This is for any unexpected items or finishings that you may need once you occupy the space.

The complexity of your design will determine the amount of customisation needed. Most building components, such as roof trusses, are designed to fit onto brick structures, which means that there will be instances where you must develop your own clever solution to achieve the look you envision. These customisations may be challenging to predict or show on the drawings. This might require your attention when they are being installed; to make sure the building team, the architect and the engineer are on the same page.

To build in the box you have to think outside the box and container homes provide a wonderful opportunity to be truly creative with your home. They give first-time builders a quicker, more economical way of achieving their dream home.

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