ADU - Refurbished Shipping Container

13 Replies

Hi All,

As an agent I'm working with a client that had an interesting idea about an ADU. Of course I'm not at liberty to consult him on whether it would work well or not, but it got me curious. There is a company out of Canada called Honomobo that makes live-in ready studios/1 bedrooms ect. out of old shipping containers. I've read the ADU guidelines on the city of Portland, and don't see how one of these wouldn't work. Outside of permitting and plumbing, what else would have to be considered when putting something like a Honomobo on a residential property?

Best,

Cody

Unless they're on a foundation, container buildings will be considered by banks as "personal property," and banks won't finance the main house if there's a "trailer" on the property when the next buyer takes possession.  Also, unless they're on a permanent foundation, the city won't permit them as ADUs.  

Also, and while I haven't tried to permit a container building myself, I've been told by people who have that, because it's out of the ordinary for them, the city will require all the engineering drawings and stamps from an engineer registered in Oregon.  So it may prove to be more time-consuming to permit than stick-built.

Lastly, I suggest that whoever considers converting/buying a container home actually physically tour one first.  Depending on how it's been converted, they may prove to be a bit too narrow and low-ceilinged for some.  

Oh, and actual lastly, I've seen some nice-looking modern container-to-habitable structure conversions, and I've seen some fugly ones.  If on the outside it looks like there's a shipping container in the back yard with a couple window cutouts, that might not make the neighbors happy, and might reduce the value of the main house.  

Hey Account Closed, 

Really appreciate your response! Very helpful. This particular company advertises that they will set up the foundation, but as you've laid out, there will be plenty of add'l hoops to jump through. 

In terms of getting in contact with someone in the city to speak to if further questions arise, is there a number or contact that you have had the most luck with? Maybe just the general permit line

Great insight from Account Closed, just a heads up that there are most likely bigger changes coming on the development/permitting side of things as the City of Portland just ousted its long-time Director of Bureau of Development Services.  More info from OregonLive here.

Thanks all... so let's just say the permitting gets easier and they are nice units. What is a ballpark cost on a foundation for something that is 500 sq. ft. and then making sure it has a working plumbing system?

I'm basically trying to ascertain whether it would be cheaper to do something like this with the modular home or to build a stand alone from scratch/finish a basement for ADU purposes.

@Dakota Mivshek Generally speaking, pre-fab modular residential buildings won't save you anything compared to stick-built, except, generally speaking, time.  In this case, whether you'd save time or not depends on Portland BDS.  

It might seem like I'm biased against shipping containers, but my thesis project in architecture school was a mid-rise mixed use building based on a shipping container model.  After some research, I abandoned the shipping containers but kept the concept of a stackable module (but at 12' wide rather than 8').  

Basically the biggest reason someone might use a shipping container as an ADU is for the "cool factor." Sustainability (because we're a nation that imports more than we export and shipping empty containers to China takes fuel) might be another reason, but by the time all the holes are cut in the steel frame and the container has been modified to live in, the embodied energy in that little container (even after taking shipping into account) is probably higher than FSC-certified stick frame construction. And with custom construction, you can maximize your building for solar energy and passive heating/cooling/lighting, plus any other features that apply to your situation.

Right now, ADUs are allowed to be up to 800sf.  If someone is going to put a foundation and accessory building in their back yard, from an investment perspective, it makes sense to build to highest and best use by maximizing the square footage and maybe putting in a second half or full bath.  There are Portland zoning rules that allow ADUs in the setback, as long as they conform to certain standards (no windows on the property line side, height restricted at 15 feet through the middle of the gable, medium roof pitch, etc.).  It might be more difficult to take advantage of these zoning exceptions with a pre-fab container structure.  

Updated almost 3 years ago

Compared to finishing a basement, there's no question that a basement conversion would be less expensive than pouring a foundation and building/buying an accessory structure. For a basement conversion, you don't have the structural/enclosure costs of a new building.

@Dakota Mivshek

To add to Account Closed point, even with foundations a lot of lenders will not give financing for the shipping containers. It would work fine as adu the financing is the biggest thing, I personally have shipping containers as storage and with adding roofs and welding the containers to the foundation and adding perm electrical they still consider personal property. There was also a duplex on NE 42nd for sale that was made out of shipping containers and no one could could get financing for it it was a cash buyer. If they ever go to sell they have the SFR that they can still get financing it would have to appraise for what they want.

There are some add permits required to go this way and depending on the location of the SFR it could be costly to set the box, modular or shipping container.

Originally posted by @Derrick Aragon :

@Dakota Mivshek

To add to @Dani Z. point, even with foundations a lot of lenders will not give financing for the shipping containers. It would work fine as adu the financing is the biggest thing, I personally have shipping containers as storage and with adding roofs and welding the containers to the foundation and adding perm electrical they still consider personal property. There was also a duplex on NE 42nd for sale that was made out of shipping containers and no one could could get financing for it it was a cash buyer. If they ever go to sell they have the SFR that they can still get financing it would have to appraise for what they want.

There are some add permits required to go this way and depending on the location of the SFR it could be costly to set the box, modular or shipping container.

 Derrick, that's the place my partner's client had a pending offer in for like a month a year or so ago! Ultimately the client couldn't get financed and the deal fell through. That's how I discovered that banks think containers are personal property.  Small world.

@Derrick Aragon Account Closed Thank you both for the insightful information. I really feel like I learned a lot here! It'll help when speaking with the client and personally something I'll be looking into down the road when I can find a place of my own (which i'm trying to now!) . And when that happens i'll be in touch to speak more about stick built options or basement conversions. 

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