Shipping container construction in Miami

10 Replies

Hello BP community, I am curious about using shipping containers to build a small home in my backyard. I live on a large lot, and would like to add an in-laws quarter. I like the idea of shipping container because it seems less expensive than traditional methods, and great for hurricanes. Does anyone have any experience, and know of costs, or companies that can help do it? Thank you!

Once you have obtained the shipping contains you calculate you will need the rest of the construction is pretty standard, ceilings, flooring, insulation, walls, plumbing, electrical etc. 

What is unique about working with shipping containers is that they are units. You will proably need the use of a crane to move the units in place. You can either have the construction all done on site of you can rent a warehouse space somewhere and take a more factory approach to much of the interior construction and simply bring the units on site and fit them in place plus fastening everything together. You will want to be working with an architect and structural engineer. 

How much under normal construction costs you will achieve depends on your planning , strategy, and process for  finsihed product. Most definitely shipping container contruction time can be significantly reduced. 

One particular savings can be realized because foundation cost can be significantly lower as shipping containers can be set in place and even stacked on top of earh other readily since they have already been engineered for that. 

However one cost most people cannot avoid is the engineering costs of creating open spaces as most shipping containers are not more than 8 feet wide in the interior, then when they are joined to create a residential living space the units much be welded together. 

You can search out your own sources but if you like I can design a residential unit for you using shipping containers. I am an architectural designer with over 30 years experience as a previously licensed building contractor. I am sort of semi retired now, but still involved in designing residential projects and in fact in the middle of my own residential development, a small one not more than 10 units, one, a mansion with a swimming pool and private tennis court and the other 9 units to be 3 bedroom 2 bath units stacked on top of each other using shipping containers. 

One trade which you will need to hire that normal residential projects do not is a qualified welder. Even if you have a project designed for you the design still needs to be brought to a structural engineer for structural calculations and structural drawings in order to present your project to your local building department for approval. You might also think to search for a local energy consultant or engineer as I am sure your local building department will also ask for that. 

One thing I would recommend is that you find a supplier for a product called, " perma-therm" It is an insulating paint like product you spay on the outside of your unit and supposedly will bounce off or reflect about 90%+ of all the heat hitting your unit. Shipping containers contain a lot of metal which is known to absorb heat very efficiently and long lived. You do not want people in your unit to feel like they are in an oven. 

Be careful about selecting used units as they are frequently spayed with pesticides especially on the floor area and these chemicals can be harmful to human beings who are exposed to them long term. I deal directly with manufacturers of shipping containers who will produce shipping containers to my specifications. 

There is one other well known investor on Biggerpockets and his name is Jay Hinrichs. You might contact him and consult with him. I believe he also knows about this subject and has connections in this field.

Hi @Martha Bueno , The project is very doable, I've been working on this for a while with one ongoing project in Florida as well.

Also like Matthew said above, please check with your local government first. 

Once it's okay, there are many options for your container homes. I've been working with a container manufacturing company in Vietnam and they could do the home 90% finish for you included bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. Some items you may want to buy in the US though for warranty such as a microwave or stove, etc. I have one of their current design as well which look quite nice and I would share with you offline (contains of 3 20' containers). 

Other things you want to do some research on are having the unit transport from the port to your home, setting up the foundation and install the unit. An experienced developer could help you with that for sure. 

The container manufacturing company will build the home from scratch so it will be new containers (avoid many old container issues that you may see). Also, you have options to customize which is nice. 

If you don't want to deal with transporting and working hands-on, there are many companies that prebuild the whole thing and ship it to you. ( or - I've worked with CargoHome before as well and they are great). This option will be more expensive though :) 

There are some minor differences in building techniques to consider if you're going to hire a contractor to finish it out on site.

I've done about a half a dozen for a company in Carlsbad, NM.  

1. Water intrusion is your biggest enemy.  Welding flat stock metal into all openings before windows and doors are installed is the biggest factor I learned.  I originally just installed flashings and caulked them (with corresponding tabs to accommodate for water flow.

2. Additional measures to account for standing water on the top of the conex should be considered.  Conex's are known to have standing water sit in areas in between the corrugated ridges on and consequently, over time they can rust through.  Not an issue for you if you're going to sell soon, but may want to consider that if you live in a wet climate and will be responsible for long term maintenance.  Elastomeric coatings are used frequently out here (in NM) . It comes in a paint bucket and can be applied with a brush and roller or sprayed on (you need a specialty sprayer don't run it through your typical household sprayer).  You'll want to coat it every couple of years but that is the most economical option in my opinion.

3.  Consider how you're going to build out the interior walls.  If you're going install drywall or paneling, wood 2x4's will accomodate plumbing and electrical.  If you use metal framing or something different your electrical will need to be encased in some sort of conduit (shielded armor is a flexible version that should work).  Of course that's assuming you're pulling permits.

4.  The ones we built were essential break rooms and field offices intended to be semi permanent.  We used wood paneling (3/8" T1-11) on the interior.  It's much more durable than drywall as the interiors would potentially taking a lot of abuse (can't put your boot through wood paneling).  As such we the rough openings for doors and windows we built so that we could remove the windows/doors without having to remove the wall paneling (Think drywall around a window that would be cut out in order to remove and replace a window.).  In the event a window pane was broken, we would be able to come in, remove the trim, unscrew the window, install new and then replace trim without cutting out wall paneling and replacing.  

5. Considered heating and cooling unit placement.  1st consideration to this is egress.  If you install a window unit then another window must be free for someone to exit in the event of a fire.  Second is if you are installing in the side of the structure, consider not installing near a pathway where someone will hit their head or a car door will hit it when parked.

There's a couple companies that I know of (and a TON more that I don't) that sell pre fabbed versions.

Xcaliber out of Graham, TX and a new one that is starting up out of Las Cruces, NM is underbox USA.  

If ya'll have questions you can message me here on BP

@Jesse Ramirez  

Anything is scaleable. Question is how much runway you have. 

Manufacturing conex's are just that, manufactured. All states regulate a little differently, but suffice it to say that you will need to get some certifications from your state to be able to manufacture AND DISTRIBUTE said product (and if you want to cross state lines you'll have to do it again). - In this case your advantage is being local. Freight/distribution quality control of site installation is much easier. Your disadvantage is affordable labor. You're competing with companies like @Minh Dong out of China and UnderboxUSA out of Mexico. 

The out of country guys have a lot more infrastructure costs to gain steam (national engineer stamps for all 50 states, federal inspectors ensuring products meet US standards, etc) but once they're here and distribution network is running that freight train is moving. 

The cost to make a couple and sell them is super easy. If you wanted to scale a fully fledged business the red tape isn't insurmountable but let's just say it gets "real" pretty quick because you're basically a manufactured housing provider. 

This is all assuming you want to be a manufacturer, which in my opinion, is how you can scale production.

You could essentially be a contractor builder that specialized in this niche and did it all on site, but in my opinion that only works in an area where home prices far outpace the cost to build them. For example: buying a home will cost $300,000 but someone can buy a "tiny home conex" for $150,000. That's the model I've seen working in Austin, TX. 

Option 2 doesn't work in my market because home prices are far cheaper and space is more plentiful so people aren't competing to be in the same area and willing to sacrifice housing comforts like not sleeping on a twin bed. LoL. 

It's an emerging market for sure.  Anything is possible and there's people doing it. 

Hope my ramblings help. 🤣

Is probably cheaper to buy an old RV that can be use a in-laws quarter 

In my experience after doing a few projects with containers, it does not work out to be cheaper than traditional site built housing and it comes with a lot of constraints. You still have to build a foundation, connect utilities etc. I would also be very concerned in your climate about condensation and heat gain. I wrote this piece about the problems with modified shipping container housing a while back:

Some people have done gorgeous container homes that work without any problems, but they didn't necessarily save money. 

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