To most people, a 20-foot shipping container belongs on a cargo vessel, holding goods and materials. To Anuj Datta, it’s become a form of rental income. While condominiums and high-rise apartments are some of the hottest commodities, container homes are taking the city by storm. “They’re definitely the future for Houston,” Datta says. Datta is part of the growing container home trend. These steel buildings, also popping up in the form of restaurants and other hip businesses, such as the Segundo Coffee Lab in the East End and Wi+CoWork in Midtown, are now catching all the attention because they are showing up more as residences. In fact, the global market for container homes is estimated to grow to more than $73 million by 2025. While container homes are no new idea, the demand for shipping containers has skyrocketed as more countries are looking to go green and incorporate more environmentally friendly initiatives.
Here in Bayou City, a handful of the eco-friendly, minimal abodes have sprouted throughout the Third and Fifth Ward areas. Residents can’t help but stop and stare at the unique structures.
The homes are built from out-of-use 20-foot or 40-foot steel shipping containers (the ones you typically see on 18-wheelers) that serve as the foundations to these modular homes; it’s a way of giving the massive rectangular boxes new life. The customizable aspect, coupled with affordability, made designing a container home a no-brainer for Datta. After getting approval from the city of Houston, Datta chose to have the containers pre-welded and prefabricated in a shop. He then utilized a crane to place each of the refurbished cargo haulers within his EaDo neighborhood, transforming them into a short-term rental property. Datta includes the eclectic property, has been consistently booked for months, and has more than 1,000 guests who’ve already reserved his tiny home. He attributes it to travelers wanting to experience a form of charming — and tasteful — escapism. The idea to build a custom container home came from Datta’s desire to reuse something in a unique way. “They’re modular, and we wanted to repurpose it for a different use,” he explains.
What adds to the uniqueness of container homes is the construction. Owners can customize the architecture by stacking, welding together and abstract-positioning the shipping containers. Much like regular homes, container homes are fully functional, complete with your commonplace amenities like a living room, kitchenette, and insulation for cooling and heating.
“Container homes are cool because you can do so many different things with them,” Datta says.
His container home living area measures roughly 450 square feet, the size of the average studio apartment. “We decided to go the route of not welding separate ones together, but keeping them separate, so that they can function in separate units,” he includes. The home is separated between three independent units, with two containers cantilevered over a third, where the two second-floor containers are supported by steel beams.
Albeit small, container homes can set you back $10,000 to $35,000 to build, and they also come with the cost of obtaining city permits, inspections and paying for land ownership. Some may see more value in building a regular house, but where these cargo units may have single-family dwellings beat is simply in price. A container home in the Houston area—depending on design and labor—starts at $31,450. While some container homes remain modest, the growing concept has seen roomy, luxurious multi-level spaces that can reach six-figure values. With consideration to the ongoing pandemic and affordability at the top of many people’s lists, the market for container homes is rapidly growing and expected to increase in the coming years, according to real estate experts.
As a rental property owner, Datta says it’s nice to be able to offer something unique to people who want to get away, but stay inside city limits. “It brings something different to the table,” he concludes.