Bayfield man turns heads with shipping container homes
BY LISA B. POT
Driving by the container home Brent Hillier of Hillier Contracting Inc., is building in Bayfield, I see two cars, two cyclists and one truck driver slow down to take a look.
It’s a curiousity. Made of eight shipping containers, the upscale home is attracting lots of attention.
“Just five? That’s nothing,” says Hillier, a resident of Bayfield, who hopes to establish himself as a shipping container home contractor in the area. “There’s been so much interest that sometimes it’s been hard to get work done.”
Hillier understands the fascination because he’s super keen about the container home concept himself. He sees them as the ideal for home design from a material, recycling, and design standpoint.
Shipping containers are so strong they can withstand typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and even earthquakes. The Corten steel the containers are made of won’t rust or corrode, is mold resistant and is adaptive to most insulation.
The supply is almost endless as they continue to arrive from China and stay here, since our exports don’t match our imports. Statistics predict there are 1.5 to two million empty containers in North America that will never be reused after being imported from China with the goods they carry.
Hillier purchased eight, ranging in price from $3,000 to $6,000. The most common size is eight by forty feet, which is the size he bought.
Multi-coloured and metal, they have an architectural appeal but can a house made of them be attractive as well as efficient?
Hillier says it is possible.
“When I decided to get into this I thought there were two options. I could build a cheap house, a kind of do-it-yourself kind of home. Or, I could build a higher end, environmentally friendly home,” explains Hillier.
He chose the latter, hoping it will showcase what can be done with the containers.
The shipping containers are perched four on four, in a cantilevered design. They were insulated and covered with a heavy zinc primer, although he is certain lead paint isn’t a worry. The home is just under 4,000 feet and has three floors.
The roof and inside of each container was cut out, a time-consuming job that was done on-site.
The main floor contains the bedrooms and main bathrooms, while the upper floor, with its wall of windows facing into the bush, features the living room and kitchen.
“It definitely doesn’t look like a subdivision home but it does blend with the area,” believes Hillier.
Inside, there is very little evidence this is a container home. The walls are dry-walled and almost none of the corrugated metal look that dominates the exterior is evident in the interior.
As part of his environmentally conscious approach, the steps going up to the main level are made from the ash trees cut down on the site. All the lights are LEDs and the house is designed for passive solar energy.
The house is so strong, it could hold four to five loaded tractor trailers on its roof, says Hillier.
The disadvantage of using shipping containers as the building material are engineering issues, according to Hillier. Local engineers don’t have a lot of experience using shipping containers as a building frame so there were misunderstandings about the kind of materials that needed to be used, Specifically, the heavy-duty posts holding up the levels.
“I think they were over cautious and that costs me money when they called for $1,000 posts that could hold 127,000 pounds of weight. Another engineer recalculated that the posts only needed to hold 6,700 pounds and they cost $20 a piece,” explains Hillier.
The foundation for the home was poured in October of 2014 so construction has taken a while. But Hillier is pleased with how it has turned out.
“It’s an amazing house,” he says. “The upstairs has a real New York loft feel.”
It certainly generates a lot of curiousity so he made plans to hold an open house this month so everyone can see the structure up close.
Then he has to decide whether to keep it (he and his brother are funding it) or sell it. Or expand on his goal to build more container homes to create retail properties in the area, pending approval from the municipality of Bluewater.
There are other potential opportunities in the works. He’s been in talks with a production company to potentially create a reality television show focusing on designer container homes.
For now, his focus is on completing the final details on the container home on Cameron Street in Bayfield. Take a look. You won’t be the first.