Site selection for the container home in OKC

Step back in time with me to February 2014. I was fully a month back in Oklahoma after six months of travel, chasing meager income by welding and selling metal roses. As my desire to pursue a career as a metal artist waned with the revenue from it, I became more serious about developing a container home in OKC.

The first step was to select a site. At the time, cost was the most determining factor, as the build site you can afford makes a strong candidate for any project. Next, location (location, location…) played a role in my decision, but, having owned a house in Oakland from 2009 to 2013, I wasn’t as averse to what many Oklahomans would refer to as “bad” neighborhoods. Sure, there are criteria like school ratings and crime stats, but I don’t have children, and I’ve lived in high-crime areas much worse than what’s generally considered “bad” in OKC. For me, location was more about access to things I like (bars, mainly) and proximity to my local friends.

In the end, I chose a location in southeast OKC, near the intersection of Grand Boulevard and Shields Avenue. It was very affordable, tucked away on a dead-end street near some railroad tracks. The site actually met several LEED qualifications, and LEED certification interested me in the beginning (more on that some other time…).

The train doesn’t pass QUITE as often as compared to Elwood’s apartment, but…

The next step was to contact an old friend from Boy Scouts who had since become an architect and was, lo and behold, living in OKC! TO BE CONTINUED!

Mind the clickbait!

I mention in my previous post that there’re articles making fantastic claims about the cost of container development. My friend recently tipped me off to a link local radio personality Ferris O-Brien posted Wednesday on Facebook, which is as follows:

Yes, SOME containers cost $2,000, but would you really want to make them the basis of your project? The price for a more suitable unit, one that requires little if any additional welding or painting to make it job-ready, is more like $5,000, plus delivery, taxes, etc.
Yes, SOME containers cost $2,000, but would you really want to make them the basis of your project? The price for a more suitable unit, one that requires little if any additional welding or painting to make it job-ready, one that doesn’t have holes in it or rust or acid spilled on a floor that has to be replaced, is more like $5,000, plus delivery fees, taxes, site prep, etc.

Now, this article has been shared more than 340,000 times, according to the social media counters at the time of this post. The problem this creates is a false sense of affordability in the mind of the would-be owner. Make no mistake: The multi-unit homes in some of those pictures are million-dollar homes.

Posts like this are clickbait, meaning the headlines use half-truths and exaggeration to distort the truth into something we can’t resist clicking on because it sounds so fantastic. Please understand I don’t fault Mr. O’Brien for sharing this on his wall. It’s quite coincidental that I saw this on his wall and not somewhere else (although I have seen most of those images in the article). Posts like this seem fun and interesting, but ultimately they prey on our aspirations and should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt. I once read an article where a professional hacker put it like this: Credibility online doesn’t start at zero, it starts at negative 40.

Still, container-based structures do offer an alluring alternative to traditional building in terms of reduced lead times, durability, weather resistance, portability and sustainability. If one had the right arsenal of tools, heavy machinery, know-how and talent, then one could certainly leverage the RELATIVE affordability of used containers into a real cost-saving venture. Barring those conditions, High Cube Industries exists to bring the supply chains, skilled craftspeople, machinery operators, and knowledge base together for those seeking container development based in reality.

Strengths, weaknesses, and lemonade

Wikipedia’s article on container architecture, which is pretty good as far as Wiki articles go, lists several strengths and weaknesses for these structures. Some of the perceived weaknesses, like building permits, haven’t been an issue for me with the City of OKC, but something like humidity and the extreme highs and lows of our state’s weather could certainly challenge the success of the finalized product. Likewise, some of the strengths, such as durability, are indisputable when compared to lumber-based homes, while others, like labor and (especially) expense, remain subject to the complexity of an individual project.

In my case, the economic benefits of container development versus more traditional means remain to be seen, but I would caution that the articles proclaiming fantastic results on a shoestring budget likely omit vital components like land costs, permit fees, taxes, etc.

The entry concludes with a note about how the global economy’s shifting tides left US shores with a glut of unused containers. As manufacturing has moved overseas during the past decade, containers have kept arriving in US ports with diminishing rates of return. With container architecture, we can seize an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade while reaping the benefits of increased efficiency. USA! USA! USA!

It all started when…

I was travelling abroad during 2013 and noticed how much smaller the accommodations became the further east one goes. It struck me that pretty much the majority of the world lives in spaces Americans (and especially Oklahomans) would call “small.”

About the same time as those travels, I began to notice an increasing number of articles online about tiny homes. Through research on those I discovered container architecture. As my experiences in small spaces abroad mingled with the knowledge of this trend back home, the creation of an efficient, small, container-based dwelling began to really interest me.

So, since March 2014, I’ve been developing my own container home in Oklahoma City. Eventually, I hope to develop container-based projects for others as a business. At the very least, this blog aims to chronicle that process. At the most, it may offer an online platform for discussing container architecture and sustainable housing issues in general.

This is one of the container images that started it all. It was built in San Antonio, as a guest house behind an existing home. For more information: http://money.cnn.com/gallery/real_estate/2014/09/05/shipping-container-homes/5.html
This is one of the first container projects that inspired me, built in San Antonio as a guest house behind an existing home. Source: http://money.cnn.com/gallery/real_estate/2014/09/05/shipping-container-homes/5.html