There is a lot of interest in using container homes as accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) or similar: small houses that are placed on the same lot as another single-family home. This practice is becoming more popular and prevalent for urban and near-urban homeowners.
The more traditional role of ADU’s is to increase the housing density of an area by offering long-term rental options at a lower price point than normally available in the market. However, using them as short-term rentals is a great alternative that a lot of readers have probably contemplated. These small housing units can be made a variety of ways, but containers are great options to explore.
In this interview, we spoke with Adele, who built two rental units on her property in the Atlanta area and has been enjoying the additional income and unique visitors for over two years. Her story is especially interesting because she hired a builder to handle the construction, and she shares some insight into how that choice made the most sense for her situation.
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My partner Ray and I have always been committed to Green Consumerism. We had a stack of books on our coffee table featuring eco-friendly homes, all of which we love.
Shortly after we moved to Atlanta, the builder who sold us our home, Jude Beckman, was doing some work on our house for us and picked up one of our books. We stood looking out on the meadow we were planting that my landscape architect, son-in-law, Curtis Alter had designed, chatting about what it would become and about the book Jude had in hand: The Box: Architectural Solutions with Containers by Sibylle Kramer.
Our conversation quickly turned to how easy it would be to house members of the homeless population in the City of Atlanta, using containers — an idea we continue to encourage the city to implement.
After our thinking about how much of a no-brainer that would be, replete with community organic garden and social services, he turned to me and said, “and you could put a couple in the back of the meadow and Airbnb them! My brother, Gabe is about to start a business, converting shipping containers!”
And with that, I texted Gabe Beckman and scheduled a meeting. We began to collaborate and his company Bolder Container Homes was born. Our units are Gabe’s first container builds (we lured him away from high-end bathroom remodeling) and we love them! I am a huge believer in reuse, and Atlanta had a number of shipping container yards, so containers just made sense.
Gabe began the build by doing most rough-in work at his property while escavating and pouring concrete piers at our home. Later, he hired a crane to place the roughed-in containers on the piers, and completed the finish work on site here with us. Gabe has since formed his container building company and now delivers finished products to folks.
We wanted to be involved in the project, so finishing the build on site allowed us to be more hands-on and collaborative. Honestly, the majority of the project was not really DIY — we hired a professional and jumped in to help and I’m glad we did it that way.
We were grateful to have a builder with so much integrity and it was fun to collaborate with him. It was super nice not to feel the vulnerability that’s so easy to feel with so many builders.
We used two 20-foot containers with floor areas of 144 square feet each. Concept development was quick and painless. Gabe met with us a couple of times to create a preliminary design and we tweaked things along the way, but we did not use an architect or engineer for the project. We decided to configure the containers in an ‘L’ but they are not attached to each other.
We chose one trip containers to minimize wear. That restricted choices in terms of color, but it meant that Gabe could dive right into cutting out doors and windows.
The planned usage as a short term rental totally drove the design. Had we been designing for actual living space, we would have done things like having a smaller door, a bigger kitchen, and using high-cube containers to give more storage.
We used the existing marine plywood as flooring and love the exposed screw heads and lettering on the floor (we simply sanded and finished it). We also opted not to paint the exterior, knowing that the factory coating is made to endure and we liked the look of the original lettering.
We insulated with closed cell foam. Whenever possible, we incorporated reclaimed/upcycled features, including the vanities (salvaged bead board and metal cabinets).
We already had the building site — the units were going in our backyard. Gabe worked on the units for two months, cutting out and installing doors, framing, windows, wiring, water lines, and closed cell insulation.
We really only encountered two issues during the project. The first was some water leakage above the windows and doors that came in after a downpour. This was remedied by welding on small roof overhangs.
The second issue was finding the units too airtight, which we addressed by adding adjustable vents under the floating beds. We have not noticed any loss of heating or cooling, as a result — the containers are really well insulated.
Overall, there was a lot of scavenging and looking for reclaimed materials and sort of getting things going, since these were Gabe’s prototypes — there was a learning curve and some experimentation involved prior to the containers getting here.
We paid for the project as we went along — first for the containers (Gabe found them, sent photos and bought them), then for construction costs over time.
Our container homes were approximately $30k each, delivered and sited. This doesn’t include the interior furnishings or patio area.
Many of our guests stay with us because they want to experience staying in a shipping container while others have a strong interest in building with containers (whether for their own dwelling or for a vacation rental). In some cases, the desire to build with containers was developed after staying with us.
The overall feedback from our guests has been really good, and we are super grateful.
We’ve been using the units as short term rentals for 2 years 2 months, and our occupancy rates are getting better and better. We host exclusively via Airbnb and typically have just a handful of free days a month between the two units, even in slow stretches. We have to talk Airbnb into adding ‘Shipping Container’ as a category under their Unique heading, first. Right now, we’re listed as “tiny”. [Editor’s Note: Discover Container’s Visit Section will help you find short term container rentals like Adele’s on Airbnb and other sites, since they usually don’t support searching for container homes]
I think we’ll be able to charge more, eventually. We haven’t gotten there, just yet. We have some plans for the exterior to expand the three-season living space, like adding a stock tank soaking pool for both units to share, a small shed roof, and screened in porches on the ends of each unit. We hope that we can then raise our rates a little to pay off the construction. Eventually, it should prove worthwhile, financially speaking.
Overall, we are very pleased with the project.
I can’t say enough about working with Gabe. It made all the difference to work with a kind, collaborative, respectful, creative, brilliant and talented builder. It makes me want to do it again!
Our two container homes are on Airbnb here:
What a great perspective from Adele on knowing the limits of your time and skills and choosing to use a professional for your container build. She shows that placing a container home (or in her case, two of them!) on an existing lot behind an existing home can be great fun AND a unique source of additional revenue. Let us know your thoughts on her project in the comments below.