DIY Costa Rica Container Homes

Case Studies

Chris and Shayna decided they weren’t happy with the direction their lives were headed in, so they made some big changes.  Shipping container construction enabled them to downsize their family home and build two short term rental units.  And a relocation to Costa Rica gave them tropical weather, beach access, and a desirable area for holiday rentals. It may seem extreme, but they knew what they wanted and their bold decision making has completely changed their lives for the better. Read our interview below to find out more about their new lives in Costa Rica as short term container home rental hosts.

What attracted you to shipping container construction?  How did hosting short term rentals become part of the plan?

My wife Shayna and I both worked in car sales at the same Toyota dealership in Kelowna, British Columbia. We worked long days and did not have enough home time with our two boys. We always wanted to move somewhere tropical and we just started seriously thinking about how we could do that.

We had good equity in our house so we thought, “Why not build a new smaller house and also some short term rentals somewhere warm?” We wanted to leave our overly busy life behind and figured that if we lived in a desirable tropical country that’s full of tourism, hosting holiday rentals would be good businesses.  We wanted to do something we are passionate about and create a great experience for our guests.

We watch a lot of HGTV and kept seeing things about container homes. We had also seen a feature in the local news back in Canada about a company that built container homes.  We liked how modern you can make them and how many different variations of space you can create. We also liked the renewable aspect of building with shipping containers and thought they would be something unique that we could rent out. Once we decided to use shipping containers we did not look at other building methods.

living room from kitchen

The clean, modern look that Chris and Shayna created in their rentals

We did some research into various places, with a focus on safety and accredited schools.  Everything kept pointing us to Costa Rica, so we decided to sell everything we owned (except for ten suitcases of personal items) and headed there! We hadn’t ever actually even visited the country before we arrived. We started off in travel mode, looking for the perfect beach town, and we fell in love with Samara.

samara-beach-sunset

The beautiful beach sunset that drew them to Samara

We bought our land in January 2018 and our house and two short term rental units were finished a few months later.

Tell us more about getting your container homes built

Once we decided to build in Samara, Costa Rica, we started looking for land, going with locals to find a deal. We had purchased our containers from a company in Costa Rica in November 2017 so once the land was ours in January 2018 we started building the foundation pieces for our house and the two rentals.

We built the house first over about 4.5 months, then immediately got to work on the two short term rentals which each took about 2.5 months to finish.

main bathroom

Unique bathroom design in the main home

We did as many DIY things as we could as it’s not as easy to find some of the design elements we wanted here in Costa Rica. I’ve always been a DIY type but it was mostly on cars and landscaping. Our one big experience with home construction came right before selling our house in Canada.  My dad and I finished out the basement to gain more in the sale of our house, which was a chance to learn new skills from my dad and get the confidence to try some construction here in Costa Rica. Even though my dad doesn’t work in construction we both put out heads together to figure out how to complete the basement.

In Costa Rica, on top of the DIY knowledge we’d gained over time, we also had Leo (the Swiss army knife of construction). We found Leo through Canadian friends which we met here in Samara. They have lived here for a while and we were impressed with the quality of their modern home they had built here.

main-house-framing

Some of Chris and Leo’s handiwork in the main house

Leo worked for a Canadian guy for around 16 years building houses in Costa Rica and learned all the trades from him as well as how to build up to Canadian standards. Both Leo and I just worked on stuff together for the most part.

Tell us about your designs

The design of our two short term rental homes are clean, modern, and bright with all the comforts and amenities that anyone would want on vacation like a small kitchen, fast internet, comfortable beds, AC and hot water. Each is made from a 40 foot containers, and we have given them each a theme so they have their own personality and character. Our main house has a similar design theme, it’s just a bit larger and made from two containers.

We chose to insulate with fiberglass batts so the cool air from the AC would stay in and the hot air would stay out. We also used special paint that reflects the heat away and makes the other side of whatever it is applied to much cooler. With 12,000 BTU AC units, the rentals cool down quickly and stay at a nice temperature. We also used small on-demand water heaters in each rental to provide hot water to our guests. These units are installed out of the way, under the kitchen counter, and don’t use much electricity, which is expensive in Costa Rica.

Fiberglass insulation in the main house (two containers wide)

We’ve always liked the look of concrete countertops (and concrete is cheap here!) and part of our modern design was including that element, which we knew we wanted to do from day one. It was a little harder to build them than we anticipated as we could not find really smooth plywood to use for the forms.  The countertops turned out a bit different then we had wanted but we still like the final product. Concrete countertops do take a lot of maintenance compared to other types (reapplying protective coatings, being careful about acids and oils that can stain, etc.) but we feel the trade-off is worth it.

concrete-countertops

Concrete countertops in the kitchen of one of the rental units

As mentioned, each rental unit is one 40 foot container with an area of 320 square feet. At first, we were thinking that only two people would be able to stay but we decided to put in sofa beds so groups of four can stay. Each unit has a large glass door framed out with steel to provided structure around the opening. We had the company we purchased the containers from cut the hole out and also make steel sliding doors that can cover the glass.

steel sliders

You can see how the corrugated steel that was cut out for the sliding glass door has been repurposed into a sliding steel cover

Our main, family house is built from two containers.  One unique design element we incorporated was framing out the small four-foot long area formed by the open end-doors of each container. We had the end-doors open and Shayna asked if there was a way to frame them out.  I said yes, we could use some extra material for walls and a roof, so we made a last-minute decision to change it. This was huge because we were able to have a bigger laundry closet and pantry plus we were able to make a larger closet in the master bedroom.

Getting two extra 4ft by 8ft areas by enclosing the end doors

Walk us through the process and timeline of your project.  What issues did you encounter and how did you resolve them?

We came up with our layout after spending time researching different possible floor plans and room orientations online, then playing with what we thought would work best. Our builds of both the main house and the two rental units all went really smooth.

The only real issue we encountered was getting permission from our neighbor to have our electricity meter on the edge of his land and run conduit along his property line. Once he gave us the ok we were able to have our electricity hooked up.

As mentioned, Leo was an integral part and a huge help to our build.  The main house took us about 4.5 months to build, with me (Chris) working six hours a day, five days a week and Leo working 55 hours a week. We hired a couple of extra helpers near the end as we had a production company come in and film our house for a Facebook Watch show called Most Incredible Homes. The rentals took about three months each which includes making the foundation pieces that they sit on.

foundation piers

Examples of the concrete piers built from culverts

The foundation pieces are actually concrete culverts used for directing water under roads here. The rentals sit on 15-inch diameter pieces that are one meter in length and are sticking about one foot out of the ground. We had the guys dig down and pour a flat concrete slab for them to sit, then fill the inside of each culvert with solid concrete. I had Leo make steel plates with six pieces of rebar welded to the undersides to stick into the wet concrete.  When the concrete piers hardened, the plates were secure and we welded the containers to the steel plates.

What was the cost of your container home?

Our main home is made out of two containers and it cost us around $80,000 total. Each of the two rentals is made out of a single 40-foot container and cost about $30,000 each. Our prices include the cost of paying Leo and the other helpers we used along the way, plus all the furniture and appliances.

Living area of the main house

Labor is definitely cheaper here, but the workers work very hard in crazy heat so we liked to surprise them with cold cervezas (beers) at the end of some days. We found that appliances, furniture, and tile were less then we were expecting but insulation was more expensive ($80.00 a bag).

Tell us about the guests you’ve had and your general experience hosting a short term rental in a container home?

In the last eight months, we have had a variety of different guests from single travelers to couples to families with babies. Everyone has been really great with the exception of a couple of groups but that is normal and it wasn’t anything major. We’ve met people from all over the world that love our beach town of Samara here in Costa Rica and they all want to come back. We have all 5-star reviews and everyone has thoroughly enjoyed their stay here in so many ways. Everyone is always surprised by how big the containers feel inside.

We feel we can have a higher nightly rate as our containers are well sealed, modern and comfortable compared the traditionally-built rentals here in Costa Rica.

rental-bathroom

View through the pocket door into the bathroom of one rental unit, plus a partial view of the bedroom

Our first guests who stayed with us have now bought the land beside us and are going to have us help them make their home out of two shipping containers. They stayed with us to make sure they liked the feel of living in a container home and we have had a few other guest come stay with us because they too want to live in a container home.

We are very happy with how our home and our two short term rental units have turned out. Our vision has come to life and we enjoy hosting people in our unique rentals.  Beacuse of where we live, some months are slower than others, but this is also our first year. December to end of March we were fully booked, April was about half booked and now we are into May.

We have our rentals listed on several websites like Booking.com and Tripadvisor, but we get a majority of our bookings on Airbnb with some people contacting us from watching our YouTube Channel as well.

What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you and find out more?

We’re active online with our website, YouTube Channel, Instagram, and Facebook.

You can find our rental units on AirBnb and VRBO below:

 

Our thanks to Chris and Shayna for pulling back the curtain on their container home and rental units. There is something really inspiring about meeting people who not only changed their housing but their lives, and have found happiness, adventure, and financial success.

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