Asher and her husband Eric wanted to build a home for their family in Uganda but were worried that a shipping container house might be too big of a project to tackle. When the stars aligned and an empty container presented itself, they jumped in with both feet. Midway through the project, their plans shifted and they ended up with a container home that they use for short term rentals much of the time.
Like many of our interviews, Asher’s story is anything but ordinary. For instance, it’s not often you know the exact cargo that your shipping container was used to carry before you made it into a home. Continue reading to find out how they found themselves in Africa, what was originally in their shipping container, and why their container home ended up being a blessing to their family and community.
We started thinking about building a home for our family in Uganda several years ago. We were tired of paying rent and wanted to own something we could pass down to our children. At first, we thought about building a regular home using traditional brick and mortar construction. We had heard about shipping container homes on Instagram, but it seemed a little too lofty a goal for a modest family in Uganda.
About the same time that we were starting to seriously evaluate our housing options, a 40-foot shipping container became available through the organization I started. Sole Hope is based in Jinja, Uganda and we offer hope, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief. We have 60 local staff members that include shoemakers, tailors, doctors, nurses, educators, and social workers to name a few. Our organization specifically works in the area of “jiggers“, a crippling foot parasite (not to be confused with “chiggers“).
Thanks to donations, Sole Hope received a shipping container full of medical supplies and materials from overseas shoe cutting parties. After arriving in Uganda, the container served as a storage building, housing the items temporarily until we could utilize them. Once we had put everything to use and emptied the container, it was just sitting empty on the organization’s land and we realized that we could use it for our home project.
My husband and I are always up for a challenge, and we thought we could add our own twist to a container home. We especially loved the durability of a container as well as how secure we could make it. We built our container home ourselves with the help of some local friends. It wasn’t a hard decision since we had built homes before and were very comfortable with DIY projects. I wouldn’t say we knew we were going to be successful, but we were both okay with the risk since we were so passionate about the possibility of what could come of our dream.
Our container home is somewhat of a hybrid because we added on a back area made out of brick and cement that is the same square footage as the container. The home has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and is approximately 640 square feet (However, 100 square feet of that is used for storage and is off limits to renters.)
We also added a very large front porch that adds some outside living space. The container sits about four feet off the ground on raised and reinforced concrete slabs at each end, which gives us a better view (but came at an increased cost).
Both the traditionally-constructed back half and the container-based front half of our home are uninsulated. We are located in a tropical area where the temperatures are around 75-85°F (24-30°C) year-round. However, our hilltop location gives access to a gentle breeze most days, so the key to staying cool is keeping the doors and windows open (and occasionally using fans). Thanks to the front porch, you can have all the doors open in even the most torrential downpour and still not get rain inside the home. It is a beautiful mix of outdoor/indoor living.
The entire design was made by me, without the assistance of any professionals like architects or engineers. Due to our location, there isn’t a lot of regulatory scrutiny for things like permits and plans. My husband just had to follow the plans I created.
During the early part of the project, our intention was that the container would be used as our family home, not a rental house. However, as we were building, we realized that we were going to be away from our home more than we originally thought and would have the opportunity to generate some rental income. We now live part of the year in Uganda while the remaining time is spent in the United States. When we’re in Uganda, we live in the container home, but if we’re not in the country we rent it out.
We did make a few changes to the design in order to help the container better serve as a short term rental. For instance, we bought a Schlage smart lock so we could give each new renter a code and then erase it after they left. Not having to exchange keys is just one step to ensure renters have an enjoyable and safe stay in our home. We also picked higher-end features that matter to people interested in short term rentals, such as an awesome, high pressured, hot shower!
It took me about a month to solidify the design for the home. We already owned the land, but we had to wait for a little over a month to get water and electricity in place. We actually used a generator at the start of construction until the utilities were ready. We also had to hire a crane to move the container in place. Once we finally got started, the actual construction only took a month and a half. My husband worked on the home for eight hours a day, seven days a week.
We paid cash for our home so thankfully we did not have to wait for any funding approvals or other money delays. We did have a strict budget to work with though.
The total cost to complete our home was around $30,000 which includes the price of the land and an expense of several thousand dollars to run power and water out to the land.
One misconception we originally had was that building with a container would be cheaper than building a traditional home. It turns out that this was untrue for us, but I’ve come to realize this is a very common belief for a lot of people.
However, some of the increased cost was due to the decisions we made. For instance, before we had electricity working onsite, we chose to pay for a generator to power the tools that allowed us to weld and make cuts. Additionally, raising the house off the ground on the concrete risers was an additional expense that wasn’t technically necessary. Those are things that might not pertain to every design and to every person building a container home of their own. And its certainly true that a traditional house does not have the same durability as a container home, which might be an important consideration for some people.
We have had guests from all over the world. For one thing, Jinja is very much a tourist area that draws in people. It is where the source of the Nile River starts and flows upward to Egypt (providing class 5 rafting along the way) and is home to a beautiful garden where Gandhi’s ashes are spread. It’s also a central starting point for safaris.
However, many of the people who come to our area have been serving for organizations and ministries and are on a limited budget. We wanted to cater to them too since we have been in that position…wanting a wonderful place to stay without having a huge pocket to pull from.
Understanding both groups of guests, we wanted to provide something that was clean, modern and relaxing with attention to detail while still being affordable. Providing a restful place for everyone is at the top of our list. I do think our location and price are two huge driving factors that bring people to the Container Haus. If we were in a different location, I think we could charge a premium because we do have an amazing home.
As far as the other motivations of our guests, I am not sure how many of them stay with us because it is a container home versus just because it is an awesome home in general. I do know that we’ve been occupied 90% of our open dates since we made it a short term rental seven months ago, and we’re only hosting on Airbnb at the moment.
We are in love with our home and hope others will be too when they stay there. For us, the home is a worthwhile investment because it is a place we love and also a place we know has brought rest and rejuvenation to several people.
The best way for people to get in touch with us is through our Instagram or Facebook pages, which both have direct links for booking on Airbnb.
If you like Asher’s container home rental, let us know in the comments below.