When you think about beautiful homes, you often also think about beautiful locations. Jarad and Kristy’s unique container house in scenic Southwest Utah is in an awesome geographic area AND has unique design qualities in abundance.
From the novel exterior cladding to the distinctive, staggered stacking, the exterior of the home definitely catches your eye. And the open interior is designed and furnished with a professional touch that hides a very interesting fact: their family built it almost entirely themselves!
Read below to hear from Jarad about designing, building, and operating this shipping container home as a short term rental.
We live near lots of wonderful national parks that are destinations for many people. For instance, it’s about a 30-minute drive to the East entrance of Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park is about a 50-minute Drive.
We also have many other amazing things to do in Southern Utah. Destinations like Corral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, The Wave in Coyote Buttes, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
As a result of all the tourists in the area, we thought it would be a good idea to offer a unique place to stay. There really isn’t anything like Envase Casa around the area.
Our house makes it feel as if you’re not in shipping containers. We had no prior experience with short term rentals, but we decided to take a leap of faith and build a house we had always dreamed of.
We have always liked the container house look. Years ago, we saw one that was just two containers put together and after that, we wanted to make one.
But when it came down to it, we did consider other options like a straw bale house or an adobe house with our homemade adobe bricks.
After we considered the other options, we decided to stick with the original idea of a container house. The decision made sense because for two reasons: we like the way container homes look, and I enjoy making things out of metal. So, it was a good fit.
A side benefit was the security provided by shipping containers. During the early stages of the build, we were able to keep supplies and tools locked up inside the containers (the fact that we lived close by also helped with peace of mind). Later on during the interior finish-out, we purchased a 20-foot container to hold everything so it wasn’t in the way.
We did almost all of the work ourselves. It wasn’t so much a decision as just the only option in our situation. We couldn’t afford to pay a contractor to build it for us, so if we wanted it, we’d have to do it.
Luckily, I’m kind of a jack of all trades. My wife and I came up with the original design, poured the footings, built the stem wall, welded the container together, cut out the openings, framed the walls, installed the plumbing, painted the interior/exterior, and decorated.
The kids were a huge help as well, doing everything from staking out the foundation with me, to compacting the footings, to laying out and tying the rebar. They also helped a ton on cleanup work.
We did have limited outside help on a few things. First was the drywall. We paid contractors to install the gypsum board and joint compound (mud) because it would have taken me a while to do it myself.
I also had a little bit of help on the electrical wiring as well from my friend who is an electrician. While I’m familiar with electrical work, it was good to have him assist me with all the code compliance requirements.
The last area where we had a few helping hands was finishing the outside concrete patios, thanks to a few friends from my work.
For the duration of the project, I worked full-time at my day job and built the container home in my free time. This equated to about 5-6 hours after work and 12-14 hours on weekend days. It took us a little over a year and a half to finish it with that schedule.
When I originally started the project, I was confident that I could finish it. I had pretty much built it in my mind and knew what I wanted it to look like in the end.
However, early in the project, I had a realization. I had stacked up all the containers stacked and was finishing up welding them together, and it was a cold, December night in Utah at about 10 pm.
It finally hit me – this was going to take more time and effort than I originally thought. But by that time, I was fully committed with a foundation built and six containers stacked together and welded. So, I just decided to push on and finish it.
We knew that the house we were going to build would be one of a kind. No one had or has one like it for hundreds of miles.
We wanted to stick with more of a contemporary, modern design. We like the feel of metal and wood. We also like the idea of something that’s durable: It isn’t going to fall down or get blown over, and it’s going to last a long time.
We used six 40-foot containers making the house 1,920 sqft. The house has two equal-size floors and includes four bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Living areas are included on both levels, though the first floor is more for dining while the second is more for relaxing.
Obviously the most striking part of the design is how the second floor is cantilevered out over the first floor. This provides us with a covered porch on the first floor and a raised deck on the second floor.
For insulation, we used a couple of different techniques. First, we spray foamed the bottom of all the containers to insulate the floors. For the walls and ceilings though, we used blown-in fiberglass insulation.
We did this by installing netting on top of the studs and rafters, creating a cavity to hold the insulation before the drywall was installed. As an additional measure to reduce thermal bridging, I furred out the walls so none of the 2x4s were touching the metal of the container. This way, we had insulation between the wall studs and the container as well.
However, it was challenging to get enough insulation between the ceiling and the top of the container. In hindsight, I wish I would have used spray foam insulation for the ceiling but it was just too expensive for me to do at the time.
We actually didn’t need to use an engineer for the design, though we did use an architect for a few things. The original design I made was our starting point, but the architect drew it in 3D on his computer so we could quickly experiment with colors and material changes, like stucco versus wood or brick versus stone.
Having the architect help us with the finishes was really nice so we could finalize the outside design that we liked before we actually built it. He also had some other great ideas, like offsetting the middle container on the second story by two feet and adding awnings to the side.
I told the architect when we met that I didn’t want people to feel like the home was too boxy (like two shoeboxes stacked). His changes really helped to provide some texture and depth to the outside of the house, but we pretty much kept the inside the same as my original design.
We didn’t have any big problems getting our building permit. I have good, working relationships with the officials including the building inspector, so that made things easier. We worked together closely to ensure that everything I did in the house was either up to code or better than code.
The only change the building officials made was to our foundation. Originally I was going to just to pour a monolithic foundation and set the containers directly on it.
However, the building department wanted a 30-inch deep footing to account for the house being two-story. I decided to use a 30-inch deep perimeter footing which created a crawl space underneath the home. In hindsight, I’m actually glad that they changed this because my crawl space gives me access underneath the house if anything should happen.
The cantilevered overhang didn’t require any special permits to or approvals from our small town. I just worked with the local building inspector, showing him what I was doing as I built it. I did put some extra structural reinforcement in the walls to support the overhang and the roof.
We purchased the land a few years before building anything on it, so I’ll start the timeline from when we actually started pursuing the container home. Remember that I had a full-time job and was working on this project at night and on the weekends.
July 2017 – We started thinking about building and figuring out how we could do it financially
August 2017 – We created a conceptual design then we took it to an architect and by the end of August, we had building plans and an outside design
September 2017 – We got our building permit and I was digging footings and pouring cement
October 2017 – We had the first three containers set on our foundation and welded together
November 2017 – We had all six containers set and were working on welding them together
December 2017 – We continued welding the containers together and cutting out the inside walls, building supports and cutting the hole in the floor for the spiral staircase (My wife was in an car accident and broke her neck, so my priority was to install the stairs so she could go upstairs if she wanted)
January 2018 to March 2018 – Worked on welding the floors together and added bracing and supports
April 2018 to May 2018 – Cut out the containers for the windows and doors
June 2018 to July 2018 – Framed in the walls and ceilings
August 2018 to September 2018 – Roughed in the electrical and plumbing
October 2018 – We built the outside deck and worked on the exterior around the deck including painting, and insulated the walls and ceiling
November 2018 to December 2018 – Installed drywall and painted the inside walls
January 2019 to February 2019 – Finished the floors (sanding and polyurethane coating) and tiled the showers
March 2019 to April 2019 – Finished up the outside of the house i.e. siding, finishing up the awnings, and soffits under the awnings and under the 2nd story overhang
May 2019 to June 2019 – Installed cabinets, finished the inside of the house, furnished the house (Kristy did an incredible job on decorating!), installed concrete around the outside of the house, and landscaped
June 20th, 2019 – We had a public open house!
Most people are surprised when they first go inside the house. We often hear comments like, “This doesn’t feel like a container house,” or, “It doesn’t feel like a container, it feels like a house.”
We’ve had a great time hosting guests in our shipping container house. As of right now, we haven’t been able to charge a premium for our rental, but we are hoping to get our prices up as we become more popular. We have been staying busy with good occupancy but we are priced about the same as a traditional home in this area.
Considering that we are new and still gaining exposure, we feel that we are doing really well. On the economics of it, time will tell how good the return on investment will be. However, we certainly think that the financial return will be much greater given that we built this mostly by ourselves. If we would have had someone else build it, it would have cost considerably more and greatly extended the time needed to pay ourselves back.
We have a guest book that people can fill out during their stay, and we have lots of people say that after staying in our home they are either are more interested in container houses or would like to build one!
It’s hard to say what’s more impressive: the incredible design, fabrication, and furnishing that are seen in their home, or the fact that they built it themselves. A big thank you to Jarad and Kristy for sharing the almost two-year journey that took them from container home dreamers to container homeowners.
If you love the outdoors, a trip to the outdoor wonders of Utah is definitely a must-do, and their home is certainly a must-stay while you’re in the area. And remember, no matter where you are or where you’re going, make sure to check out our Visit tool to see hundreds of other container home rentals around the world!
Let us know what you think about Jarad and Kristy’s container house in the comments below!