The real estate listing for 2844 Dryades St. in Central City makes a powerful selling point.
“New construction!” the ad reads. “Would you like to live in the strongest home built?”
The three-bedroom, two-bath house was built using four recycled steel shipping containers, which cost about $2,500 a piece.
“It’s something that’s been a passion of mine for a while,” said architect Corey Newell, who designed and built the home, which has 8-foot-high ceilings and about 1,280 square feet of living space. “I’ve always had an eco-friendly, sustainable kind of mindset.”
Converting old shipping containers into temporary or permanent homes, offices or stores is not a new idea, but it has only recently emerged in practice in New Orleans, according to Newell and others who follow local architectural trends.
Perhaps most notably, Grow Dat Youth Farm’s two-acre sustainable farm in City Park has its offices, teaching kitchen space, storage and other features in seven retrofitted shipping containers.
Even this year’s edition of the annual New Orleans Home and Garden Show featured a number of former shipping containers that were converted for daily uses, including a child’s playhouse and a guest house.
“We had a huge interest in it,” said Mike Zalaznik, the show’s general manger. “People were very, very curious about it.”
To enthusiasts like Newell, 31, the cargo containers are a natural fit for a city like New Orleans. Hundreds of thousands of the units pass through the local port each year. A handful of area companies sell used containers, and there may be 1,000 available for sale at any given time.
Not long after his house hit the market, Newell picked up a new client who was impressed by the design.
“I want to be the guy who’s kind of known for (building with containers) in this region,” he said. “I’m just surprised that we were so slow to catch onto it.”
For home builders, the containers have some inherent advantages, like improved energy efficiency and durability, he said.
But anyone expecting to reap major savings by building with containers may be surprised. The costs involved with building his house were comparable to a traditional wooden home, he said — a fact he attributed in part to using high-end, energy-efficient appliances like a tankless water heater and ductless air conditioning units. There’s also spray foam insulation between the container’s walls and drywall.
Newell believes he will get the cost down once he’s building the homes at a regular clip. His first effort took nearly six months to finish, and he’s confident he can cut that to four.
Hiring a contractor to handle the work would likely cost about $120 per square foot for “a decent build-out,” he said, similar to a traditional wooden home. Handling the work on his own cut it to about $110 per square foot, he said, which was $15 more than he had initially estimated.
“My ultimate goal is to really get into developing these things on a larger scale,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to the point where we can do some retail storefronts, some apartment buildings. Just keep building them on a larger scale to where they become an architectural norm.”
The Dryades Street home, which is listed for $250,000, has drawn some interest, but Newell speculates that some potential buyers may be hindered by financing issues, which could slow any deal.
Next up for Newell: a seven-container home slated for the Irish Channel, which is still in the permitting stages.
The buyer, Kicker Kalozdi, spent months looking for a home to buy. After catching a glimpse of Newell’s Central City property, he was hooked.
“I immediately knew this was something that can work for me,” said Kalozdi, 31, who plans to use the Irish Channel building as a home and a work space for DamnDog, his line of high-end leather and canvas bags. “It’s not going to work for everyone, but there’s enough crazy people like me living in the city that want something different.”
Meanwhile, as local officials search for creative ideas to bolster the city’s stock of affordable housing, some advocates are looking toward cargo containers as a potential solution — an idea that’s gained traction in cities like Los Angeles and Seattle.
Lou Anne White, a longtime advocate for the homeless, is developing a project to use old containers for housing in the Lower 9th Ward. She is working with Propeller, a business incubator that promotes ventures seeking to tackle pressing issues facing New Orleans.
White plans to use 10 containers. She estimates that her concept will cost about $590,000 to implement, including buying the land. She’s working to get nearby residents involved in the process.
“For $2,500 to $3,000, you get a structure that has a roof, walls, a floor,” she said, “and depending on how much money you want to spend on the conversion, there’s so many different possibilities in terms of customizing it.”
Seth Rodewald-Bates, 32, a landscape architect, got to work on his shipping-container home in Carrollton about four years ago, handling most of the work himself and with help from family and friends. He bought his containers at Boasso America in Chalmette.
Rodewald-Bates’ initial hurdle was financing.
“I think we went to nine different banks — local, regional, national — and none of them would even send it to their appraisal department,” he said. Instead of a construction loan, he ended up taking out personal loans.
Some of that resistance lessened after it was built and he was able to refinance his loans for the 750-square-foot home, which used two container units.
“When we have all the container doors open, we get really great natural light, and it really makes it feel quite a bit larger than it actually is, square-footagewise,” he said. “That’s a very enjoyable aspect of it.”
Given the upgrades, he said his savings were also minimal compared with a traditional home.
But he’s glad he did it.
“It’s not like there are very many around,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about anybody confusing your house with somebody else’s.”
Source: The New Orleans Advocate