Arjan Klein Kromhof
Graduated and K-RMT Certified broker and appraiser in Real Estate
Sunbelt Realty Bonaire
Youtube and Instagram are full of it and you can find this way of living all over the world. A cheap and tiny "recycled" home. But is it really that easy? And is it sustainable? In my work as a real estate appraiser on the Caribbean island Bonaire I regularly get the question what I think of this way of building, living and investing. In this blog I share my thought and concerns about building with shipping containers to create a Tiny Home on Bonaire.
Converting a shipping container into a ‘livable’ object is not new. Over 20 years now the world has seen experiments with this way of construction, from small 20 ft container studios to stacked 40 ft shipping container buildings. The concept appeals to many people; combining and using existing elements, simple living and limiting your ecological footprint. The shipping containers are affordable, and a DIY hobbyist can convert a container into something resembling a home. Placing the containers is simple as well, the container was made for lifting it and the foundation can consist of simple concrete columns or even a compacted sand bed. Let dive in a bit further shall we.
First things first, we have to choose a shipping container. Sustainability was one of the considerations so we look out for a used one. When doing so, you have to consider the reason why that specific container is being sold. Used shipping containers have a history, they may have been damaged or have other defects. In addition, the container has transported many goods all around the world in its past life, but what exactly? Sea freight is often sprayed with toxic chemicals such as pesticides or disinfectants, the residue of which can still be in the container and may even have leaked into the wooden floorboards that have absorbed it. With that in mind, a brand new shipping container is a good alternative, but how sustainable is that?
The shipping container you have bought has been delivered and is put on its foundation. We can now start cutting the holes in the sides for windows and doors. That seems simple, but by making holes affect the load bearing construction. Just like load bearing walls in a home or a steel frame commercial building, you cannot just remove these load-bearing elements without compensating the load bearing aspect. This is even more difficult with a shipping container since there is no skeleton or load-bearing construction within the container, the container itself is load-bearing in the form it has. The sides consist of sheet pile profiles made of so called ‘Corten steel’ and together with solid steel corner profiles this ensures the load bearing capacity. When you adjust or remove parts of those steel sides, the construction will lose a large part of its integrity. Even holes for supply and drainage of water or electricity can have influence on this. To tackle this problem you will have to reinforce the structure using a relatively expensive metal or wooden skeleton.
Ok, we have tackled reinforcement so we can make those holes and start insulating and cladding. After that, you are not quite ready yet. The top or roof of the container is not made to drain water effectively. When you expose it to the elements for only a couple of years, you can expect leakage. A solution is a light roof construction and cover it with corrugated roofing sheets.
Since the shipping container is built of steel it allows heat and cold to pass through the metal fairly easily. Steel has a high thermal conductivity. Despite this, a well-performing air conditioning system can cool the container. Especially when you insulate. The problem is that you create temperature differences between in- and outside. These temperature differences can cause condensation between the steel and the insulation, especially on Bonaire where the air humidity averages about 65%. Condensation on the inside of the steel behind the neatly cladded inner walls is a problem and can results in rust / corrosion on the steel. Unfortunately you can’t see this from the inside, only when it is too late you will find holes in your shipping container on the outside. This condensation/corrosion has an effect on the lifespan of your sea container home.
It can last for quite an extensive period of time, but in the worst case, the lifespan of a shipping container home is only about 10 to 15 years. This lifespan can be extended by good maintenance of course. If we compare that lifespan to a traditionally build home, we see that there is a big difference. A traditional house constructed of mainly concrete has a lifespan of approx. 50 years or more.
That lifespan is a key element when looking for a mortgage for your project. Given the alternative construction method of these container homes combined with a relatively short lifespan when compared to a traditionally built home, together this leads to a decrease in value over time. The quality of the container slowly deteriorates, it is the same with a car and fits in with consumer goods instead of real estate. Also the problems you may find when applying for a building permit makes that banks often second guess your mortgage application.
Ok, we can work around that; the money has to come out of your own pocket or you can apply for a more expensive personal loan with a bank.
Simply said; It can be a solution for a comfy second home in the ‘Kunuku’ countryside that you use to spend weekends and holidays. If you are only choosing this type of home beause of the low investment price, please also consider other possibilities. For example the projects Tanki di Matrimonio and Bella Vista. Within the latter you buy a new-constructed house on a plot of freehold land for a total price of only USD 185,000 deed in hand, with mortgage payments of only USD 995 per month *.
The answer to the questions is not straitforward and depends on your consideration. Im happy to help you in this decision making process and also when you are you looking for a plot of land to build on or would you be interested in a new-build home in Bella Vista? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will gladly be of service.
* based on an annuity mortgage with a term of 30 years and an interest of 5%