From shipping container to residential development

Local developers make homes from decommissioned containers

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 12, 2015

 A ModEco Development LLC rendering shows the plan for the finished home.

A ModEco Development LLC rendering shows the plan for the finished home.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell

METRO DETROIT — Several local development companies are repurposing the large, stackable steel crates used to ship goods around the world for the quick construction of living quarters.


In Detroit, Three Squared Inc. is developing condominium complexes out of shipping containers, and ModEco Development LLC is finishing a single home out of shipping containers on Rochester Road, south of 12 Mile Road, in Royal Oak.


The idea of living in a steel container used to transport products across oceans may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but according to developers, the new twist on housing is creating quite a buzz.


Diana Christensen, a spokeswoman for Three Squared, said the Detroit-based company has three condominium projects in various stages proceeding in the city. The first project, called Trumbull Squared in Corktown, is set to open this fall.


The company hosted an open house July 10. More than 1,200 people passed through the model units in a couple of hours, Christensen said.


“We were thinking a couple hundred (people) would attend, but it kind of went crazy,” she said. “There’s a wide range of people who are really into this. They’re very progressive and open-minded to the possibilities.”


Co-founder and CEO of Three Squared Leslie Horn previously rehabilitated homes in Detroit, but through conversation became aware of the method of construction via shipping containers, Christensen said.


“We document the history of each one, so we know where each container has been and what it’s been used for,” she said. “People love having a sense of where they’ve been.”


The pricing for Three Squared’s condos varies, but they start off at about $150,000, Christensen said.


Nilesh Patel, co-founder of Washington Township-based Mod-Eco Development, said his company is made up of a group of local guys who wanted to do something innovative.


“We saw the same old building materials being used,” he said. “We felt Royal Oak was a great canvas to project the image of something new, innovative, a little more cutting edge and progressive.”


The single-family residence his company is building is constructed out of seven shipping containers and will have three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. The house is painted, the dry wall is in, and the interior is nearing completion, Patel said.


“It’ll be just like your typical house right next door. The only difference is it’s made out of metal on the outside. Everything else will look very traditional,” he said.


He said the interior includes different types of flooring, including hardwood, tile, concrete and carpeting; a great room; a kitchen; lots of windows and two upstairs balconies.


The decommissioned shipping containers themselves, he said, come from a port in Detroit. Developers can buy them, he said; otherwise, they are left to sit and rust away.


“The biggest question I get is how much the house is priced for,” Patel said. “I don’t want to throw out a number. It’s a very unique structure. It’ll probably be around 10-20 percent cheaper than what the average new home is going for in Royal Oak.”


Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison said he was intrigued by the idea of a home crafted from shipping containers despite some residents raising concerns about the visual appeal, or lack thereof, of such a development.


“They’re very popular around the country and around the world,” Ellison said. “When I first saw this thing going up, I was like, ‘Hmm, what is that?’ It took them a while to get it together, but the last time I drove by, it looked very interesting.”


He said the developers submitted all of the correct permits and complied with all codes and zoning, so the shipping container home did not have to go in front of the Planning Commission or get approved by City Council.


“It’s a bunch of boxes and, you know, everybody has their own taste, but I have no objection. We’ve got all kinds of homes going up in Royal Oak in a variety of styles and shapes,” Ellison said. “I spent many, many years in construction, and I find it different but interesting.”


He said he would be curious to do a walk-through of the home upon completion.

“One or two (container homes) are interesting, but I don’t want a whole community of them,” Ellison said. “I’m not sure if this is the type of home to put in an established community (like Royal Oak).”