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New Construction - Shipping Container Home - Is it possible??  

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rdeforest01
(@rdeforest01)
New Member

My Husband and I are looking to relocate to St Thomas from the great state of Michigan and have been considering using shipping containers to build. My Husband is a licensed Contractor and specializes in New Residential/Commercial building, but I've been doing lots of research and have found a very limited amount of information on building these types of homes on an island, any island.

I understand there are certain building codes you would need to adhere to as far as hurricane proofing, and of course salt proofing (if there is such a thing) but I'm wondering if anyone has heard of, or known anyone to have completed, or been denied for that type of construction.

I have come across several stories where people have used the "pre-fab" homes that basically come in a box and you put them together, so I would assume using the shipping containers would be about the same thing.

Any insight on this would be greatly appreciated!

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Posted : March 28, 2017 2:04 pm
speee1dy
(@speee1dy)
Islander

someone on stx is currently residing in one. dont know his name though

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Posted : March 28, 2017 3:29 pm
Alana33
(@Alana33)
Islander

Metal shipping containers, IMO, are going to be extremely hot to live in, costing you a ton to air condition. Depending where you're building you may be effected by zoning, HOA rules and regulations (if any) and deed restrictions for the property.

You should contact DPNR about permitting and regulations.
You're still going to need a cistern, septic system, etc.

Homeowner's insurance may be something you'd wish to check into as we do live in a hurricane zone.

What will you use to anchor the containers so they don't get blown away, flipped over or tossed down a hillside in the event of a direct hit hurricane with sustained winds over 150 mph?

Check this out:
Contact VI DPNR for specific details. Any architect should already be familiar with the standard codes and will need to bone up on this link.
http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/vicode/

Taken from this link:

https://www.vimovingcenter.com/talk/read.php?4,280477

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Posted : March 28, 2017 4:31 pm
Gumbo
(@Gumbo)
Reputable Member

Yes you can build with shipping containers.
If it were mine, I'd anchor them right and wouldn't pay for any Hurricane insurance.
Don't believe the concrete myth either, I can show you many wood frame houses that made it through Hurricane Marilyn undamaged. If you build it to survive it will.
Being that your husband is a contractor is another reason I'd do it that way. If you pay Hurricane insurance for 5 years you've paid for a lot of damage that may never happen.
Those houses in Key West are wind loaded and mostly wood.

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Posted : March 28, 2017 6:56 pm
rdeforest01
(@rdeforest01)
New Member

I've been to DPNR website but unfortunately there's not a whole lot of information there to review. We've been looking at different properties available and one of my worries is how steep some of the land can be and how we would even begin, but that's a problem for my husband and builders to figure out! 😉

He's thinking we could anchor them into the ground using steel rods welded throughout the home but again, we're way up north and are really only familiar with building codes and regulations here.

Our thought is to pack the containers with most of the building supplies we'd need, send them down and have them delivered on site and go from there but not exactly sure how that would work with Customs.

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Posted : March 28, 2017 7:40 pm
Alana33
(@Alana33)
Islander

Maybe you should figure it out, first.

Ventilation and how any home is built/situated/located is key.
Check out zoning, HOA, deed restrictions and call DPNR.
Make sure you get name and extension # of anyone you speak with there.

Honestly, I wouldn't want an ugly container adjacent to my property, a danger to myself or neighbors and not in compliance with codes, etc.

Have you been here before?
Perhaps before you begin to bring a container onto any residential property, you should do more homework and make sure that you can actually do so and island life is what you really want and can sustain.

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Posted : March 28, 2017 8:34 pm
Gumbo
(@Gumbo)
Reputable Member

You can build container homes to code. Maybe you can anchor them into rock.
I've seen some pretty cool ones all over. There is a 3 container system I looked at in Coral Bay. The fellow told me he had no issues permitting it. Perhaps a drawing from a local Architect would be helpful. There are plenty lots without deed restrictions about container homes. Follow your dreams and remember everyone has an opinion about everything here.

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Posted : March 28, 2017 9:35 pm
AandA2VI
(@AandA2VI)
Noble Member

Have you been to STT before?

*** The views and opinions expressed in my posts are soley those of A&A2VI and other like minded islanders. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the majority or any/all contributors to this site. Have a GREAT DAY!

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Posted : March 29, 2017 1:19 am
Scubadoo
(@Scubadoo)
Noble Member

Honestly, I wouldn't want an ugly container adjacent to my property, a danger to myself or neighbors and not in compliance with codes, etc.

Anything you would build would need to meet code and I agree with Gumbo that it can be done with the proper engineering and builder/contractors/your informed self. I've seen them built well and dressed up elsewhere such that they are not an eyesore at all. As was said you still need to meet cistern/septic requirements so you may end up with a concrete foundation for cistern and to anchor too. The salt will inevitably be a challenge. The cooling will need to be addressed although I'm sure it can be.

But aside from those specific details the general concerns always expressed to dreamers still apply with respect to making sure island life is for you before longer term commitment of which buying/building property is one of.

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Posted : March 29, 2017 1:43 am
amanda4882
(@amanda4882)
Trusted Member

Dont get discouraged! It is very possible to do what you are trying to do. There is a property on St John that has three containers built as cabins. This is great news for you because they have set precedent with DPNR.
Salt is not a problem, shipping containers are made of CorTen steel and actually get stronger when exposed to salt air. They are built to travel the ocean!
All construction on STT is a challenge, regardless of the building type.
You will need to be resourceful, have patience and find a USVI architect or designer who can understand your vision. You will also need them to stamp you plans in order to get a building permit!
Container homes have been built all over the world and in many tropical locations. They can be beautiful and functional as well as safe. A building built with containers would exceed the building codes in the USVI. They have much higher wind and earthquake ratings.

The most difficult part of this will be educating the tradespeople. plumbing, electrical, septic are all different when you consider metal walls.

Do your research and get to know the people at DPNR very well. They will make the final decision on your build.

You may ask yourself how i know all this? I too considered a container based home. I did all the research, asked all the questions and drew up the plans. In the end i ended up buying an existing home.
But,... I still have the bug! I may still take on the challenge in the future. I even already have the lot picked out!

Good Luck.
Jerry and Amanda

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Posted : March 29, 2017 2:30 am
daveb722
(@daveb722)
Reputable Member

Salt is not a problem, shipping containers are made of CorTen steel and actually get stronger when exposed to salt air. They are built to travel the ocean!

I wouldn't say that it makes it stronger, as it states this from it's website: COR-TEN® resists the corrosive effects of rain, snow, ice, fog, and other meteorological conditions by forming a coating of dark brown oxidation over the metal, which inhibits deeper penetration and negates the need for painting and costly rust-prevention maintenance over the years. In simple terms the steel is allowed to rust and that rust forms a protective coating that slows the rate of future corrosion.

Since Salt is steels biggest enemy, it may slow the process but I doubt it eliminates the process and by no means makes it stronger.

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Posted : March 29, 2017 9:58 am
tedc
 tedc
(@tedc)
Trusted Member

Amanda,

All the holes in my Cor-ten container seem to indicate that it is not, in fact, any stronger than when it left its factory.

Rdeforest,

As Alana mentions above, the "box" of habitable space is not the driving cost in construction here - as with any other "box" (whether it's wood, concrete, block, whatever), you'll still need allll of the expensive parts - cisterns, pumps, water collection, septic treatment, power distribution, footings, finishes, driveways, furniture, landscaping, permits, etc. You may very well be able to save a little money in outfitting the habitable 320 square feet you get from a 40-footer, compared to any conventional building technique, but all the remaining costs will be similar, if not more expensive.

That container, for example, has no wall cavities in which to bury electrical and plumbing, nor add insulation. Sure, you can furr it all out by building a secondary wall either inside or outside - but then you've built a second wall, eliminating savings. You'd be much better off building that wall freestanding *without* the container constraining your proportions. Seeing as though you have a contractor husband, he should be able to keep costs in check with very strong, well-engineered wood construction, and as a bonus you can have 12' wide rooms instead of 8'... and higher ceilings... and not deal with all the crap involved in cutting and welding steel to install windows and plumbing.

Contrary to Amanda's claims, It's not a matter of "educating" the local professionals and trades on how to do it right based on her three months of intensive Google searching and reading at least five different blogs on other people's experiences in building container houses. The pros here have lots of experience in building - and if there was a magic bullet to get you in a $10k house in two months, we'd all be doing it. We typically use containers for what they're intended for - shipping stuff around, occasionally storing materials or tools on a job site. Some of the examples provided aren't exactly glorious successes - in that they were waaaay more expensive to build than initially planned, rented far less than expected (the lack of function trumped the novelty, I suppose?), and didn't make much, if any, money in the eventual sale.

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Posted : March 29, 2017 1:41 pm
rdeforest01
(@rdeforest01)
New Member

I appreciate everyone's input!! 🙂

Keep in mind that we are in the very beginning stages of all of this. I completely understand there are going to be many challenges, and am fully aware we still have lot and lots of research and planning ahead of us. The people of St Thomas have always been extremely friendly and welcoming so I figured there's no better way to educate myself than to get advice from those who are there.

We've been to St Thomas, Hawaii and throughout the Florida Keys, but have only experienced the islands as vacationers. There's no doubt in my mind living in any of these places would be a dream come true but St Thomas is the one that calls to us every time so we've decided to take that leap of faith and follow our dreams.

You only get one life, might as well do what makes you happy with the time you have right?? 😉

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Posted : March 29, 2017 5:05 pm
Exit Zero
(@exit-zero)
Noble Member

I have a good friend here who has used 2 shipping containers on the property - one as a guest room/office and one as tool storage/workshop - very functional and strong - useless for water collection in their case - they took quite a bit of work to comply with the electrical code and are both using window type AC units when occupied.

The whole cistern and water collection issue will be a challenge with a container housing - septic may be easier to solve..

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Posted : March 30, 2017 3:47 am
MaryZ67
(@MaryZ67)
Active Member

I love the idea of container houses! You can use them as storage and then convert them into your home-win win! Best of luck to you following your dream.

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Posted : March 31, 2017 11:11 pm
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