UGANDA, Jinja | Real Muloodi News | Asher Telleen and her husband recently shared their amazing story of building a stunning house out of a shipping container and converting it into a short-term rental. Their story was published in Discover Containers.
Asher and her husband, both United States residents, wished to build a home for their family in Uganda. They were tired of paying rent and wanted to own something to pass down to their children.
“At first, we thought about building a regular home using traditional brick and mortar construction. We then heard about shipping container homes on Instagram, but it seemed a little too lofty a goal for a modest family in Uganda,” Asher tells Discover Containers.
They already owned some land, and were evaluating their housing options when they came into the good fortune of acquiring a 40-foot shipping container.
Asher had started a charity organisation in Jinja, called Sole Hope. Sole Hope helps Ugandan children achieve healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related parasitic diseases, while helping local men and women earn a fair wage by teaching them the trade of how to make shoes.
Thanks to donations, Sole Hope received a 40-foot shipping container full of medical supplies and materials from overseas. Initially, the container operated as a storage structure. Once they had put everything to use, it was just sitting empty on the organisation’s land. That’s when they realised they could use it for building their home.
“My husband and I are always up for a challenge, and we thought we could add our twist to a container home,” Asher tells Discover Containers.
She further explains, “We built our container home ourselves with the help of some local friends. It wasn’t a hard decision since we had built homes before and were very comfortable with DIY projects.” “I wouldn’t say we knew we were going to be successful, but we were both okay with the risk since we were so passionate about the possibility of what could come of our dream.”
They especially loved the durability of a container as well as how secure they could make it.
They had intended to use the container as their family home. However, after construction began, their situation changed. They realised they were going to be away from the home a lot more than they originally thought. It was then that they decided to use the container home for short-term rentals and generate some rental income.
“We now live part of the year in Uganda while we spend the remaining time in the United States. When we’re in Uganda, we live in the container home, but if we’re not in the country, we rent it out,” says Asher.
Asher made the entire design without the help of any architects or engineers. Her husband followed the plans Asher created.
The Telleen’s container home is a hybrid container/brick and mortar structure. They added on a rear area made of brick and cement that is the same square footage as the container. The home has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and is approximately 640 square feet. They also constructed a very large front porch that adds a stunning outside living and dining space.
The outdoor dining flows into a breezy & light living room & kitchen area. Inside the container is one bedroom with a single (twin) bed & a toddler/baby bed. If you step through the back door you will see the rest of the living space-a large master bedroom & beautiful garden bathroom.
The container sits about four feet off the ground, on raised and reinforced concrete slabs at each end. The increased height provides a better view, but it came at an increased cost.
It took Asher about a month to complete the home design. It took another month to install water and electrical. While they waited for the utilities to be ready, they paid for a generator to power the tools to weld and make cuts. They also had to hire a crane to move the container in place.
The actual construction only took a month and a half. Asher’s husband worked on the home for eight hours a day, seven days a week.
Both the traditionally constructed back half of that home and the front half made from the container are uninsulated. Despite the tropical climate with year-round temperatures of 75-85°F (24-30°C) their hilltop location gives access to a gentle breeze most days. Asher says the key to staying cool is keeping the doors and windows open (with the occasional use of fans). “Thanks to the front porch, you can have all the doors open in even the most torrential downpour and still not get rain inside the home. It is a beautiful mix of outdoor/indoor living,” says Asher.
According to Asher, the total cost to complete their home, including the price of the land, was around USD$30,000 (Shs106.5m). This also included the expense of running power and water out to the land, which was several thousand dollars.
“One misconception we originally had was that building with a container would be cheaper than building a traditional home. It turns out that this was untrue for us, but I’ve come to realise this is a very common belief for many people,” says Asher.
However, she explains that some of the increased cost was because of the decisions they made. For example, the cost of the generator they purchased while waiting for electricity. Additionally, raising the house off the ground on the concrete risers was an additional expense that wasn’t technically necessary, rather it was an aesthetic design choice. Such things might not apply to others who are considering building a container home of their own.
One of the benefits of the container home is its durability. Asher claims that it is certainly true that a traditional house does not have the same durability as a container home, which might be an important consideration for some people.
Converting the Home into a Rental
Asher explained they needed to make a few design changes so that the container home could better serve as a short-term rental. For example, they purchased a Schlage smart lock, so they can provide a code to each new tenant and then remove it when they leave. Not having to exchange keys is important given they are overseas much of the time. This feature helps to ensure their renters can self-check in for an enjoyable and safe stay in their home.
They also installed higher-end equipment essential to attract customers looking for short-term rentals, such as a high pressured, hot shower and comfortable beds.
How to Make a Shipping Container Your Dream Home
The Daily Monitor interviewed a number of experts on what it takes to convert a shipping container into a dream home.
Francis Tamale, a container housing specialist, says building a container house follows the same steps as building any other home. Just as with a traditional house, you need to have a plan, approvals and documentation from the authorities before you can begin construction.
Once you have all the required documents in order, you are ready to purchase the container. Consult the container factory on the modifications you would like to make on the containers you are purchasing (more on that below).
According to Tamale, just like a traditional brick and mortar homes, construction begins with grading, excavation for the foundation, and utilities. You still need to install a septic system and any storm-water management system, if required.
For a container home design, the typical foundation is a slab-on-grade application. Utilities such as water, electrical, and gas supply lines, if required, are run to the base of the foundation, and then to their respective locations in the plan. Foundation walls are then back-filled, soil compacted, gravel added, rebar laid out. Finally, the slab is poured.
According to Tamale, a container is an integrated structure made up of the roof, sides and back, floor, front doors, frame, and rails. They are designed to be extremely strong, able to carry loads far in excess of what is required for typical home construction.
However, when you modify them, for example by cutting holes for doors or windows, the integrity is weakened. As such, he recommends consulting a structural engineer or architect regarding the modifications your container home design calls for.
Tamale cautions that there is a high cost involved with steel cutting, framing, and welding, which are necessary with container home design and construction. Therefore, he recommends that if you do not have experience in metalwork, it is best to have as much of the modifications such as welding and reinforcing done off-site by the container factory, prior to delivery.
Container Delivery and Installation
When the shipping containers arrive at the site, they are crane-lifted one by one onto the foundation, hooked into place, and welded. According to Tamale, heavy-gauge steel containers are so strong that they only require fastening at the corners to keep them in place.
The bottom corner blocks of the container are welded to steel plates embedded in the concrete slab to secure the container-house to the foundation.
Where multiple containers are involved, all corner blocks are welded to each other to secure the containers to themselves.
Once the containers are in place, the installation of windows, exterior doors, flashing, and any sky lights occurs, says Tamale. The windows are set into the openings that were measured and cut prior to delivery of the shipping containers.
All openings for windows and doors should be framed with a steel section so that they are reinforced. Tamale suggests that hollow rectangle sections work best, but an L section will also work.
Finally, it is time to install interior framing, insulation, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical, and to rough out all fixtures. Metal studs and drywall are used for interior partition walls. Once insulated, the existing container walls can be faced in drywall for finishing.
According to Tamale, the cost of a container house is not necessarily cheaper than a normal house. Some materials used in the modification, for example, the gypsum board plus the container itself, are expensive. They literally fluctuate with the dollar, he says.
He says a three-bedroom container house, made up of one 40ft container and one 20ft container in an L format on a 50 by 50 feet plot of land, will cost you Shs64.8m. This cost is inclusive of tiling, electrical fittings, boarding, site clearance, pillar setting, plumbing works, roofing, interior and exterior painting, and insurance (minus furnishings). Comparatively, a traditional 2 bedroomed home will cost Shs46.8m.
Chrissy Ethel Namono, CEO of Iconic Hedges, says shipping containers are beneficial to simplify and speed up the entire building process. The make the perfect modules for this, and a professional can build you a beautiful container home at an incredible speed.
Container Homes Yet to Take Off in Uganda
Tamale says Ugandans are yet to appreciate the possibility of using containers as homes because they associate them with cargo carriers.
Tamale also says there are few people with the expertise in container housing in Uganda, therefore some jobs call for expatriates, especially for big projects, which increases the cost. But most of the work can in fact be done here by Ugandans.
In other countries, shipping containers have been converted into architectural masterpieces. Here are some examples:
Our favourite is this stunning Two-Story 4x40ft and 1x20ft shipping container home in Santa Barbara, California:
Update: Asher’s Container Haus featured in this article is looking for a new owner. It is situated in the perfect location between the Nile River & downtown Jinja Main Street. For more information, message @containerhaus on Facebook. You can also contact Peter at +256 751 188 880.
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