Container homes bring wows and jeers
A streamlined cargo container home on display at the Kentucky State Fair was met with rave reviews and will soon house a single mother in Appalachia. Next year, five of the steel boxes will be arranged and stacked into a flat-roof metal bazaar on Dixie Highway. But a shipping container fashioned into a house south of Elizabethtown looks nothing like the affordable architectural craze taking root elsewhere in Kentucky.
Topped with a shingled gable roof and painted dull brown to blend with rural homes nearby, a new cargo home is the first and probably the last by Hardin County Habitat for Humanity.
The country box design was a compromise between the low costs that makes cargo container construction affordable and local expectations about how a house should look, Hardin County Habitat executive director Scott Turner said.
“This has been a sore subject,” Turner said of 18 months of delays on the $30,000 project to replace Joann Priddy’s dilapidated wood frame shack.
The need was great. Nearly two years ago, Habitat decided to replace Priddy’s home, which was heated by wood burned inside a 55-gallon drum that doubled as a stove. For plumbing, the disabled elderly woman used a tap near her outhouse.
But Habitat volunteers struggled with construction headaches, like how to tie wood framing to the steel walls and the new challenge of using a plasma torch to slice windows and doors through steel. Vinyl siding was preferred to make the house blend in with its neighbors, but discarded as impractical when workers couldn’t figure out how to attach it to the home’s exterior steel. Debates about construction details like these dragged on while a consensus emerged. Cargo container homes, it seemed, are viewed by some with the same disdain directed at trailer parks.
“It’s like putting a mobile home in a gated community,” Turner said of prevailing bias against cargo container homes in rural parts south of Louisville. Despite the higher $60,000 cost of a typical new Habitat wood frame home, Turner said his small nonprofit would stick with those familiar dwellings from now on in Elizabethtown and nearby communities like Radcliff.
“Habitat is not going to build a shoddy house. But some people thought that if they were allowed, anybody could take a container and cut a door and a couple of windows and start living in it,” Turner said. “There was no way we could build one and put it in the city limits.”
Publicity last fall about the cargo container home sparked new rules in nearby Radcliff, the city around Fort Knox. Last fall brought a new zoning ordinance requiring any shipping container buildings have “a roof line, siding, windows, doors and a porch which resemble typical single-family homes.”
Behind suspicion about the new and different homes lies concern about property values. Stick-frame traditional Habitat houses built with volunteer labor already appraise in E-town for upwards of $114,000 each, Turner said. In contrast, the new cargo home on a hill outside Upton would likely appraise for no more than $40,000, he predicted.
“There are no comps for this kind of thing,” Turner said. “The only thing an appraiser could compare it to is a trailer.”
In Louisville, plans backed by Metro government are afoot to break ground next year on “Opportunity Corner,” a shipping container retail and community complex facing Dixie Highway at Wilson Avenue in the Park Hill neighborhood.In the big city and elsewhere in the state, cheap but simple cargo containers are being embraced for their edgy look, with corrugated steel walls and watertight flat roofs as a common sense housing solution. Unlike its smaller affiliate in E-town to the south, Kentucky Habitat for Humanity continues to replace rotting trailer homes in poor neighborhoods with its new “Kentainer” home.
This $23,000 “Kentainer” home will replace a rotting trailer in Appalachia and drew wide interest while on display at the Kentucky State Fair by Kentucky Habitat for Humanity. September 10, 2015 (Photo: By Bill Luster, Special to the C)
One shipping container, 40 feet long and 10 feet wide, will house a food vendor on Wilson Avenue in the multi-hued complex designed by Louisville architect Mark Foxworth. Arrayed around a courtyard with outdoor tables and flowerbeds, two other long shipping containers will be carved into four tiny retail outlets. A 20-foot-long container will house an office perched atop a 40-foot-long box designed as a classroom and community meeting room. That retail complex is expected to bring life to a long vacant lot.
West Louisville’s “Opportunity Corner” uses containers in raw form and bright colors. (READ MORE)
By Jere Downs