GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Shipping containers are extremely durable designed to withstand high winds, salt water and hold 60,000 lbs. so why not stack them and turn them into a house?
That's just what a Gainesville man did and when you take a tour of his house, you may be surprised at all that it offers.
"I wanted to have a house that was affordable, that was safe but that could handle any natural disaster and then I wanted a green house. And this fits all three of those," said Tom Fox, who lives inside 12 upcycled shipping containers that were just sitting in a shipping yard in Jacksonville.
"This is two 10 foot containers welded together and that's how we got the porch there," he said.
His house -- just a few blocks from downtown Gainesville -- is the only one of its kind in Florida. It took nine months to build.
"These are 15 year old containers. They are at the end of their life. They would have been melted down and so we took them and I put them into this building and that's all of the CO2 we've saved. That's one of the reasons I'm getting a LEED platinum certification," Fox said.
It's a coveted certification, an internationally recognized third-party verification of green building.
"This a green build so every used container you save from being recycled it's the equivalent of a 100 watt light bulb burning for 15 straight years 24-7 worth of CO2 you are saving," Fox said.
It's so energy efficient it actually makes more energy than it uses thanks in large part to 36 solar panels, which a federal rebate helped fund.
"It just goes to the solar inverter and out to the grid so right now all of my neighbors are using my power as well as myself," Fox said.
Fox sells the power to the local energy company for 32 cents a kilowatt hour and buys it back for just 12 cents.
"I'm making 20 cents a kilowatt hour right off the top. ... I currently get a check for about $300 a month and the system will be paid off in about 5 years," he said.
His three story, 3,600-square-foot house has four bedrooms, three full baths, a two-car garage and a large deck on the roof ... it even has wood floors.
"This is an interior porch we have from the master bedroom to here and you have a nice view and we built a wing that sticks out over it so there are no rain problems that come in here," Fox said.
It cost Fox about $200,000 to build this innovation home -- only about $55 dollars a square foot.
"Steel house, people have this concept 'it's going to be too hot.' Well, we already have more insulation than most houses do," Fox said.
He estimates the cost to cool his house for an entire year: only $250 dollars!
And read how little his water heater is costing him.
"We were able to get the first one that was made last year. If you notice that for a family of four it's estimated to have a cost of only $196 a year so this is one of the reason we have really efficient bills," he said.
This innovative water system helps him save a lot of hot water.
"The fact that very faucet or any fixture has its own hot water feed and what that means is when you turn on the hot water on the third floor sink, it doesn't make the hot water go through the whole house," he said.
Because this house is made of steel shipping containers, it's designed to sustain high winds in excess of 150 miles per hour.
"Let's say I see a tornado coming and I just shut this really quick," he said, going into an interior room.
One of the reasons Fox said he built the house was to show that you can build something affordable that's green, strong and safe.
"You don't have to run from your house to a shelter. You can make your house a shelter. ..." he said. "I would recommend anyone on the coast to look into this. This really is the future in a lot of ways. And if you don't like the outside you can put a fake façade on it. You can make it look like a log cabin or a brick house if you wanted."
Building this unique house took a lot of planning with an engineer and Gainesville architect Stephen Bender.
"Shipping containers are extremely strong ... But as soon as you start cutting holes in them they lose some of that strength so the biggest challenge was actually cutting the right size holes so we weren't defeating the benefits of using a shipping container in the first place," said Bender.
Since helping design this house, Bender has used shipping containers in designs for health clinics, apartment complexes, and even sports complex bathrooms.
"Once you can start to see how you can recombine the units, the possibilities are exciting," Bender said. "But I think we could develop ways where that method of prefabricating and bringing in would work and that would work in disaster situations, it would work in dense urban situations. It would work where you have a tight construction schedule and of course it works in an overall sense sustainability wise."
Fox has been living in his house for nearly a year and while he says a few neighbors has voiced concerns about the way this shipping container house looks, most have embraced it.
As for the downside of living here ...
"I haven't found any yet. I really haven't. It's strong, it's safe. This house will be here for hundreds of years probably," he said.
The idea of using shipping containers from everything from homes to buildings isn't new. Fox said he was inspired when he visited skyscrapers in London made out of shipping containers. He hopes the idea catches on here in the U.S.
He spent an extra $40,000 for the solar panels which he said will basically pay for all the electrical needs for the house for the next 50 years.
If you are interested in building a container home, Fox said to make sure you have a qualified welder and other than that, he just followed the Florida Building Code.
First Coast News