PORT O’CONNOR – When Hurricane Harvey struck almost two years ago, Port O’Connor was spared from most of the extensive damage that hit Coastal Bend cities like Rockport.
Even if the town weren’t so lucky again, Erik Saengerhausen thinks the two container homes he’s building there would weather the storm.
“Think about what a shipping container is built for,” Saengerhausen said. “It’s put on a barge, and it spends its whole life going back and forth across the ocean. It’s built for this kind of environment.”
Saengerhausen, who has owned a vacation home in Port O’Connor for two years, lives in McQueeney, where he works full-time as the owner of White Line Realty. As a side project, he also builds custom container homes with his company, ModBox Container Homes.
The two container homes he’s building in Port O’Connor, his fourth container project, will be completed by the end of the month. At $209,000, they are 640 square feet and come fully furnished with all appliances and a 720-square-foot boat barn.
Would you consider living in a home made from shipping containers?
Although container projects have been built for more than 50 years, they’ve gained attention in recent months because of conversations about their affordability.
They’ve even entered a presidential campaign.
Aug. 10, Democratic candidate Andrew Yang tweeted about the structures’ potential to be used as affordable housing.
I was in a shipping container apartment in Las Vegas that cost only $30,000 and was downright appealing. There are things we can do to make housing more affordable for many Americans.— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) August 11, 2019
Saengerhausen said he wouldn’t go so far as to call his $209,000 houses “affordable housing” but said they are cheaper than most of the homes for sale in Port O’Connor, which has a population of barely 1,200.
Saengerhausen said he was simply interested in adding to the architectural variety of Port O’Connor.
“I got started with it because I just wanted something different,” Saengerhausen said.
He owns two commercial properties: the Dam Camp, where he rents a large container home as an Airbnb, and an office building. Both are made of several containers welded together.
Saengerhausen said he envisions the Port O’Connor houses as vacation homes for young entrepreneurs.
Although they’re currently trending, Richard J. Williams, a professor of contemporary visual cultures at The University of Edinburgh, said containers have been lauded by some architects as a symbol of modernity for more than 50 years. In a Wednesday op-ed for The New York Times, Williams wrote about his skepticism of the projects in an urban context.
Especially in Europe, Williams said, the containers remind people of the horrors of the migrant crisis, including incidents where people suffocate while being smuggled overseas.
Because of this, Williams said the idea of container homes as affordable housing is terrifying.
“The imagery is not really right,” Williams said. “It’s like saying you are literally garbage.”
In a rural context like Port O’Connor, Williams said, he can see their benefit. However, he said, they aren’t cheap. Shipping containers can cost thousands of dollars – not to mention the costs of making them comfortable.
“With containers, you start with this basic object, and then in order to make it efficient on the really large scale, it requires a lot of investment,” Williams said.
Though his projects are on a much smaller scale, Saengerhausen would agree.
“A lot of guys that build containers will be like, ‘Well, the structure of the metal is its own frame,’” Saengerhausen said. “I would rather something be overbuilt than underbuilt. We have 2-by-4 studs with 3½ inches of spray foam insulation.”
Saengerhausen said he constructed 90% of the two homes near his home in McQueeney. He said labor costs are currently cheaper there, but the build-out process is still pricey.
“You could probably make a stick-build for cheaper,” Saengerhausen said, “but it would just be like every other house around here.”
Saengerhausen said once he sells the Port O’Connor homes, he’ll decide whether to build something else on the two available lots between them.
“If it flies off and people love it and are like, ‘This is awesome,’ then that’ll motivate me,” Saengerhausen said. “I’ll be like, ‘Hey, let’s do some more.’”