My obsession for residential home designs continues. This is an interview with Kai, the owner of ShelterKraft Werks, a company that builds homes out of shipping containers. (update 2017: ShelterKraft Werks are currently building custom designed homes only. Check out this Dwell article for similar vendors.)

ShelterKraft Werks Container Home
ShelterKraft Werks Container Home
container homes by Taynr in Sacramento, CA

Could you tell me a little about what motivated you to build container homes?

Well, I’ve always loved the challenge of building small spaces – everything from secret forts when I was a kid to a neo-classic dog house.  The idea of using containers first occurred to me when I was working at Starbucks as a store architect, looking out of my office window at the Port of Seattle, with all of the big ships, stacks of containers and cranes, I began fantasizing about stowing away in a Hamburg Süd container and getting shipped to Germany to within 5 kilometers of my grandmother’s house. For the next 10 years, as I pursued various long-distance sailing and architectural adventures, I kept thinking about what it would take to make containers livable and how many ways you combine and stack them – like  playing with giant Legos!

In the fall of 2009 I came back to Seattle and met my partner Anne. With her extensive business experience and my design, engineering and construction background we began to explore the possibilities of starting ShelterKraft Werks. We got excited about how containers could provide a truly sustainable housing method, that also offered something more cost-effective in this new economic era as people are seeking ways to reduce their footprint both ecologically and financially with an awakening interest in small homes. From my sailing experience, I could see ways to make elegant and effective use of small spaces to create comfortable and functional living environments inside even a single container.

It all came together as a culmination of my lifelong passions and Anne’s entrepreneurial experience. What inspires us is the philosophy that ALL people should have a safe and secure place to call home. A home that’s affordable, appealing, durable, and sustainable.

How much do they cost (at minimum)?

ShelterKraft’s fully-built container house lines start at $35K for our CargoCottage(tm), a single 8′ x 20′ container that sleeps two, with kitchen, sitting area, and bathroom/shower. We offer a range of “stock” models up to a 2-bedroom house made from 2 40′ long containers with a base price of $68,000.

We also offer backyard office/studio spaces with a half-bath starting at $17,000.  We can also design custom houses that include additional containers, or stacked (multi-story) structures.

The price per square foot drops a lot as you build larger spaces, since a big percentage of cost goes into the kitchen and bath. On average, it costs 25-50% less to use containers than to use traditional (stick frame) construction for a comparable space.

What information do potential container home owners need to know- such as land requirements, plumbing and electrical, etc.?

All of the ShelterKraft houses come ready to install on the customer’s site, with electrical, plumbing and engineering (which can also include solar, wind, or other alternative energy and water systems). The customer needs to take care of preparation of the site, although we can provide consultation on what’s needed.  Depending on the particulars of the site and whether the house is a single container or multi-container structure, a home owner need only provide simple site preparation: a flat gravel bed or concrete slab with RV hookups (for a single container or more temporary structure), or a concrete foundation or pilings plus utility stub-ups (for a more permanent structure).  More information about site preparation and installation is included in our FAQ.

As I mentioned in on your blog, we have had tons of interest in our homes and our biggest barrier seems to be finding creative financing solutions to under 400 sq.ft. houses (the FHA/HUD minimum size limit to a ‘viable’ house).

*Little House notes: These container homes are amazing. I’m also curious about the financing of these homes. Further research will most likely produce a follow  up post on  how to finance homes under 400 sq. ft.

Would you consider a ShelterWerks home for yourself or a guest house?


  1. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter Reply

    Thanks so much for doing this interview. There is some very valuable information that has been shared. Many of the questions I have wondered have been answered. We are in a good home now but if we ever build, this idea has intrigued me. Now I know which company to phone.

  2. Interesting concept! I wonder if it meets building codes in California? I would think it meets or exceeds earthquake and fire laws. It certainly is cheaper than conventional building costs.

  3. I’d definitely consider one of these for both a house or guesthouse. Really neat design, and the green energy component is very attractive, too.

    I’ve always wondered if I could plop something like one of these into someone’s backyard and just live there! haha

    • @Jeffrey – I think it depends on your city and county codes. I know that most residences allow you to build an “in-law” or “guest” house, but in LA county (for instance) when you go to sell the property, they don’t allow 2 residences on the property (or something to that effect).

  4. I’ve designed structures in severe seismic and hurricane zones and containers are engineered to ride on ships, trucks and trains, full of cargo, through much worse. As long as I can meet the fire egress codes of any jurisdiction, there really isn’t a problem with this being a viable way to build homes.

  5. Awesome! Thanks so much LH for posting the story of our efforts. If we can crack the financial nut about being small, sustainable and realistically affordable (aka cheap and cheerful!) well, the world just needs that in so many places and we would love to help with that! ~Kai

  6. Here is Seattle (as in many other cities) there have been several zoning amendments in the last few years to allow backyard cottages and accessory dwellings. Not only does the city get a bit more tax revenue out of this, but it makes urban neighborhoods a bit more interesting and dynamic.

  7. I’ve designed structures in severe seismic and hurricane zones (in the semi-volcanic areas of the big island of Hawaii), containers are engineered to ride on ships, trucks and trains, full of cargo, through much worse. As long as I can meet the energy and fire egress codes of any jurisdiction, there really isn’t a problem with this being a viable way to build a home.

  8. retirebyforty Reply

    Your container home sounds like a great option for expensive area like California or Hawaii. I would love to buy some land in Hawaii and place something like this on the land. It should much cheaper than buying a house or building one.

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