The idea of building a container home felt so obviously good. I mean what’s not to like about building a sustainable home with upcycled materials that are superior in strength, durability, and most important cost effective? Plus, we embarked on the this journey with the one architect who had built a container home in our very city, how much easier could it get? BTW, our architect is Peter Demaria, if you’re interested in container homes, he’s been thinking “outside the box” for a decade.
All of that, plus the fact that we live in a Blue Zone city that’s very progressive in it’s thinking about the health and well being of it’s residents, had us believe this was going to be a slam dunk. Not so much.
Our planning commission turned us away 4 times before they approved our project. The fact that it had been done before didn’t help us because it was the first container home built in Southern California so it came with lots of headaches for the city. It’s a whole new way of thinking about building and everyone from the structural engineer to the contractor to the inspectors we’re all figuring it out on the fly.
We had to do way more preparation than we would have had to do if we were building a stick built home.
If you’re thinking about a container home, here’s our suggestions:
- Meet with the city before you hire your architect. Our architect did the feasibility study for us but that only involved gathering the high level facts about building on our lot. It would have saved us a couple of months of time if we started by meeting our city planner face to face so we could tell him what we were trying to accomplish while soliciting his high level approval.
- After getting high level approval from your city planner, be sure someone takes you step by step through what you need on your plans before you submit. We thought we were submitting everything on “the list” but because we are building a container home, the plans were scrutinized in much more detail than they would have been if it were a stick built structure with “normal” architecture. If you have to pay a local developer to consult on what the plans need to look like, do it. It seems each city has a preference to how they like to look at plans, and we would have saved ourselves many headaches had we looked at an example of what the city likes to see on the plans.
- Make sure your architect visits the city as well. This may feel like “duh” but the city likes to see the architect, not necessarily his draftsman, even though his draftsman probably knows more about the details in the plan. Maybe it was just our city but they seemed to grow rather weary and annoyed by the sight of me and the draftsman.
The day the city finally signed off on our plans we didn’t know what to do. We were standing there with our 5th set of plans, ready with our note pads to feverishly capture the next round of corrections, and our lovely plan checker, who clearly wasn’t 100% satisfied, somewhat reluctantly sent us on our way with her blessing. It felt like graduating from college after being on the 5 year plan, the draftsman and I walked out stupefied asking each other if that really just happened.
So this is where we are now, we have plans that are approved, we have nearly completed structurals, we’ve hired our contractor, Rudy Perez, he’s the bomb, and we’re anxiously awaiting pulling our demo permits. But first lets see if we can afford to build it. I have plenty to add about the budget process but that’s a conversation for another day.