SEVERANCE — We’ve seen them house small businesses, restaurants, even a hotel. Now shipping containers are considered as primary dwelling units, additional dwelling units, home offices and studios.
Pivot Structures of Severance, a sister company of Mountain Standard Homes, formed during the pandemic and the Cameron Peak Fire to provide more readily available permanent and temporary living space.
“We wanted to transform the traditional stick-build model,” said Koby Bishop, Pivot’s sales and marketing coordinator.
“Soon after our start, COVID provided additional needs to our business model, as we tried to be the solution to people’s spatial needs. From providing a home office/gym to creating a fishing cabin in the mountains or an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for family. All serve a different purpose but provide flexibility to our customers,” he said.
Pivot Structures is working on plans for two small projects near Horsetooth Reservoir that will use converted shipping containers manufactured at its Severance facility.
One project includes two 1,280-square-foot patio homes; the other is a small community of shipping container homes, said founder Jeff Hanesworth.
Repurposing shipping containers is nothing new in Fort Collins. A handful of businesses at The Exchange on North College Avenue, including The Waffle Lab, operate from refurbished shipping containers. And the Pad hotel and hostel recently opened in Silverthorne, made of 18 shipping containers.
But shipping containers as living units is a new look for Larimer County’s housing stock. Smaller than most single-family homes, converted shipping containers are more affordable and faster to produce.
Pivot Structures’ prefabricated containers can cost anywhere from $14,500 upwards to $90,000 or more depending on size and finishes. An office will cost less than a residential unit with bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. And containers can be stacked or combined to create larger living units.
Real estate agents Nate and Alicia Davis were tired of working from their kitchen table when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak. “We wanted something on our property to use as office space … it was too much money to build an addition,” Nate Davis said.
Instead, they purchased a prefabricated shipping container from Pivot Structures for about $30,000, between one-third and one-quarter the cost of a home addition, he said.
They’ve been in their home office now for about six months. “It’s nice having space not in the house as well. It’s quiet and nice to be able to separate work from home.”
Their container is painted to match their home, has windows, modern luxury vinyl plank flooring and plywood paneling. Fully insulated, it’s heated and air conditioned, suitable for any season.
“It’s a great option if people have space in their yard for it,” said Davis, who says the office will come with them if they even move to a new house.
Don’t call it a tiny home
Hanesworth doesn’t call the renovated shipping containers tiny homes or recreational vehicles. They’re not on wheels, aren’t movable once in place and conform with local building codes, including water and sewer connections.
Ranging in size from about 10-by-8 up to 1,280 square feet, the containers can be transformed into nonpermanent uses, like playhouses, studios or more permanent residences.
“They sound like a good idea,” said Eric Fried, Larimer County’s chief building official. “You can get containers fairly inexpensively.”
Larimer County has not had any shipping container projects come through its planning office, but if and when they do, they will be treated like any residential home, said Lesli Ellis, Larimer County’s community development director.
They would be required to be permanent structures and meet all building codes including setbacks, sewer and water.
The county has had “a lot of inquiries” about converting shipping containers, Fried said. It does require engineered designs to cut doors and windows and meet wind and snow loads, like any other house.
Pivot Structures keeps its doors and windows standard size for ease of construction and the supply chain.
How containers are being financed
Realtor Pam Cass worked with a client to provide a home office space on a new build in Timnath and is working with an out-of-state client who is considering a small shipping container home on property in Estes Park.
The Timnath buyer is moving back to Northern Colorado and “landed on a home that didn’t check all the boxes,” including a main floor office space, Cass said.
His builder, Hanesworth’s Mountain Standard Homes, suggested a prefab, one-time use shipping container. “They suggested it might be a great option for an at-home office without having to find a new home,” she said. “It worked out perfectly.”
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The shipping container is in the process of construction at Pivot’s Severance facility and when finished will match his home that is also under construction. “It’s a brilliant option,” Cass said. “If he ever sells the house, it can go with him. It’s such a great option without the costs we are seeing with homes right now.”
Traditional bank financing has not kept up with the shipping container trend, which remains a stumbling block, but there are some financing options, including secured personal loans or home equity lines of credit, Hanesworth said.
Some homeowners have refinanced their homes, pulling out equity and paying cash for the container.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at [email protected]. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.