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  • Jason Gibson & Jake LeGrand

Thinking Inside the Box: A Peek into the Design of Container Homes


Apex blog graphic with photo of container home and title of blog

From simplified shapes and easy to build floorplans, to using different combinations of shipping containers and conventionally framed tiny homes; the trend of smaller, lower maintenance homes is transforming our understanding of traditional housing. With many advantages including affordability, mobility, and sustainability, small (and even tiny) homes offer attractive and creative housing solutions.


Apex is thrilled to play a role in the design process on numerous residential projects. Collaborating closely with architects and builders, our goal is to maximize the homeowner's bang-for-your-buck by optimizing structural efficiency, devising creative solutions, and expediting construction timelines - all while delivering captivating, innovative homes.


Container home
All photos courtesy Custom Container Living

One facet of these homes are container homes - shipping containers that are repurposed to create sustainable, unique, and comfortable homes.


Container Homes Spotlight: Custom Container Living

All photos courtesy Custom Container Living


Apex recently teamed up with Custom Container Living to begin structural design for their diverse range of container structures, spanning from studios and three-bedroom homes to commercial workshops and office/retail units.


With experience in traditional fine home construction, CCL recognized the growing demand for low-maintenance, durable, and easy to construct homes. Our team was eager to hop on the project and has spent the past few months working closely with CCL to design some of their most popular models of residential container homes that can be easily tweaked to be dropped anywhere across the United States.


Advantages of Container Homes

1. Sustainability

Container homes repurpose shipping containers that might otherwise go to waste, reducing the environmental footprint of construction.


2. Affordability

Container homes not only save money on the cost of labor with their ability to be built off-site, but they also have the ability to save on maintenance due to their compact size, rugged steel shell, and durable finishes.


3. Mobility

They say, "Home is where the heart is," and container homes can be easily transported and installed wherever that is for you. With some relatively simple site preparation, the container home can be brought onto your property, installed and hooked up to utilities in even some of the more remote and relatively undisturbed sites.

Container home perched in the mountains
All photos courtesy Custom Container Living

Structural Design Considerations

Designing a safe and comfortable living space inside these steel containers takes some serious creativity and innovation. Here's a peek into what makes it all work:


1. Reinforcement

Containers are designed to withstand the rigors of shipping, but they need opened up and reinforced for residential use. This involves cutting openings for doors and windows, adding insulation, and reinforcing walls and floors to bear additional loads, and creating one of the many roof profiles to shed the rain.

When doing this, it is important to consider the wind load, seismic load, snow load, and frost depth. With the same floorplans being used throughout all different regions and climate zones, maintaining consistency as much as possible for the different loading conditions was a major goal. With heavy snow loads in mountain regions and the northern states of the U.S., to higher wind loads along coastal regions, each container home is required to withstand the demands of the local environment. Hence, creating plans that are easily adaptable to different states has been a fun challenge.


2. Insulation

Proper insulation is crucial to ensure temperature control and energy efficiency. Our team worked closely with other designers and CCL to ensure energy efficiency without overdesigning structures.


3. Foundation

Ensuring a home has solid ground to stand on is critical - no matter the size. There are many different methods to support the containers, and when more openings (windows and doors) are cut into the container, additional support locations are required. While drilled concrete piers or continuous concrete foundations and footings are some of the more traditional (and preferred) methods, often times they may get large or are not feasible due to soil bearing. In this case, we have created a drilled helical pier plan.


Jason Gibson, PE & Jake LeGrand

Diving into the world of tiny homes has been an exciting adventure for our team, and we're stoked about what's in store for the future of innovative living spaces. Questions on container homes? Feel free to reach out to Jason or Jake at info@apex-engineers.com!


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