manic monday: the DIY generation + container homes

My wife and I are huge DIY (Do It Yourself) fans. We’re always looking for ways we can make our lives more interesting and more creative by doing things on our own. And we are completely addicted to every single DIY show on HGTV. I mean, seriously, it’s like crack candy for the hyper-creative, right?

image courtesy of 21stcenturycollaborative.com

One of the things that I see come across my blog search results often, and touted on other blogs as the end all be all of home ownership existence, is “DIY Container Homes”. If you’re an architect (soon to be licensed) like me, this search query should make you more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. “But why would that be? Haven’t people been building their own homes for millennium?” Well, yes. But the real question is not “can you build/plan your own home”, rather “should you”. For many of us the answer should be a resounding NO.

Building a home starts first and foremost with good planning and design. This is even more monumentally true when talking about a home built from containers. And while the average person is very adept at conveying verbally how it is they themselves live in a home, it is something quite different to apply that verbal conversation into a constructable set of documents that a contractor can understand and build. This is where trained design professionals, like me, come in.

A home, any home, and especially a custom home designed for you the client, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in life (most likely). So it begs the question why would you trust the planning and design of that investment to someone who is wholly untrained in building design and construction? Even if that person is you, the homeowner? Any money that you think you’ll be saving by doing the planning and construction yourself, the “sweat equity”, will be wasted on additional materials and time due to mistakes and the “learning curve” necessary to master certain skill sets. In the end, even if you do manage to build a home for less money, the home you’re getting will perform worse than the one you could have gotten for perhaps a few thousand dollars more.

There is a reason architects go through 5-6 years of college, 3 years of internship under a licensed architect and another 3+ years of license exams and a lifetime of continuing education in order to maintain that license. Think about that the next time you’re listening to some other guy talk about how “easy” it is to “do it yourself”. In the long run the relationship you build with your architect will translate directly into the quality and performance of your home. After all, you really do get what you pay for, or in this case what you don’t pay for.

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4 thoughts on “manic monday: the DIY generation + container homes

  1. Profound I must say. The only bad side about people getting what they pay for is that thing they build sits there long after they’re gone for the next generation to deal with, sell, or stare at as the weeds cover it. At least a shipping container can be repurposed.

    • Thanks, Lee. I agree with you. Though, obviously I’m making a blanket statement that isn’t always going to be true. Some people are naturally gifted enough to design and build their own home with enough research and the right help. My mother, stepfather, and I actually built our own home in Connecticut when I was 6 and 7. Of course we hired contractors for the big stuff like foundations, plumbing, electrical, etc. But all of the framing and finishing we did ourselves. And, yes, I did more than just get in the way. I actually helped my mother nail down the subfloor for the entire second level. That was a fun day. 🙂 This, however, is the exception not the rule. Like you said, the mistakes made last far longer than many realize.

  2. Jeremiah , When I constructed my first container house years prior. I visited numerous Architects to discuss my concept and in several circumstances I found myself being escorted from the building and asked to never return. I like a lot of others enjoy the modular appeal and the simplicity , availability , durability ,cost ,transportability, etc. I have built a few small structures utilizing 20 ‘s and 40’s . But in order to build in a more mainstream area, where design is a necessity , you must use an architect. If some architects look down at you for the idea, keep looking and talking to other architects. As yourself and others who are willing to explore alternatives to housing and construction don’t be dismayed by those without ideas and the desire to see it through . Our small nonprofit was graced with having a professional architect that has a great sense of design and tremendous patience. All of which will result in a very safe, modern, stylish, energy efficient,structurally significant home. that will meet and in some areas exceed some of the building code criteria used. Building within a metropolitan area and using the traditional permitting compliance, utilizing uniform building standards ,foundations,sewer,public utilities,neighbor concerns, etc .An individual would be ill advised to not employ the services of a good architect. Even more construction difficulty in combining 2 or more containers as one structure . Which brings in the engineering question , don’t even start without good engineering criteria , the components from the laminated floor to the top rails and corner casings all play an important role in shipping container construction, which is what after all the intended use was engineered for not structures intended for habitation. An absolute must! you cannot cut out containers with out understanding the ramifications the engineering on containers is unique and inherently designed for there intended use as a means for the movement of cargo , Additionally the weight of steel is massive , not something for a couple weekend diy-ers to construct over a cold-case. Our city permitting staff utilized outside engineering firms to review our project because of their unfamiliarity of the container or ISBU structures . All of these are questions and decisions that are answered by competent professionals as licensed Architects and Engineers. My advice is use an Architect and Engineer always, you will save money and headaches .

  3. A home, any home, and especially a custom home designed for you the client, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in life (most likely). So it begs the question why would you trust the planning and design of that investment to someone who is wholly untrained in building design and construction? – Excellent point

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