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Giving Shipping Containers Repurposed
Life as Homes

By Gina Gallucci-White, Photography by Turner Photography Studio

When people look at a shipping container, they usually just see a large metal box for hauling goods across an ocean or interstate highway. Mount Airy resident Brandon Jordan, however, sees a blank canvas and all sorts of possibilities to create unique spaces in his downtime.

“I like to repurpose things—it is really the root of it,” he says. “If I see something that is older but maybe has some good bones to it, I have always enjoyed bringing it back to life or altering it to be more useful now. I really like recycling things. On a larger scale, I would hate to see something like a container that is a large, pretty solid structure [not being reused]. There is nothing cheap or chintzy about them. They are pretty robust.”

People have found a number of unique ways to use the containers, including as a swimming pool, camping pod, food truck and sauna. Locally, Warehouse Cinemas incorporated the containers into their design and use the structures as entry and exit points into their theaters.

“When you look online, you can really see that people have gone all over the place with them,” Jordan says. “You can see where people will stack half a dozen units in different configurations and come up with this really unique large custom home. I am not really looking to go that route as much as I would rather take and build something that is more reasonable—a working man’s type of thing. If they are looking for a single container that would be a hunting cabin or storage facility or whatever you can think of.”

Jordan works full time for a large homebuilder in the region. His shipping container refurbishing is a hobby in his spare time, which also includes owning a farm with his wife and being a father to three sons. Building has always been his passion. “As soon as I got out of high school, it was my first career path,” he says.

His first shipping container project came through a partnership with a couple who wanted an independent, small living space for an older relative who wished to stay on her family’s farm property. “We wanted to make sure it was something that fit exactly what he wanted [for the relative],” Jordan says. “He had a lot of input on the design. I was just the guy to put it into action.”

Jordan’s goal was to maximize the space and make the structure as energy efficient as possible.

“If you frame the inside like you would frame a conventional house with 2-by-4s, you are basically losing about 8 inches on the other side,” he says. “You want to reduce the amount of framing on the side walls to maximize the living space.” However, because Maryland can have summers reaching triple digits and winters plummeting near zero degrees, the metal will hit the dew point and condensate. That moisture can get trapped behind the walls, leading to mold, mildew and fungus growth, so he uses spray foam closed-cell insulation to stop condensation. For the water system, Jordan elects to put in a tankless propane heater.

The woman he worked with says the space reminds her of a studio apartment. The bathroom features a walk-in shower and every inch of space counts, including storage beneath the bed frame and sink. A relative was apprehensive about moving into the space due to the initial outward appearance. “Once she went in and saw it was so cute and cozy and had all the amenities she needed, she loves it,” she says.

Jordan was surprised at the number of people who have shipping containers on their farms or in the woods. The containers are traditionally sold to private sellers after making a certain number of trips across the ocean and/or have structural damages. There are companies that sell them, some even adding cutouts for windows and doors. “I have found quite a few where people’s attitudes are, ‘Hey if you can move it, it’s yours,’” he says. “It’s interesting the wide range of people that are interested in them.”

Some people want shipping containers to use as a hunting cabin since they can’t put a permanent structure on site. Jordan is working with one man who wants one to house his collection of exotic snakes. “It makes a lot of sense because you are repurposing something that really is destined for either the scrapyard or a storage unit,” Jordan says. “Now you’re turning it into something that might be able to be used for the next 20 to 30 years.”

There’s currently a surplus of shipping containers. Many depots used for storing the containers are nearly or totally full, according to a recent industry update by Container xChange, an online container logistics platform.

No matter what the shipping container is being repurposed into, the entire process consists of a lot of metal work—cutting openings for windows, doors, vents and piping. “At the end of the day, you want to make sure you have a unit that can still be moved around fairly crudely and what I mean by that is this isn’t necessarily something that is delicate, that we are going to put on a little dolly and move it around gingerly,” Jordan says. “A lot of times it’s being picked up and shoved around with a forklift, somebody is dragging it around with a skid loader or a piece of equipment. They are very robust, so when you cut an opening into it, you have to replace that with steel reinforcements. You can’t just cut an opening and throw a window in. It has to have good bones, a good foundation, more or less, to be able to support it and still be able to be mobile.”

The only drawback Jordan notes is that some might not like the exterior appearance. “Most people can’t envision what a finished product could look like,” he says. “They just see this metal box. Until somebody puts siding or some wood on it or puts a false roof to create a pitch, it’s hard for somebody to visualize a square box being anything more than just a square box.”

Jordan notes the transformation depends on how his clients want to utilize their storage containers. He does the repurposing in his spare time so a house may take three to five months, with work done on the weekends when he has time.

He enjoys being able to give clients something that they can’t order online or pick up at a store. “I will do whatever you want with it,” Jordan says. “[I like] the creativity, the ability to make it your own. That is really what is cool about it. You can see and understand the vision. It is just cool. You are taking something that for the most part people look at and just discard and you can turn it into anything you want.”

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