A few years ago, living inside a few stacked metal shipping containers may not have been a reality, much less a desirable one. All that has changed with a new recycled living concept by Upcycle Living. 1-800-RECYCLING recently sat down with the partner and co-founder of Upcycle Living, Ashton Wolfswinkel, in a model home built out of four containers in the heart of Phoenix, AZ. 1-800-RECYCLING: How did you get started building with shipping containers? Wolfswinkel: My partner and architect, Jason Anderson, and I met in college at University of Arizona in Tucson. When he moved up here to Phoenix, he started working on a design-build project for a client in north Phoenix in spring 2009. He spent some time in Europe, where upcycled architecture is more commonplace, so he had a few ideas up his sleeve. The client wanted to do a master suite addition, but he just didn’t have the budget to do it. So, Jason pitched the idea of using shipping containers. We attached three containers to the main house — bedroom, his-and-her closet and bath — about 1,000 square feet of living space.
1-800-RECYCLING: Weren’t you a bit skeptical? Sounds like it could be a hard sell. Wolfswinkel: He pitched me the idea, and I sat on it for a couple of days, then said, How do we do it? Let’s go.1-800-RECYCLING: How did it blossom from there? Wolfswinkel: The initial idea of his was to do this in a more manufactured setting. The client in north Phoenix was more of a traditional build. We found a space where we now do the manufacturing. We build 95% of it in the space, then ship it wherever and button up the seams at the marriage line. 1-800-RECYCLING: So, why modular housing? Wolfswinkel: The benefit to modular housing is building in the controlled location — all your equipment and supplies are already there. You can control the quality easier in that one central location where everyone is working. This process takes conservatively six to eight weeks, ideally four weeks. If we can build one of these in three to four weeks, that’s really good. We put each container on a flatbed truck, ship it and drop it in place. It’s about a two- to three-day turnaround install, assuming the foundation is there — which are 18-inch piers that sit on the corner of each box. Then you just hook up electrical and sewer, and with a little tape and texture, you’re ready to go. Two or three days, and you have a house. 1-800-RECYCLING: Where do you source the containers from? Wolfswinkel: A bunch of different ports: Seattle, Long Beach, Oakland, Houston. Businesses in those ports have been supportive of the reuse of the containers. They don’t really have anything to do with them. They just sit in storage yards. 1-800-RECYCLING: Are you focused on marketing the sustainability aspect of your product? Wolfswinkel: Our whole mantra is “affordable, conscious living.” By not pouring the foundation, we save money. The steel structure is the bones, and we save money, time and materials there. We can transfer some of the saved costs to do green fixtures: dual-flush toilets, bamboo floors, Energy Star appliances, steel staircases, recycled carpets, recycled countertops, low-VOC recycled cabinets, etc. There is also a system that can separate black water from gray water. This allows for water reuse for landscaping with gray water. Just like any house, you can do anything you want to the inside or outside. If you want to leave the steel exposed, we can paint the exterior with a ceramic paint that reflects the heat. On the inside you can put tile, carpet, concrete… whatever you want. The containers are like building with Legos. You can add on, move them around — play around with them. That’s the beauty. 1-800-RECYCLING: What are the price points? Wolfswinkel: We’re in the process of figuring out what the base price is. This model (at about 1,200 square feet, with two bedrooms and two baths) would go for $85-90,000. 1-800-RECYCLING: Have people who have taken a look at the model given positive feedback? Wolfswinkel: The reaction has been really positive. It’s opened a lot of eyes. And, a lot of people have already known about shipping container construction and they’re excited someone’s doing it. We’re trying to build for the normal person. Yeah, it’s built with shipping containers, but once you get inside, it feels like a normal home. We’re keeping it simple – green and affordable. Upcycle Living can ship houses anywhere in the country. For more information, contact Ashton Wolfswinkel at email@example.com or 602.989.8162.