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Shipping containers recycled into affordable Salt Lake home

Real estate broker Jeff White dreamed of transforming used shipping containers into affordable housing. Laughed at by the first architects he approached, he began to work on his concept using a 40-foot-long, 9-foot-6-inches-tall and 8-foot-wide container in the driveway of his Salt Lake City (Utah) home.

Being “busted” by a city inspector became the needed publicity for his project, and soon after the Salt Lake’s mayor was behind him and helped to ease the permits and inspections process.

After two years of transformation (including plans, groundwork, and permits), what began as two forty-foot high cube containers is now a light and airy 672-square-foot house. It’s not dirt cheap- the Sarah House (named for a San Francisco homeless woman whose makeshift home inspired White) is currently on the market for $135,000 (and only to low-income buyers)-but that price includes a lot of hidden costs.  “I spent 40 thousand dollars for the lot and then the infrastructure underneath it, getting the sewer, water lines, probably an additional 25 thousand dollars. So you can see where I’m at; the house is still coming in at 55 to 60 thousand dollars.”

White thinks with time and economies of scale, he can bring the costs down. “It costs a little bit more because you have a certain learning factor here, you can’t go to a book of container plans and say I want to build this. So you’re taking something that had been used for the movement of goods and now all of a sudden you’re trying to repurpose it for housing.”

* Filmed by Johnny Sanphillippo, owner of a small, mortgage-free home. He also films stories about urbanism, adaptation and resilience for his site Granola Shotgun.