Tiny container house becomes first to achieve 8 Homestar rating
Container housing has just become a whole lot more legitimate, thanks to the work of one aficionado who is set on spreading the word.
Brenda Kelly has built her own 45 square-metre tiny container house in the bush at Parau, Auckland, and in doing so, she has become the pioneering owner of the first container house to achieve an 8 Homestar rating by the NZ Green Building Council.
This is no make-it-up-as-you-go container house, however. Unlike the huge project we saw on Grand Designs Series 2 last year, when a couple expanded their container house to incorporate 20 containers, this little house comprises just two, and it was carefully planned right from the outset.
"I actually fell in love with this site five years ago, but I wasn't ready to buy," says Kelly. "Then, when I could afford to take a look, I found the price had dropped, so that was a bonus. It is a very steep site, which may have put some people off, but these sites work really well for container houses."
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Kelly, who has set up her own container house company, IQ Container Homes, says she has always had a passion for small spaces. "Even as a teenager I would draw little rooms and work out where to put the furniture."
Her house in the bush is deceptive from the outside. Painted in a black steel paint with white window trim, it's hard to tell this is a container house, until you walk to one end and watch her open up a large services hold by pulling on the traditional steel rods that close up the container.
Kelly has put her two containers at right angles and mounted them on deep piles – she needed just four per container, rather than the dozen or more that would be used for a typical house. The longer 40ft container accommodates the entry, sitting area, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, while the second 20ft container houses an office and guest bedroom.
Not surprisingly, everything is adaptable. Kelly imports her own furniture, specially designed for tiny houses. Items include a corner sofa with huge storage beneath the cushions. The sofa can also become a double bed. And there is a lift-down bed on the wall in the second bedroom, a desk that opens out to form a bed, and a portable wardrobe that can become a room divider. Her own bed is equipped with storage. So it's clear every inch counts. In fact, Kelly says the house can sleep up to seven people.
There is also a huge 30 square-metre timber deck off the living area, which is effectively a large entertaining space. It is covered with a clear, arched pergola, and plastic sheeting can be pulled down to keep the wind away. Kelly says even in winter, it's a warm spot to relax.
8 HOMESTAR FEATURES
And then there is a 8 Homestar features that take this home even further out of the ordinary. Kelly says that right from go, she was motivated by the desire for a sustainable home with minimal environmental impact and low running costs.
"The Homestar scheme was a logical place to turn," she says. "The guidelines enabled me to consider and incorporate design features and specifications at the outset that has led to this achievement."
Eco principles include the use of standard size plywood, low-VOC paints and glues, and insulation that exceeds building code requirements. The Smart Plank timber flooring is 100 per cent recyclable. "There was also hardly any wasted materials in the build, which no-one could believe," Kelly says.
Power is generated by solar panels on the roof. Excess power is sold to the national grid and in return, the electricity can be "bought back" to be used at night when the solar panels are not activated. In future, the power may be stored in a special battery.
Water run-off from the roof is fed into the laundry and toilet, saving up to 45 per cent of water costs.
One of the more unusual features is the vermiculture waste system. A large green tank absorbs the building's wastewater, while tiger worms within the tank break it down. "These are Mother Nature's little miracle workers." says Kelly. "They hibernate when they have to, and breed according to whether they have a food source."
A second large black water tank handles waste from the dishwasher, as the salts used in cleaning would harm the worms.
The house has been designed with a series of small, high windows on the side facing the street. This design not only provides privacy, but also means the house can be cross ventilated easily, yet still be secure. And the wall below the windows can accommodate the kitchen cabinets.
WHAT IS THE COST OF A CONTAINER HOUSE?
Kelly says that while a container is very cheap, the costs do mount up when they are converted for housing. Engineers are required to verify the structural integrity. "I would say they are 'affordable' rather than 'cheap'," she says. "And this is not a DIY job."
The cost of a converted 40ft container is $122,000 plus GST. That does not include delivery, foundations or dealing with the building consent process. However, the company can help with this. Larger 90 square-metre, four-bedroom container homes are also available.