Two Edmonton companies are proposing to ease Alberta's affordable housing crisis with units made from cargo containers more commonly seen stacked on the back of flatcars or in shipping yards.


This 12-metre model container house, from Ocean Trailer, has two bathrooms and room for six people. ((Adrienne Lamb/CBC))

The steel containers, ranging from six to 16 metres long, can be converted into homes by installing insulation, flooring and utility hook-ups, said Ocean Trailer manager Dwayne Warawa.

"There are windows as you see so you're not totally shut in," said Warawa as he gave tour of a new 12-metre container that has been transformed into a six-person bunkhouse with two bathrooms.

"These are equipped with light sockets, with plug-ins, with telephone outlets, with a breaker panel."

The demonstration model, which boasts three bunk beds, a full-sized shower and curtains, has a price tag of $40,000. So far, the company has brought a dozen units into Edmonton with another hundred on order from China.

Warawa said he's negotiating with the City of Grande Prairie as well as several developers there to introduce 50 to 200 container homes to the booming northern Alberta city.

"It's a whole lot better than sleeping in a tent or sleeping on the street. It's very affordable," he said.

"There is no reason why there shouldn't be a few hundred of these around every city as an alternative to the high rents right now and escalating real estate prices."


Built in 2006, the Keetwonen housing project is home to 1,000 students in Amsterdam. ((Mathijs Resink/Tempo Housing) )

Working out of a hanger at the Edmonton City Centre Airport, Dale Alton is planning an inexpensive, environmentally friendly prototype for the city's housing market through his company, A-Just Housing.

He believes container homes can be extremely affordable and easy to access. Millions of cargo containers that arrived from China full of goods are sitting empty on docks across North America because manufacturers here don't ship as much material back to Asia.

The ability to stack up the containers on top of each other is another selling point as the cost of land goes up in Alberta.

Alton estimates each container home could cost as little as $35,000.

Student dorm, apartments built out of containers

"We can provide anything from a 300- to a 900-square-foot accommodation or living unit," he said.

"These will have everything from very basic things where single moms may just have very little and they need to build their nest and put things into it and grow their capital to places where people have 42-inch plasma TVs and automatic drapes opening."


A student poses in the kitchen of a dorm unit in Amsterdam's Keetwonen container complex. ((Ronald Schouten/Tempo Housing))

Alton said container living is thriving around the world, including Amsterdam, whereabout 1,000 12-metre containers were stacked together to create a student dorm and London, England, where an apartment complex was built with containers on a wharf in 2001.

Currently, Ocean Trailer's containers are being purchased by people as cabins for their lakeside lots, and oil companies for workers' camps. The office versions have been used as shelter for security guards or as extra office space in warehouses.

Alton of A-Just Housing said he wants container homes to not only create much-needed low-cost housing in Alberta, but to also challenge people's creativity.

"We're going to make them cool," said Alton.