A shipping container rental property is the first of its kind in Calgary

When Laurenne Mercier was looking to move into her own place in early 2021, she knew that renting a full-sized house would be too much space for her. Then, the perfect property fell into her lap.

Built above a garage, this one-bedroom apartment is as unique as it is affordable

Tenant Laurenne Mercier said the Killarney laneway house is a rare find so close to the city's downtown. (Kylee Pedersen/CBC)

When Laurenne Mercier was looking to move into her own place in early 2021, she knew that renting a full-sized house would be too much space for her. Then, the perfect property fell into her lap. 

Mercier's mother was out walking in her neighborhood of Killarney when she saw a rental advertisement on what looked like a compact apartment on top of a garage. 

What she spotted, and what Mercier shortly moved into, was none other than Calgary's first laneway house built from shipping containers, or sea cans. 

Chad Saunders, the owner of the property, said he had long considered building a live-in suite on top of his detached garage. 

"The inspiration was, how can we maximize value in our yard without taking away the yard?" said Saunders, who's noticed a trend of infills in the neighborhood, something he said he wasn't interested in. 

Saunders said he wanted tenants to be able to feel like the space was their own, while also having access to the family's shared backyard. 

"You wouldn't guess, being inside, that it's [made from] sea cans" said Mercier. "Everyone that goes inside always says it's way bigger than [they] expected." 

Making sure the laneway house fits architecturally into the neighborhood is a big part of what gives the property curb appeal, said Saunders. 

"Instead of just sticking like sea cans on top of a flat roof, we did the roofing to accommodate. It looks like our house, so it kind of blends in," he said. 

Saunders also said that charging a fair rental price was important to him. 

Many Calgarians are feeling the crunch of the city's red-hot housing market. Mercier says that the affordability of the laneway house was one of many reasons she felt it was the right move.

"I love the area and I love that it's residential but still close to downtown," Mercier said.

"Killarney is basically infills and [family] homes. That's what makes this such a unique space, is that it's essentially a one-bedroom apartment in a place that really doesn't have many." 

A growing trend

The laneway house is built from three separate shipping containers, and was completely fabricated on site, said Saunders. 

He said that when it was built in 2018, sea cans were quite inexpensive, but have gone up in price since the pandemic began. Even still, he said it's a more affordable option than wood. 

(Adam Myatt for CBC)

"The advantage we had with the sea can construction was it was super, super economical. There was no waste," said Saunders. 

Mercier said she thinks that a lot of people her age are moving toward living in smaller homes with less stuff. She even plans to build a sea can property herself one day.

"They are [so affordable] compared to building a house and a foundation from scratch," said Mercier.

"They give you that mobility, too, in the sense that you can literally move them from one location to another. There's just so much flexibility and so much creativity." 

Saunders said that while his property is the first of its kind in the city, he knows of similar projects that are currently ongoing. 

"I think you'll see more laneway houses, because it makes sense if you can put in a really efficient model that serves housing needs, but could also facilitate, you know, hobby needs, business needs," said Saunders. 

He said that the city was supportive of the project, and was interested in making the zoning process more streamlined for future laneway builds. 

This film is part of Unlocked: Housing stories by young Canadians, a national storytelling series by the CBC Creator Network. These personal stories, produced primarily by gen-Zers and millennials, reveal the challenges young Canadians face finding affordable housing, their creative solutions and their hopes for the future. You can read more stories here.