Buffalo might not be known for its container house community, but that could start to change. In 2018, we covered a new shipping container house that was built in Black Rock, but since that time we haven’t seen much else on this front, which is surprising.
Ian and Jenna Donnelly have embarked upon constructing a significant new container home at 287 Hoyt Street. In the five years since we last featured a home of this nature, a lot has changed (for the better). That’s because residential shipping container construction has come a long way. It’s no longer so scary, although it is still considered pioneering.
The idea for the couple’s container home came about when they became frustrated with the city’s housing market. As soon as desirable houses came up on the market, there were bidding wars and cash deals. It seemed impossible to find something that they liked, that they could also afford.
Years earlier, Ian had shared an apartment (in 2012) with a friend who was part of the Buffalo Solar Decathlon project. That’s when he initially became intrigued by the idea of living in a custom, modular, efficient home. Eventually, when he and Jenna were dating, he mentioned the idea to her, but she shrugged it off, thinking that it was a passing whim. But later on, when the married couple encountered the road blocks with the housing market, he brought up the idea again.
“Wow, you’re serious…,” she replied.
And he was serious, which is why the two began to consider the potential.
“We were living in the city, but were running out of space,” Ian told me. “We wanted to stay in the city, and raise our two boys here. I decided to start researching available lots on the West Side, while learning how to buy land from the City of Buffalo.”
After coming close on a couple of lot purchases that fell through the cracks, Ian and Jenna found the perfect lot on Hoyt Street in 2018.
“Our friend lived in the lot behind it,” siad Jenna. “We have been embraced by all of the neighbors, which is important to us.”
Knowing their limitations in building a scratch-home, Ian and Jenna began to assemble an A-Team, to help them with the project. They retained the services of architect Mike Anderson (Abstract Architecture), and Pieter louw of John F Dickinson Construction Management – they were connected via the ACME Cabinet Co., (another great Buffalo resource). It also helped that Ian is project manager at T-Mark Plumbing Heating & Cooling.
“Mike had designed a couple of other container homes,” said Ian. “But they never crossed the finish line because of clients with life changes. So he’s really excited about this project. We got to tour the container home over in Black Rock, and talk to the owners, which was very helpful. That’s one of the things that we love most about this – there is a container home community throughout the US that wants to help others as much as possible. Typically, container structures are more prevalent in port cities… our hope is to inspire more people to consider this type of living in Buffalo. We’re experimenting on ourselves with this one, and then we will evaluate the process. We want to map out our journey and share resources, in hopes of further building the local container home community, with great (and accessible) modular infill projects.”
The lot that Ian and Jenna purchased is not large – it’s 30′ x 100′. The space constraints made it perfect for a container home. They are using 5 containers as the main structure, stacking two on the north side of the lot, and two on the south side, using a bridge with framers to connect the two.
“The company we work with, to source the containers and do all of the fabrication, is GTI Fabrication on Route 5,” Ian pointed out. Their main business is building custom modular structures that allow for the creation of army troop training villages anywhere in the world (military, disaster relief, commercial markets, etc.)”
The configuration of the containers allows the first floor to be wide open, with no piers or pillars. The second floor will be a bridge that will act as a hallway to the three-bed, two and half bath home. Altogether, it will be 1750 square feet, with a full basement. The basement will have 8′ ceilings, which is a great way to hide mechanicals (and store stuff).
“When we learned that we could get a full size basement for an extra couple of thousand, we couldn’t believe it,” said Ian. “We have all-electrified high efficiency, air-sourced heat pumps on the first floor, with exposed forced air on the second floor. The designed of the plumbing is stacked – the kitchen and the bathrooms all share a wall for efficiency. It’s super clean.”
Hearing how far the container home concept has come, in a relatively short period of time, I asked Ian and Jenna if there were any downsides to the concept at this stage of the game. They told me that it’s a learning process for sure, but that they have it pretty much figured it out at this point, between the addition of the full basement, the use of closed-cell foam, the proper window cuts and configurations, the right type of foundation, and considering the frost line in the wintertime.
Compared to a traditional stick-built home, the container house results in significant savings, especially when considering pandemic prices of building materials. The build time is also shorter, with some of the fabrication being constructed off site. The container homes can be arranged to fit in unusual lot spaces as well. There appears to be a lot of upside, when talking to the couple. The only downside is that there are not many of them around, but if it’s up to Ian and Jenna, that’s (crossing fingers) going to change.
As for the rest of the exterior house materials, “There’s vinyl siding on everything except for the front. The front (which faces west) will have an aluminized material by Sagiper, designed to withstand the abuse lake erie winds and snow throw our way. It’s also very clean, beautiful, and has a warranty of 50 years,” according to Ian.
Ian told me that the icing on the cake was the ability to go solar by incorporating a 4.2 kilowatt system using Tesla solar roof tiles, made right here in Buffalo, NY.
“We have an 8-foot southwest-pitched roof for the solar roof tiles, which also allows us to add more windows to let the natural light pour through in the vaulted master bedroom.
“Everything that we did is gorgeous, sustainable, and efficient,” Ian declared. “We are building this home to last well over 100 years.”
Get connected: To follow the progress of this exciting infill project, tune into Honey + Water Homes on Instagram.