Buying a Tiny Home

Interview with container home builder Lagom Container Spaces

In Ontario, container homes can be your quickest path to installing a secondary dwelling unit that satisfies all building code requirements. 

While tiny houses on wheels are still quite tricky to park in Ontario, most municipalities now allow secondary dwelling units or ADUs (additional dwelling units) on properties with an existing house. These can be very small (tiny home size) as long as they sit on a foundation and meet setback requirements and other regulations.

Container homes give you the advantages of a tiny home on a foundation that can still be built in an indoor facility and then delivered to your backyard.

We reached out to Chris Pursel, the very personable Project Director of Lagom Container Spaces, a container home company near Kitchener, Ontario. Chris was kind enough to answer all our questions about container homes for Canadians:

What size are container homes?

That’s a good question because container homes can be many sizes as they can be made up of multiple containers which can be added off to the side or even stacked. If you’re looking at a single container, the show home we currently have is an 8 ft x 20 ft and 8 ft tall (with 92” floor to ceiling inside).

Our buyers also have the option to go with a “high cube container”, which has 9 ft ceilings inside as well as an option of 40 ft long home. Some of the work we are quoting for emergency shelters and homeless housing communities can go as small as an 8 ft x 10 ft container. 

How do you make that small space work?

With 7’ width on the inside, you have to really plan out every inch of space and take a custom approach to everything in the home. For example, we use 20” deep countertops instead of the standard 24”, which doesn’t change the experience very much but does add a lot more breathing room. 

Photo: Lagom Container Spaces

Container homes are quite popular in the US. What different approaches do you need to take to make them appropriate for Canadian weather?

That is an excellent question. Most of what you see online is not a container in Canada! Containers are really airtight. We have worked very hard to come up with an air exchange and heating and cooling system that will ensure proper ventilation and temperature control in the home.

I am proud to say that our biggest breakthrough was being able to install a furnace with ductwork on a container home. Compared to just having a heat pump at one end, which creates hot and cold spots in the house, our system ensures fresh air at the right temperature throughout. To our knowledge, we are the only ones in Canada who are offering a container home with duct work and this level of air exchange.

Where are the shipping containers coming from and what is the environmental impact of turning them into a home?

The containers we use for the home application are known as one trip containers. They are built in China and they are shipped over with products inside. Once the products are offloaded, the containers are sent to a container terminal where they are offered for sale. Containers are in abundance in North America and when we turn them into a dwelling, we are effectively recycling them.

What are the benefits of container construction over more traditional wood framing?

The main benefit is that the home can be constructed in our controlled environment, eliminating any delays or risks due to weather. It is then very easy to transport either by truck or rail and quick to install by crane. You can save time by doing the site preparation while the home construction has already begun in our facility. 

Containers are very durable and are built to withstand any weather and multiple moves. They can even be stacked and you can add to your container home with time if you like. 

Tell me about Lagom Container Spaces. How did you get started and what have you been up to so far? 

Lagom was created a year ago as a sister brand to Dundee Mobile Storage, which is a company that has been around for seven years. Dundee Mobile Storage was originally a company that rented out shipping containers for storage purposes. They quickly started making modifications to the containers to make them more convenient to use. Eventually, they moved into creating contractor offices for construction sites. Now contractor offices are its main product. 

Over a year ago, they decided to put their knowledge of container construction into building a home that can be used year-round. This was spurred by the new Kitchener municipal by-law that permits Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) to be constructed on existing properties. We already had the experience with containers and with this new demand for small dwelling units to be put in quickly and easily, we decided to create Lagom Container Spaces to take on the residential side of things. 

We’ve seen a lot of demand and all kinds of interest. Even with almost no marketing, we are seeing weekly requests from our website and not just for homes. We have also built a number of sunrooms and other types of spaces as well.

Photo: Lagom Container Spaces

So, who is buying container homes in the Kitchener area?

We actually have different sources of requests. Most are coming from people who are frustrated with the real estate market prices, both for buying a home and renting one. A lot of people are trying to help their 20-something kids get started in life, just like I am with my kids. They are putting in a container home in their backyard to give their kids a place to live independently for minimal cost while they save up for a downpayment.  

We are also in talks with organizations who are looking to use container homes on a bigger scale as emergency shelters, homeless housing, and student housing. For example, A Better Tent City, has been considering using containers for their tiny houses for unsheltered people initiative and we have already built a washroom/shower/laundry facility for the communal use of that community. 

For someone looking to put a secondary dwelling/tiny home in their backyard, what would the process look like?

Our first step would be to book a customer meeting and discovery. We also check to make sure your backyard is big enough and meets the by-law requirements of your municipality. Once that’s confirmed, you can choose one of our prepared floor plans or we can put together a custom plan for you. Your concept is sent to our architect who will create an approved version of the concept with engineering. This drawing package is sufficient for the municipality to approve it as a viable project.

At this point, while your site is being prepared, we begin construction on your container home in our facility. We deliver the completed shell at drywall stage, install it using a crane, and get it ready for the municipal inspection. The final step is adding all the interior finishes, which is done on site. There is minimal disturbance to the customer as the contractors are working only inside the home at that point. What you get in the end is a turnkey home that has passed all municipal inspections.

Photo: Lagom Container Spaces

What about people like me who have never needed to book a crane and wouldn’t know where to start?

That’s completely understandable and that’s why we offer an end-to-end service. Many people don’t have experience in getting a home built and they can feel overwhelmed by even the first step of contacting the municipal planner. We deal with municipal permits all the time, so we are happy to just make the call for you. The same goes for all the details to do with transportation and installation. What you get in the end is a home that’s ready to move in.

If you’re interested in speaking with Chris about a container home quote, please reach out on their website: https://lagomcontainerspaces.com/

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