A Missoula company that turns metal shipping containers into ready-to-move-in homes has begun a limited run of its first model at a production facility at the old Bonner mill site.
Montainer, a company formed last year by five partners from the Missoula and Seattle areas with engineering, construction and architecture backgrounds, is demonstrating its first prototype, called the Nomad 192.
“It’s 192 square feet, and it comes complete with a bathroom, kitchen and all appliances,” said company co-founder and CEO Patrick Collins. “It’s even got a washer/dryer combo.”
The company’s business plan is fairly simple. It purchases used metal shipping containers, of which there are tens of thousands available every year, from the Seattle area for between $3,000 and $5,000.
Then workers install insulation, wiring, plumbing and everything else required in a fully-functioning home, including large glass doors, cabinets and track lighting. The homes are then delivered to clients by flatbed truck.
“They meet all building codes, and they are really perfect for an accessory dwelling unit installed in the backyard for people to rent out,” Collins explained. “They’re inspected at our facility, and approved at the state level through the modular home building department. We have them inspected by third-party inspectors and they are stamped before they’re shipped out. It’s a really streamlined inspection and permitting process.”
A fully functional Nomad 192 will cost $65,000, including delivery and installation within 500 miles, but customers need to first have a foundation and utility hookups.
The idea of converting shipping containers into homes isn’t new, Collins said, but few companies are doing exactly what Montainer is doing.
“Nobody is pursuing our exact business model,” he said. “There is a company that makes trade-show booths with them, and that’s really cool. There’s a handful of architecture firms that do this, but they don’t handle the production in-house, they hire contractors on a one-by-one basis. There is one company that makes similar homes, but they make them from a steel frame instead of shipping containers. We’re leading the way on it as far as our exact business model, not that it’s a new idea, but we’re the first ones to distill it down into a pure form of what people want: a recycled, aesthetically pleasing home that they purchased over the Internet in a streamlined way. It’s just shipped out to them and they don’t have to think about it.”
Shipping containers are extremely durable and stable, because they are meant to be stacked 10 deep while holding thousands of pounds of cargo. They are made of corten steel, which is chemically engineered to resist rusting.
“They make the perfect building blocks for architectural applications,” Collins said. “They have great inherent strength. We also have plans to develop larger models using two, three or four containers. We can construct them two to three stories high. All we need to do for the buyer is verify the site is adequate, help them get permitted, deliver it and install it.”
Although most people think steel containers would be awfully hot in the summer, Montainers use spray-foam insulation and air-conditioning units to mitigate the heat.
“They are really airtight and energy-efficient,” Collins said.
An added benefit for eco-conscious buyers is that the home is recycled.
The goal of Montainer is to make the shipping container homes available to the mainstream buyer.
“Currently there’s quite a few examples of container homes out there, but every single one that’s been done, the buyer had to engage an architect and go through it from scratch,” Collins explained. “Our process allows them to circumvent that process because we have a predetermined design, so it’s easy to permit. People that buy from us won’t have architectural fees, which has been a major barrier. People have had to drop $10,000 to $20,000 before they even get started. Our goal is to tell people the price, how it’s going to be delivered and that’s it. When people buy a home like this, they just want to know how much it’s going to cost. The first customers we are targeting, the early adopters, are really excited about this. As we gain some traction we’ll come out with more models.”
The more customization that customers want, Collins said, the more the homes will cost.
Annelise Hedahl, a Missoula City Council member, has put down a deposit to have a custom-built Montainer shipped to her property near Clark Canyon Reservoir south of Dillon.
“I was looking for something really simple that can stand the test of time and is really cool,” she explained. “It would be a great added value if I could rent it out to hunting or fishing parties. It’s a really cool concept. There’s something really appealing about the idea.”
Hedahl said she was also very appreciative of the fact that the container homes can be completely sealed for security purposes when they are not in use.
Collins said the company hopes to hire employees within the next year and begin ramping up production of the Nomad 192 to ship to clients across the country.
“The first one we did ended up taking 75 days, but once we scale up the production we can produce that model in 30 days,” Collins said. “A customer could order one online at the first of the month and be living in it by the end of the month. People really can’t believe how fast and easy it is to have a home delivered to your backyard.”
Collins said the typical customer has a piece of land, say on Flathead Lake, and they want to build a cabin.
“Our market actually would be places like Seattle, where construction costs are high,” he said. “So we can construct them here because the cost to build here is really low, and we can ship them to Seattle for less than you can build a home. For our first model, it’s people that want a guesthouse or an ADU that they can rent out, or a lakefront cabin. We do have plans for larger models that would be more suitable for families.”
Collins said that there will be a production run of five Nomad 192s for the first group of buyers, and then by early next year the company will begin increasing production.
For more information visit montainer.org.
Reporter David Erickson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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