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Possibly coming to Old First Ward: a new ‘container house’

A Buffalo resident wants to build a new home at least partly out of empty shipping containers.

Michael Heidinger intends to put up a new single-family house at 71-73 Louisiana St., in the Old First Ward just south of downtown Buffalo, across the Buffalo River from Silo City.

“In your typical container house, the containers are either stacked or aligned in some manner that creates your spaces,” said Michael Anderson, who designed the project for Heidinger. “We’re doing a combination of that.”

About 80 percent of the first floor will be built from the containers, using their shape as the frame. The kitchen will be in a container that cantilevers in front, and the bathroom in back would also be made from a container. The walls of the containers would be visible on the exterior of the home, except where gray shake shingles cover the frame construction.

On the inside, the two-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom home still has to meet code requirements relating to energy. So wherever the container wall is directly exposed to the outside weather, the contractors would put up a wall frame, insulation and drywall on the inside, covering up the container from the occupants’ view. But in other areas, such as the bathroom and the view from the living room into the kitchen, the container walls would just be painted and visible inside.

The “high-cube” containers that will make up Heidinger’s home are 8 feet wide, 40 feet long and 9.5 feet tall, giving them more height than a regular shipping container. That’s intended to allow Anderson to build floors and ceilings, with lighting.

The project, which needs a zoning variance and site plan approval, will be considered by the Buffalo Planning Board on Monday.

If approved, Heidinger and Anderson hope to start construction in the spring and finish by next fall, according to Planning Board documents.

Container construction is gaining popularity in many parts of the country, particularly where home prices and construction costs for new homes are very high. The containers are sturdy, they can be adapted for a variety of uses, and they’re available in abundance from shipping and transportation companies. In fact, Anderson said he will get the containers for Heidinger’s home from a local shipping firm.

“It’s in no way difficult to source the containers locally,” said Anderson, owner of Abstract Architecture.

They are cheap to buy, and they lower the cost of construction by 20 to 25 percent, Anderson said. A container can be obtained for $5,000, and then built out for a home for about $15,000 to $20,000, he said, making it much more affordable than traditional new construction. The final price tag for Heidinger’s home isn’t firm yet, but Anderson said the goal is less than $200,000.

“That’s part of the reason they’re so popular in some markets, because the cost is so much less than typical construction,” Anderson said. “The problem in this market is that there’s just not a lot of container homes. If you go out to the Pacific Northwest, you’ll get a lot of very competitive bidding to build a container house, because they’re doing a lot more of it. In the local market, you really have to guide them through it a little bit because it’s newer.”

Anderson knows of only one other example of a container home being built in Buffalo. Attempts to reach the homeowner of that project and the architect were unsuccessful.

Heidinger did not return phone calls seeking his comment on the project.

Developer Rocci Termini’s now defunct downtown restaurant Dog é Style was built with shipping containers stacked on top of each other, covering concrete, creating two floors.

It’s something that’s being done all over the country,” Termini said in March 2014.