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Launch HN: Boxouse (YC W17) – Shipping-container homes
142 points by liseman on Mar 21, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments
Hi HN! We're Luke and Heather, founders of boxouse: https://boxouse.com. We build portable, beautiful(ish), affordable smart homes out of used shipping containers in our West Oakland factory. This began out of our frustration with paying high rent for crappy apartments: we started thinking about our monthly rent in terms of how many shipping containers we could buy (2 per month!). We're particularly interested in using containers as a tool to increase density and affordability; among other things, we're going to deploy containers to people's yards for free, sharing the rent revenue with them. We do all the construction ourselves; more than happy to dig into technical details!

A couple of points, Photos:

Hire a decent photographer, large sensor, low f number. You'd be surprised what a good camera with a competent person running it will do. Go wide angle.

Your unique selling point should be the thought you put into the layout. Anyone can insulate and sling in some furniture, the real hard part is making the space lovable/liveable. Choose a theme or period, industrial is a good start. You have bamboo flooring, why not use it for the fittings?

o Put beading/moulding around the windows. Its simple and cheap.

o Match the doors and frames to the plywood/cladding

o Change the electrical outlets to metal, anything other than the stock white

o Use industrial light cases, it'll match the industrial look better

o Make sure the stuff you install is straight, and neat, the bed slats are wonky!

o The bamboo flooring looks great make use of it more!

o when taking the photos, think about where the light is coming from, make sure its streaming through the windows making the place look bright

Also, don't give up...

Great ideas, thanks! We've been through 4 different attempts at photos, and results are obviously lacking... do any of you have sources you really like for outlet covers, light cases, and other fixture / finish elements?

I think this guy http://vantagepointphoto.com/#slide5 is one of the best in Northern California - great grasp of lighting and space, probably charges commiserate with scale / quality of his portfolio.

This guy has very solid ratings locally, nice portfolio, and worth hitting too - http://www.dannyosterweil.com/about/ - I think he's probably within a few miles of you guys.

This is great; I'll reach out to both of them today. Thanks!

Depends on your look you want to achieve. I'm in the UK, so its literally a different world

You might want to try brass, as it might fit with the wood better. You could even use floor plates (if they are legal in your part of the world). it might also just be a case of putting them in less obvious places.


In the above example, they are not that dissimilar to your $25k offering, apart from the ceiling is white plasterboard/drywall, which is smooth. Also the appliances are hidden, its a living room, not a nuts and bolts room :)

Definitely do not take this guy's photo advice. But DEFINITELY hire a pro and let them do their work. The existing photos on the site are a huge turnoff. It should cost you a few thousand dollars to hire a top notch photographer - their work will pay you back tenfold at a minimum though.

"Large sensor, low f number, go wide angle" means absolutely nothing...don't go to a photographer saying some shit like that.

What the OP suggested might not be the best approach (that'd be for the pro to decide when shooting) in terms of display photos, but making the claim that '"Large sensor, low f number, go wide angle" means absolutely nothing [to a photographer]' is patently false.

+1 to getting a pro photographer. Your current pics, particularly for the $49k deluxe, are really off-putting.

Guys; I like the idea but your prices are too high. You're in the decent trailer price range.

The big advantage of a shipping container is the ability to cheaply ship it. Once you cut into it you can't ship it anymore. It's not a great use of recycled material as it uses way too much steel for a dwelling.

I'm actually in the market for a shippable shipping container house. Similar to https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sPgjndFqqwY . He gives the quote of $50K including high quality fittings and market price labor. I will probably build one myself then ship it to where I need it. I'm an expat and I historically move countries every year or so. If you were to build a clone of this I would buy it.

Another benefit of shippable shipping container homes is you can service customers anywhere around the globe! Not just SF.

At those price points these posh studio sheds become competitive


The problem with all of these seems to be: where could you actually live in one in any city or suburban area? I don't reckon you can just buy a small plot of land on a residential street in San Jose and plop this down, hook up utilities, pave a driveway, and live in it. I doubt any homeowners here would want it next to them. I've never seen it done in the Bay Area. Is it possible?

The idea is beautiful, living "in a box" is sure something complex because of the regulations.

But I remember very pleasantly a holiday in one of these prefabricated (in Sweden): with a good (big and serious) design work and targeting the recreation market they could even raise prices.

An example: [http://www.vipp.com/en/shelter/the-vipp-shelter/the-vipp-she...] - [https://youtu.be/LCyN1hxQtdA]

> I doubt any homeowners here would want it next to them.

IMHO it all boils down to your product: if you're selling a high quality tiny home / shelter / box, then I definitely want one of those next to me.

If you want a metal building, Butler Buildings has all the parts to make one.[1] Rural America has hundreds of thousands of their prefab structures. They sell prebuilt wall sections with insulation, and wall sections with windows and doors. Putting one together is far easier than slicing through a shipping container, and you can vary the dimensions. The industrial look has been unpopular, and they're seldom used as houses.

There's General Steel Buildings, which makes steel house kits.[2] They're not popular, but they are available. For a little extra, you can get fake brick to hide the steel exterior.

You can get some nice prefab houses for well under the $29K these people want for a modified 150 square foot shipping container. In mobile homes, $29K gets you a 16 foot wide unit with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 14 foot square living room, kitchen, A/C, and appliances, installed.[3]

Siting is the problem, not manufacturing cost.

[1] http://butlermfg.com [2] https://gensteel.com/steel-building-kits/houses [3] http://www.montysheavybuilthomes.com/index.php?pageID=14676_...

I love the idea, but as-is, I think your product could more attractive if you hired an interior designer to help with the sample pictures/overall product "image".

Attractive product, unattractive design. There's nothing there to make me want your product over another company doing the same thing with more emphasis on design.

I totally agree. We have two upcoming units which were designed by an artist and interior designer. The great thing about tiny homes and fast production is that we can iterate through design ideas really quickly. In the coming month we're going to put a big focus on aesthetic and interaction design.

Here's some photos of work in progress: https://goo.gl/photos/N6jiAo9696QJG6KU8

Honestly, there is still nothing here that compels me to buy your product. Who is your target audience? What's your appeal? What makes your product special?

I am a mid-twenties millennial looking for a starter home (considering a container home) and I'm not really seeing something I want.

I've followed this space for years now. The problem I see is, at these prices, someone like n-exploit can hire a custom builder to do it exactly to their tastes/layout.

I'm not seeing what benefit do you add to the existing ecosystem?

I will be absolutely stunned if you can get a tiny home custom-built with a solar system half this size for less than 80k.

The Deluxe priced at $49k is very basic finish that could be replicated for $30k max, potentially much cheaper. So does a 1kW solar system bridge the price gap? Not even close

The reason you anchor on that 80k number is because custom building usually has a lot extra. Better quality. High cost materials. More carpentry. This is basically a plywood box and a solar system. And a solar system of this size is only a few grand installed.

Here's the aesthetic you need to aim for to stand out: https://getaway.house/annabelle/

Get a designer in your team ASAP IMO as I think the styling is going to seriously hamper you in the short term otherwise.

These prices seem too high. Low-end mobile homes are around the same price, are larger, offer nicer interiors, and face fewer legal complexities. I also know tiny home builders who can custom build homes with similar square footage as these for around the same price. I live in Missouri so housing is cheap, but isn't the advantage of pre-fab homes the ability to ship them for a much lower cost than building on-site?

I don't see how this could scale past cities where rent is insane and have housing regulations that allow this kind of home.

What is the advantage of this versus other pre-fabricated homes? What justifies the price?

We'll make it clearer on the website, but the 49k version includes a 1.5kw solar array, ~15kwh of battery storage, all water systems, full smart home functionality (ie 'alexa, trigger windows' to go from transparent to opaque), and furnishings down to the utensils. Our 9k barebones model is closer to how most mobile homes I've seen are outfitted (but with better insulation and design in a boxouse); looks like these average over 60k new: http://www.dailyyonder.com/manufactured-housing-sales-bounce... . am i missing something?

Hi Luke, Thanks for taking the time to talk with us and your efforts on tackling the housing problems.

One question, is the main focus of the business to manufacture and sell the Box houses or offer then for renting with AirBnB or similar sites? If the latter do you have some planed strategy to lower the high CAPEX needed for scaling?

Both, balancing the capex needs for the latter via sales as I scale:)

That's pretty epic to have a fully functional human nest for 49k.

Is there a place where I can try them out. I will be visiting SF and definitely want to experience staying in a container home before deciding to make a call.

A dream of mine is to buy some land in a remote place with a gorgeous view and place a container home there.

Does the 49k version have a toilet?

Yes: toilet, shower, water heater, kitchen sink.

Does anyone know the details of the toilet? My guess is that it is a composting toilet? https://duckduckgo.com/?q=composting+toilet&ia=web

Where is the toilet? I assume that the big silver tub is the shower, but it's not clear where the toilet would be.

The shower is also the toilet. It's a big basin which you rinse with water. What's the real difference?

Please someone confirm this isn't true...

I agree. Not only can you get low-end mobile homes or build a tiny home but in much of the world you can get a reasonable apartment.

How to you ameliorate the toxins inherent in shipping containers? Typically, those paints and pressure treated woods are not used indoors, and I would be worried about some of the chemicals? Second, in the climate here, how do you avoid mold? Metal is a prime target for condensation, and in the bay we are always around the dew point. If you insulate the walls, how do you avoid mold growth (maybe put insulation on the outside)? How about power/gas supply, HVAC, waste plumbing etc? How about moving it? Leveling it? it seems that they'll be substantially heavier than most mobile homes, so trailering with consumer vehicles will be hard, which makes them hard to deliver.

I've been in shipping container buildings before (e.g. Frietag store in Zurich) - they are not really a great size. Many Mobile homes that are comfortable feature pop-out sides. Any plans for expanding them?

Some real positives - fireproof envelope, Envelope can be welded to, several formats available - including ones with side doors can be "racked" can be made airtight (allows you to specify air exchanges, rather than estimate them) portability with the right equipment.

The interior environment gets entirely sealed under closed-cell foam insulation applied directly to the metal, leaving no interior space for condensation on the metal. Literally all surfaces that you're exposed to are things we buy at home improvement stores: bamboo flooring, cabinet-grade plywood, etc. A big part of the 'deluxe' cost is the elaborate solar system: we're able to cook, heat space + water, etc. all off of the solar array + batteries. We're thinking about possibilities for pop-outs in the future.

Please see: http://www.archdaily.com/160892/the-pros-and-cons-of-cargo-c...

"For instance, the coatings used to make the containers durable for ocean transport also happen to contain a number of harmful chemicals, such as chromate, phosphorous, and lead-based paints. Moreover, wood floors that line the majority of shipping container buildings are infused with hazardous chemical pesticides like arsenic and chromium to keep pests away."


"Reusing Containers seems to be a low energy alternative, however, few people factor in the amount of energy required to make the box habitable. The entire structure needs to be sandblasted bare, floors need to be replaced, and openings need to be cut with a torch or fireman’s saw. The average container eventually produces nearly a thousand pounds of hazardous waste before it can be used as a structure."

This! I've looked seriously into making a large shipping crate home by slowly accumulating them for storage and whatnot at my farm. Ultimately, after learning about the hazardous materials used in many, I gave up. Besides the points mentioned by abakker, one of the things that really got to me was the 'mystery box' aspect. Simply put, you don't know what they carried or what got spilled inside. Was it carrying pesticides? Did a bunch of compact florescence break inside in a storm releasing mercury into the container? There have even been reports of shipping containers which are radioactive above background levels, presumably from spilled nuclear medical waste or shipping something like Uranium ore. Before you call me nuts:

"About 20 million consignments of all sizes containing radioactive materials are routinely transported worldwide annually on public roads, railways and ships."


Note that sprayed on closed cell insulation does little to nothing to mitigate many of the toxins which can be found in shipping containers including mercury - it just makes it poisonous for longer. To use them for a dwelling all wood needs to be removed and they need to be sand or water blasted down to bare metal.

I want to give you brutally honest feedback, please do not take it personally.

I looked for something similar in Spain, a house in a rail wagon, something like this:





Some of them were extremely cheap and simple but they had lots of charm and taste.

Your houses look totally ugly to me, cold. Humans not allowed kind of feeling.

You probably need to learn some design. Even when people will tell you the only thing they care is price, it is extremely depressing expending long hours in an ugly place.

My dad owns a few trailer parks. Great investment but not for the faint of heart. From our experience, you're not going to want to live in any neighborhood that allows this kind of housing and as a result, it wont be available for long in any neighborhood you're trying to address. Many trailer parks are trashy (literally trash everywhere) with a highly uneducated and unstable demographic. Its the suburban equivalent of an urban ghetto. Alcoholism, assault, vandalism are daily occurrences. Some questions to ask yourself: am I comfortable evicting people on a weekly basis? How many problematic tenants can my system tolerate before all the software engineers who have the option to pay high rents for crappy apartments decide safety and piece of mind are valuable?

Oh and by the way, this type of housing is cheap but not necessarily inexpensive. A trailer in upstate GA an hour and half away from Atlanta in the middle of nowhere makes $500 a month. In Oakland, market rates (and all roads lead to a market rate) will likely get this to $750-800. People are going to start piling into these things to make the economics work, which will make them more dangerous, more unstable.

There were (and are) very well maintained mobile home parks. It's more a matter of market segmentation (e.g. college students or retirees or vacationers (and hence location)) than the form factor. Ownership pattern also plays a big role. Resident owned trailer parks are often very well maintained.

For example: http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-search/The-Village...

I used to live in The Franciscan Park in Colma/Daly City. It barely felt like a trailer park at all. It was resident-owned trailers, sort of. You had to pay a fee for the land. Don't know much more about the details, we were renting.

Its the suburban equivalent of an urban ghetto. What does this mean? Trailor parks in the suburbs?


Those photos don't really fit the "sleek finish out" and "premium materials" description. The tub looks dirty, the bed slats are all wonky, and it looks overall extremely cheap.

It's certainly not $20k worth of add-ons to the barebones bit (https://boxouse.com/collections/buy/products/boxouse-barebon...).

Yeah, this looks less appealing than a single-wide. Since the real value in these not-mobile-home small housing thingies usually seems to be letting people live in a mobile home without compromising their sense of where they sit in the class structure, it needs to at least have a veneer of "superb craftsmanship" or whatever.

It really does. Based on these photos, I'd rather live in a single-wide, and I know from experience exactly how shoddy those are.

Not trying to be a hater. I understand what is pictured may be prototypes.. if they are you shouldn't be showing them unless you have that caveat in the picture. Both the design is poor, and the craftsmanship is low. If this is past the prototype stage, and this is what you will actually be selling. Then you really don't understand the pre-fab space nor the price points of the pre-fab space.

thanks for the feedback. what are the most compelling prefabs you've found that are actually shipping, and how much do they cost?

Prefab is a loaded term - unfortunately, depending on people's experiences, it can be loaded in very different ways.

At YC, there's Acre (Pacific NW, California, Colorado): http://www.acredesigns.com/

I work with BrightBuilt (New England originally, now shipping in the mid-Atlantic as well): http://brightbuilthome.com/

Up here in Maine we also have Ecocor, which is a panel product: https://www.ecocor.us/

I think those are a couple of good prefab examples, although none of them hang their designs on the shipping container form factor (and I specifically picked three 'prefab' companies with very different delivery methods). Most prefab companies I have experience with have gone that way, primarily because the width constraints of a container aren't great once you get above one or two modules.

I think the branding (or rebranding) of small homes built on tow-able platforms as 'tiny homes' was a genius stroke of marketing. If you can do that with the Boxouse that's some secret sauce, but in the absence of a strong brand I think the Boxouse units will end up being called 'trailers' as opposed to 'prefab'.

I know you're trying to keep costs down, but unfinished trim work and/or exposed plywood (especially on the $9k model) makes everything look incredibly cheap. Take a look at how similarly-priced RVs handle their interiors for comparison.

For $29k you can get something that you can drive and is generally furnished better (in a lot of municipalities these tiny houses need to be on wheels to skirt code violations anyway).

There was a shipping container home on Grand Designs (what a show!) that looked absolutely breathtaking: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/09/24/1411571780563_wps_...

I think a bit of sprucing up (with wood and a sound paint-job) would go a long way to remove that whiff of trailer park that I get from your landing page.

Do you have a link to more photos of that house?

I believe this is the part of the episode where they discuss the finished building: https://vimeo.com/147232218

Imagine spending $49,000 on this boxhouse, and then seeing this 72 airstream go for $35k: https://sfbay.craigslist.org/nby/tro/6036307617.html

Well, imagine spending $49,000 on a shipping-container house.

How are you going to deal with zoning? Generally the big problem with tiny houses is that while they're relatively cheap to make they're not allowed by existing zoning.

Many places treat these types of dwellings as mobile homes, and there is probably no form of development that is more widely banned than mobile home parks.

Even putting one of these on your own lot as an accessory structure is going to be very difficult in much of the country.

These rules are all legally codified class discrimination, and is very much largely about middle class single family homeowners keeping out what they call "undesirables".

In their worldview, "undesirables" can include anything from a mixed use building with commercial on first floor and an apartment on top, to turning a single family home into a duplex, but there is nothing more detested by these folks than mobile home parks.

It's an American caste system and it leads to unnecessary high housing prices. Very broadly, America doesn't want to invest in fixing social problems and there is a big focus on just moving the problem to other areas. The counter-productive part of this is that high housing costs drain resources from families and that induced poverty state leads to the social problems that are trying to be hidden in the first place.

Zoning is in need of serious reform, it is possible to go up against it and it is possible to win. I have, but it wasn't easy, and you really need public opinion on your side.

Market positioning can make the difference, and there is opportunity for things to change due to the bad economic position many towns find themselves in. Many places simply can't afford their snobbery anymore.

The rebranding happening with the tiny home movement has a chance at breaking through this and I hope that it does.

I would love to develop a piece of land with a group of affordable small houses but it's a total non starter in my area.

Mobile homes have a distinct legal disadvantage: they are classified as vehicles rather than real property. Local municipalities have statutes on the books that readily allow impounding vehicles and regulating their parking that are much more 'action oriented' than the legal formalities for liening real property for zoning non-compliance.

IMHO, zoning is is one of the biggest challenges facing anybody who wants to do something interesting in real estate. CA actually is forcing cities to make it easier to build ADUs: http://www.hcd.ca.gov/policy-research/docs/17Jan30-ADU-TA-Me... . Worst case, we put wheels on them and have license plates to avoid having to comply with building regulations;)

I hate to be that guy but "putting wheels on them" is not a simple solution at all... it will take a lot more than that to make your cargo containers street-legal.

> Worst case, we put wheels on them and have license plates to avoid having to comply with building regulations;)

Once they are vehicles, it's much easier for them to be impounded for violating parking and other vehicle-related regulations, which the proposed uses seem as likely to break as building regulations.

Looks like they learned some lessons the hard way. They were forced out of their original location by Oakland. "Iseman said after the inspection at 2836 Union Street that it might have cost $200,000 to $300,000 to bring the property and containers into compliance with building and health codes.

... The new space 'will be organized, beautiful, and largely inside, hidden from the prying eyes of nosey neighbors and nettlesome bureaucrats.'"


The quote about the new space sounds like they're soon to learn about building inspectors.

Putting a bunch of containers into a warehouse somewhere sounds like a good way to repeat http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/oakland-warehouse-fire-v...

a good service add-on would be help with getting one installed in various jurisdictions. i.e., what exactly is the process to get one installed on a plot of land in unincorporated Los Angeles County? (or wherever) who do i need to call and permit in order to not get kicked off my own land?

right now, that process is completely opaque and mysterious, and people who have done it don't seem to want to share.

Out-of-touch SV types discover the single-wide trailer, decide to make crappy ones from containers and overcharge for them.

You know, Warren Buffet already has that business model and moats don't get a lot wider than Berkshire Hathaway. He also has his own predatory bank, insurance companies, real estate brokerage franchise, railroad, and container manufacturing.

Good luck.

That is interesting. I had no idea. I already had my reasons for not liking Warren Buffet but this was new to me.

1. "Visit Boxouse $40" sounds like you are charging money for tours, which almost made me leave the site immediately: tweak the copy to say "Stay in a Boxouse $40" or "Try a Boxouse $40"

2. Your presentation needs work.

- Barebones: needs a photo that's less dark, also more than one photo (including inside and outside) - Standard: decent photos, looks bright & clean - Boxouse Deluxe: despite having some nice details this looks like a junky piece of crap. The photo quality is the worst of the three, and the house in the photo is messy and unappealing. The side with the mattress looks sloppy (is that a deflated air mattress? A sleeping bag over a sagging mattress? Whatever it is I don't want to even sit on it, much less sleep on it) and the Ikea-esque drawers with the awkward space between looks unfinished or dysfunctional. The other side by the metal tub has a trashcan and two gadgets plugged in... don't know what they are but that whole side just looks like random junk in the corner of a garage.

The boxouse in the "Visit Boxouse" page is bright, has some design and is appealing: this is what a deluxe one should look like, not the sloppy thing you have there now.

3. If your business model is to deploy them to people's houses for free and split rent revenue, why is your website geared around individual sales?

Before you make any of these you need to make sure you're complying with various fire-related regulations and testing against ASTM standards. We ran into this issue at a startup doing something similar about a year back, and it's one of the things that led to its downfall. From the looks of it, you've built a tinder box. Wood paneling, backed by insulating foam, which is likely quite flammable. All wrapped up in a metal container.

The boxouse.com website is quite frustrating. I scrolled down the page to view the pictures of the houses, but when each picture scrolls into view, it is obscured by a white overlay?! Readers must click each picture to view it on a new page.

I was about to raise the same issue. Not really a satisfactory UX when the photos that might give me some idea of what I'm looking at are obscured whenever they're in the browser viewport.

While on the topic, does anyone else know of other cool things like this? Cool space. e.g. http://www.blokable.com/

More oriented to multi-unit, permanent builds: https://www.montainerhomes.com/ High-end, semi-stackable: http://kasita.com My favorite ultra-low-cost builder: http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/ My favorite youtuber for sustainability broadly, with a focus on housing: https://www.youtube.com/user/kirstendirksen

+1 for https://www.youtube.com/user/kirstendirksen

An amazing channel. My first thought about Boxhouse was, if I've ever seen you on there! You should totally make an appearance.

Kirsten's visited us a couple of times: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfqunEuw61k

One I came across recently is http://www.coodo.com


a very different aesthetic, but I like Matt Bua's buildings in upstate NY: http://bhomepark.blogspot.com

How does the legal side of this work? Do these houses meet the requirements of major construction codes, or are they somehow exempt? Also, aren't there typically restrictions on where units like this can be deployed? There have been all sorts of fights about granny-flats over the years.

Man, it's been 23 hours since this was posted, and lots of negative feedback. With that intro, you might expect me to be different, but sadly, I'm not.

If you haven't read the graphic novel about Honest Tea, I recommend it. One thing made an impression on me: you can't sell sustainable organic tea if it tastes bad.

This was born, as you say, out of "frustration with paying high rent for crappy apartments." It seems your 1st attempt at solving this frustration is to charge a high price for crappy containers.

People have become strongly accustomed to excellent design, and so what used to be passable is now off-putting.

The core problem is that there is nothing about what you're doing that provides credible justification that your approach is a real advance. The trial program ain't it, neither is the rent-sharing. You need something more surpising. What would be compelling enough to tempt a claustrophobic person like me to buy a Boxouse? Nothing I've seen yet.

What about building a little hotel out of stacked Boxouses? I'd be more apt to try it if it came with all the amenities of a normal hotel, and gave the perception that lots of people stay there. (Yeah, I know, I'm a follower, whatever.)

You obviously have something going for you if YC took you, but whatever appealed to YC does not come through on the website. I hope things turn up for you guys (sincerely).

Getting people excited about living smaller is a big task! (sorry, couldn't help myself) My friend started a tiny home company[0] and I've spoken with him a lot about this space. I think there are a couple of major obstacles to mass tiny home adoption and it seems like your home doesn't solve many of them currently. To start:

1. Legality - Most tiny homes aren't legal to put on a slab or connect to utilities in jurisdictions around the US. This is getting better over time with people lobbying to allow smaller homes as "accessory dwelling units".

2. People don't want to feel like they're downgrading - looking at your pictures, Boxouse looks pretty low quality, similar to a hostel or dorm room. While that may appeal to some, most consumers wouldn't choose to live or stay in a home like that. Instead, I think tiny home builders need to concentrate on making more beautiful and functional spaces.

I'd love to chat more with Boxouse (or anyone) about tiny homes and/or connect you with my friend's company. You can find my email in my profile.

[0] https://boxedhaus.com

Well.. all of this reminds me temporary houses used by builders in Ukraine\Russia and other CIS countries (most probably other countries use this as well). For example, https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&sour... as you can see sometimes such "buildings" even have two or more floors. Not sure how they comfortable to live though.

I love the vision and audacity to tackle this rent problem.

That said, help me understand who your GTM target is.

1 - Is it basically SV, young tech guys who want a cheaper and a unique place to live? This is what I'm taking away reading your post. 2 - Is it migratory/seasonal workers who work on a farms during harvest season? 3 - Is it people who want to live off-grid, and plan on buying a lot and just want to drop a house there for cheap?

Some of my initial thoughts:

A - As someone commented, the images don't really connect to any of the segments above. I can see the photographer is going for a certain magazine look. But it doesn't do a real good job of telling a story about these units and your target market.

B - Again as others have commented on regulatory issues both for fire safety and also city regulations. That last part might cause issues with your original vision of lower rent alternatives.

C - Financial model. It seems to me if you are going the rent-share service route and you'll need to put down $40-50K for each unit, you will need a lot of capital as you scale. I'm guessing it will take 3-5 years to recover the cost of each unit (rent-dependent). Which creates a lot of challenges, unless you setup some kind of a partnership scheme. Either individual partners, who will put the money down to help renters finance this as part of revenue share scheme. Or large banking institution who will help underwrite each units.

D - Pricing. As others have pointed out, the pricing once you get to $50k is close to a decent used RV house. And the interiors don't look that great. I'm curious what the cost will be once you put some type of economics of scales into this. Given all the dimensions are set. Can't you just have a shop in China produce all these parts? Is there an opportunity to partner with Lowes or some large retailer who buys in bulk?

Good luck! I'm very impressed you guys have taken it this far and hope it'll succeed.

Some feedback: if you have to append (ish) to call them beautiful, they're probably not beautiful. The photos make them look very shoddy, something put together as a weekend project by amateurs. I don't know much about this "space" (hipsters who want to live in shipping containers I'm guessing...) but I'd be surprised if these are competitive. I could be totally wrong though! I once visited a hipster enclave that was basically a bunch of containers slapped together into a 6 unit Airbnb operation so there is defintely some demand.

On a more general note, this is not really a positive solution to the housing crisis which would be repealing nimby laws and the fed stopping pumping up asset prices. But best of luck.

How would I hook up toilet, sink, electrical, cable (for internet)?

What kind of foundation do you recommend?

Does "deploy containers to yards for free" mean shipping is free? To any state? What rent revenue are you talking about? I can't just put one of these in my backyard and rent it out because of zoning and neighbourhood bylaws.

Why is square footage not mentioned anywhere? Usually a primary concern for any housing consideration.

If there's insulation included in the bare bones kit why is it not shown in the photo? Any why is it so dark? Are you trying to scare people away from that option?

You should have a photo of one of these set up in a nicely landscaped yard with a great entrance path and a beautiful exterior.

I really don't understand the appeal of this. Are people really so desperate to live in an expensive city that they'd be willing to live in a box?

Also, how do you plan to get away from the image of metal box houses being tied to shanty-towns and favelas?

Yes I suspect they are. Rents are incredibly high in major cities. Having seen the size (&cost) of the rooms available for rent in london these containers look quite reasonable.

In the west we don't have favelas so while I think it would be a down-point, I don't think there would be such a strong negative connotation.

we don't, but the image of favelas is pretty pervasive in popular culture eg movies.

> Are people really so desperate to live in an expensive city that they'd be willing to live in a box?

Certainly, but the thing with expensive cities is that the hard part of that is finding the space and meeting the legal requirements, not getting the box.

That's also the problem in suburbs (though the space problem might be a little easier, legal requirements are at least as much of an issue.)

>Are people really so desperate to live in an expensive city that they'd be willing to live in a box?

Isn't near every apt just a box, with slight changes around the frame? The question is how you carve up space within the box

Topologically, yes. Semiotically, no.

Please take a look at http://tinyhousetalk.com A collection of tiny houses. Some of these tiny houses are very pleasing to the eyes. :)

I was under the impression zoning regulation, not construction costs, was the main challenge for development in urban areas.

Can you seriously just drop these off in people's backyards and legally rent them out?

There's more than local zoning at play. There are health regulations regarding potable water and sanitary waste disposal for dwellings that occur at the state level. There's ADA and FHA at the Federal Level.

Also at the local level are things like occupational taxes and building permits. Unlike room and whole house rental, a container provides direct visible evidence of the activity from the air, over a neighbor's fence, or sometimes from the street.

Short summation: No way. Living in shipping containers is not a great idea. By the time you overcome all the hurdles, you realize the envelope is smallest cost of housing development.

It's not so much that it the lowest cost, it is that there are fixed costs that correlate to 'per dwelling unit'. Some of those are monetary, e.g. digging a trench for a sanitary sewer is pretty much the same for a tiny house as a McMansion. But the amount of effort is also mostly constant: getting permits and other entitlement for a four unit project is not that much less than getting entitlement for a forty unit project (and forty high end units are likely to require less work during entitlement than forty low end units because the high end units tend to be more politically palatable because they better improve the tax base).

Wood framing, especially for a small single-level structure, is the de-facto in the US for a reason.

> We're particularly interested in using containers as a tool to increase density and affordability; among other things, we're going to deploy containers to people's yards for free, sharing the rent revenue with them.

Seems to me that the barrier to people turning their yards into what amounts to trailer parks or micro-apartment compelexes has always been zoning regulations, hability regulations, and building codes, not getting the housing units built or delivered.

I wonder if you could have a successful partnership with DIRTT to parametrically design your interiors and automate the construction process. Check them out: https://www.dirtt.net/

Also there has got to be a B2B market for these. I know in the Alberta Oil Sands there are lots of camps for employees. Maybe you can provide a better product.

Isn't it noisy when it rains? (It rains a lot here).

We use several inches of closed-cell foam insulation interior to the metal. In addition to an r-value of 15+, you're not hearing much outside:)

R15 feels a little low? Here in Michigan, for example, the ceiling requires R49. Walls require at least R20.

For one thing it is a smaller space, easily heated and cooled. Second, closed cell foam means no air infiltration to suck away your heat.

Walls in houses, assuming stud framed, are insulated to R20 but effective R value is less due to thermal bridging, air infiltration.

Great idea, just wondering on cost breakdown.

If you can get a new container for just $2550, why is a bare bones $9K?

Seems one could rack out their own very easily. Just wondering.


+insulation, electrical, window, door, flooring, walls, etc.

If electrical and flooring are included in the barebones package, you should say so. They're not currently listed on https://boxouse.com/products/boxouse-barebones.

I have a friend who tried this and found that he had to take a crane operating class just so he could move/transport the shipping container.

It's kind of cool to think that you could live anywhere in the world that has an open port, but how the heck do you get it off a boat in Chile or Ireland the same that's cheap and freeing?

A few years ago we shipped a fab shop complete with a plasma cnc from Texas to a farm in rural Kenya, the whole process was surprisingly easy and I discovered that farm life is way more fun with a plasma cnc!

It'd be really cool to send around a science lab like this. If you need any traveling scientists to live in a boxlab for a trial run, let me know.

There are special trucks set up to deliver 20ft/40ft containers anywhere. Since a large portion of goods flows by water you should not have a problem at any port in the world to load and unload your container.

The fee to deliver your container to it's final destination can be from a couple of hundred dollars and up depending on how far the truck driver has to go from the logistics company.

Logistically you can ship a 40 ft container (max weight) from China to Toronto Canada (delivered to premises) for $2000-2800.

You do not need to have a crane operators license or class.

I would avoid the thing you're doing with the pictures, where you fade them out to show the overlaid text. People have a tendency to mouse over things they're looking at ... and then the picture disappears. It's the opposite of what they want. You have room to put the text alongside or below.

Did you also consider 3D printing small homes? Seems like it has potential in the long run. https://qz.com/924909/apis-cor-can-3d-print-and-entire-house...

This is a company that went on Canada's version of Shark Tank (Dargon's Den) that pitched container living spaces.


Is it legal to live in one of these in Oakland? What are the other practical costs?

Whether parked on the street (my preferred version) or as units in a yard, law is ambiguous in Oakland. If you're in the area, you're welcome to come visit!

What do you think happens to pricing at scale?

Eventually, we'll make tiny homes as affordable as other factory-built products: car prices, if not cheaper.

How does that work, ad your main component, a shipping container, doesn't really scale much?

At thousands of units per month, we're probably off of shipping containers and onto something lighter and cheaper:)

Building a wood structure with the same size of a container would cost more than the $2,000 price of the container?

Where exactly in the Bay Area could these legally be placed? Do the founders live in the prototypes?

We live in ours in Oakland. Legality is a complicated topic in our case, but variants will qualify as Accessory Dwelling Units under state-level rules

There was a "colony" of these near my house in Oakland. They were taken down to make room for new development AFAICT, not because they were legally required to do so. There's also a stack of container units across from the MacArthur BART station.

Does Boxhouse handle acquiring potable water and sanitary sewer on behalf of the owner?

Yes. Depending on the location and length of time the boxouse will be there, we can do off-grid (tanks monitored and filled/pumped as need, RV-style) or grid-connected (linked to existing house's plumbing)

Does Boxhouse absorb the costs of permitting and construction for homeowners? What sort of duration is necessary?

We're going to do this selectively: getting the first ADU design fully licensed in a given MSA is going to be important for us. We'll want to see a year+ commitment to justify the cost.

Any plans to be able to use these modularly and combine several shipping containers?

for permanent installs, I really like the idea of containers as side supports to a quonset hut. like this, but with 3-4 containers: http://alarconbohm.com/

Luke and Heather, I love it. Here are some requests:

- USB Wall outlets

- A panel system around the house to keep cords organized

- More pics

- Info on how much weight can the bed / tables hold

As for questions, how much does would that Solar power (1kw) on the Boxhouse Deluxe power? Could it handle a Macbook Pro playing video games, a 4k tv screen, a heater running 16 hours a day?

Thanks; great suggestions. 1kW is more than enough to run all of that, with the heater being the only questionable element. In Oakland, we're fine with 1kW to keep ambient in-container temp at 65F year-round.

Hi Luke! What is your initial market, and what are your scaling plans?

Hi Andrew! Initial focus is the Bay Area, where rents are particularly absurd. Unlike other tiny homes, we can stack these to scale existing locations to meet demand (with some zoning hurdles, of course)

Have you guys looked into providing these for industrial sites or the military?

Good luck! May your weekly growth be 10% or larger :)

There's a two-story shipping container house in Tucson.

Are you hiring any software engineer? :-p

how come it took so long to "launch"? I recall seeing you working on this in 2015?

This was firmly a hobby until a few months ago, at which point I quit my job to focus on boxouse full-time.

It's very inspiring that you were able to build out an idea like this on a hobby level and get it into YC.

Don't let the negativity in this thread get you down. You will work out all the problems listed in this thread, and zoning change is on the horizon all across the country.

There is a real need for housing like this. Pre-fab housing is a proven model, my father developed modular home projects starting in the '80s and swears by them.

If you ever have been on a stick built job site and have gotten to know the workers well socially, you can see the advantage of indoor, factory precise, standardized construction that is supervised.

There is a lot of substance abuse, laziness and the contractor relationship and payment structure very often goes south in home construction.

I think the best decision you could make today is to ditch the shipping container as the starting point.

Just build them out of wood. It's the cheapest material there is besides some composites perhaps. You already are building a wood framed wall inside the metal container. They could still be made the same size, and shipped the same way.

I agree, building them out of wood will allow much lower frame costs and greater design control.

Is there a tiny housing bubble?


Can we please stop making the fifth element into a reality?

Humans need space.

Humans need space, but it doesn't necessarily need to be in their bedroom and kitchen. Small houses work just fine when there are recreational options around - walkable cities like NYC, large properties in the country, etc.

Keep telling that to yourself the air quality in these shoeboxes alone is a reason to stay away from them. Homes should be roomy these are not prison cells or airport sleepover rooms.

I suspect air quality's tied a lot more to where you live than the square footage of the house you've got. (I dunno, maybe you're an edge case and vape constantly or something...)

As an example, I'll bet this house has better air quality than mine: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/15/a4/8c/15a48c913...

It's has nothing to do with Vaping it's about air circulation and total availabile volume, humans exhale 300-500ml of CO2 a minute.

And yes the small cabin in the woods with good air circulation might have better air quality than a flat in the city.

But wasn't your argument just a minute ago that these tiny homes are for "walkable" cities?

> humans exhale 300-500ml of CO2 a minute

A 20 foot shipping container has something like 39,000,000 to fill, from a quick Googling of their volume.

> But wasn't your argument just a minute ago that these tiny homes are for "walkable" cities?

Sure, if you can't parse the comma and the fact that the walkable cities portion of that response was to your "Humans need space" claim, not the "a person in a hotel room-sized house will suffocate from CO2 build-up" claim.

tell that to the voters in CA who refuse all development. Right now, every freakin house or townhouse built is within 2 feet of each other.

I wouldn't mind this density if it were at least being used to some advantage: for example mixing up the zoning to make a neighborhood walkable, perhaps a local library, or local grocery store or local cafe. But no. Everything is on top of each other for miles on end, with the same cookie cutter tiny townhouse next to each other with no walkability at all.

And then you have these section 8 areas that subsidize undesirable housing (raising crime) and just raise the cost of housing for everyone else.

For other people looking for a link like I was: https://boxouse.com/

Added. Thanks!

Are you hiring any SWE ? :-p

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