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Pacific Coast Business Times: Shipping containers offer cheap alternative for housing

November 24, 2017
Santa Barbara, California – Published 11/24/2017
By Robert Shutt

Seven modern classrooms at Oak Park High School north of Agoura Hills are one example of how innovation might begin to attack the Central Coast’s acute housing shortage.

The project, a series of repurposed shipping containers, is the work of GrowthPoint Structures, a modular builder of housing, schools and disaster relief buildings.

Following a trend that’s attracted firms like Santa Barbara-based AB design studio, GrowthPoint modifies and prepares unwanted shipping containers so they can be used to build structures that are over 100 times stronger than conventional building codes.

“Our modules are fabricated around shipping containers and ultimately assembled on-site to create habitable buildings that are energy efficient, structurally superior and at a lower cost than conventional construction,” said Jim Pickell, president of GrowthPoint. “The company’s goal is for our modules to become a core element in the construction of affordable housing, schools and rapid deployment structures.”

The company prices their repurposed shipping containers based on the product the buyer requests but they average between $160 and $250 per square foot.

Its projects also include a two-story apartment building in Orange County known as Potter’s Lane that houses once-homeless veterans, and a community resource center in the San Fernando Valley.

GrowthPoint takes advantage of the hundreds of thousands of shipping containers that are sent into California ports each year, most of which were built for one trip and will otherwise just sit and rust.

The company buys the newer containers and then turns them into building blocks for new construction projects. Its factory in Carson transforms the containers through an assembly-line process that consists of 12 different steps including the cutting and grinding of the corrugated steel walls to the installation of cabinetry. The finished containers are then delivered to a job site and put together in various designs to meet the customer’s needs.

“After significant testing, modified engineering and navigation of complex approval processes, we have managed to substantially improve the efficiency in construction, beginning with shipping containers,” Pickell said.

Before the structures can truly put a dent in the Central Coast housing crisis, their benefits must be widely understood so as to promote their use. The modular buildings that GrowthPoint builds are up 50 percent less expensive than traditional construction and can be built up to 25 percent faster, which drastically reduces carrying costs. The buildings can endure 112 tons of compressive force and wind speeds up to 175 miles per hour.

Probably the most unique aspect of these types of buildings is their scalability and flexibility. One indication about their flexibility is a project in Santa Barbara where AB designed a two-story residence out of stacked containers.

The buildings exceed green building standards and absorb about 90 percent less heat, reducing electricity bills.

Shipping containers also have an array of benefits in relation to construction. Their standardized size allows them to fit easily onto trucks and trains, they are made of long-lasting, rust-resistant steel and are easy to combine.

“I think there will be plenty of pushback from traditional home makers who will question the aesthetics of the buildings as well as the functionality,” said Brian Johnson, a senior associate at Radius Commercial Group. “Anytime there’s a disruption in any conventional technology there’s going to be earlier adopters and then there will be those that push back. Eventually, we will all be riding in driver-less cars and possibly living in Lego-style homes.”

Since all shipping containers are built to international standards, they are all potential raw material for GrowthPoint, assuming the containers pass their testing. This availability of inexpensive materials and speed of production is what is drawing interest to the company from around the state.

“Most homes are still customized and built by hand, even though society benefitted from significant improvements in productivity that were a result of the industrial revolution and other new technologies,” Pickell said. “GrowthPoint is positioned to change the way traditional construction is done by eliminating substantial inefficiencies, reducing costs and time and improving sustainability.”

GrowthPoint’s approach is disruptive to the construction industry but those are precisely the types of methods and ideas that will help the Central Coast finally overcome its housing shortage.

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