By now, Vancouverites are used to seeing shipping containers repurposed as temporary housing for those in need, and as makeshift offices for construction projects around town. They might have also seen them perched in more remote settings like the Gulf Islands and Whistler. But what we haven’t embraced in this city yet is containers used as permanent laneway housing—though that certainly isn’t the case for other squeezed real-estate markets in North America.
“About 50 percent of our business is laneway housing,” reveals Daniel Engelman, who helped cofound Honomobo five years ago, speaking to the Straight from his headquarters n Edmonton before heading here for the B.C. Home and Garden Show from February 19 to 23 at B.C. Place Stadium. “Most of our business tends to be multigenerational families, with kids moving into it or parents in a part of the city they wouldn’t be able to stay in otherwise. That’s an exciting way urbanization is changing, allowing our cities to come up with diverse solutions, especially for the millennials out there, where home ownership is not an option.”
The place the Canadian company has found the most growth in is California, in places like the San Francisco area that have a housing crisis similar to Vancouver’s. Honomobo has also installed its laneway houses in nearby locales like Port Coquitlam and Squamish. Why are they being welcomed elsewhere? Engelman puts it diplomatically: “A really enlightened regulatory environment.”
At the home show, Vancouverites can have a firsthand, walk-through look at what living in a container home might feel like. Honomobo’s one-bedroom, one-bathroom 419-square-foot M1 style on view started as a steel container made in China and came here shipping goods. (“We know exactly what's been shipped in them and how they’re built,” Engelman says.) And while the exterior still has a modular industrial aesthetic, it no longer feels like a steel box. The ceiling is lined with warm wood, and a 31-foot floor-to-ceiling wall of glass along the front adds to the livability.
“It allows the indoor-outdoor connection so the space feels larger,” Engelman offers. “We’ve found it works really well in that laneway-home environment—where you can enjoy the back yard and it allows for really efficient spaces.”
The container homes are energy-efficient and run off electricity, with the ability to make them carbon-neutral if they hook up to solar power or another green hydro supply.
“There’s a big push to do carbon-neutral by 2050, and we do that now,” Engelman says. “On top of that, there’s a real durability to what we do. We see wood-frame homes all the time in Canada that are 100 years old and they’re being demolished and transferred to the dump, whereas with shipping containers, for the most part that’s the kind of material that will last generations.”
Perhaps an even bigger draw, not just for homeowners but for their neighbours, is the reduced construction mess and noise from a ready-built home. Homes take about 10 weeks to complete and leave the factory 99 percent finished. “There’s no construction waste or dust blowing around, and it’s ready two weeks from the time the crane comes,” Engelman says.
The M1 you’ll see at the show starts at about $152,000, plus shipping, installation, foundation, and other costs.
As for Engelman, whose orders continue to grow, he’s had Honomobo’s H02 studio sitting over top of a garage in his Edmonton back yard since 2016. “I rent it to somebody who would not be able to live in that neighbourhood otherwise,” he says.
Elsewhere at the B.C. Home and Garden Show, here are three more highlights happening February 19 to 23 at B.C. Place:
- Gardening expert Stephanie Rose will be launching a new book of natural recipes to fertilize and nourish your garden (February 20 at 1:30 p.m. on the Garden Stage).
- Urban gardener Carissa Kasparov of Seed & Nourish and Victory Gardens gives tips on growing eco-friendly (February 22 at noon and February 23 at 2 p.m. on the Garden Stage).
- HGTV stars Mickey Fabbiano and Sebastian Sevallo, who flip houses on Worst to First, give behind-the-scenes tips they’ve learned while tackling local fixer-uppers (4 p.m. on the Main Stage).