Hurricane-Proof Shipping Container House Built after 2017 Category 5 Hurricane, Florida

It is no secret that stacked shipping containers on large ocean ships successfully withstand extremely strong winds on the high seas. Therefore, the strength properties of this shipping container house allow it to withstand the next hurricanes like Category 5 Hurricane Irma in 2017. Climate change makes us think that Florida will still have to deal with similar terrible hurricanes in the future.

3D Model
Construction Process
Location and Contact Info

ProjectPrince Road Container House
Builder and ownerRob DePiazza
Area150 sq m (1600 sq ft)
Containers9 x 40 ft
LocationSt. Augustine, Florida, United States

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September 2017, Rob DePiazza lost everything. An old tree crashed into the house of the artist from St. Augustine and made it uninhabitable. But instead of giving up, De Piazza drew fresh artistic inspiration from the disaster and turned a long-held dream into reality: to build a house out of containers.

Description by owner

I purchased the original house that resides on this property back in 1988. In 2017, Hurricane Irma caused a large oak tree to snap at the base and destroy the house (while we were in it!), which led to the construction of my current home, the Prince Road Container House. Within two days of the house being destroyed I made the decision to build a container house. Choosing to build a house out of shipping containers meant I had to serve as the general contractor hiring all the sub-contractors and more importantly do much of the work myself. This wasn’t a problem since I had rehabbed a 1908 commercial building occupied by my screen-printing business and other residential projects over the years. Planning unexpectedly took nine months, at which point I ran out of the housing money provided by my insurance policy; this put further strain on funding. Construction was finally completed February 2020.

The overall theme of the hurricane-proof shipping container house is to reveal and celebrate materials and construction techniques that are typically concealed. It starts with the exposed corrugated steel exterior walls of the container from which the paint was removed to reveal the raw core ten steel and the natural corrosion. On the inside I revealed key interior walls that did not require insulation. With the exception of the painted wall in the main living space, I retained the original interior paint of the container along with the patina acquired over the many years of its use; the scuffs, scrapes, and dents that tell the story of the many transatlantic crossings made and the cargo transported.

The list of details of the Prince Road Container House is endless, many of which are intended to give pause to the routine of daily living; from the custom hanging lights I made from ’50s era streetlights to the mild steel kitchen backsplash I installed to display the hundreds of refrigerator magnets we’ve collected from our travels around the world, and finally the “upside down” container whose floor is now the ceiling. In the end, I wanted to create a home that’s not just a house, but a vibrant, cheerful, creative, and inviting space that celebrates living and doesn’t take itself too seriously; a coda I have tried to live by for as long as I can remember.

Interview with owner

Rob, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, you decided to build a new house for yourself – but this time using decommissioned containers. What prompted this decision?

The hurricane had completely destroyed the house I had lived in for 32 years. No two stones were left upon each other. By chance, I was working at the time with Stephen Bender, an architect in Gainesville, on a design for a studio made out of containers. So I’d already gained some familiarity with the issue of container architecture. On top of that, I’m a big fan of the very linear new Mexican architecture and fascinated by the crisp forms of industrial design. Both of these elements are found in containers. And that’s when I thought to myself: “I’m going to build my new house out of containers!”

That had to be pretty bold and definitely a challenge, especially since containers aren’t exactly a common building material.

Cutting containers into pieces and then welding them back together again at other places, installing all the wiring, putting in a toilet ... it was a bit different than with building a normal house. You often have to be imaginative and resourceful. And if you can’t do it yourself, it can also get very expensive. In my experience, many contractors either haven’t wanted to take the risks of dealing with containers, which are probably unfamiliar to them, or have submitted bids that were just too pricey. I also haven't found any home insurance yet. When I talk to the insurance companies, most of them think I’m pulling their leg. They simply can’t imagine that someone would want to live in a container house! (laughs)

It sounds like you’ve had to do a lot by yourself.

Yeah, I did a lot of the smaller things by myself or with friends. But I worked with specialised companies on the somewhat more complicated tasks. Especially when it comes to electricity, statics and other safety-related issues, it’s better to call in the professionals.

When you think of a container, comfortable living isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind. What’s it like to live in a steel house?

Well, since the house isn’t completely finished, I can’t really say for sure yet. The living spaces, which consist of five containers, have all the insulation and furnishing you’d find in a typical house. And, as far as I can tell so far, living in containers won’t be all that different from living in a normal house.

How many containers have you used to build your house?

All told, it has been nine big 40-foot containers. Two containers will be used to form a workshop room, two boxes will be used as a purely decorative element, and five containers will provide about 149 square metres of living space.

Using old things to create new ones – AKA upcycling – is very much in vogue right now, especially due to concerns about sustainability. Did that go into your thinking about this project?

To be honest, no. At first, I didn’t really give much thought to the sustainability of my project. That only came later, when there were media reports about my container house and I was more deeply engaged in building it. Now there are several projects involving containers all over the world, from student dormitories to hotels to luxury estates. And if you consider the fact that there are more than 40 million containers in circulation worldwide and that they will eventually be taken out of service, it means there’s a huge potential for creating practical and relatively inexpensive living spaces. There are definitely a lot of possibilities, especially for small communities.

Do you have any tips for people who might also be thinking about building a hurricane-proof container house?

The first question a lot of people ask me has been: How much does it cost? But, as I see it, that’s not really the key issue here. Materials make up the smallest part of the overall costs. The other expenses – such as for the wiring, connections, the kitchen and so forth – make up a much bigger share. When all’s said and done, unless you’re planning to live in a tiny house made out of one or two containers, a custom-designed container house can cost almost as much as a normal house. So, instead of being a question of price, it’s a much more fundamental decision: How do I want to live? Aesthetic and architectural factors come into play here. And, of course, the sustainability aspect also plays a big role. But if you’re adventurous and creative, you can create wonderful new types of housing.

3D Model

Construction Process

Location and Contact Info

Address1369 Prince Rd, St. Augustine, FL 32086, USA

Hurricane-Proof Shipping Container House Built after 2017 Category 5 Hurricane, Florida