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Q&A with Discover Containers Founder, Aaron Burch

Discover Containers' mission is to inspire and educate people about shipping container homes. In order to better understand their passion for shipping containers and their expertise in container homes, we asked founder Aaron Burch a few questions. Here's what he had to say. 
Nina Barango
Jan 10, 2023
14 mins

What inspired you to launch Discover Containers?

Discover Containers was born out of a clear market need for more accurate and helpful container-building information. Container homes and other structures have continued to grow in popularity, but the little advice and information that is available are often from hobbyists without much rigor behind their recommendations. With my years of experience in construction and engineering, my aim is to lead the Discover Containers team to professionalize the often well-intentioned but unclear or simply incorrect guidance out there.

Shipping container homes are continuing to skyrocket in popularity. What fundamental words of wisdom would you give to someone considering a shipping container home project? 

Understand the pros and cons of container buildings, and be clear about why they are appealing to you and what you hope to achieve in using them. Also, when you're brainstorming in your own mind, and certainly when communicating with others, be clear about what a 'container home' means to you. Left undefined, people may make assumptions about your project that are vastly different from what you envision, given the huge variety of container homes that can and have been built.

What purchasing criteria do you recommend home builders adhere to when choosing shipping containers for their build? 

You can almost say that there are no bad shipping containers — only containers poorly suited for a particular project. Depending on your design and vision, new "one-trip" containers may make the most sense for you given their pristine condition and uniformity. But if you're aiming for more sustainability, or just planning to do extensive modifications to the containers, a used container may provide everything you need for a lower price and a greener footprint. Working with a good partner is key, otherwise, you can get bogged down in the logistics of finding, choosing, and coordinating the delivery of your containers.

Discover Container’s Instagram profile showcases hundreds of beautiful container home builds. What have some of your favorite builds been over the years, and why? 

That's such a difficult decision. However, we've picked 50 of our favorite container homes in this article here, 50 Best Container Homes (Built by DIYers and Pros). It would be hard to reduce the list to just 2 or 3 though!

What are the most prevalent misconceptions about shipping container homes you’ve come across? 

The most common is that shipping container homes are significantly cheaper than 'traditional' homes. First of all, a traditional home can mean different things depending on where you are in the world. And second, a container home can span a wide variety of not only sizes but levels of luxuriousness, some of which are DIY projects, some of which are factory-fabricated, etc. When saying one thing is cheaper than another, you really need to be as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible. Even then, a container home with the same finish-out quality and size as another structure can sometimes be more expensive, so your attraction to containers should ideally be more than just economic.

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How much construction or engineering experience do you think is necessary for someone interested in building their own container home? 

For a smaller container home built with only one or two containers, some basic DIY experience is usually enough. In these cases, building with containers can actually be much easier than other types of construction, because, on day 1 of the project, you start with a structurally sound, weatherproof building. When you start talking about stacking, cutting, and modifying multiple containers for larger homes, the technical requirements get more complex and it's usually best to at least involve a professional designer/engineer. Oftentimes, local building regulations drive this decision for you anyway, requiring things like stamped construction drawings that most people have no ability or licensing to complete without professional assistance.

Housing isn’t the only use-case for shipping container builds. Swimming pools, emergency shelters, she sheds/man caves — the list of potential shipping container projects goes on. What kind of shipping container projects excite you most, and why? 

The more creative, the more appealing! It's easy to think 'It's just a rectangular box, how many different ways could someone use it?' But you'd be very surprised what innovative people can come up with. Some of the coolest uses we've found are in the Retail and Other project-type categories of our Container Project Database. There are a number of cool container malls in various places like the famous one in Las Vegas, The Downtown Container Park, plus off-the-wall examples like a shipping container diving platform in Denmark.

What are the top resources would you recommend for those interested in building with shipping containers? 

I'm certainly biased, but I recommend Discover Containers. We have a good mix of technical articles covering the nuts and bolts of planning, designing, and building container structures, plus an ever-growing database of example container homes around the world to inspire people about what is possible with container construction. So no matter where you are in your journey, we have information and resources to help. We also have a growing database of professional construction contractors and designers with container experience, many of whom produce great container content on their own websites and social media.

Discover Containers has created a global directory of container homes available as short-term rentals. At the time of writing, the directory lists over 200 container homes across six continents. What inspired the creation of the rental directory, and how do you connect with owners? 

Currently, shipping container construction is not a sortable category on any short-term rental platform that we've seen. And even if it were, not all homes are on every platform, and many are only hosted on their own private website. We wanted a way to aggregate all the various container rentals out there to make it easier for people to find these unique rental homes. We think it's really important for people to spend at least a day or two in a container home before moving further along in their journey to ensure that they actually like spending time in one. With a large database, it often means there's a container home close enough for a weekend trip for many people, or far enough that you could combine a stay in one as part of a larger vacation. As far as finding the properties to include, it's a combination of scouring listing websites and accepting submissions from people who know about our database.

How long do shipping container homes typically last — and how can their lifespan be maximized?

Container homes can last several decades in most locations with little maintenance. And with a more careful owner that stays on top of preventative maintenance, there's no reason that can't be extended much further. Given that shipping container homes have only been popular for about a decade, there aren't many examples of long-lasting container homes. But there are plenty of examples of other buildings and structures built with steel that have lasted for a very long time. As one might expect, the biggest obstacles to longevity are rust and corrosion. As long as owners seek to minimize and control any rust they may find by keeping bare metal coated and quickly removing any rust that may form, their container home should last them for the foreseeable future.

Taking budget and permitting considerations out of the equation: If you could build your dream container-based project, what would it be? 

One of the container homes I most appreciate is the Dam Camp, which integrates a vertical container 'tower' into a raised container home. A design similar to this one that uses a vertical container simultaneously as a stairwell, a crow's nest lookout, and a solar chimney would be a very cool design that offered great views, security, and energy efficiency.

Discover Containers is the most trusted online resource for shipping container homes and other types of container construction projects. Whether you're building a container home yourself or looking to hire a contractor, consult Discover Containers before you start your journey. 

About Nina Barango

Nina Barango is an experienced content marketer and container expert with a proven track record in the tech and logistics industry. Having worked with various startups and SMEs, she bridges the world of marketing, tech and shipping containers. When she's not creating content that'll revolutionize global container trade, you can find Nina reading a book or mastering her video editing skills.

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