How IndieDwell turns used shipping containers into houses
Evan Lynam and Jo Burgoon were looking to downsize from their East Boise home last year when they stumbled on a new concept: homes made from metal shipping containers.
They learned that a Boise company, IndieDwell, had begun building small, energy-efficient homes made from 40-foot steel boxes used to haul cargo by ship, train and truck. They liked the idea that the containers, taken out of service after 12 to 15 years, could serve a different purpose, and that the homes were energy-efficient.
“We were really taken by the concept,” said Burgoon, who works for a company that supplies food to movie theaters.
The Idaho Statesman wrote about container homes last February, shortly after Indie Dwell completed its first home, a display model. Lynam and Burgoon bought the first production unit, made from three shipping containers. It has three bedrooms and 960 square feet, about half of the space in their former home.
The couple and their son, Raleigh, 6, moved a little over a month ago into their new home, which sits across from several narrow two-story homes in the 800 block of North 32nd Street, off Whitewater Park Boulevard. They got their first test of the space when they invited 30 friends over for a Christmas party.
“People were amazed by how many people could fit in here,” Burgoon said. “They were surprised by the amount of space.”
Since moving in, the family has added a separate garage built with conventional materials and a 480-square-foot apartment made from shipping containers.
The structures were built in a 21,000-square foot factory Indie Dwell established at 3520 Arthur St. in Caldwell. They were trucked to Boise and lifted onto foundations by a crane. The components were joined and sealed.
Indie Dwell CEO Scott Flynn estimates electricity costs for his container homes will run about $55 a month, including heating and air conditioning. Lynam, who owns a small home-based business, said his family has not lived in the home long enough to know those costs. He said the heating system works well.
“It does a really good job of keeping the temperature constant,” he said.
Eventually, the couple wants to install solar panels on the roof and eliminate electricity costs altogether.
Burgoon said she worried whether it would be dark inside. But with a white interior and several windows, it’s plenty bright, she said.
The Indie Dwell factory consists of seven stations on an assembly line. Workers at each station perform specialized work, from cutting holes for windows and doors to installing frames, flooring, cabinets and appliances. The containers move from station to station every four days, with the entire process taking 28 days, Flynn said.
The workforce consists of 26 line workers and 10 managers and designers. The company plans to hire 14 additional people in the coming months, enough to cut production time at each station to two days, he said.
Prices are $48,000 for a one-bedroom home with 320 square feet, $77,800 for two bedrooms and 640 square feet, and $114,800 for four bedrooms and 960 square feet. The company offers configurations for duplexes and fourplexes priced between $213,400 and $446,600.
The price does not include land.
Indie Dwell is now working on four 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom units for a small housing project, called Windy Court, for Leap Charities, a 10-year-old Boise nonprofit that seeks affordable housing for vulnerable populations. Leap is aiming the houses at large families, including people with disabilities and the elderly.
The four homes are going up on Shields Avenue, off State Street near Horseshoe Bend Road in West Boise, on land donated by Cay Marquart. They are being funded by the federal Housing Trust Fund, which caps monthly rent for a four-bedroom unit, including utilities, at $843. Eligible families earn 30 percent or less of the area household median income. For a family of five, that means $29,420 or less.
“Indie Dwell has developed a really innovative product,” said Brian Woodward, Leap’s chief operating officer. “I think they will be kind of a living museum that people will be able to see right in our backyard.”
The first residents are expected to move in this spring, Woodward said.
Said IndieDwell’s Flynn: “It’s these kinds of groups that we want to work with, to provide affordable housing for.”
A 2015 housing study by the city of Boise found a deficit of more than 8,000 housing units for residents with incomes classified as very low and extremely low. The study said 9,500 housing units were needed during the following decade to maintain current housing conditions.
Flynn, a Boise native, also builds custom, high-end homes using green building concepts. He said he is dismayed by the large number of Treasure Valley residents who can’t afford to buy their own homes.
“The goal of IndieDwell is to allow everyone to own a sturdy, well-built home,” he said.
The company is building two homes for families in Cascade and has other projects lined up across the state. Interest has also come from as far away as Denver.
“I’ve never seen a business take off like this,” said Gombert, who founded Balihoo, a Boise marketing-software firm, before selling it in 2016. “Every customer is inbound. We have not done any outreach whatsoever. The story of what we’re doing is resonating. “
IndieDwell’s workforce includes unskilled, full-time employees whom the company pays at least $16 per hour with benefits, he said. The company says it is building a second factory in Pueblo, Colorado.
Back in Boise, Lynam and Burgoon’s container home has created interest.
“It’s interesting how many people stop and look,” Burgoon said.
Business Editor David Staats contributed.