In just 18 short months, Houston-based Backcountry Containers has taken tiny-house-living by storm, transforming their entire business model from creating affordable tiny homes that can be shipped anywhere in the country, to operating as a fully-fledged, custom home builder – of tiny homes, that is.
“We had models on our website and figured people would just order one of those. However, we quickly learned that everyone wants a custom home. This greatly changed our business,” says Jon Meier, President of Backcountry Containers.
Meier, an aeronautical engineer and graduate of Purdue University, left his cushy corporate job in the oil and gas industry to pursue a passion for designing unique and simple solutions to complex problems. A stint in home renovations during high school and college unearthed Meier’s knack for turning dilapidated houses into treasures, and thus, the dream of converting shipping containers into simple, yet well-equipped living spaces was born.
“I think there are a lot of advantages to a container home,” says Meier. “First, container construction is beautiful! It has a cool aesthetic that our customers love. Additionally, our homes are very durable. I also love that we are repurposing containers in a unique and fun way. Depending on the design, they can be more affordable than a typical stick build home.”
And Meier’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. The “Tiny House” movement has seen an uptick in recent years, drawing buyers who seek financial freedom and have a desire to lead a simpler, more, eco-friendly lifestyle. Plus, the materials used are incredibly durable and transportable. Shipping containers and steel are used to reinforce the containers if cut-outs are made. The rest is similar to a stick build – they frame it with wood, use standard windows, and put in typical flooring, such as engineered hardwood or laminate. But it’s the benefits of these shipping container homes that really have people talking.
Let’s start with structural integrity. Designed to be stacked on cargo ships, shipping containers are inherently sound objects. When properly secured, they can withstand earthquake and hurricane conditions, making them relatively safe in harsh environments.
Both water- and wind-tight, the containers last for decades, and can be easily moved over a lifetime. And with thousands of shipping containers discarded in ports around the world, reusing the containers saves energy that would otherwise be expended to melt them down.
Perhaps the most enticing benefit of all: the price. A cozy Base Retreat configuration starts around $24,999 and up, accommodating two twin loft beds, two sleeper sofas, kitchen cabinets, a low flow toilet, shower, kitchen and bathroom sinks, and a mini fridge. The result is a basic, no frills, self-contained, camping/hunting retreat perfect for living off the grid.
For those with a flair for dramatics, the Rustic Retreat XL offers more entertaining space and all the bells and whistles of a traditional home, but with space-saving attributes, like pocket doors, an L-shaped kitchen with breakfast bar, a sectional sofa that converts to a full bed with storage, and ample windows for embracing nature.
Featured on HGTV’s Tiny House, Big Living, this configuration will run you approximately $44,999 with the option for – wait for it – an impressive roof deck. For an extra $3,000 to $6,000 (depending on size) you can add a fabulous roof deck to the home, further expanding your livable square footage, while taking full advantage of the outdoors. From the roof deck to the interiors, owners can get creative and put their own stamp on every room.
“We have really become a custom home builder, and we do a lot more work onsite than before,” adds Meier. “The homes have also gotten bigger and a little more complex.”
Each Backcountry Container configuration is rooted in cost-efficiency, especially when compared to a traditional home, but the company is well-equipped to make all your wildest tiny house dreams come true. Check out some of Meier’s custom build ideas here.
“I think the greatest asset to our company is our engineering,” says Meier. “I am very involved in the build process from the very beginning. In that first design meeting, my wife and I meet with the clients and help them bring to life their vision for their home. Everyone loves to sketch up their dream home, and it’s comforting to immediately have an engineer help bring their ideas to life instantly.”
After the initial meeting, Meier creates a drawing package for his clients to review, and then it’s back to the drawing board with customizations to fit their specific wants and needs. “We eventually decide on a plan, and then the fun begins,” he says.
Most of the preliminary work begins in the Backcountry Containers facility in Needville, TX. Here, they prefabricate as much as possible from framing out the containers and running electrical, to plumbing, prefabricating cabinets, etc. Next, the container is shipped to the build site, and the Backcountry crew finishes out the home onsite.
“This is often necessary to comply with building codes, inspections, and permitting,” explains Meier. “Overall, the process usually takes about 8 weeks.” Shipping cost depends on the distance from the build site in the Houston, TX area, and typically costs around $3-$4/mile. Delivery is quoted at the time of purchase and transported either by flatbed or chassis as pictured below.
“We do try to limit our builds to the Texas area because every build requires some onsite work. However, we often make exceptions for very cool builds, and we will travel out of state,” says Meier. In fact, as I was conducting this interview, Meier was finishing up a build in the mountains of North Carolina.
As for the type of client Backcountry Containers attracts, Meier says, “Our customers vary greatly.” The company is building several vacation homes, as well as tiny custom homes for permanent residence. “All of our clients are looking for an alternative to the conventional home building process,” he adds.
Whether it’s the lure of putting money back in your pocket, or simply minimizing your environmental footprint, there is more than one way to build the tiny home of your dreams, and the experts at Backcountry Containers have what it takes to get you there.