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Rocky View County seeks public feedback on using sea-cans for potential homes

Rocky View County (RVC) is seeking feedback from residents on new rules and regulations on how the County will govern shipping containers, as an effort to revise the County’s Land Use Bylaw.

Rocky View County (RVC) is seeking feedback from residents on new rules and regulations on how the County will govern shipping containers, as an effort to revise the County’s Land Use Bylaw.

An official with the County said that shipping containers, or sea-cans, are primarily used as storage by County residents. But, with a potential bylaw change, could there be a new, recyclable use for sea-cans?

“Certainly in Calgary or other urban areas in general, shipping containers are now being used as excellent tools or options for many activities, whether it be for typical storage or being used to run retail uses out of,” explained Justin Rebello, the supervisor of the County’s Planning and Development department.

Large urban centres across the country, including Calgary, are currently dealing with housing issues, from affordability to lack there of. In rare cases, some residents and local companies have turned to old sea-cans to build environmentally friendly homes and offices that take up a fraction of the real estate. 

Modern Huts built their first sea-can home in Calgary in 2017. Jeremy Johnson, the founder of Modern Huts, said that there are multiple benefits for property owners to choose container construction,  but the biggest is time.

“Structures can be 90 per cent completed in just 12 weeks off site,” stated Johnson. “They're dismantled and shipped to the property where an additional week is needed for reassembly. A conventional home can take six to eight months.”

He added that his company can build with less building materials than traditional construction companies.

"Our waste in the end is about 80 per cent less than a traditional wood frame structure because we're not using plywoods and all these other things to build the exteriors."

Sea-can homes have not exactly skyrocketed in popularity the last few years, but during the pandemic, Modern Huts constructed and then rented out sea can office spaces for people who were all of a sudden forced to work from home. 

During that time, Johnson said that the sea can homes and offices Modern Huts built are structurally no different than a regular house.

"Taking walls out and windows out and the interior ends up being fully modified so, on the inside, you wouldn't know that you're inside a shipping container," he said. "When it's all done, it looks like any other residential home." 

Rebello isn’t certain sea-can homes will pique the same housing interest in rural Rocky View County. He noted that if a shipping container were to be used for a purpose other than storage, retail, for example, the County would look at it as a retail application and any of the building requirements or the building code would then be based on that use.

“I think at the moment, based on the County context, shipping containers are used more for storage than other urban uses or dwelling uses," he explained. "But if and when that demand may come to the County we will assess that use based on what it is being proposed for.”  

The County’s website states that, currently under the County's Land Use Bylaw, “shipping containers must not be attached in any way to principal buildings, cannot be stacked in non-industrial districts, and must be visually screened from public roads and adjacent properties to meet local standards.”

Right now under the Land Use Bylaw, a shipping container is considered an accessory building if it exceeds a certain size in the land use district. According to Rebello, most shipping containers, depending on the type of district it was being placed in, would not actually trigger a development permit, for now.  

Rebello suspects that the public engagement for the shipping container usage bylaw will be high. However, whether residents would want to use sea cans for a non-storage purpose is unknown, at least from the County’s perspective. 

“[This issue] does incur interest in the County,” said Rebello. “There are people who obviously want to ensure properties around them are being developed and maintained in an appropriate manner. People want to be a part of those conversations with the County on how best to provide that certainty and those rules.” 


Riley Stovka

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