House in a Box: Area container home business aims to make housing affordable

Shipping container home business is expected to grow to more than a $67 billion industry this year,

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

FAIRFIELD — The idea to start a business that converts shipping containers into affordable homes started around a fire pit.

Sandra Whitley and Allison Lyons never did light the fire, but the idea first discussed over the summer had been burned into motivation and now reality.

“It started this summer, but it really started about five years ago when she started bugging me to come home,” Whitley said about Lyons concerning her move from Georgia back to southwest Ohio. “But when I moved up here, it was to teach her. Teach my nieces how to do stuff that they don’t need guys to do. I just want them to be independent, so I wanted to show them.”

The idea of what eventually became House in a Box got legs when Whitley worked for a company she said started out creating affordable housing for the average American, “but they didn’t do that anymore” and the prices of houses got outrageous.

“The average American can’t afford a house,” she said.

Home rates are expected to increase nationwide in 2024, according to a study by CoreLogic, a real estate and analytics company. Selma Hepp, chief economist for CoreLogic, said in the study “this continued strength remains remarkable amid the nation’s affordability crunch but speaks to the pent-up demand that is driving home prices higher.”

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

Whitley and Lyons’ first step was to test the concept, to see if they could actually make an affordable product. The co-owners both have construction industry experience. Whitley has a near-quarter century in the construction field and is a former U.S. Air Force jet engine mechanic, and Lyons has 20 years of collective experience in training, marketing and social media in the construction and public safety technology industries.

Proof of concept had been proven with their prototype of The Jackson single-wide model. With Ian Lubbers, a nephew-in-law to Whitley and a real estate agent, in as an investor and part of the House in a Box team, they’re seeking buyers. They have some leads thanks to some of Whitley’s construction contacts and have about a dozen interested peppered around the country.

The single-wide and double-wide container homes are part of the original “stuff and ship” concept. They’ll get the interior roughed out, including framing, electrical and plumbing done, then pack everything needed, including the kitchen single and switch plate covers, so anyone with even a little bit of DIY initiative can follow a set of instructions and finish out the interior. That’ll save upwards of $30,000 or more in labor.

Or, for an extra fee, they can have a crew finish it onsite.

The shipping container home business is expected to grow to more than a $67 billion industry this year, according to The Business Research Company, a market research company that provides actionable market insights. The company cites the growth is “attributed to sustainability and eco-friendly construction, affordable housing solutions, urban and population density, architectural trends and aesthetics, construction speed, and efficiency.”

They cite that the container housing market “is expected to see strong growth” over the next few years, projecting it to be more than an $84 billion industry by 2028.

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

Before committing to a container home, prospective buyers need to check local zoning laws because some areas may not allow them, while others may not have specific rules on the books and believe it would be challenging, such as within the city of Fairfield.

“It would be difficult to do under our current zoning regulations,” said Development Services Director Greg Kathman. “We have minimum size requirements and infill design standards that it might limit the feasibility of that type of housing in Fairfield at this time.”

While it may be difficult, it’s not a definite “no.” Whitley and Lyons say multiple shipping containers can be used side-by-side and/or stacked.

In Hamilton, Planning Director Liz Hayden said there is nothing specific as to the topic of shipping containers in the city’s zoning codes, thus they would be permitted. However, materials need to meet the city’s design standards, which include having a veneer, such as siding or brick, and may require a Planning Commission variance.

Lyons said they can attach a variety of facades to their 9-foot steel containers, which will be purchased new. Their prototype is converted from a used shipping container.

As far as they know, House in a Box is only one of two Ohio companies converting shipping containers into homes, and they have several designs, including one designed for displaced families or emergency response housing. All are named for some of Whitley’s grandkids. More models will be designed, which would be named after Lyons’ two kids.

Eventually, the goal is to get out of the borrowed barn they’re set up on Joe Nuxhall Way in Fairfield and find their own headquarters, something large enough they can have as many as three projects going on simultaneously and trucks can drop off and load up under cover. They already have a logistics company to handle any shipping needs nationwide for a product they say is inexpensive to maintain, sturdy and safe.

With their prototype, they hope to sell it and roll the proceeds back into the company, but they are seeking investors. Right now, they’re a lean operation whose only goal is to make the American dream of homeownership more attainable.

“They’re everything you need that a single man or woman, or even a young couple who’s wise about their money, can live in one of these,” Whitley said.

Lyons added, “We know our costs, we know the markup and we know the labor and that’s it. If we mess something up, it comes out of our pocket. We’re not going to come to the customer (to ask for more money).”

The women said they want to make the business more about the relationship because Lyons said current companies tend to be more transactional. “They’re not relational, it’s not personal,” Lyons said.


For more information on House in a Box, visit

About the Author