The inside of Paula Dowd’s future home is termite-proof, earthquake-proof and fireproof.
She’s not prepping for the apocalypse — rather, Dowd is building a home using shipping containers on her mother’s lot in Redondo Beach. The home on South Lucia Avenue has been in progress since 2014 and, with any luck, the family will be able to move in by spring next year.
“By April, please God,” Dowd said. “It’s been a really much longer process than we ever imagined.”
The family sold its home in June 2014 and broke ground on Lucia in May. Approvals from the city took years. Peter DeMaria, the architect for the Dowds, said that’s not uncommon.
“California, in general, there’s just a level of criteria you won’t see anywhere else in the United States,” he said.
DeMaria’s first container home project, completed nearly a decade ago, was in Redondo Beach. Special approvals were required for the use of recycled materials. DeMaria said his company works closely with city planners to gain the necessary approvals.
“When we do a project, we do a feasibility study right from the get-go. We answer all their questions in advance,” he said. “They say wow, the building department doesn’t have to hold our hand, we can actually hold their hand in the project, because we’re well-versed in it.”
Dowd’s home — which has been nicknamed the Lucia Container Home and has a website and a social media presence — actually will be two homes on one 6,000-square-foot lot.
Each home, at 2,100 and 2,300 square feet, will have three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. The back house, where Dowd will live with her husband and two children, also will have an office.
Building two homes on the lot was a matter of necessity. After Dowd’s mother, Jayne Andrews, was diagnosed with a lung disease called primary arterial hypertension, she moved into Dowd’s home for a bit. Though she now lives in a rental property in Torrance, Dowd wanted a home that will allow her to take care of her mother and two children, who are 15 and 13, while remaining in the South Bay.
So Dowd, who works as a mind-body clinician, started looking into green building, which often can double the cost of construction. When they met with DeMaria, he gave them a piece of advice.
“If you’re going to spend $200,000 more building a home, you would be better off to cut that check to an environmental agency that would do something great with it than build one home that was green,” she recalled.
Building with shipping containers, on the other hand, is both cheaper and environmentally sound because it “up-cycles” old materials. The containers — 14 of them — were delivered from the docks in San Pedro.
“It’s not architecturally flexible. You’re dealing with a square box,” she said. “If you like a contemporary, industrial clean look, it’s such a viable opportunity.”
When the homes are ready, the design in each will look slightly different. While Dowd plans a more industrial beachy vibe for her home, her mom’s will be more classic contemporary. Dowd said local design aesthetic feels behind compared to more northwestern counterparts.
“We’re so stuck with the California Mediterranean or the California craftsman,” she said. “It would be great to see us be more creative, maybe like Venice. Not ugly horrible stuff, but it just shouldn’t be so hard to do the right thing.”
What DeMaria loves about the project is how it will touch three generations.
“I promise you, those kids as they grow up, will see the world as a place you’re supposed to be a responsible citizen on the planet when it comes to the environment,” he said.
DeMaria, who lived in Manhattan Beach for years, relocated to Austin, Texas, and splits his time across the country designing container homes. His firm, Logical Architecture, recently started seven different designs of prefabricated homes.
DeMaria is hesitant to name the cost savings that come from using containers, but said on average it’s about 25 percent compared to building from the ground up. But that changes, depending on the materials in the interior — such as granite and marble.
“Our containers, while they grab all the headlines, they’re part of a much larger recipe,” he said.