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My Life In a Tiny Shipping Container Home in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Living – It’s 3 am in the morning and I am suddenly awakened by a loud noise. It is then that I quickly realize three things. 1) I passed out on the couch with my shoes on. 2) I was freezing cold, and 3) I was in my new container home.

container home costa rica

container home costa rica

The noise turned out to be the wind moving my 4 meter long steel door up against more steel. This would soon be fixed. The cold I was experiencing was the night temperature in a steel box. I should have insulated the walls, even though I was in Costa Rica. It had only been a few short months of life inside a box, that is, a 320 sq. ft. shipping container, and I have much to tell.

Like most things, it all started with the dirt. By this I mean the foundation of the home. Interestingly enough, the shipping container home only needs 4-6 small size cement pilings, at least here in Costa Rica. “Dirt day” was the day the backhoe guy came and they started the septic and cement pilings. I was surprised that the septic system was easy and quick; the pilings took longer because they needed to be perfectly level. In the end, the septic and pilings cost me under $500. I was shocked.

I had budgeted $2500 for this work. (Later I’ll tell you my secret as to how I managed that).

Dirt day was followed by crane day. Dirt day, of course, had included 5-7 days for the cement to settle and completely dry. Crane day was upon us and thank goodness I splurged for the big crane. This monster handled my 40ft HQ container like its bitch. It was incredible and fast, 15 minutes. I’d had to make a 6-hour minimum payment and it took him 15 minutes. I was looking around the property to see if he could move some stuff around, just so I could feel like I got my money’s worth. There was a big sense of security now that my container sat perfectly on its foundation, and it was worth the extra cost.

I built the home with one other person; he was great with welding, electricity, wallboard and basically everything. I was more the designer and the guy who went and bought the materials. Being around and watching the construction was both exciting and extremely frustrating. The pace of work in Costa Rica is a phenomenon. It is its own reality show. The amount of breaks and talking and phone call interruptions seemed unrealistic, like, “is this actually happening, right in front of me”? So, needless to say, the construction of my tiny home took almost 6 months. I’m certain it could have been done in three.

On the move-in day I suddenly realized, “I need a second container to store all my stuff.” Seriously, I really needed a second container. So I bought one. I guess now I am cheating as a “tiny-house” person, when I have a huge storage area,

a place for my washer and dryer and suitcases and empty boxes and tools and dirty stuff. I love my second container idea. Anyway, after some time living in a container home, I just adapted to my small space. I hosted some dinner parties with some

friends. But I waited until my awesome roof top deck was built, with a spiral staircase–love those things.

The inside of the tiny container house flows very well. It has a beautiful all-tile bathroom, which is larger than most bathrooms in Costa Rica. The kitchen has its own breakfast bar. And, I added a front deck with glass sliders to open up the living room space. The home is still settling and there is a risk that if I need to move it, tile will break and the wallboards might shift. Nothing paint and paste can’t fix, though, and hopefully I won’t need to move. But it is nice to know that I can put my home on the market and once sold, send it out on a truck, keep my land and build another. In fact, this is actually what I have done 12 times in the past 10 years. My once tiny-house living experience has turned into a container home construction company, in Costa Rica, with the same slow construction guy.

And it’s still a reality show.

James Lee has lived in San Ramon, Costa Rica for 17 years.

He is a Chiropractor and Container Home Builder. He has built over 27 projects in the past 11 years. Located in La Union, San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica.

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