Jul 20, 2023
Building a shipping container home and business out of tragedy
Shane Barber (pictured) and his son Cole welded and built a home in the Denver area made entirely out of 11 shipping containers stacked together. Not only did the home keep the family together amid
Shane Barber (pictured) and his son Cole welded and built a home in the Denver area made entirely out of 11 shipping containers stacked together. Not only did the home keep the family together amid the loss of Shane’s son Austin, but it also laid the groundwork for their shipping container home business, Carbon Dwell. Images: Shane Barber
Welding is much more than just a skill for Shane Barber.
“Welding is like therapy for me,” he said.
“I often say one of the best sounds in the world besides a baby crying or laughing is when you hear a MIG welder laying down a constant, steady, good weld. You can physically hear a good weld.”
The skill has provided an outlet for Shane during the highs and lows of life. He experienced one of his lowest lows when his 20-year-old son Austin died from cancer in 2017. The loss took a toll on him, his oldest son Cole, and the rest of the family.
In the aftermath of Austin’s passing, the Barbers welded and built a home in the Denver area made entirely out of shipping containers stacked together.
Not only did the home keep the family together, it laid the groundwork for Carbon Dwell, a shipping container homebuilding business the Barbers created to provide alternative, affordable homes.
“Our life-changing events are now hopefully changing other people’s lives for the better,” Shane said.
As the family grappled with losing a brother and son, Cole reached out to his father with a message: Their two families should be living together rather than apart. They needed each other more than ever.
“Dad, we need to continue living together or else we’re not going to make it,” Shane recalled Cole saying.
“That kind of tragedy breaks families apart,” Shane added.
The Barber home has two closets, two kitchens, five bathrooms, five bedrooms, two laundry rooms, and a door that divides it in two. The ceiling is 28 ft. tall at its most open point.
But what kind of home could provide the comfort the two men and their wives needed? The answer turned out to be shipping containers. The alternative home project allowed the two men to tap into their metal fabrication skills and Cole’s artistic skills while providing a budget-friendly housing option as Austin’s medical expenses added up.
Beginning in 2018, the project to build the 4,000-sq.-ft. home out of 11 shipping containers took about nine months. Father, son, and two others “welded every corner of that home,” requiring anywhere from 150 to 200 welding arc hours, Shane said.
The elder Barber’s tool of choice was a Miller Electric Millermatic 211 welding machine because of its lightweight design, he said.
It took only a matter of hours to stack the containers together.
“In eight hours, it was rocking. It was mind-blowing then and still is today,” Cole added.
The home has two closets, two kitchens, five bathrooms, five bedrooms, two laundry rooms, and a door that divides the unit in two. The ceiling is 28 ft. tall at its most open point. The Barbers described it as a contemporary design—a balance of metal and wood—that works for the two families, which have since grown to include children and grandchildren.
“When you’re inside it, besides its industrial feel, you won’t know you’re inside a shipping container,” Shane said.
The home project exceeded their expectations, the younger Barber said.
“Once we started designing things and you could see how you could stack them, cut the walls out, join things together, and create such big open spaces with the high ceilings, that’s when we realized we’d end up with a bigger-sized project than planned,” Cole said. “We wanted to test out what it’s like to build with human-sized Legos, if that makes any sense.”
The project did bring the two together. For Shane, it also allowed him to see Cole in a different light. After all, the home was Cole’s idea.
“I could've walked in as the patriarch, as a father, with my experience as a fabricator/welder and just take over. Instead, I found solace in reporting to my son,” Shane said.
While not a new concept, shipping container homes remain a curiosity for people; less than 1% of the population lives in container dwellings, Shane said.
The Barbers and Carbon Dwell tout the advantages of these air- and watertight houses, such as their ability to withstand 300-MPH winds, 300 lbs. per sq. ft. of snow load, and heavy rain.
Most containers are made from COR-TEN steel because of the material’s durability in the elements.
“COR-TEN steel has a different feel when you’re welding on it,” Shane said. “It is meant to accelerate rust. When you see containers rusting on a ship, they rust because it heals—it’s like a scab. It heals the steel so it actually seals it. That's why it’s so effective being deck-side or in the ocean.”
Homebuilders like the Barbers say shipping container houses are a more affordable and sustainable option for homeowners. He said they could offer a 700-sq.-ft. home for around $100,000.
“Today, with the housing shortage, home prices stand in the way of becoming a homeowner. Carbon Dwell creates an opportunity to become an owner and leave renting behind,” according to the Carbon Dwell website.
Shane said as more municipalities consider the containers as building material and revisit zoning laws, building codes, and permit regulations, he expects more of these homes to pop up.
Carbon Dwell launched in the fall of 2022; Shane is listed as CEO of the company. In 2023, the company began building its first full-scale homes. Even Miller Electric Mfg. LLC took notice, profiling Shane for its “Leave Your Imprint” series.
The Barbers hope their story and alternative homes inspire in more ways than one.
“We want to inspire young adults to become craftsmen,” Shane said. “We want young adults to afford their own homes. Even if it eats into what some would say is our own profitability, we want to enable any age to afford their own home, and we believe shipping containers is one of many ways to do it.”
Cole said sometimes people realize what they can offer to others when personal tragedy hits. He believes they found it through their home and Carbon Dwell.
“The lows bring highs, and we were lucky enough that through the lows, we were able to catch the highs,” he said.