The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.
During the pandemic, homes became multi-functional spaces: With people working and children studying from home, traditional living areas were transformed into offices, classrooms, and quarantining quarters. Andrew Naperotic and his wife were both attempting to work from home while their three young children were being homeschooled.
“The house was just chaos,” said Naperotic, who is originally from Australia. “The discipline was gone.”
But instead of adding an expensive renovation in the middle of the disarray, Naperotic came up with an alternative solution, and co-founded ADDASPACE, a Bristol, Rhode Island-based company that recycles discontinued shipping containers and manufactures them into dwelling units.
The containers can become freestanding home offices, guest bedrooms, she-sheds, man caves, home gyms or yoga studios. But they can also be used as alternatives to nursing homes, affordable housing, and solutions for dining at restaurants during the pandemic.
Q: How does ADDASPACE work?
Naperotic: In essence, we’re solving space needs. We needed to give people additional space without going through the convoluted structure of traditional construction that’s time consuming, expensive, and stressful. We walk a customer through a menu of options that they can have in terms of a layout, where the windows and doors need to be, shingles, roof, wall finishing, floors, if they want a bathroom facility or kitchenette inside, and types of fixtures. Electricity can be run through, and depending on its purpose, plumbing can be added.
All together, one unit takes about four weeks to complete. If it’s a basic unit, it can take three weeks.
Q: Why shipping containers?
Naperotic: Shipping containers typically just sit on a dock somewhere, stacked about seven to 10 high and become an eyesore before rusting away. And they’ll eventually be scrapped for the metal. So instead, we’re reusing them.
A shipping container’s structural integrity and dimensions fit really well with module construction. We fully insulate them, we make them not look like a shipping container but a tiny house, and it’s sustainable. Also, it’s a pretty regulated industry. Our shipping containers need to be certified by the International Standards Organization and we focus on one-trip containers, which only do one Atlantic (Ocean) trip before they’re retired. They’ve only been used to transport goods with non-hazardous materials.
Q: Besides home offices, what else could these units be used for?
Naperotic: Rather than creating a facility that is similar to a dormitory, we’re proponents of bringing elderly care back to the home environment so that aging parents have a higher quality of life that is closer to their children. We’re proposing that we create the facility and bring it to their children’s residence. We’ve already started talking to local nonprofits in that space.
But we are also having conversations with some state legislators to use this as a solution for residents, particularly veterans, experiencing homelessness. It’s quick, it’s economical, it can be made to look pleasing, and it’s solving a problem.
There’s also a real shift for low-to-moderate income families and affordable housing to move toward tiny houses.
Q: Can these units survive in New England’s unpredictable weather?
Naperotic: The structural integrity behind these containers can withstand winds far beyond the requirements for residential standards. And in places like Narragansett, we put in hurricane windows as part of the process, which is a zoning requirement anyway.
The structure is as solid as they come. Typically, these containers are on a ship, stacked six or seven high and at a 30 degree angle, crossing the Atlantic.
Q: What’s the average price of these units?
Naperotic: Our typical sweet spot is between $45,000 and $85,000, all depending on the size, layouts, and esthetics.
There are customers who are interested in joining some of these, such as putting two to four shipping containers together, and that’s more of a custom project.
But we look to make 10 percent (in profit). Our margin isn’t huge, so it’s all about volume. With volume, comes scale and efficiency.