Contained in Home

Asheville is one green town, and our homes are no exception. We recycle. We install solar panels. We turn off our lights and our faucets. But when it comes to environmental footprints, none is smaller than that of Ryan Naylor.

A few years ago, Naylor began weighing his options for building a new, sustainable home with as little environmental impact as possible. The answer, it turns out, was simple. “Reusing and repurposing is number one for the EPA, actually above recycling,” Naylor notes. From that simple realization, an entire project was born. Today, Naylor resides in a homey stack of shipping containers whose contents—everything from bathroom tiles to its very foundation—are almost entirely refurbished or repurposed.

Naylor’s creation, which he designed, contracted and constructed personally, was the first such home in Asheville. While other cities around the world have embraced the flexibility of the shipping container, Naylor’s was the first of its kind in Asheville, and remains the only one even today. Surprisingly, the city proved a useful ally for Naylor, promoting his project as a form of sustainable building. Another promotion came in the form of his blog and website, 40×, where he documented the entire process of designing and constructing his new not-so-tiny home. The blog snowballed, funneling sponsorships from local and nationwide companies into the project.

But that’s certainly not to say it was ever easy for Naylor to put together his dream home. “In regards to reusing and repurposing materials, it’s a lot of hard work!” Naylor says with a laugh. He details tales of long hours, sleepless mornings, frayed nerves and exhausted limbs. But perhaps toughest for the novice builder was the strain on his family. When asked what advice he would give to aspiring home builders, his voice changes, slows. “[When building] any type of home, make sure that you take into account and balance out the other things in your life, that you don’t just dedicate your entire self to that project because it can definitely have a negative effect on your relationships,” he notes. “To anyone that’s building their own house— it’s just a house, it’s not family.”

Even more roadblocks seemed to stand in the way of the home’s completion: clueless inspectors, special inspections, broken tools and inaccurate measurements. But finally, after a full year of expeditious construction, the house became a home and Naylor moved in.

One might think that Naylor’s harrowing experience building his first shipping container home would be enough to turn him away from construction for good—but it wasn’t. “I want to become the ‘container home guy’ in Asheville,” Naylor notes. He’s well on his way, already working on a second container home on the property adjacent to his own. Soon, the house will hit the market. And that’s just the beginning; Naylor envisions a future as the go-to guru for container homes in the area, working as a project manager or designer for other repurposed homers.

For now, Naylor stands alone. And those footsteps he leaves? Practically nonexistent.