Home sweet houseboat: Recycled shipping containers enliven Belfast waterfront

Posted Aug. 23, 2014, at 4:43 p.m.
The bright red houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The bright red houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
The houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, is docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, is docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
The view from the upper deck of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The view from the upper deck of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
The interior of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The interior of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
The interior of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The interior of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
Wally Mattingsly of the Rhode Island-based Trefoil Marine company at the houseboat owned by Steve White in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Wally Mattingsly of the Rhode Island-based Trefoil Marine company at the houseboat owned by Steve White in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
A view from the upper deck of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
A view from the upper deck of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
The bathroom of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The bathroom of the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo
One of the bedrooms on the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
One of the bedrooms on the houseboat owned by Steve White, partner in Front Street Shipyard and owner of Brooklin Boat Yard, docked at the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast on Wednesday. Buy Photo

BELFAST, Maine — A Maine man, known for the elegant yachts he builds in Brooklin, is turning heads in Belfast with a very different type of vessel — a jaunty red houseboat made out of recycled shipping containers.

Steve White, the owner of Brooklin Boat Yard and a partner at Belfast’s Front Street Shipyard, said he read about a much smaller home built out of shipping containers and decided he liked the idea. White, who was interested in obtaining real estate in Belfast, talked to Chad Walton of Brewer’s SnapSpace Solutions Inc. to see about getting his hands on a couple of steel containers.

It wasn’t a problem: The country has a surfeit of the containers.

“That’s one of the issues with the United States. We’re importing more than we’re exporting, and they’re starting to stack up,” White said. “They were single-use containers in very nice condition. That made it easy.”

Walton’s 3-year-old company specializes in taking shipping containers and recycling them into modular buildings, including homes, offices, dorms or even emergency shelter. Homes made with the shipping containers are cheaper and faster to build than stick-built homes, he told the Bangor Daily News in late 2011.

“They’re solid and very stormproof,” Walton said then of the structures he manufactures in the former ZF Lemforder plant.

Walton purchased the containers for White and cut the boxes into usable pieces, which were shipped to Brooklin. White hired a local contractor to build end walls, a new roof and to finish the interior. The houseboat is insulated and completely winterized, with a propane furnace and radiant heat in the floors.

White towed the finished product last fall to Belfast, where it will remain.

“It’s moved as many times as it’s going to,” he said.

The 1,000-square-foot houseboat is very near to the new Belfast Harbor Walk, where passers-by eagerly ogle it, asking White about his home if they catch him there. He also enjoys living in the middle of a working boatyard, where the travel lift starts up at 7 a.m.

“It’s not relaxing for some people, but it’s relaxing for me,” White said.

The houseboat has two bedrooms, a huge kitchen, a rooftop deck and large windows that overlook the harbor.

For the last several weeks, the houseboat has been occupied by Wally Mattingly, a family friend of White’s. Mattingly is staying in Belfast while Front Street Shipyard works on the new, high-performance patrol boats designed by his company, Trefoil Marine.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said of the houseboat.

The houseboat is decorated with clean, spare lines and seems ship shape and bright. On the rooftop deck, there’s a panoramic and ever-changing view of the harbor, with cormorants fishing nearby and crews working on sailboats moored just down the dock.

“I love it,” Mattingly said. “I was looking at real estate, at these big extravagant houses — what’s the point?”

White said the houseboat costs an average of $120 per month to heat and said it is connected to the city sewer and water systems. The cost for the containers, insulation, plumbing, wiring, windows, doors and snappy red paint job totaled about $90,000.

“It’s a lot of fun, and I love Belfast,” he said. “I kid people by saying I’m going over to the big city. They say, ‘Belfast isn’t the big city!’ I say, you haven’t been to Brooklin.”

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