- Politics and Social Issues
Shipping Container Houses
Building Green Homes with Shipping Containers
Container architecture is taking the world by storm. Recycled freight containers bring efficiency, flexibility and affordability to innovative green buildings.
Containers are in many ways an ideal building material, because they are strong, durable, stackable, cuttable, movable, modular, plentiful and relatively cheap. They can be readily modified with a range of creature comforts, and can be connected and stacked to create modular, efficient spaces for a fraction of the cost, labor and resources of more conventional materials. It is not surprising then that architects as well as laypeople have utilized them to build homes, offices, apartments, schools, dormitories, artists' studios, emergency shelters and many other buildings.
The abundance and relative cheapness of shipping containers during the last decade comes from importing manufactured goods. Imported goods come to North America from Asia and, to a lesser extent, Europe, in containers that often have to be shipped back empty ("deadhead"), at considerable expense. It is often cheaper to buy new containers in China and elsewhere in Asia, and to try to find new applications for the used containers that have reached their North American cargo destination.Because of the balance of trade in the United States, these hefty steel boxes are piling up in ports around the country and posing a storage problem. Several architects and builders are taking advantage of this surplus to recycle the containers.
Houses made with these containers are stronger than conventional houses because of their resistance to "lateral loads" -- those seen in hurricanes and earthquakes -- and because steel is basically welded to steel. The roof is strong enough to support the extra weight of a green roof - which has vegetation growing on it - if the owner should want it.
The cargo containers have a life span of about 20 years when used for their original purpose and have an infinite life span when stationary and maintained.
In general it is a good thing to recycle materials that otherwise have no further use for their intended purpose, and this is certainly true of shipping containers.
Container Homes - (click thumbnails for larger view)Click thumbnail to view full-size
shipping containers hit American shores EVERY DAY of the year!
12 Container House - by Adam KalkinClick thumbnail to view full-size
Kalkin House at The Shelburne Museum
Kalkin House, built in 2001 and formerly known as the Collector's House, is an inventive work of contemporary architecture by Adam Kalkin. Three trans-oceanic shipping containers define the interior spaces of the two-story prefabricated structure. A 20' x 80' metal building of a type normally used for warehouses is the outer shell of the house.
Distinguished interior designer Albert Hadley collaborated on the building's original design. Features include oversized glass garage doors, metal grid balconies, and a two-story outdoor curtain that creates a patio space.
Kalkin House is a gallery for special exhibitions of contemporary design. In 2009, New York textiles designer Richard Saja channels his cheeky sense of humor and sophisticated style into transforming the interior of Kalkin House into a 19th century salon infused with his characteristic "historically inaccurate" take on tradition.
Visit the Shelburne Museum
There are currently
discarded shipping containers
in the world's ports.
Strength and durability
Shipping containers are in many ways an ideal building material. They are designed to carry heavy loads and support heavy loads when they are stacked in high columns. They are also designed to resist harsh environments - they are transported globally on ocean going vessels or can be covered in road salt when transported on roads.
All shipping containers are made to the same standard measurements and as such they provide modular elements that can be combined into larger structures. This simplifies design, planning and transport. As they are already designed to interlock for ease of mobility during transportation, structural construction is completed by simply emplacing them. Due to the containers' modular design additional construction is as easy as stacking more containers. They can be stacked up to 12 high when empty.
Pre-fabricated modules can also be easily transported by ship, truck or rail, because they already conform to standard shipping sizes.
Used shipping containers are available across the globe. In cases where a company or country receives more containers than it can use to ship in the return directions these containers have no real use, since it is not cost effective to return empty containers to their origin.
Many used containers are available at a cost that is low compared to a finished structure built by other labor-intensive means such as bricks and mortar - which also require larger more expensive foundations. Construction involves very little labor and used shipping containers requiring only simple modification can be purchased from major transportation companies for as little as $1,200 USD each. Even when purchased brand new they seldom cost more than $6000 USD.
The shape and standard measurements of shipping containers make houses that are easily expandable. You can start small and add more containers as needed.
Either single units or multiple units connected, can withstand
100 MPH winds on a foundation, or 175 MPH winds when easily anchored with pylons. ...extremely solid in Tornadoes or Hurricanes.
Even in a direct hit, he structure my possibly roll around a little but certainly not
collapse. It would be the most perfect safety cocoon in an Earthquake. It would be at least 100 times safer and stronger than a conventional housing structure.
"But I don't like the way they look."
Container houses don't have to look like containers!
The outside can be finished with all sorts of materials, so you can't even tell it's made out of shipping containers.
This house has been finished with aluminium siding.
Instead of nailing the siding on the above house, they use "Super Therm", a ceramic paint made by Superior Products of Minnesota; it can be used as a paint, an adhesive, an insulator, a fireproofing material and an acoustic barrier. With this ceramic paint, they claim the insulation capacity is equal to a conventional house.
This Bob Vila video shows a demonstration of Super Therm on a shipping container house.
You can also stucco shipping containers by spraying them with papercrete.
London's Container City I & II
The original Container City project, located at Trinity Buoy Wharf, is in the heart of London's Docklands.
Completed in 5 months in 2001, Container City I was originally 3 stories high providing 12 work studios across 4,800 sq ft.
After high demand a fourth floor was added providing three additional live / work apartments.
As well as being very cost effective Container City I is environmentally friendly with over 80% of the building created from recycled material.
As the second phase of the original Container City project at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Container City II is both an extension and evolution of the first building.
Built adjacent to Container City I, with inter-connecting bridges, a new lift and full disabled access, Container City II was completed in 2002 providing a further 22 studios over five floors.
In contrast to the first phase, Container City II is a funky ziggurat shape and painted in bright colours to reflect the creative flair of those who work here.
Visit Container City
(click thumbnails for larger view)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shipping containers are like
and the modules can be assembled in thousands of ways.
Container Houses in the News
Are these houses just a fad or a viable housing option?
Making a Container House Even More Green
Possible Environmental Features:
Do you like the modern container houses that look like containers or the ones made to look like traditional homes?
What do you think of container houses?