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Shipping Container Houses

Updated on February 10, 2011

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)

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Twenty-one thousand

shipping containers hit American shores EVERY DAY of the year!

12 Container House - by Adam Kalkin

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Kalkin House at The Shelburne Museum

Vermont

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.

Architecture and Hygiene - by Adam Kalkin

Adam Kalkin is an architect and artist based in New Jersey. His work has been exhibited in New York, Stockholm, Amsterdam and Utrecht. Among his built projects are the Collector's House at the Shelburne Museum, Vermont, Home for A Hollywood Producer in Los Angeles, Martha's Vineyard House, and the Farmhouse, New Jersey.

Adam Kalkin builds homes that mix performance, conceptual art, kinetic construction, and play. Here is the first monograph dedicated to the work of this controversial architectural designer and artist. Filled with Kalkin's drawings, as well as color photos, it presents more than 30 of his buildings, projects, and installations, including The Bunny Lane House. Includes Kalkin's witty "100 Comments Regarding Architecture and Hygiene."

The Bunny Lane House

More Books about Container Architecture

There are currently

25 MILLION

discarded shipping containers

in the world's ports.

Advantages

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.

Modular

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.

Transport

Pre-fabricated modules can also be easily transported by ship, truck or rail, because they already conform to standard shipping sizes.

Availability

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.

Cost

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.

Expandable

The shape and standard measurements of shipping containers make houses that are easily expandable. You can start small and add more containers as needed.

Hurricane-Proof

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.

Earthquake-Proof

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.

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"But I don't like the way they look."

That's okay!

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.

Super Therm

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.

Stucco

You can also stucco shipping containers by spraying them with papercrete.

History Channel's "Modern Marvels"

A clip about London's Container City and shipping container architechture.

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

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(click thumbnails for larger view)

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Shipping containers are like

Lego toys

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?

They're just a fad.

They're just a fad.

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    • anonymous 3 years ago

      At best the shipping container is just the shell. You have the same cost for all the other features like the bath, kitchen, painting, insulation, foundation etc. You will need tools not common in the construction trades such as cutting torches large cranes and these don't come cheap. You better look at everything before you leap.

    • Miha Gasper 5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Not really a fad, but some people would never use them because they are too accustomed to conventional buildings. With proper isolation and innovative design they can become really popular, but at the moment at the moment there is till impression they are meant for people with lower income.

    They're a viable housing option.

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      • Venus Gaines 2 years ago

        I love innovative technology as long as it equips you with the capacity of being totally self sufficient solar electricity and solar well pumping system and your set LOVE IT

      • anonymous 3 years ago

        anyone know of a 'container home' architect? Someone affordable?

      • prefab_homes 5 years ago

        Great houses!

      • Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

        I can imagine this housing trend gaining an ever greater following. It just makes so much sense (and cents).

      • sszukala 5 years ago

        They are still expensive; it was cheaper than regular houses I would do it this. But not good from the price.

      • infiniti99 lm 5 years ago

        I love the idea and if in the position I would buy 12-15 containers and create one hell of a house.Great lens you did your homework.Thank you for sharing.

      • tintasbarnes 6 years ago

        I squid liked your lense please squid like mine too: http://www.squidoo.com/motorcycle-shipping-in-unit...

      • tintasbarnes 6 years ago

        I like it...I wonder just how are they performing in winter...

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        Saving my pennies to build my dream1

      • E L Seaton 6 years ago from Virginia

        it is an incredible way to get a lot of modular construction for a little bit of money. I can't wait to try my hand at building a home from these incredible containers. Shucks, I'll even put up a guest cottage too.

      • Carol Fisher 6 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

        It's a wonderful idea to use shipping containers to make homes for people. It saves resources and they can be made into anything from a small apartment to a large house depending on how many containers are used.

      • Amy Fricano 6 years ago from WNY

        They Rock ! I want one.

      • religions7 8 years ago

        Sound like a viable housing option to me.

      Making a Container House Even More Green

      Possible Environmental Features:

      Rainwater harvesting

      Wind turbines

      Solar panels

      Green Roofs

      Plant nurseries

      Reclaimed Wood

      Green Architecture on Amazon

      Vote!

      Do you like the modern container houses that look like containers or the ones made to look like traditional homes?

      See results

      What do you think of container houses?

      Comments

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        • lesliesinclair profile image

          lesliesinclair 4 years ago

          Either style is tops in my book. I'm even considering one of them.

        • profile image

          anonymous 4 years ago

          @Diana Wenzel: I luv thAt idea and think its interesting.

        • Cynthia Haltom profile image

          Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

          What an outstanding alternate use for shipping container. I live in an area where wind and hurricanes are a problem. These homes would be perfect it they were made with retractable garage door that could be opened during storms to let the wind travel through them rather that destroying them,.

        • profile image

          prefab_homes 5 years ago

          Nice lens, interesting info!

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          Interesting concept. It will be interesting to see popular the concept becomes.

        • Diana Wenzel profile image

          Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

          This is really an interesting concept (and reality). There are several people living near me who are converting railroad shipping cars into abodes. So many possibilities. I plan to study this further. Thanks for your focus on opportunities for recycling and repurposing. Always appreciated.

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          thought about using 2 transport trailers & putting them 2gether

        • infiniti99 lm profile image

          infiniti99 lm 5 years ago

          Great lens lots of awesome ideas.More ideas are possible with more cash but still a viable idea for many.

        • profile image

          mariajennifer 5 years ago

          hello your company good services provide but our company international and local area both shipping services provide and lowest pries http://www.shippinginternational.com

        • angelsigh profile image

          angelsigh 5 years ago

          The first I heard of this was when Starbucks had an ad about the grand opening of the first one an dI was astonished! These look awesome! I'd love to have one someday. Super lens!

        • mihgasper profile image

          Miha Gasper 5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

          They have future!

        • livetech lm profile image

          livetech lm 5 years ago

          Wow these look amazing, I have never seen anything like this before. Don't think I would personnaly like to live in one but I would love to have a look around one. Our local team of Architects North Wales team have created some outstanding architectural house designs over the years but as of yet we haven't had any requests for anything like this, but you never know!!

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          I have reviewed your lens and I liked it so I added a squidoo like to your like count on your lens. I also have a squidoo lens and I have 5 friends that also have squidoo lens' If you would like to look at our lens' and add facebook likes to them, then we would all add facebook likes to your lens. I am not putting our lens addresses in this post because I do not want to be considered spam. If you would like to add likes to us so that in return we can add likes to your lens, please let us know by emailing me at dforay@insightbb.com

        • profile image

          DanCooper 5 years ago

          Such a cool lens, thanks for the info.

        • cdevries profile image

          cdevries 5 years ago

          I like it - it seems like a smart reuse of a very sturdy container. I want one as an office!

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

          Great idea.A house compose of shipping containers(recycled).It not just affordable and cheap but also it protect the house from possible hurricane and earthquake.And life had an infinite life span.With all these advantages i think this a much better place to live in salt lake city apartments

        • VladimirCat profile image

          Vladimir 6 years ago from Australia

          I could live happily in a shipping container. All I would need is some rugs, some climbing furniture and a cozy spot to nap, perfect

        • profile image

          Pete Schultz 6 years ago

          Very interesting, and creative. Really fun to browse through this lens.

        • profile image

          Pete Schultz 6 years ago

          Very interesting, and creative. Really fun to browse through this lens.

        • Stazjia profile image

          Carol Fisher 6 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

          What a very interesting article. Actually, now I've seen the pictures, I'd rather like one of these homes. Blessed by an Angel.

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

          Building with containers is worth taking a look at if you are contemplating a new home.

          Good resource is the Residential Shipping Container Primer website. A DO IT YOURSELF (DIY) REFERENCE AND FOR CONVERTING RECYCLED INTERMODAL CARGO SHIPPING CONTAINERS INTO BUILDINGS AND ARCHITECTURE.

          Lots of example buildings, details, facts, and links to other articles. They have something new that you can setup your own project wiki to get help with your project if you are considering a design build project.

        • profile image

          anonymous 7 years ago

          @anonymous: There is a nice one in Malaysia. Please visit youtube, I think you will like it!

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IVYfdeNwnQ

        • profile image

          anonymous 7 years ago

          I have a few design thoughts on ISBU homes on my amateur blog. http://putterordiemyblog.wordpress.com/

          Just looking to throw out some ideas on affordable green homes and hopefully start discussions

        • religions7 profile image

          religions7 8 years ago

          Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)