Shipping containers are in many ways an ideal building material. They are designed to carry heavy loads and to be stacked in high columns. They are also designed to resist harsh environments, such as on ocean-going vessels or sprayed with road salt while transported on roads. Due to their high strength, containers can quite easily be adapted to a secure home.
While a number of resourceful people have converted shipping containers to makeshift shelters at the margin of society for years, architects and green designers are also increasingly turning to the strong, cheap boxes as source building blocks. Shipping containers 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.
The rise of innovative green architecture has increased popularity of self building, while shipping containers are an excellent method of reusing. There are over 300 million shipping containers sitting empty at ports around the world. Shipping containers are used to build family homes and much more. In their most basic form, recycled shipping containers offer a quick and inexpensive solution to emergency housing needs and when stacked sky-high, they make for intriguing elaborate dwellings.
Shipping containers are engineered with really remarkable components, but it’s the beams and corner posts and the corrugated steel that all goes together to make it wonderfully rigid and strong. There are however a few things to consider when building a home out of shipping containers, so here are a few pros and cons.
Pros of Container homes
Modular, all shipping containers are the same width and most have two standard height and length measurements and as such they provide modular elements that can be combined into larger structures.
Labor, the welding and cutting of steel is considered to be specialized labor and can increase construction expenses, yet overall it is still lower than conventional construction.
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.
Expense, many used containers are available at an amount 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.
Foundations, containers are designed to be supported by their four corners making a very simple foundation possible. As well the top four corners are strong as they are intended to support a stack of containers.
Insulation properties, steel conducts heat very well; containers used for human occupancy in an environment with extreme temperature variations will normally have to be better insulated than traditional homes.
Humidity, as noted above, single wall steel conducts heat. In temperate climates, moist interior air condenses against the steel. Rust will form unless the steel is well sealed and insulated.
Construction site, the size and weight of the containers will, in most cases, require them to be placed by a crane or forklift. Traditional brick, block and lumber construction materials can often be moved by hand, even to upper stories.
Building permits, the use of steel for construction, while prevalent in industrial construction, is not widely used for residential structures. Obtaining building permits may be troublesome in some regions due to municipalities not having seen this application before.
Treatment of floors, to meet Australian government quarantine requirements most container floors when manufactured are treated with insecticides containing copper (23–25%), chromium (38–45%) and arsenic (30–37%). Before human habitation, floors should be removed and safely disposed. Units with steel floors would be preferable, if available.
Cargo spillages, a container can carry a wide variety of cargo during its working life. Spillages or contamination may have occurred on the inside surfaces and will have to be cleaned before habitation. Ideally all internal surfaces should be media-blasted to bare metal, and re-painted with a nontoxic paint system.
Solvents, solvents released from paint and sealants used in manufacture might be harmful.
Damage, while in service, containers are damaged by friction, handling collisions, and force of heavy loads overhead during ship transits. The companies will inspect containers and condemn them if cracked welds, twisted frames or pin holes are found, among other faults.
Weaknesses, Although the two ends of a container are extremely strong, the roof is not. A limit of approximately 300 Kg. is recommended.
In many cases it is cheaper and less energy consuming to build a similarly scaled structure using natural and local materials. Shipping container homes make sense where such resources are scarce and containers are in abundance. While there are certainly striking and innovative examples of architecture using cargo containers, it is not always the best method of design and construction.