Shipping containers are a creative housing option
Your new home could be on the back of a big rig, chugging by on a freight train, flying in a cargo plane, or cruising into port. People are increasingly upcycling shipping containers into new housing, and you could be one of them.
SUPPLY CHAIN CREATES SUPPLY OF STRUCTURES
Intermodal containers—commonly called shipping containers—have been in heavy commercial cargo and freight use since the 1960s, now numbering over 17 million in current global circulation. Their uniform “dry cargo” measurements (typically 8 feet by 20 or 40 feet), sturdy metal construction, and security standards allow them to be packed with goods and easily transferred via standard equipment from boat, to train, to truck in order to get items to market—and in your hands.
But what happens to the containers once they’ve made it to the end of the road? Sometimes, it’s the end of the road for the containers. While the intermodal containers often are repacked and sent back where they came from or on to other ports of call, continuing the reuse cycle, many reach their destinations and simply stay put due to logistics or return costs.
Those leave-behinds offer ample opportunities for other types of reuse, namely in new lives as structures. According to REAL Trends, there are more than 14 million out-of-service shipping containers around the world, some of which are now being used to construct residential houses, multi-housing developments, student accommodations, and shopping malls.
If you’re feeling inspired to make a landlocked shipping container into your new home, here are some things to consider according to Inhabitat:
- Cost-effective—Containers’ shape and size make them ideal for repurposing into buildings. Compared to building a similar structure with brick and mortar, on average, containers can be 30% cheaper. However, the savings will depend on the location and what type of home you are building.
- Stability—These tough-as-nails steel containers are designed to carry tons of merchandise across rough ocean tides. Earthquakes and hurricanes are virtually no match for them, which make containers an excellent choice for building a home in areas prone to natural disasters.
- Speed—Traditional structures can take months to build, but a very simple container conversion can be as fast as two to three weeks.
- Recycling—Repurposing the containers instead of scrapping and melting them can save a lot of energy and carbon emissions while preventing the use of and reliance upon traditional materials.
- Safety—Good luck breaking into an all-metal shipping container!
- Green living—Some people are using brand-new containers instead of recycling old ones, and this completely defeats the purpose of container recycling. In addition, energy is required for modifications like sandblasting and cutting openings, and fossil fuels are often needed to move the container, making a recycled container’s ecological footprint larger than you might think.
- Health—Shipping containers aren’t made with habitation in mind. Many shipping containers have lead-based paints on the walls and chemicals like arsenic in the floors. You must investigate and deal with these issues before moving in.
- Temperature—Some of the biggest concerns are insulation and heat control. Large steel boxes are really good at absorbing and transmitting heat and cold. Therefore, controlling the temperature inside your shipping container can be a challenge and must be addressed for it to be habitable.
- Building codes—With shipping-container structures still being relatively new, they have caused some issues with local building codes. You should always check to see if they meet your local regulations.
For help with shipping-container construction, contact a licensed professional: Licensees of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ California Architects Board can help you plan your intramodal home and licensees of the Contractors State License Board can make it happen, ensuring all building codes, permit requirements, and safety standards are followed. To check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.
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