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Shipping Container and Cargo Container Dream Homes

Jerilee Wei is a published freelance author and a former market research analyst.

Could these shipping containers be converted into housing?

Could these shipping containers be converted into housing?

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Growing up surrounded by more elderly relatives than the norm, one thing I picked up on was that in many ways, there is "nothing new" that someone hasn't really tried before—there are just new spins on old ideas. Later, as I grew up and travelled far beyond the borders of this country, there were things you just couldn't help but notice.

One of those things that stood out, was the creativity of the very poor in creating housing where there was none. Throughout the world, businesses and homes alike are often discarded, re-purposed shipping, or cargo containers.

With so many people losing their homes to foreclosures, perhaps it's time to take a new look at an older concept, and downscale our ideal dream homes. Shipping container custom built homes may be one of the answers.

Today, this old concept re-purposed and revived, has extended itself to not just being homes for the poor—but to also recycling old shipping containers into:

  • Bunk houses
  • Temporary offices
  • Military housing
  • Schools
  • Vacation homes
  • Youth centers
  • Music and art studios
  • Condos
  • Container cities
  • Permanent office space
  • Garages
  • Guest houses
  • Emergency shelters
  • Storage units

Documented to be in use for alternative buildings since 1982, it is only recently that they have be retrofitting international shipping containers into housing. One of the barriers for this type of housing has been getting around building codes that simply didn't consider "shipping containers" as viable housing options.

Some communities have been resistant to adopting new building codes that would allow them, while other's have been fearful of the entire concept. Still others have passed laws to prevent shipping containers being re-purposed into housing. Some of the bans may have more to do with local politics, and the hold or influence, some powerful building contractors and realtor investors have on certain communities.

Additionally, currently, there is a good deal of press revolving around ideas for making use of "no frills" style shipping container homes—for the many people living on the fringes, such those living outside and nearby our borders in places like Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The thoughts are that this would be an ideal replacement for communities of shanty homes in that region, housing those Mexican employees of the Fortune 1000 companies in the area. So, plans are in the making for "pilot" experimentation in housing the very poor in such affordable housing.

Advantages of a Shipping Container Home

  • Hurricane proof
  • Flood proof
  • Fireproof
  • Typhoon proof
  • Tornado proof
  • Earthquake resistant
  • Can be stacked a dozen high
  • Cheap (can be bought from $500 to $2,000)
  • Sometimes come with teak floors
  • Sometimes are already insulated
  • Highly portable
  • It's been reported that they keep you both warm and cool with very little insulation, even a wall unit air conditioner will very efficiently cool one
  • It only takes one day, a crane and a welder to have a home ready
  • Shipping container homes are 65% cheaper in build-out
  • Shipping container homes take one half the time to finish

For Sale! Dream Home for Only $8,000 or Less!

For the large part, it's all about affordability and portability. This most effective cost-saving home design concept makes use of cheap, strong and easily transportable steel structures out of containers that are polluting our world in sheer numbers alone.

These containers have often been the bane of many port communities due to the heavy import of goods from overseas. Once their cargo is unloaded, there are simply far too many of them to deal with. Moreover, it isn't cost-effective to send them back, so most ports sell them.

They are easily obtained through individuals and companies in the business of salvaging metal. They are abundant at auctions in some communities. They can be bought directly near ports. They are even auctioned off online by sites like eBay. Of course, they are also sold by middlemen who see an opportunity to sell them for the express purpose of affordable or less expensive home building.

A Shot at the American Dream

Currently, there are a number of articles in the news about a "new" concept of building homes for the poor, by repurposing shipping containers. Considering that shipping containers, rail cars, old trolley cars, etc. have been converted into housing for centuries—it's hard to think that this as a "new" form of new housing.

However, some of the new spins in shipping container architecture is that there are quite innovative and exciting newer designs in such housing. Some of those new innovations include:

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  • White epoxy coating paint that reflects the sun's heat from penetrating the metal shipping container home
  • Hookups for air conditioning and ventilation
  • Electrical systems
  • Water systems
  • Skillful small condo design concepts
  • Lofts within the container
  • Galley-style kitchens
  • Bunk sleeping areas for children
  • Apartment size balconies
  • Corner stair-cases
  • Newer concepts in interior designs
  • Newer concepts in exterior designs
  • When they are finished it can be virtually impossible to tell that shipping containers were used in the construction

DIY Custom Shipping Container Home

  • "Do It Yourself (DIY)" custom shipping container homes, lend themselves exceptionally well to creating inexpensive, and quickly built second, vacation, or retirement homes.
  • For the DIY crowd, consider that cutouts should be done in a machine shop to keep costs modest.
  • The typical size of an international shipping container: 40 feet long x 8 feet wide x 8.5" high.
  • Some companies are selling "kits" that range in price from $20,000 and up.

Shipping Container Beach Home Plans

Going "Green" Shipping Container Style

Container housing is additionally seen as an additional way to "go green." This is accomplished by the facts that container homes:

  • Offer a way to reuse existing shipping containers—an item that before was a huge non-green problem for disposal
  • Have nominal concrete foundation requirements
  • Do not corrupt the natural environment in excessive noise during off-site construction
  • Do not have need of air conditioning in some climates, as they have natural ventilation
  • Can be simply outfitted with photoelectric light-sensitive cells
  • Can be effortlessly outfitted with thermally effective insulation
  • Need minimum man-made light
  • Present independent light and heat controls in multi-units
  • Can be planned with green roofs
  • Can be designed with plant nurseries
  • Can be calculated with wind turbines
  • Can be planned to harvest rainwater

In terms of "going green" they make sense, in that a home can be built out of already existing material that once was a "problem" (thus solving one giant earth clutter issue), while simultaneously saving earth's precious trees from the chopping blocks to build houses. A staggering nearly twenty-five thousand of these containers are arriving just on our shores every single day here in America.

Exciting New Uses for Shipping Containers

Now popular in Europe, the UK, Australia, and China, shipping container housing (and other uses) are enjoying increasing acceptance as a fashionable imaginative building alternative. In some countries, this type of shelter is an accepted type of student housing and apartments.

Perhaps some of the most exciting new uses for shipping containers is the re-purposing of them for schools, health clinics, and community centers. There are some amazing pictures and details on such schools in the links I've provided below. Clearly this is a new twist on an old idea whose time has come, especially in third world countries.

Are They Safe in Terms of Health?

There are some concerns about electro-magnetic frequencies generation or propagation (EMF). Apparently, this bothers some people and doesn't affect most others. This is certainly something to be researched before purchase.

Then, there is the factor that many of these used shipping containers have either held hazardous materials, or that their interior wooden floors have been heavily treated with highly toxic pesticides. In the case of this later concern, anyone contemplating this type of housing construction should ensure that either the flooring wasn't treated with pesticides (before purchase), or that it is removed safely before further re-purposing of the shipping container.

In a World of Shaky Housing

Could it be, that in an uncertain American housing market, that has foreclosures occurring at a rate of over 10,000 a day, that out of all of this chaos—we could be giving birth to a modern-day renaissance?

Perhaps, hard times are the rebirth or revival of culture, skills, and determining new directions for forgotten or previously ignored life skills and ideas? Maybe shipping container housing popularity and trends, are a measure of more exciting solutions to come?

Only the Strong Survive

Shipping containers are obviously stronger than wooden or even metal based house framing. This is largely due to the fact that the steel in them is welded to even more steel.

This makes them hugely valuable in terms of being able to withstand the extremes in nature, such as hurricanes, winds, etc.

Furthermore, the roofs of these containers because of the lateral load factor in the standard stacking of them, is strong enough to support a huge amount of extra weight.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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