We already know that using shipping containers for constructing buildings is environmentally friendly. While we’ve debunked the myth that EVERY container home is eco-friendly, there are steps you can take to make sure yours is one of the ones that does fit in the category. In this article, we’re excited to share a few options you can pursue.
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Do you really need to walk around inside during the winter wearing only shorts and a t-shirt? If you turn the thermostat down and slightly reduce the temperature of your hot water, you could save yourself money and reduce your carbon emissions. The converse applies as well, if you can get your tolerance up to endure slightly warmer interior temperatures in the summer, you can save a bundle. Remember, a fan is cheaper to operate than an air conditioner, and a blanket is cheaper than a heating bill.
Another great way to improve the eco-friendliness of your container is to create a compost pile either in your kitchen, by using a compost pail or bin, or in your garden.
Lots of daily items we throw into the bin could instead be placed on a compost pile. Things like vegetable peels, fruit, tea bags, cotton clothes and more, can all be recycled.
Around 30% of garbage we toss each week could be composted instead. This would be very good for the environment. By using a compost pile instead of a landfill it stops the buildup of methane gas.
If you don’t have enough room in your garden for a compost pile you can purchase a compost bin and place this on your driveway. Once the scraps have rotted down, you have a rich compost that can be used to sprinkle on your plants and trees.
In addition to having a compost pile, why not try to grow your own food in your garden! Growing your own vegetables can save a huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions! You get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve grown your own food and that it is fresh.
A surprising amount of electricity is wasted by electronic devices left on standby, like computers, televisions, and other devices. The standby mode helps these devices turn on more rapidly, power clocks, monitor button presses from remote controls, and other functions.
However, if you can bear a slight shift in the convenience of your life, you can consider completely depowering these devices when not in use. This is typically done by either unplugging them at the outlet, having your outlets wired so that they are switch controlled, or plugging devices into power strips that can be manually switched (and are also handy and protected your devices from power surges).
Curious how much electricity your devices are using in standby mode? The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has calculated that almost 10% of residential electricity use is just for powering standby mode devices! And if you want to test the devices in your own house, an affordable device like the one below can quickly show you how much you’re using (Both during operation and in standby mode)
If you are more serious about reducing your carbon footprint, then consider upgrading some of your old appliances. New standards like Energy Star have greatly reduced both “on” and “standby” power usage for many devices.
Let’s start with which insulation to use. There are a number of choices available, and they differ quite a bit in their eco-friendliness. There are a number of natural choices available, like straw, cotton, hemp, and others. For instance, we learned in our interview that Montessori La Milpa, a Mexican school used straw for much of their wall insulation. However, depending on your climate and if you plan to insulate the inside or outside of your containers, condensation can seriously affect your choice.
The next issue is where to place whichever insulation you decide will work best for your design and climate. It may be tempting to just insulate your walls, as it is usually easiest, this is a poor choice for limiting heat transfer. And if you’re paying money to heat and cool your container, a poor choice of heat transfer is a poor choice for energy use. And as we know, energy use directly affects eco-friendliness.
Instead, we generally recommend that if you’re going to insulate at all, you should insulate the walls, roof and underneath the container. Keep in mind that you may be able to get away without insulating the floor if the primary method of heat transfer in your climate isn’t convection from the air, but radiation from the sun.
Insulation is not inexpensive but can usually pay you back in reduced heating and cooling bills within a few years.
Depending on where you live, a typical solar panel system can save you an impressive amount of money off your yearly electricity bill.
In order to get the best value out of solar panels, you need a location that faces the sun and without much shade. A competent installation company can provide information on the energy in the sunlight for your area as well as how much electricity you could generate for different sized systems.
Also note that if you want to be completely off the grid, you’ll need an expensive battery system to give you power during times of low or no sunlight. Otherwise, you’ll use your solar system during the day and the ‘grid’ system in other times. Some utility companies will even buy-back any excess power you produce during the day!
A great way to cut down on your carbon footprint is to source your building materials locally. This will be easier for some people than others, depending on where you live and what resources are available.
If you live in Canada and are using oak to clad the external skin of your container, fantastic! But if you live in Dubai and you want to do the same, this will require you to source your materials from a long distance which would greatly increase your carbon footprint. So, using your good judgment, investigate local materials that are similar that you could use instead.
Even you want to take things to the next level, considering using building materials that are both local AND surplus. Our interview with Shanti highlighted how you can source excess materials in your area that can be used for your container home as long as you have some design flexibility. There are always remodeling project going on, or materials damaged during shipment in installation or shipment. While these items may not be perfect, with some creativity and slight modification, they can still be used. As a bonus, they offer you a huge discount on your construction costs!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the energy savings (and other benefits) that more efficient lightbulbs can give. The first wave of change happened years ago, when fluorescent or CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs became popular. Now, LED bulbs offer even greater energy savings (and therefore, carbon emission savings) that CFL’s, with fewer downsides.
LED bulbs used to be quite pricey just a few years ago, but popularity and mass production have drastically dropped their price. And with a energy savings of up 85% compared to the traditional incandescent bulbs you may already be using, they’ll pay for themselves in no time. The bulbs are highly rated and affordable, especially if you buy a large package and do a whole-house changeout.
Do you have any other great tips about how to make your shipping container home more Eco-friendly? Tell us in the comments section below.