It’s been over ten years since the first shipping container home was built in the US and more than twenty years since the world’s first shipping container home was built.
Although we continue to see tremendous growth in the popularity of shipping container homes, there are those critics who say that this is just a fad. Containers have been used now for over two decades and interest in shipping container homes is not likely to die out anytime soon.
Let’s first define what exactly a ‘fad’ is:
“A desirable trend characterized with lots of enthusiasm and energy over a short period of time.”
While we agree there is plenty of enthusiasm and energy for shipping container homes, we don’t agree that this interest has been over a short period of time. Since they have been around for the last twenty years and still continue to grow in popularity, we don’t think that the definition applies.
We have read several critical articles about container homes in an effort to understand why some people just don’t like shipping container homes. One of the biggest arguments made is the cost to modify the container.
Critics claim that when containers are heavily customized, the cost of building with containers exceeds the cost of building with traditional materials.
We wouldn’t argue with that point. One of the biggest advantages of building with shipping containers is that you already have your basic building structure ready. If you start removing entire walls and support columns then it stands to reason that the cost will rapidly increase because you’re paying to remove material and then to subsequently add material.
Clearly there is a difference between heavy customization and normal alterations. For instance, we would certainly consider altering the container so that it meets your requirements by adding windows, doors and openings. We would deem those as normal alterations. We would not, however, recommend removing very large portions of the container.
So to summarize, when containers are extremely altered the cost benefits of constructing a building with shipping containers diminish. The majority of people who convert containers do not remove huge sections of the containers and do realize large cost savings compared to traditional buildings.
Another common argument against building with shipping containers is that the wooden flooring inside the containers can contain harmful chemicals and pesticides.
The wooden floors in most shipping containers are often treated with harsh chemicals for two reasons. First, chemicals are used to eliminate insects and other pests. Second, chemicals are used to improve the water resistance of the flooring so that it is seaworthy.
Courtesy of Larry Wade
Applying these chemicals make sense when containers are being used to transport goods around the world, but not when you want to live or work in them. We have previously discussed the question Are shipping containers dangerous? in this article.
When constructing a building with shipping containers, there are two options regarding the existing floors.
It remains a personal decision whether to seal or replace the original wooden floor and essentially depends on your budget, the condition of the floor and the history of that particular container.
You can read a shipping container’s Consolidated Data Plate to see what chemicals have been used to treat the wooden floor. This will be displayed on the plate under the heading Timber Component Treatment. Read more about this here.
Some say that shipping container homes are ugly. We disagree! But, to be fair, we are slightly biased.
One of the great things about humans is that everyone has individual preferences because we are all different. That is a good thing since otherwise all of our homes would look exactly the same.
We appreciate the raw ruggedness and industrial look of containers, but can understand that there are some who don’t prefer this style.
However, just because you choose to build with containers doesn’t mean they have to look quite so rugged. Cladding the containers can easily change their appearance. Two popular approaches are to use either wood or stucco to clad the exterior of the container. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
There are times when building with shipping containers just isn’t practical. For instance, in remote areas or landlocked countries, where containers are in short supply, purchasing and transporting the containers very long distances would likely be cost prohibitive.
At the end of the day, we are still convinced that building with shipping containers offers several key advantages over traditional buildings.
One of the biggest advantages is the speed at which you can construct a shipping container home. It is normal practice for containers to be placed onto the foundation in under a day. Containers can just be stacked on top of one another, like large Lego blocks.
So, in less than twenty-four hours, you can have the main frame of your house in place. Consider how long this would take if you were building your house out of bricks.
A typical family home in the US now takes around seven months to build, according to the 2012 US Census survey on construction.
It’s hard to give average figures for container homes, but most are built in well under six months. Container homes which take longer than this tend to be extremely complex.
One thing that is undisputed regarding shipping containers is that they are incredibly strong. All shipping containers are designed to hold thirty tons of weight and to be stacked up to seven high. This represents move than two-hundred tons on the base container in a stack of seven. They are remarkably strong.
It is true that containers are over-engineered for building homes and offices. Shipping containers will easily handle any loads a home or office building will place upon it.
Still, it isn’t just their weight capacity that’s impressive.
Recently, we produced a case study on the Graceville container home. This particular home was built in the notorious floodplains of Queensland.
The owners decided to build using containers because they are fflood proof The ground floor containers have kept their original doors, thus making the ground floor completely impenetrable by flood waters.
Shipping containers can also withstand tremendous amounts of wind. The Intermodal Steel Building Association, states that containers can withstand winds of up to 175 mph/281 kph with the correct foundation.
The term off-grid living really refers to a spectrum that can vary from living in a home which is not connected to any publicly managed utilities all the way to having no internet and no bank accounts. But, in general, off grid living means living in a way that is independent and self-sufficient.
Shipping containers are perfect for such a movement.
Imagine that you have a piece of land in the middle of the countryside and that you want to live there off-grid. Building a traditional house there from scratch would be a nightmare because access to the land could be difficult and also because you must have access to electricity to run your power tools.
Consider, though, that a shipping container could be converted in a city warehouse and then transported to the remote piece of land when complete. The shipping container home is ready to live in and as a bonus is extremely secure because of its strength.
Some of the common misconceptions about shipping container homes have been addressed in this article. Though it is true that there are certain situations when a shipping container home isn’t practical, it definitely is not a fad. There are also situations when traditional building materials are not practical. It all depends on the environment in the area that you have chosen for construction.
With that being said, constructing with shipping containers does offer numerous unique advantages.
Share your thoughts about whether container homes are a fad ornot in the comments section below.
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