Shipping Containers As a Low-Cost Housing Solution?

Everyone knows what those big rectangular shipping containers are for: shipping! The giant boxes transport electronics, food, clothing and a million other types of goods around the world; from one port to another. As the billion dollar industry of imports and exports grows, the fees associated with returning the containers to their countries of origin is far less cost-effective than buying new containers. As a result, millions of them are abandoned yearly. Fortunately, construction savvy upcycling citizens are submitting applications and ideas aimed at repurposing the shore side scraps. Shipping container architecture is gaining traction as a trendy green alternative to traditional building methods. From East London to Amsterdam and New York City, imaginative locals are proving that shipping containers can make terrific places to live, work and be merry.

You may be scoffing but with some planning, plain metal boxes can be transformed into lush living quarters and smart home offices complete with plumbing, electricity, windows and doors. Once structured there are many benefits to this new age architecture model; main advantages include:
Durability – The structure is solid. Built to weather the most ferocious seas so wind, rain and hail are non-factors.
Ease – Setting up house is remarkably simple. Wiring, insulation and plumbing fits perfectly inside the outer metal and inner drywall.
Availability – See your local port. And/or eBay.
Customisation – One shipping container is great, but two or more is even better! Once properly fitted together, you can effectively double, triple or quadruple your space, making way for a large television mounted high on the wall, or a winding staircase that connects the living area to the sleeping quarters.
Portability – Moving from South to North London? No problem! These structures can be transported via lorry. For further destinations, travel by sea may be preferable and passage can be arranged at your nearest port.
Cost – Typically the containers cost less than £1000. Housing factions that are working to create container cities, plan to rent out the finished flats for £75 a week.

Though we wish it wasn’t so, converting an ordinary shipping container into living quarters can be quite hazardous. A few of the top concerns include:
Chemicals – The containers often originate in countries with lenient health and safety laws and the lack of standardised regulatory documentation makes it difficult to distinguish where a container is from and which chemicals were used in its construction. This is exacerbated by the massive variety in chemicals involved and the long journey times; in airtight containers toxic chemicals intermingle creating deathly fumes and hybrid toxins.
Ecological Footprint – The amount of energy required to make the box habitable is sizeable. The entire structure needs to be sandblasted to remove toxic residue, wooden floors need to be replaced and openings need to be cut with a torch or mechanic saw. An estimated thousand pounds of hazardous waste is created in the pursuit of habitability.
Dimensions – 8ft by 20ft seems like a decent amount of space, until you want to jump for joy; that may not always be possible in these homes. To contain your elation, pun intended, you may have to cut and weld multiple containers together, which brings us back to our previous point.

With European residential property at a premium it’s no wonder that people are starting to look to these cheap sturdy stackable boxes for shelter. Ingenious examples of beautiful cargo tin architecture is giving people container fever, but be wary. Shipping container homes can make sense in developing countries or disaster relief initiatives, where resources are scarce and containers are abundant but it is typically not the best method of construction. For more information on house architecture, contact us.

This blog is written by Baaba Hughes and managed by Lucy Lonsdale.