If you are interested in green building, environmentalism, or architecture, chances are that you have seen some of the chic structures coming out of the shipping container building movement. These structures range from the Redondo Beach container home, which won an award for innovative design from The American Institute of Architects in 2007, to the 85 foot tall Freitag container structure located in Zurich.
Although these buildings are architectural masterpieces, the reasons container homes really shine in the eyes of Eco Brooklyn are not really how they look but rather their environmental, cost, and function elements. Truthfully I find them too box-like to be aesthetic wonders. My personal taste is for more curves and less straight lines.
However, a container home is environmentally sound because it is the product of reused materials. Repurposing a shipping container into a home allows the supporting structure along with the ceiling of a home to come with almost no new production, resulting in large savings in lumber. This process also cuts down on the energy that would be required to turn a container into scrap metal before that metal is reused. Repurposing also does away with the possibility of improper recycling or disposal of the container.
The modular nature of shipping container construction allows for large savings on production materials, labor hours, and carbon emissions in comparison to conventional on-site building. These advantages are gained through the ability of shipping container home construction to be carried out in a central location.
This allows for the project manager to easily have materials shipped to the site so there is no reason to buy more material than is necessary, which is common practice for on-site construction. The laborers can work in a climate controlled setting with all of the necessary tools readily available, and it is not necessary to more large quantities of people to an obscure job site every day.
Shipping containers are extremely functional when it comes to use as a pre-fabricated building material considering their low price (as low as $1500 per unit). These functional advantages include strength, availability, stackability, transport ease, speed, and addition ease. Shipping containers are used as heavy cargo carriers with the ability to be stacked upon one another on sea-going ships. This means that the containers are far stronger than what is necessary for a home, and they are designed to be stacked, which allows for easy construction of second and third stories.
In port cities (most of the biggest cities are port cities) used shipping containers are readily available in all kinds of sizes and conditions. Even if you are not located in a port city, shipping containers are easily transported by truck. This allows for the use of shipping containers in very remote areas, like the Australian Outback, because they can be built where the work is and then easily transported to where the remote home may be located.
Shipping container construction is inherently fast. This is because the relatively small amounts of site work including foundation pouring and landscaping can be done simultaneously with the container construction. This allows for about 50% shorter construction time. Unlike conventional homes, container homes can be easily added onto without needing to make large changes to the existing structure since the modules are individually supported.
Shipping containers have some inherent disadvantages regarding their design and previous uses. Since steel conducts heat very efficiently shipping containers must be heavily insulated in extreme climates. Used shipping containers have possibly been filled with food spills, pesticides, and lead paint. It is necessary to remove the wood floor that they come with and seal or get rid of lead contaminated paint entirely. Since shipping container architecture is new, and steel is an uncommon structural material for homes, it can be difficult to acquire a zoning permit and for the structure to pass building code.
Aside from some easily fixable inherent disadvantages with shipping containers, and one very difficult to deal with issue concerning zoning and building code, container homes create an elegant sector of green architecture. Companies like Intermodal Design are creating simple and affordable housing solutions by taking advantage of these structures. Other companies like Container Home Consultants Inc., run by Alex Klein, are finding ways to help families help themselves by showing them the relative ease of DIY shipping container (ISBU) home building compared to conventional home construction.