Written by Luke Hunter
Container homes are exactly what they sound like; homes made from the steel shipping containers that you see carrying goods everywhere on trains, trucks, and ships. From these giant Lego blocks, people are building homes of all shapes and sizes.
Shipping containers are generally available in 10ft, 20ft, and 40ft. The smallest shipping container can provide about 100 square feet of floor space for a shipping container home. Eight larger containers together can make a two-story house at about 1400 square feet. Hundreds of container micro-apartments together can make a huge apartment building.
Why are shipping containers being used to make homes, studios, cabins, and offices? Well, with about 14 million ‘out-of-service’ containers in the world, there are lots of them available. And playing with giant blocks has a definite appeal!
Besides trendiness, interest in container homes is also part of a wider interest in saving money with prefabricated and modular homes. Many potential homeowners are looking for lower construction and maintenance costs. There is also a perception that container homes are contributing to recycling.
Could a container home be a good choice for you? Here are some pros and cons to consider. Many shipping container homes are available as prefabricated modular homes, making construction time shorter. Some companies advertise delivery within 10 weeks! Most of the building code inspections are done at the factory, which makes things simpler and quicker. Or if you are designing a custom home or building a do-it-yourself project, the container gives you a fun prebuilt structure to work with.
A worldwide system exists for moving containers around. Once they reach your site, they are relatively simple to set in place on a prepared foundation. Most of the work is completed on a factory floor for a fixed price. Delivery to the site, site preparation, foundation, assembly and utility connections are the only variable costs. That said, container homes are not always less expensive. Estimates vary, and some put the savings at 5-10%, depending on what you’re comparing against.
The environmental appeal of a container home is the idea that you are re-using a leftover product of the shipping industry to make a home. This can be a good thing, but as we will see, it’s not always true or the best thing.
Some of the advantages, like short construction time and predictable pricing, are the same for all prefabricated and modular homes, not just those made with shipping containers. But container homes benefit uniquely from the worldwide infrastructure built to move shipping containers. Even container home skeptics admit they can be useful where local building expertise is lacking or for emergency shelters that can be moved easily. In these scenarios, the versatility of container transport is a huge advantage.
Container homes are often marketed as being environmentally friendly because they are said to be made from used containers, thus conserving metal resources. There are lots of old shipping containers out there, no longer in circulation, and repurposing them into homes has a strong appeal. But is a container home really the best use of a container, from a sustainability perspective? Many would disagree.
You might love to have a container home because you like the idea, the look, the chance to play with blocks in a DIY design, or the quick delivery time for a manufactured model. But don’t assume it will cost less or that it’s necessarily more environmentally sustainable.