Nature and Biodiversity

Could we use shipping containers to build sustainable homes?

Claire Smith
Blogger, Sustainable Cities Collective
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The first shipping container home, in the US, was built nearly ten years ago and since then shipping container homes have seen their popularity skyrocket. In-fact you’ve probably seen post’s like this form True Activist, showing just how many of these homes have been built in recent years.

So why are people turning to shipping containers to build their homes out of? Well, there are a growing number of people who do so because they’re looking for a sustainable way to build their homes.

How are shipping containers a sustainable solution?

Each year in America thousands of these shipping containers are left dormant because American imports more than it exports and it’s too expensive to ship these containers empty back to Asia. Just how many of these shipping containers are left dormant?

We decided to find out by looking at statistics from the US Department of Transportation. In 2012 alone there was the equivalent of over 5 million 20 foot shipping containers left-over.

So what can we do with all these containers- can’t we just melt them down and re-use the steel? Well we could however this would require nearly 8000 kWh of energy- which is a huge amount (nearly the same as a typical US household).

So what other options are there? Well in the past recycled shipping containers have been used to build: swimming pools, hospitals, schools, Restaurants and more. However one of these options is to build homes with them.

What’s it like Living in a Container Home?

With this sudden rise in people choosing to build and live in shipping container homes, last, decided to interview numerous shipping container home owners to find out exactly what it’s like to live in a shipping container home and what they wish they knew before they built their own shipping container home.

The most common thing people wanted to know was ‘which is the correct shipping container to purchase and build with’.

The second most common thing people said they wish they’d known was ‘how to get a planning permit’.

And the third most common thing people wanted to know what ‘how to find a builder with previous experience of building containers homes’.

To read more on this see: 23 Shipping Container Home Owners Speak Out: “What I Wish I’d Known Before Building My Shipping Container Home”.

Why else are people building homes with containers?

Sustainability seems to be the most common reason why people are building their homes with these containers, however two other reasons can also be found.

Firstly, the price.

A used 40 foot shipping container, which provides over 300 square foot of living space, can be purchased for around $2500 USD- when you stack a few of these together you soon have a large living space.

Larry Wade from seacontainercabin built the self-named ‘Taj Malodge’ for around $35,000. He used two used 40 foot shipping containers and welded them together to create the basic structure for his new home.

Secondly, the speed

Container homes can be built in a matter of weeks- all that is required is simply to stack the containers up together. Once the containers are in place you just need to cut your openings (door and windows) and insulate the containers.

It’s this speed that means shipping containers are perfect for disaster relief housing.

This article is published in collaboration with The Sustainable Cities Collective. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Claire Smith is a blogger at The Sustainable Cities Collective.

Image: Crew members of a ship loaded with containers wait for its departure. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker. 

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