Shipping Container Housing

| 9/20/2007 12:00:00 AM

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I love the idea of using old shipping containers to build environmentally-friendly housing. We have a surplus of the containers in the United States. They're strong, stackable and recyclable.

They have potential for self-contained emergency housing, but can also be stacked and arranged to provide more elaborate homes. The possibilities seem endless. They don't need to be stacked tightly together, but can be used for outside walls and rooms with a roof (or second-story containers) spanning the containers. This creates living spaces larger than 8-feet wide (the standard width of the containers).

I think the shipping containers could be used to provide the skeleton or support structure for a house with straw bales for insulation. There would be no need for plastering the internal walls, but the external walls would still need to be sealed, obviously. This method is basically a twist on the idea of building timber-framed structures and using the straw bales for in-fill. The containers would also keep walls straight as they're being built.

You might even be able to use a couple layers of straw bales for insulation in the ceiling. I think that sealing the straw beneath a layer of plaster, in addition to protecting it with a roof, would make it last a long time. I've seen straw and hay that had been in old barns for many years. Protected from moisture, it lasted a surprisingly long time (years) before turning to compost. Nonetheless, I'm sure it would attract insects, rodents and birds if it wasn't protected from them.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the potential for this approach. Post comments below.

11/18/2014 4:30:14 PM

I can't get enough of shipping container transformation ideas. I need one of my own to modify.

8/6/2013 12:10:54 PM

If you are looking for some insight as to what it will take to build your own home from shipping containers read this. 

The advantages of using shipping containers as your construction building blocks include:

They are inexpensive. A used container will cost between $800 and $6000 each, depending on size, age, condition and distance from the building site. Each 40 foot container gives you 320 square feet. They generally cut overall construction cost by 20-50%.


Energy concerns. It takes far less energy to reuse shipping containers in a building than to melt them down and reform then into steel beams. Add solar panels and even the ongoing energy use will be green.

Examples of plans can be found  HERE- CONTAINER

john simmis
8/25/2010 4:50:48 PM

Building with containers is worth taking a look at if you are contemplating a new home. Good resource is the website. A DO IT YOURSELF (DIY) REFERENCE AND FOR CONVERTING RECYCLED INTERMODAL CARGO SHIPPING CONTAINERS INTO BUILDINGS AND ARCHITECTURE. Lots of example buildings, details, facts, and links to other articles. They have something new that you can setup your own project wiki to get help with your project if you are considering a design build project.

craig moorhouse
3/26/2010 6:38:59 PM

I've been interested in ISO. Shipping container homes for a couple years now. Judging by internet articles container homes are a rather new concept - I hope to see more people designing container home in the future. I tried my hand at it and came up with the "Sawtooth Saltbox" which is a passive solar container home - my sketch-up models can be seen here It's an amateur blog and it isn't selling anything - I'm just looking for an exchange of ideas. Craig

john lowther
1/19/2009 9:47:53 PM

With shipping containers, I believe sprayed polyurethane foam like the Monolithic Dome people use makes more sense: In one fell swoop, it covers the need for insulation and the need for a new paint job. Some people complain that containers are hard to install doors and windows in. Not at all: A cutting torch or a hand grinder with a zip disk makes an opening in a matter of minutes. Making those openings interface with millwork intended for stick built construction takes a little more thought: welding, riveting or otherwise attaching flanges to attach conventional components to isn't rocket science, but it does take a little thought. Straw bales are not a particularly good insulation. OTOH, they are cheap, so you can put up a lot of insulation for not much money. As I understand it, so long as the straw is kept dry and critters out of it, it will last indefinitely. In a small structure made of only a container ir two, you could easily spend more on a foundation to support your bales and roofing and sealing them as you spent for a container. Now in a structure where the containers simply serve as the load bearing walls and a roof structure is to be built anyway, then straw bales make more sense: You could use the bales in the non-load bearing exterior walls, and use them to insulate the exterior of the containers as well, resulting in a homogenous exterior.

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