Shipping container homes

columbiascAugust 27, 2008

I saw this interesting feature on MSN Real Estate today about how several architects/designers/developers have built actual homes using overseas shipping containers as "building blocks". Cool stuff. You can go onto and select real estate then search for "shipping container homes". The following is a link to the slideshow that was part of the feature. You may have to copy and paste it into your browser. There are about 8 different designs in the slideshow. Definately worth looking at. Talk about thinking "inside the box"!


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Bob Vila did a series about one that was built here in FL for low-income housing. They took 4 of them, and left a space in between, which they filled in with conventional framing. Seemed like a viable alternative.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 9:37AM
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These house look questionable to someone in the snowbelt. What keeps the heat/cold from quickly penetrating the metal walls? What makes these corrugated boxes useful for home building - other than their ready availablity? Why is the shpping container any better a building material than any other kind of sheet metal? They really do seem to be just a more durable step up from cardboard homes. Please explain the attraction for me, somebody!

Here is a link that might be useful: Link

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 9:54PM
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I've seen them used in winter settings, lots of snow included. They can be insulated with foam or anything that would work in the structure. They can be moved easily on the backs of trucks, which is handy if you want to be somewhere else, they are such a basic shape that they're very attractive to designers looking for challenges in compact and 'green' living (and I've seen some far out configurations of interesting plumbing, heating, electronic systems inside even with solar power), and don't leave much of a 'footprint' in any given place as they can be set up on blocks. They're stackable (and then staircases can be put in). Lots can be done with them!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 6:38AM
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On the show Vila did, they welded a sheet metal skin over the corrugations to give a smooth exterior. Than they used some kind of space-age coating alleged to have an R-9 value in a coat of paint. I've since read articles calling it snake oil. The jury is still out on that one. Considering the amount of work they did to the boxes to make them into a home, it didn't look to me like they could have saved much money. Probably half the house, and all of the roof was conventional construction. Interior finishing is the same for either. All they 'saved' was building and sheathing the outside walls- a very small percentage of the total cost of a house. And they still cost something- they aren't free. Now, if you want to build an alternative very small home on the cheap, they might be practical.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 9:25AM
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I just went on a ride with my OTR truck driver son. There are thousands of shipping containers sitting around truck company terminals unused and not viable for use. There definitely needs to be a use for them or suitable recycle. The only pieces of value relating to building a house are the wheels and connection for moving them around, if moving one is part of the concept.

As a home these "boxes" are a stretch. There is nothing about them which doesn't require a great deal of framing, insulation and plumbing/electrical. Might as well build from scratch and just use the transportation base. Obviously I don't quite get the concept beyond movable house modules.

One of the nicest winter mountain cabins I visited years ago was an original old train caboose. This I could see as possible, although they still had to do a lot of work for livability. Certainly creative and there aren't a lot of these left. It was more of a restoration project. But I loved it and all they did with the interior. How they got it to the mountains is a mystery.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 7:39AM
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My "attraction" to them came from several angles. First, I get jazzed anytime I see someone being different and creative. Second, I like the idea of recycling and reuse. Third, depending on the design, they are very portable. And last, I guess it brings out the kid in me. Playing with one of those is very similar to playing with a discarded cardboard box or fort or tree house.

As for practicality, they are readily available, inexpensive, very strong and they are plumb, straight and square. Go find that in a traditionally framed house.

Because of their scale and portability, I view them more as some sort of "fun" house. Fun, fantasy, romance. Remember those emotions? A weekend retreat in a remote location, maybe even completely off the grid pwered by solar or wind or a combination of the two. Or maybe a very unique guest house, man cave, pool cabana, art studio, etc. etc. etc.

As for their strength, have you ever seen an overseas cargo ship with these things stacked on it? They are stacked eight and ten high with tons and tons of carge inside each one all pressing down on the one on the bottom of the stack. Try stacking that much weight on top of your house. They are specifically desgined to withstand high winds, heavy loads and impact.

Addressing the insulation issue, I would imagine that if you were converting one over to residential use, you would add insulation during construction. Either the inside or outside has to be modified to create a void for electrical and plumbing. Just add insulation at that stage. My current home, built in the 50's has ZERO insulation in the walls or floor. We range from lows in the 20's or maybe teens on occassion to highs frequently in the high 90's and topping out over 100.

I understand they don't appeal to everyone but in the end, they illuminate creativity and non-conformist thinking and I encourage both.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 8:23AM
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I just started a new website for buying and selling shipping containers. I included a section for Container Homes because they are really one of the best ways to reuse or recycle. I am currently drawing plans to build a two story Container Home. If you are interested, please have a look.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Homes

    Bookmark   February 1, 2011 at 10:25PM
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Scott, you can search for books about these shipping containers at I forget what I was looking for when I ran across a book called THE BOX. But I was led there by my interest in the Anasazi communities, which sort of kept growing as the community expanded and more people needed homes.

When we were in Costa Rica, in the poorer sections I saw a couple of old shipping containers or highway vans which had been modified a little bit, and people seemed to be living in them. I think someone with welding and metalworking skills would fare very well with such a structure.

I also saw one high style dwelling that had been featured in a magazine. They'd driven big I-beams into the cliff side, and then placed several such containers on them.If I recall correctly, they were in several layers, with one on end to contain a staircase, windows cut all sorts of shapes, one was living room, then kitchen/dining, and the bedrooms. I was fascinated by the whole thing, wondering if it was like a child's building blocks, and also was it feasible to have any central a/c or heating, or should this sort of structure be optimal to an open air dwelling, with maybe ceiling fans and cross ventilation?

Very nice in areas where building is free style. I think it would be hard to get permits in the US.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 10:05PM
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My sons have lived in containers. The Army has used them since Desert Storm as barracks. Each one holds one/two soldiers(rank determined)or more. Bathrooms and a small efficiency kitchen is included. So, none of this is new for living and they have the insulation down for all types of weather. What it costs for building these is unknown, but the gov. must have had many reasons for the mobility rather than just building something. The areas look like parking lots for containers, but have side doors and steps for entry.

I agree that the original container would cost if in decent condition, anything needing repair could mean not being worth it.

Wasn't there a show on HGTV about odd houses? A lot were created from something already on the lots or found/given free. Both of which would be a good start to build living quarters.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 7:05AM
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sea container homes are a great idea

a friend of mine recently made a flat in his backyard, used a 40 ft containers from local sea containers

check them out if your intrested in the process

Here is a link that might be useful: sea containers wa

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 12:00AM
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