Shipping Container Haven

Low Cost Homes from Recycled Containers

The idea of a home made entirely out of old shipping containers might seem a bit odd to some, but there are many reasons why people love this type of dwelling. The standardised steel shells are structurally strong, stackable, and able to withstand nearly any type of abuse. Fabricated to be able to travel over the ocean in stacks over nine high, capable of holding 60,000 pounds of goods whilst keeping them dry, shipping containers are also surprisingly accessible. It is actually far cheaper for a shipping company to purchase new containers at point of origin than to ship empty ones back, so these containers get left in stockpiles the world over.

As a result, shipping container homes are far cheaper to build than homes utilising traditional construction techniques and materials, making it easy for anyone to own a fully customisable home of their own without the debt. A used shipping container alone costs from $1200 to around $3500; according to Keith Dewey of www.zigloo.ca, the average shipping container home will all fixtures and finishes costs about $150-$180 per square foot. This compared to an average conventional new build cost of around $250 per square foot.

Amazingly enough, because they are made to stack, you can add on to a shipping container home indefinitely simply by stacking or sliding one of these containers on or next to your existing home – weld it into place, cut a doorway and after a few homey touches you have yourself a new room. You’ll also be helping the environment by purchasing a home that is made with recycled materials, which is always a great plus. And yes, cutting into containers to repurpose them takes significantly less energy than melting them down for pure recycling. A 9000 pound shipping container takes about 9000 kilowatt hours to melt down but only about 400 kilowatt hours to modify. That they are highly transportable as well probably goes without saying.

Shipping container architecture begins with the placing and stacking of simple building blocks. Keith Dewey uses tiny plastic containers that he bought at a hobby shop, meant for use with model trains. After arranging the containers into the desired configuration, the arrangement is rendered digitally. When drawing out a plan, the measurements of the containers must be taken into consideration; there are 20 foot containers and 40 foot containers. If they aren’t tall enough to accommodate people after the floor has been added and the ceiling finished then the tops may be cut off and a new roof must be designed. Of course, there are numerous other factors to consider such as plumbing, wiring, heat and cooling, and insulation. There is a lot more to it than just dropping a container somewhere and living in it.

Once the blueprints have been drawn up, the containers are typically sent away to a metal working company to be cut into shape. In a home where four containers are to sit side by side, all but the outermost side panels are removed so that when they are connected, they create a space that’s 40 x 32 feet on the interior. The vertical steel support beams are left in place as that’s where the container gets most of its strength – each can support thousands of pounds of weight. Openings are then cut into the exterior walls for doors and windows. Any pieces of metal that are cut from the walls can then be used outside for awnings or window shutters to add more protection from storms or flooding, or for other decorative elements in keeping with the container theme.

Many sources suggest the use of a ceramic spray coating for insulation purposes. After the containers are cut into their desired shapes, they should be sprayed with this type of insulation. Regular foam or fiberglass insulation is too bulky and will eat too much space from within the home. BobVila.com recommends “Supertherm insulative coating, which is sprayed on both sides of the remaining container walls to prepare the house for heating and cooling loads. Supertherm is a high-performance, four-part ceramic coating that carries an R value of R-19 and adheres to the steel surface of the shipping containers.” On a day where the external temperature is about 30 degrees Celsius, the inside of the container should now stay about 10 to 20 degrees cooler.

Shipping container homes have a conventional foundation that will keep them from sinking or flooding, and they can also have a traditional concrete basement. One idea for a foundation is one made of concrete blocks and rebar. Metal plates are then secured to the foundation’s corners with concrete, to support the corners of the containers. Several metal hooks that will hook onto the containers are welded to exposed rebar, to hook onto the containers and keeping them from shifting.

Once the containers arrive, they are hooked into place and then welded down to the foundation corners and hooks. Because they are so strong this is all the support they need. They are then all welded together on the top and on the bottom. Within hours of the containers being joined together, a run of the mill hip roof can be built on top. This is a trussed roof fastened with metal trusses which are welded to the containers and wrapped around the rafters every four feet. This will keep the roof from blowing off the structure during a big storm. “Hurricane Clips” can also be used to tie the roof to the containers just in case.

Half-inch plywood floors are then built over the existing floor and metal hat channels for wiring are installed along the walls and vertical support beams. Metal studs and drywall finish the walls and create partitions; it is now ready for paint or wallpaper. Hardwood or carpet is also laid on the floor for decoration and comfort. Windows and doors are framed into the already cut holes.

The exterior can simply be painted, or siding or stone can be installed to hide the container completely. Keith Dewey used original metal stairs from a cargo ship on the outside of his home, adding to its rugged industrial beauty; they are thrifty and will last practically forever if treated correctly. Not only is this a very quick process but the money saved on building the structural elements of the house can be used to customise the interior. No more skimping on that kitchen!

Housing is not the only use for recycled shipping containers. Worldwide, offices, hotels, even shopping centres have been constructed out of containers. In Uxbridge, West London is a hotel built out of 86 containers. It was built 25 per cent faster and cost 10 per cent less than a conventional hotel, and sits 8 storeys high with 120 guest rooms.

A company named Morris Architects is also busy at work dreaming up some incredible ideas for the containers. With about 4,000 oil rigs about to be abandoned, the firm is considering using containers to transform them into huge ocean resorts. Such a project would create a whopping 80,000 square foot resort with a fantastic ocean view, an idea which clearly highlights the possibilities there are for these abandoned treasures. Right now there are literally piles of these containers sitting alone and abandoned at any big seaport. Let’s give them all purpose by recycling them into beautiful, durable spaces.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

May 29, 2020, 4:54 PM AEST