Are container homes the future?

Are container homes the future?

One of the latest trends to hit the built environment are container homes. Yes, we mean the ones you see carrying goods everywhere on trains, trucks and ships. From these giant Lego blocks, people are building homes of all shapes and sizes. But is this a craze that will blow over as quickly as it has emerged, or are container homes the future? In this blog, we investigate this blooming trend.

Container homes are exactly what they sound like; living or working spaces made from the steel shipping containers. The smallest container makes a tiny box of a home at about 100 square feet of floor space. Eight larger containers together can make a two-storey house at about 1400 square feet. Hundreds of container micro-apartments together can make a huge apartment building. So they’re a lot more versatile than it at first seems.

Shipping containers are flood- and fireproof, making them a great home-building material. They’re typically only used for 10 to 15 years, but they can last much longer. It’s estimated that there are 24 million empty shipping containers in the world that will not be used for cargo again, so there’s a lot of this building material available. And let’s be honest, playing with giant, Lego-like blocks has a definite appeal!

Many container homes are available as prefabricated modular homes, making construction time a lot shorter. Some companies advertise delivery within just 10 weeks. Most of the building code inspections are done at the factory, which can also make things simpler and quicker. Or if you are designing a custom home or building a DIY project, the container gives you a fun prebuilt structure to work with.

Besides being bang on trend right now, interest in container homes is also part of a wider interest in saving money with prefabricated and modular homes. Many homeowners to-be are looking for lower construction and maintenance costs. There’s also a perception that container homes are contributing to recycling… but that’s not entirely the case.

Most factory-built container homes are built from ‘one-use’ containers that have only had a single trip. These containers tend to be in good shape, without dents or rust, so they are nice for building with, instead of containers that have gone ‘out-of-service’ and may be damaged from years of use.

Taking a box with lots of shipping life out of service after a single use isn’t really effective recycling. And there is way more steel in a container than you need to build a house - if recycled as steel it could make enough steel studs for 14 framed houses the same size.

Also, it’s worth noting that whereas a shipping container is very strong at the corners, the roof will not be that strong, which means you need to build another roof over it, especially if you live somewhere where snow can be expected. The corrugated steel walls are important to the strength of the structure, so if you plan on cutting out a large window or door opening, well, that requires yet more reinforcement.

Not to mention when the containers are stacked together to make larger homes, welded reinforcement is needed wherever two containers join at a spot that is not a corner. Any later renovations may also require significant engineering and welding, and this might cost you a pretty penny.

And, unfortunately, the narrow shape of a shipping container doesn’t lend itself to insulating the exterior terribly well.

On one hand, the container homes have a lot going for them. You might love to have a container home because you like the idea, the look of it, the chance to play with blocks in a DIY design, or the quick delivery time for a manufactured model. But a container home probably won’t cost less than a more traditional build, and isn’t necessarily more environmentally sustainable.

What do you think? Are container homes the future? Join the conversation on our LinkedIn post.

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