Building and design trends come and go.
Recent trends in building using materials such as shipping containers have seen a market for people wanting much smaller living area and accommodation. The trend has been to build shipping container homes from secondhand steel shipping containers that were once used to carry cargo.
There has also been a push to another alternative accommodation form, tiny homes. This article deals with storage container houses and tiny houses will be dealt with in posts on our website. Shipping container homes are extremely cost-effective, and you can build these unique houses on your land affordably and quickly. There are a lot of cool things you can do with shipping containers. It’s a form of housing still relatively new to property buyers, and therefore you will find very few if any shipping container homes on the market for sale.
Early Origins Of Shipping Containers
Shipping containers were invented by Malcolm Maclean in 1956. The purpose of creating a steel, storage box for carting goods by sea naturally came about because issues relating to loading and unloading goods from cargo ships were a problem at the time. In hindsight when you look at it, life without steel shipping containers would have been unimaginable today.
These containers are extremely durable and have been designed to withstand:
- Fierce winds,
- Many containers being stacked on top of each other,
- The effects of salt, water and salt rain
- The effects of cyclonic winds.
Shipping container dimensions
There are standard ISO dimensions for shipping containers. These dimensions are around 20-foot through to 40-foot in length and 8 foot to 8.6 foot in height which are a general gauge of shipping container sizing as a standard. Some shipping containers can come longer or higher but the 20-foot and 40-foot shipping containers are two most popular standards.
Heights of the containers can vary.
What are shipping containers made of?
Shipping containers are made from Corten steel. Corten steel is a material that does not rust or corrode quickly and is said to be stronger than the standard metal steel used for building construction. It’s also said to be resistant to mould to protect the goods in transit at sea. Shipping containers have a hardwood floor usually made of birch or teak, you have to be careful of chemical applications that may have seeped into this flooring.
For those looking to build a shipping container home, a used 20-foot container is a starting point. You may need quite a few containers which are then joined together to make up the floor plan. Using shipping containers for homes and even commercial buildings or unit blocks has been a relatively new concept. Property developments using cargo containers as a building material are springing up in countries such as New Zealand, United Kingdom, China and the USA. Some developments are now approaching over a ten years old in Western countries that were the early adopters of the container home concept. The use of cargo containers as a material to develop buildings is, therefore, becoming well adopted.
In another article on Law1.com.au, we identified shipping containers being used as shopping centres to multi-unit accommodation and these had been designed by stacking containers on top of each other. There is even a Starbucks coffee shop made from shipping containers. There are other examples of retail outlets in Australia operating that have been built using shipping containers as a building material. Melbourne, Victoria has some of these examples.
Four advantages of buying shipping containers for building?
Globally there is a problem with disposing of shipping containers. There are tonnes of shipping containers suitable for home building that are in container yards and sea ports around the world, just sitting there unused. Used steel cargo containers come in different unit sizes and will be dealt in more depth in another article on our website.
1 – Price. Buying used shipping containers are cheap.
In some cases, the shipping companies will not ship the container back to the port of origin. In some cases, it is cheaper to buy a new storage container than return the empty containers. The practice of no return containers resulted in a surplus situation developing with many stored in yards around the world. They are sitting and collecting dust and unused. Here lies an opportunity for you, the buyer and property developer to buy these used shipping containers from shipping companies and also negotiating with them at a good price. After all, for many companies you are taking a problem off their hands.
2 – Environmental. Shipping containers are environmentally friendly.
Building traditional homes requires cutting of trees to then saw into timber beams. Think of the many trees that have been harvested for the purpose of building your home. Some come from plantations and some come from land that once had old growth forest. With shipping container homes it is a recycling process where containers are taken from surplus numbers building up in ports or industrial lots and reused for building into homes.
3 – Durability. Shipping containers are a very durable product.
As mentioned above, the containers may just be used once or twice for the purpose of getting goods from overseas and not returned to the original port of departure. That means that they are kept in the yards at ports and industrial areas, but this is not to say that they are no longer usable or durable for building a home. Containers have been designed to withstand many elements of sea, wind and salt. Cargo containers are very tough, in fact, it is said that a development can get as many as nine containers stacked on top of each other.
4 – Popularity increasing. Shipping containers are becoming more popular as a building method and for affordable, quick to assemble “housing”.
Shipping containers have become trendy for building when compared with a couple of decades ago. It is now something of a statement actually to mention that you have made a home with a number of these steel cargo containers and not receive negative opinion in the general public’s eye.
Some homeowners may not like the idea of the reduced practicality, creativity or the fact having a shipping container does not have a bold statement about it. There will always be people out there that will never embrace the shipping container lifestyle.
Globally, there are some excellent examples of shipping containers and homes built with used shipping containers by architects focusing on the “wow factor” with modern, sleek designs and looks and loads of street appeal.
What are the downsides of living in shipping container homes?
As with anything, everything has an advantage, and there are also on the flipside, disadvantages. It is important that you look at any problems that may be encountered as in a lot of cases, problems are often easily fixed.
1- Council Planning Problems – The main issues that might be encountered when building is with Council and these issues are geographical in nature, varying with each town and city Council. No matter if you are in Australia or globally you may strike issues with the local Council – planning and development department.
Council applications will be a hurdle that differs from Council to Council. Don’t take what is said online by trolls and posters talking about their next property venture as gospel because the council requirements vary in each area when dealing with shipping container homes and building applications. You may face building permit application hurdles, and you need to discuss with local authorities or talk with someone who is familiar with submitting applications to the council such as a qualified (and experienced) builder familiar with building with shipping containers, maybe even a town planning consultant who has worked on many similar projects in your particular council area. Hurdles may exist also with notifications to neighbours who may object to the type of development you are proposing.
2-Heating and Cooling – As a material, shipping containers conduct heat extremely well. Containers are made from metal (usually Corten Steel), and therefore are good heat conductors. When you build a container home, temperatures can get low during cold seasons and sweltering during summer seasons. These temperature variations can be solved with proper temperature control measures which I will discuss further in other articles.
3- Rust. Shipping containers can rust: these containers are categorised as intermodal steel building units (ISBU) which are a material that oxidises quickly. You can take measures to prevent rust and also apply a new coat of weather resistant paint to extend the life of the shipping container. An experienced builder familiar with rust prevention measures should be able to guide you.
4- Toxins. Shipping containers can have harmful solvents and paints (from past use): there are some suppliers of used containers that coat the containers with paints or solvents during transit. Given that these containers were not designed to be used as homes they may have substances that are toxic on breathing. Also, as mentioned in another article, we wrote they are usually used for carrying all sorts of dangerous goods, chemicals, even radioactive materials. Past use may be an issue, and you will have to investigate this from the supplier of your secondhand shipping container before buying it. There may have been spillage inside the container during transit and remember that would have spilt on the containers timber floor which soaks into the woods or flooring materials used – later to give off vapours.
Mentioned in another article, we wrote they are usually used for carrying all sorts of dangerous goods, chemicals, even radioactive materials. Past use may be an issue, and you will have to investigate this from the supplier of your secondhand shipping container before buying it. There may have been spillage inside the container during transit and remember that would have spilt on the containers timber floor which soaks into the woods or flooring materials used are wood. As a result this may give off vapours.
You need to check what the different types of goods and materials were stored in the container before you buy it. The is a big DEFINITELY before using one for your next home and knowing the past use of the container will be important if you dont want to be living in a toxic home.
Shipping containers can be functional and transformed into different building structures when designed properly. Some architects have managed to create the homes out of containers that are indistinguishable from traditional style homes.
Accommodation types using storage containers
The types of accommodation that can be developed include:
- Off the grid style country cabin.
- Larger ranch style home.
- Emergency shelters.
- Construction trailers
- Schools and education buildings
- Commercial buildings
- Multiple occupancy projects ie. units, apartments.
1-Off the grid style country cabin: if you were looking at living in the country and getting off the grid, then shipping containers are a great place to start for cheap home building options. These can be constructed cheaply and are easily upgradable and modular by adding more containers to improve living space as you go – up or sideways to the main structure. To begin with, you can start with a rectangular design and build up or sideways from there.
2-Larger ranch style housing: 40-foot shipping containers have approximately 67.5 m³ of living area size. You must also take into account services installation which reduces this living area. A 20-foot shipping container has a space of 33.1 m³ (ex-services spaces).
Stacking more containers on top of each other will result in creating a larger home even with the possibility of going higher and having some great features e.g. 12-foot ceilings, multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen area. The options are quite flexible for you in design. Having the ability to stack will result in an ability to create outdoor decking areas and building a large two-story home in the process.
3-Emergency shelters – shipping containers can be used for emergency shelters after the disaster or any situation requiring housing. Instead of tents, these containers are better-served for housing people where there are harsh weather conditions. The containers are cheap also for these service providers to buy or looking to build low-cost shelters to help people through times of crisis. The containers can be reused afterwards as well and don’t have the same environmental left over for that say using tarpaulins and tents would.
4-Construction trailers – using shipping containers have long been used as on-site construction buildings where workers can reside during the development of a building project. When the project is finished then the shipping containers can be transported away easily and taken to another site or sold as a seconhand office. Commonly referred to in Australia as a “donga”.
Have you checked out our books for sale that have 3D designs of homes, how to build a shipping container home from start to finish easily and the traps to avoid as well as plans like electrical plans for your new shipping container home?
Example of a modern home design using shipping containers.
photo credit – collective-evolution.com