It’s been over 10 years since the first shipping container home was built in the US, and more than 20 years since the world’s first shipping container home was built.
Since then shipping container homes have grown from strength to strength.
And this year we are expecting to see a record number of container homes built.
Within our blog we normally focus on building advice, however today I’d like to take the opportunity to address the critics of shipping container homes.
One of the largest critiques of container homes is that it’s a short lived fad and will die out- well to that I say not likely! Containers have been used now for over 2 decades and they aren’t going away anytime soon…
What Is A Fad?
One of the biggest claims critiques of shipping container homes make is that they are a ‘fad’.
Let’s first just define what exactly a ‘fad’ is:
A desirable trend characterized with lots of enthusiasm and energy over a short period of time.
Whilst I definitely agree there is lots of ‘enthusiasm and energy’ for container homes, I don’t agree that this is over a short period of time- as I’ve already discussed shipping container homes have been around for the last 20 years and still continue to grow in popularity.
Below you can see the trend of shipping container homes growing steadily year on year.
Why Do People Claim Container Homes Are A Fad?
I’ve been reading several critical articles of container homes to understand why people don’t like shipping container homes. One of the biggest arguments made is the cost to modify the container into a home.
Critics claim that when containers are ‘heavily customized’ the cost of building with containers exceeds the cost of building with traditional materials.
I wouldn’t argue with that- one of the biggest advantages of building with shipping containers is that you already have your basic building structure ready.
If you go and start removing entire walls and support columns then it stands to reason that the cost will rapidly increase because you’re paying to remove material and then to subsequently add materials.
Now clearly there is a difference between ‘heavy customization’ and ‘normal alterations’– for instance you certainly should alter the container so it meets your requirements (i.e. adding windows, doors and openings), however I wouldn’t recommend removing large portions of the container.
So to summarize, I agree that when containers are heavily altered their cost benefits weaken.
However most people who convert containers don’t remove huge sections of the containers and they achieve large cost savings.
Are Shipping Container’s Wooden Floors Dangerous?
Another common argument of using shipping containers is that the wooden flooring within shipping containers can contain harmful chemicals and pesticides.
Shipping container’s wooden floors are often treated with these chemicals for two reasons. Firstly, to keep the pests away. Secondly, to improve the water resistance of the flooring to make sure it is seaworthy.
© Larry Laying flooring in a Shipping Container Home
This is ideal when containers are being used to transport goods around the world, but not so ideal when you want to live in them.
We’ve covered this issue before, however I want to put everyone at ease.
When building your home with containers you have two options.
Firstly, you can remove the original wooden flooring and fit your own floor- this is the ‘safest’ way and completely removes any concerns of ‘dangerous’ chemicals.
Secondly, you can use a ‘sealer’ which is even cheaper than replacing the wooden flooring- you can use an epoxy paint coating and this will stop any harmful chemicals from the original flooring oozing.
It’s a personal decision whether to seal or replace the original wooden floor and really depends on your budget, the condition of the floor and the history of that particular container.
You can read a shipping container’s ‘Consolidated Data Plate’ to see what chemicals have been used to treat its wooden floor.
It will be displayed on the plate under the heading ‘Timber Component Treatment’– you can read more about this here.
Shipping Containers Are Ugly?
Another common argument I hear against container homes is that people think they are ugly to look at.
Personally I couldn’t disagree more- however I might be slightly biased!
© Andres Garcia Lachner
I think one of the great things about humans is that everyone has individual styles and we are all different- thank goodness otherwise all of our homes would look exactly the same…
I appreciate the raw ruggedness of containers, but I can understand if people don’t enjoy this style.
However, just because you’ve built with containers doesn’t mean they have to be on show. You can quite easily clad the containers to change their appearance. The two most popular approaches are to use either wood or stucco- both have their advantages and disadvantages.
I’m the first to admit that there are certainly times when building with shipping containers just isn’t practical.
For instance in landlocked countries where containers are in short supply- the cost of purchasing and transporting the containers would be prohibitive.
However, let me be clear, this doesn’t make shipping container homes a ‘fad’, nor does it make them redundant.
There are times when any type of building material isn’t practical. In construction there is no silver bullet, no one size fits all- it changes with the local context.
With that being said I still feel that building with shipping containers offers several key advantages which I will now discuss.
Quick to Build With
One of the biggest advantages which building with containers offers is speed.
It’s normal practice that with container homes, all the containers are placed onto the foundation in under a day.
This is because the containers can just be stacked on top of one another- like large Lego blocks.
So in less than 24 hours you can have the main frame of your house in place. Can you imagine how long this would take if you were building your house out of bricks instead?
A ‘typical’ family home in the US now takes around 7 months to build according to the 2012 US Census survey on construction.
It’s hard to give ‘average’ figures for container homes, but I’d say most are built in well under 6 months. Container homes which take longer than this tend to be extremely complex.
They Are Incredibly Strong
If we can take one thing as unquestionable with shipping containers it is that they are strong- incredibly strong.
All shipping containers are designed to hold 30 tons of weight and to be stacked up to 7 high- this means on cargo ships the base container will have more than 200 tons of weight going through it.
Ultimately containers are over-engineered for building homes and will easily handle any loads a typical house will place upon it.
However, it isn’t just their weight capability that’s impressive.
Last year we produced a case study on the Graceville container home. This particular home was built in the notorious floodplains of Queensland.
© Todd and Di Miller
The owners decided to build using containers because they are flood proof. If you look at the home you will notice the ground floor containers have kept their original doors- this makes the ground floor flood proof.
Finally, shipping containers can also withstand huge amounts of wind. The Inter-modal Steel Building Association, states that container homes can withstand winds of up to 175mph/281kph with the correct foundation.
Living off Grid
Finally, the last advantage of building with shipping containers I want to discuss is the movement towards ‘living off grid’.
For people not familiar with this movement- living off grid refers to living in a home which is not connected to mains electric. However, it runs much deeper than this.
Off grid refers to a way of living- in essence to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
Shipping containers are perfect for such a movement.
Imagine you have a piece of land in the middle of the countryside and want to live there ‘off grid’.
Building a house there from scratch would be a living nightmare because access to the land could be difficult and also you have no mains power so you can’t run your power tools.
This is where shipping container homes shine- you could convert the container in a city/warehouse then transport it to your piece of land once it’s ready to move into.
Also, as you can imagine, these off grid areas tend to be very rural so security can be a concern. Shipping containers are extremely secure and can be locked up when you aren’t living there.
I hope this article has addressed some of the largest misconceptions of shipping container homes.
Whilst there are certainly times when building a home using shipping containers just isn’t practical, this doesn’t make them a ‘fad’.
There are times when any building material just isn’t practical- it all depends on the local environment in which you’re building.
However, with that being said, building with shipping containers offers several unique advantages.
I’d love to hear your opinion about this in the comments section below.
Cover Modified From Plenty A