Myths & Facts About Shipping Container Homes
The rising popularity of building homes using recycled shipping containers is impossible to ignore. Using the containers provides some obvious benefits, such as saving money, saving time, and incredible strength and durability. But the process provokes plenty of questions and concerns from potential container-home builders. Many wonder how they could possibly build their dream home within the seemingly-obvious limitations of using rectangular metal containers. We rounded up all the information on shipping container homes that we could find, with the goal of clearing up the misconceptions about container-homes and providing any potential home-builders with the myths and facts about shipping container homes.
FACT: Building with shipping containers can mean huge savings.
To homeowners and builders, one of the of the most desirable traits of shipping container homes is the tremendous cost savings. Using containers saves the costs associated with structure, weather-proofing, and exterior cladding. Some sites estimate that building with containers can lead to a cost savings of up to 40% as compared to traditional construction methods. To break these savings down further, containers have a lower cost per square foot than any other base structure; building with shipping containers can save roughly $70 USD per square foot. This means a savings of $70,000 for a 1,000 sq/ft. home, or a whopping $210,000 in savings for a larger 3,000 sq/ft. home. It makes sense, given that two 40-foot containers can be purchased for less than $8,000, and some containers can be snagged for just over $1,500.
Beyond monetary savings, using containers also means saving precious time--and when building a home, time is money. Casa Incubo, a shipping container home in Costa Rica, is the perfect example: Designed by Architect Maria José Trejos, the home was built using eight 40-foot cube containers, and the builders estimated that using the containers reduced construction time by 20%.BUT--on the flip side...
MYTH: Shipping container homes are always cheaper.
Unfortunately, the costs of building a home are often quite steep regardless of which base structure is used. Some homeowners and builders who have used containers to build their homes warn future builders that containers are not always cheaper: Homeowner Robyn Volker says she wished she had known “that building a house from shipping containers [would] cost me a similar amount as a stick built house,” and homeowner Seth Rodewald-Bates points out that it’s not always about saving money: “In this example there wasn’t any significant cost savings, [but] that being said, I enjoyed up-cycling the containers. It was less about the price for me.” Rodewald-Bates built his New Orleans shipping container home in 2012 for $200,000 USD; the home has one bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen, office, and living area. So even though using containers as a base structure can mean a notable cost-savings, the price tag of building a new home remains high for many people.
MYTH: Building with shipping containers is easy and you won’t need any help from a contractor like you would if building a traditional home.
Those with experience with shipping containers generally agree: Going sans-contractor is hardly an option. “It’s not a good idea to go it alone if you have a custom home you are interested in; it’s best approached with professional drawing services and competent structural engineering,” says Joel Eagan, CEO of Cargotecture. Builder Andrew Anderson suggests finding a contractor who “understands modular or container finishing,” adding that “this will impact on the price and quality of your shipping container home.” Homeowners Kam Kasravi and Connie Dewitt say the one thing they wish they’d done differently is “finding one contractor to help the whole process versus having one for getting and modifying the containers, and another to finish out the interior.”
Building regulations and codes are another headache for container-home builders. Mads Moller, builder of container-home WFH House in Denmark, suggests “just one thing:” Know the building code! “What is allowed? Every country has its own sets of rules and standards. This means a container house in US does not look like a container house in Denmark. … The container is a generic product, but climate, fire regulations, etc. are not.”
Bottom line: If you don’t have extensive experience building with shipping containers and a thorough knowledge of your local building code, it’s best to seek help from professionals who will help you get the job done hassle-free.
MYTH: Shipping container homes are automatically tiny.
If there’s one thing we learned in our search for information on shipping container homes, it’s that the small containers absolutely do NOT prevent builders from dreaming big. Very big. For example, check out The Beach Box, a stunning shipping container home built in the Hamptons by Andrew Anderson. The four containers on the ground level have all four bedrooms, while the two on top have the open kitchen, living room, and dining room. As if it weren’t impressive enough, the home boasts a 1300 square foot exterior decking and a pool!
The Beach Box Buddina, built in Brisbane’s Graceville by Todd Miller of ZieglerBuild, is of similar splendor. This modern residence in Brisbane's Graceville is built from 31 shipping containers, has 3 floors, a saltwater pool, numerous outdoor spaces, a variety of textures and finishes, and tons of windows so that indoors transitions easily to out, creating a fluid living space.
FACT: Shipping container homes are strong and durable.
There's no doubt or disparity when it comes to the strength of shipping containers; in fact, many would agree this strength is the containers' best feature. Containers are the strongest structure available--stronger than wood, concrete, and even regular steel buildings. The containers are resistant to any natural disaster available, including tornadoes, earthquakes, and even hurricanes. Shipping containers, whether single units or multiple connected units, can withstand up to 100MPH winds when rooted on foundation, or 175MPH winds when anchored with pylons, making container-homes extremely solid in both tornadoes and hurricanes. And even after a direct hit during an earthquake, the structure would never collapse; “it would be the most perfect safety cocoon in an earthquake, [at] least 100 times safer and stronger than a conventional housing structure.” Source: www.isbu-info.org/faq
FACT: Shipping container homes are green and sustainable.
Some estimates suggest that there are around 24 million empty, retired shipping containers on our planet. Most containers are retired after only 10 to 15 years use, but they can last decades longer. Using shipping containers for building means rescuing the containers from their inevitable fate of laying dormant near harbors, ports, beaches, and even cities. The containers are truly eco-green structures, made from 85% recycled steel and fully recyclable if demolished, and reusing them saves new building materials. Canadian architect Keith Dewey, builder of Zigloo Domestique Complete complex, reportedly saved 70 trees just by using the recycled materials that the containers provided him!
A LITTLE MORE ADVICE FROM THE PROS:
Marek Kuziel, builder from Christchurch, NZ says, “My advice would be to do as much research as possible before the start of the project. It’s all about preparation. There isn’t a silver bullet approach to research. I guess the more you know and learn about shipping container homes before you start making decisions will help you to fail less. But again, there isn’t a silver bullet approach to this. Failures along the way are inevitable.”