Monday, February 22, 2010
A new twist to container homes
I'm sure many readers are familiar with the concept of taking standard oceanic shipping containers and converting them into housing. There are many companies doing this: one example may be found here. They've even been converted into apartment blocks, with containers stacked above one another. The example shown below is in London, England.
I've seen several 'container homes', and found them interesting, but with one critical drawback: although they're tall enough inside, and a full 40 feet long, they're only 8 feet wide. This makes the provision of passages difficult, as there's not enough width for a passage and adjacent rooms. One has to construct internal rooms such that one walks through one room to get to the next, which can invade the privacy of those inside.
It seems others have thought about this too. I was intrigued to read of the design of Lot/EK (pronounced 'low-tech'), a New York art and architecture studio, to convert containers into housing using slide-out extension units, similar to those found on some high-end travel trailers and RV's. The schematic design looks like this:
Here are some photographs of a converted unit.
The container itself becomes the passage, and rooms are provided by the slide-out modules.
I'm sure the modules could be given greater privacy, if necessary, either by inserting internal walls and doors, or by something as simple as a curtain.
I've long believed that used shipping containers are a vastly under-utilized housing resource. There are tens of thousands of surplus containers sitting at our ports, any of which can be delivered to anyplace in the USA for a total cost (including transport) of $3,000 to $4,000. If one has a commercial company do the conversion, with their profit margin included, that can cost up to $10,000 or more: but anyone with a decent set of tools and basic handyman skills can do the conversion himself for less than half that cost, including insulating the interior of the container so that it'll be warm in winter and cool in summer. To add slide-out modules such as those shown above would be more expensive, sure, but not prohibitively so.
In a situation such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, where many houses and apartments have been destroyed, used shipping containers, suitably modified, would probably be a lot less expensive than rebuilding masonry or wood buildings. I wonder why no-one's putting effort into taking containers there, and setting them up as houses? The labor to do the work is on-site, and locals can be trained to handle the conversions. Seems to me that it'd save an awful lot of money . . . and, by definition, the containers are about as earthquake-proof as it's possible to make a house!