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!



Anonymous said...

Underused resource, indeed. Containers could be pre-packed with living necessities for disaster victims - folding cots and chairs, blankets, freeze-dried or dehydrated food, water, tarps, "generic clothing" etc.- and trucked/shipped/airlifted into disaster zones. Set several in place, stretch tarps between them to provide additional shelter, include one "master" container with a generator and fuel (I'd suggest propane because it doesn't go bad over time), a field kitchen, medical supplies, a basic ER, etc. and you could have self-sufficient "clusters" of 4-6 containers that could shelter, feed and provide medical aid to 200+ people/cluster.

Business already knows how to store and transport standard containers so that infrastructure already exists.

Anonymous said...

There a lot cheaper then that if you are anywhere near a port. My company just had two like new 20footers delivered for $3400. Heck when I was overseas, we would GIVE them away after they were unloaded. It was cheaper then shipping them back empty. As for access passage-ways, just put two of them side by side and use one side as access down the entire length of the other live-in unit.

Anonymous said...

I have looked at shipping containers for awhile. Putting them side by side seems to be the answer to me also - for instance two twenties side by side potentially gives 20' x 16' which is more of a useful and human space.
One of the unfortunate things about them is that when holes start getting cut in the sides, they become very weak. The type of reinforcement it takes to fix this is stout.
Here are two of my favorites:
I continue to believe they have alot of potential, mostly when mixed with other elements.

Anonymous said...

Even as a single unit, you'd be surprised how easy you can live in an 8 feet wide area. Check this out:


Justin said...

I work as one of the instructors at the Marine Corps' Mojave Viper exercise in 29 Palms, and we have two combat towns built out of shipping containers. Some are 3 containers wide, and some are stacked two-three stories high. The living space is actually fairly decent. We have roleplayers that live in the buildings for up to 5 days at a time even through freezing temps in the winter, and 120+ temps in the summer. I really have been thinking about installing one at my house for a work space area.

Anonymous said...

An idea with lots of appeal, but beware of the wooden floors - they may have been soaked with pesticides or other chemicals.

Geodkyt said...

Of course, if this ever becomes mainstream, the appropriate containers will rapidly become uneconomic due to supply and demand.

militant_marmot said...

I am going to be helping my family build a barn and a house in the next two years. Cheapest way we have found to get the aquare footage we need is with the containers. Granted, shoring has to be applied when you cut a hole in the sides, but it still works out the cheapest we have found, even after insulation has been added.