Outside the Box: Do Shipping Containers Make Sense?

Shipping container homes have enjoyed a lot of media attention and popularity over the years (it’s not surprising when the homes look like these). We often get inquires from clients who are interested in building their own homes using shipping containers, but we have yet to build one as clients are usually dissuaded and dismayed by the barriers that make shipping containers unlikely places for habitation.

Here are a few of the challenges we often encounter:

  1. Moisture problems. Our homes in the NW need to move a significant amount of moisture produced inside the building to the outside. The steel construction does not allow for vapor movement.
  2. Steel skin needs a complete insulative layer either inside or outside of the skin. This means we are doing similar effort and cost to standard construction in addition to the purchase of the skin.
  3. There is no easy-pass with agencies: the project still requires an architect and an engineer.
  4. Non-normative construction means that every sub that has to interface with the thick steel skin will consider the effort more than normal construction. We see most of our subs reacting to the uniqueness (and therefore unpredictability) with higher prices to account for the risk.
  5. False sense of “green.” Most homes are not built with recycled shipping containers, but rather new ones, for many reasons (high levels of chemical residue, lead paint, structural damage) and the carbon emissions resulting from manufacturing and transporting the containers (new or used) also lowers their green score.

This article by New York architect Mark Hogan goes into more detail on some of the primary reasons why shipping containers are best used as shipping containers.

While these challenges can be overcome, the cost of doing so can be greater than building an energy efficient high performance wood frame home, or a simple conventional wood frame home.

“What I wish I had known is that building a house from shipping containers cost me a similar amount as a stick built house,” said Robyn, one of 23 shipping container home owners interviewed about what they wish they had known before they built a container home in this containerhomes.org article.

Still determined? We’re here to help.

We are happy to sit down with you to further discuss your goals, assist in development of the project, and eagerly pursue the most prudent construction phase. We just want you to be aware of both the pros and cons of building with containers.



Featured photo by Make it Kenya/Stuart Price.

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