Posted on: 11 August 2014
Thanks to rising rent costs, an increased cost of living and flat wages, many cities throughout the United States and the rest of the world are coming to grips with an ongoing housing crisis. As a result, architects and designers are thinking outside the box when it comes to creating affordable homes. One such idea involves repurposing the modern shipping container – the cornerstone of the shipping industry and world trade – into the building blocks for new, efficient and affordable housing.
Why Shipping Containers?
For years, cities like San Francisco have faced a shortage of reasonably priced homes and apartments due to a combination of factors. For instance, a lack of new low-income housing stock and ever-increasing rent rates on existing homes have played their part in making affordable housing out-of-reach for many city-dwellers. In San Francisco, rent increases are outpacing the national average by a factor of three.
Elsewhere, the global demand for low-cost housing has been stymied by the time and expense needed to build new units. In addition, the number of new housing stocks are being built is currently outpaced by ever-growing demand.
Meanwhile, thousands of shipping containers lay empty and unused in ports throughout the world. The containers themselves are relatively cheap and the expense of shipping them back to their countries of origin makes their return a non-starter. As a potential dwelling, shipping containers are easy to transport and set up, making them a potential candidate for a unique form of sustainable low-cost housing.
Benefits and Drawbacks
As mentioned before, shipping containers are relatively inexpensive to purchase when compared with more traditional types of housing. Although the average asking price of a 20-foot container is around $2,000, it's possible to find decent containers at a much lower cost. In theory, this makes building a home out of shipping containers much cheaper than building a wooden-frame home from scratch.
Since they're durable enough to survive transcontinental voyages relatively unscathed, they're also durable enough to survive as housing stock. The modular nature of a shipping container also lends well to an extraordinary number of creative possibilities, from extravagant, mansion-like homes to simple and affordable affairs that offer quick and inexpensive housing for those in need.
There are a few downsides to creating your own shipping container castle. For starters, the average shipping container is treated with a variety of chemicals (including chromium, arsenic and lead-based paints) that strengthen them against the effects of saltwater environments, but also make them harmful to live in unless they're properly taken care of.
People also underestimate the amount of effort that goes into making shipping containers habitable. There's a lot of cutting, welding and sandblasting that goes into preparing a shipping container for habitation. Then there's the waste – a single shipping container can produce up to 1,000 pounds of hazardous waste before it's ready as living space.
Aside from being a quick and affordable way of creating much-needed housing, repurposing shipping containers also offers its own green cred. Instead of melting down or dismantling a shipping container that's at the end of its life, that same container can be reused in an environmentally sustainable way. Designers can also incorporate a wide variety of green features into a container home, including solar panels and a solar-powered hot water system.
Not surprisingly, affordable container housing has already caught on as a potential solution to many of the problems currently facing many cities in the U.S. and around the world. As city leaders, architects, developers and even a few pioneering homeowners weigh their options, it's likely that you'll see the humble shipping container more often as a place to hang one's hat.
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