Pros and Cons of Shipping Container Architecture


Building homes using shipping containers has been all the rage lately and few can deny that these structures lend themselves very well to building sustainable, cozy and unique homes. But not everything about using shipping containers as building blocks is perfect. This article looks at the main pros and cons of shipping container architecture, starting with the good stuff.

Pros of Shipping Container Architecture

1. Green-Building

This is perhaps the most obvious benefit. Hundreds of thousands of steel cargo containers are discarded in ports across the globe, mainly due to one way shipments of goods, since it is cheaper to just load and send new containers, rather than transport empty ones back to the port of origin. This problem is especially noticeable in North America, where import of goods exceeds export. Reusing the containers as homes also saves a lot of energy that would otherwise be wasted for melting them down.

2. Cost Effectiveness

Shipping containers are already the perfect shape to be repurposed into homes, so a home built out of them is much cheaper than a same sized home built the traditional way. Shipping containers can also be obtained very cheaply, sometimes even for free. Almost all the structural work associated with building a home falls away when using shipping containers, and even people with no architectural training can build a home for themselves using them.

3. Structural Soundness

Shipping containers are built to withstand the harsh conditions of ocean travel. They are designed to bear heavy loads, withstand harsh climatic conditions, as well as rough handling. ISO standard compliant containers can also easily be stacked one on top of the other to create multi-story homes. Due to their robustness, such homes are earthquake and even hurricane proof, which makes them extremely safe and perfect for building in natural disaster-prone areas.

4. Ease and Speed of Construction

It is quite possible for a person to build a home out of a shipping container by themselves. Most people opt for hiring a design firm, though, or cutting the containers in off-site facilities. Despite this, it takes considerably less time to build a home out of a shipping container, and most can be assembled within a day or so, if all the pieces have been pre-cut off site.

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  • Hutch Hutchinson

    These two companion lists are right on the money. I’m in the later prep stages of a container project, and both architects and the city approval process have tested my resolve to stick with using containers.

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  • junk evolution

    I would love to build a container home. How safe are they in the land of tornados? Does the city give you a hard time if you use a used container?

  • onreact

    Yeah, there is certainly a heat problem inside. I’ve been working in one in summer and it was really difficult. I even needed an extra cooler for my laptop so that it didn’t overheat. Ideally you would only use the structure of the container and then replace the walls with something else than steel.

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  • Edward J Shannon, Architect

    Christine, please explain to me how utilizing these boxes saves (substantial) money over conventional construction? The box needs to be roofed (a commercial application that is more costly than conventional residential) The interiors then need to be insulated and finished – which would likely involve framing.
    And then there is the interstitial work that needs to be done in between and around the boxes. Most of your case studies show construction methods that are far more costly tan conventional. Add to this windows, doors, finishes, millwork and how much is one really saving?
    I applaud these homes as they are inspiring, and in most cases compact. Yet I question any substantial savings and wonder if they actually cost more than conventional constructed homes of the same size.

    • Robbie Brandon

      You wouldn’t happen to be a contractor would you?

  • Aarons Containers

    I am an independent contractor working with a Texas based company and I completely agree that there has to be lots of precautions taken when using this anything but domestic storage use. But I truly believe this will be the future of homes and we are already starting to see small communities being built with these.

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