Are Shipping Container Homes Eco-Friendly?

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Shipping container homes have been increasing in popularity in recent years.

More and more people are looking into them as a viable option for their next home.

But are shipping container homes eco-friendly? That’s a question that many people are asking.

In this article, I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of building with shipping containers to help you decide if this is the right option for you.

Shipping Container Home Overview

shipping container home living

Malcolm McLean invented shipping containers in 1956 to transport goods across oceans.

Over 30 years later, in 1987, Philip Clark filed a patent for the “Method for converting one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building at a building site and the product thereof”.

This was the birth of the idea of converting shipping containers into homes.

When container homes became popular in the late 2000s, they were initially seen in California. Peter DeMaria, an architect from California, was the first to build a container home in the U.S. in 2007, which boosted worldwide interest.

After a flood destroyed their house in Australia in 2012, Todd and Di Miller decided to risk it all and build their new house out of shipping containers.

They ended up with a beautiful 6,000-square-foot home called the Graceville Container House.

With 31 containers, the structure was exhibited on television and inspired people to consider the prospect of living in such a flexible shipping container house.

Environmental Considerations

Recycling Steel Is Energy Intensive

When old shipping containers reach the end of their usable life, you would assume that the best way to dispose of them would be to melt them down and reuse the steel.

However, it’s not quite as simple as that.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to recycle steel shipping containers. Around 8,000 kWh electricity is needed to recycle just one shipping container back into usable steel!

Turning an old shipping container into a home suddenly sounds like a more eco-friendly alternative when faced with a stat like that.

This only applies to old shipping containers that can no longer be used for their primary purpose, though.

Using a new shipping container (or one that’s still perfectly serviceable) as a home means there’s one less shipping container in the world. It might eventually need to be replaced by making a new one (a massive drain of new natural resources).

Traditional Housing Construction Is Wasteful

The process of building a traditional home is quite wasteful.

Many of the building materials used in construction end up being wasted. For example, only around 60% of the lumber cut from a tree is used in the final product. The rest is wasted.

And it’s not just lumber. Other building materials like concrete, bricks, and glass also have a high wastage rate.

And it’s getting worse. Waste from global construction is set to double by 2025.

Less Energy Needed For Heating And Cooling

Shipping containers are made from steel, an efficient conductor of heat. This means that without proper insulation, container homes will get unbearably hot during the summer months and freezing cold during the winter months.

However, if appropriately insulated, they can be much cheaper than a traditional home to heat and cool due to their compact size.

Pimp My Metal Box House: The Eco Edition

Why stop at insulation? You can make your shipping container house a green paradise in many ways. Such as:

  • Generating your energy using solar panels or, if the cost isn't prohibitive, a small wind turbine.
  • Constructing non-loadbearing walls with straw bales. Straw bale construction is cheap, has excellent insulating properties, and will boost energy efficiency.
  • Planting an organic veggie garden on the roof (using a pond liner to protect the roof of the container). This green roof will help keep the heat in, and you also get free veggies…win-win!
  • Using recycled materials inside and out. Because container homes are often a DIY project, you have complete control over what upcycled and recycled materials you use. Reclaimed wood makes excellent external cladding, for example.
  • Using a rainwater harvesting system.

The Pros And Cons Of Shipping Container Homes

Pros

  • Durability: Shipping containers are solid and durable. They’re designed to withstand harsh conditions and heavy loads. This makes them perfect for use as homes, especially in areas that are prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.
  • Cost:  Steel containers are relatively cheap. You can often find them for sale at a fraction of the cost of traditional building materials. This makes them an attractive option for people who want to build their own homes on a budget. Fewer construction materials are also needed.
  • Portability: Shipping containers are easy to transport. This means you can build your home in one location and then move it to another if you need to.
  • Time: Converting a shipping container into a home is much quicker than building a similar-sized home from scratch using traditional methods and materials.

Cons

  • Sound: Without proper soundproofing, shipping container homes can be noisy.
  • Off-Gassing: In order to survive years at sea, and to deter rats and other pests, shipping containers are often treated with toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, styrene, phosphorus, chromate, and formaldehyde. You must completely remove these chemicals before to prevent off-gassing into your new living space.
  • Structural Issues When Cut: When doors and windows are cut into the side of a shipping container, a significant amount of their structural integrity is lost, so extra support materials are needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Do Container Homes Last?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on a number of factors, including the quality of the materials used and the level of maintenance. However, most experts agree that container homes can last for decades with proper care.

Do Container Homes Rust?

Again, this depends on the quality of the materials used. However, most container homes are made with corrosion-resistant steel that is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions.

What Happens If I Need To Move My Container Home?

One of the great things about container homes is that they can be easily moved if necessary. You only need a flatbed truck and a crane to lift the container onto the truck. Once it’s in place, you can secure it with straps or chains and transport it to your new location.

Do Container Homes Hold Value?

Just like any other type of home, container homes will appreciate or depreciate in value depending on a number of factors, including the location, the economy, and the condition of the home. However, because container homes are so unique, they typically hold their value very well.

Can A Tornado Move A Shipping Container?

According to Gail Rose at Container Home Hub, “most shipping container homes are strong enough to outlast an F0 to F2 tornado. However, a moderate tornado can easily shatter windows, which allows air to rush into the home. If you want optimal tornado protection, remember to install DP 50 windows”.

Do Shipping Containers Get Struck By Lightning?

While it is possible for a shipping container to get hit by lightning, it’s not very likely. However, if you’re worried about this, you can always install a lightning rod on your container house to help dissipate the electrical charge.

Do Recycled Shipping Containers Flood When Used As Living Space?

If your container house is located in an area that is prone to flooding, it is essential to take the necessary precautions to protect your home. This includes installing flood vents and elevating your container house on stilts.

Do I Need A Permit To Build And Live In Upcycled Shipping Containers?

This depends on the regulations in your area. However, in most cases, you will need some sort of permit to build a container home. It’s always best to check with your local building department to find out what’s required.

How Much Is A 40ft Shipping Container?

The price of a 40ft shipping container can vary depending on several factors, including the condition of the container and the location. However, most shipping containers cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Do Shipping Containers Get Hot?

This is a common concern among potential container homeowners. However, there are a few things you can do to help keep your container home cool, such as installing insulation and using reflective materials on the exterior of the home.

How Do I Insulate A Shipping Container House?

There are various ways to insulate a shipping container home. Some common methods include spray foam insulation, fiberglass insulation, and cellulose insulation.

Do Shipping Container Homes Appear On Home Inspections?

In most cases, shipping cargo container homes will not appear on home inspections. However, if the inspector is aware of the home’s construction, they may take a closer look.

Can You Get A Mortgage On A Shipping Container Home?

Yes, you can get a mortgage on a shipping cargo container home. However, because these homes are so unique, it can be challenging to find a lender willing to finance them.

The Final Word

As you can see, there are both advantages and disadvantages to building with cargo containers.

You’ll need to carefully weigh the pros and cons to decide if this is the right option.

If you do decide to build a shipping container home, there are a few key things you’ll need to keep in mind.

  1. You’ll need to ensure that your home is adequately insulated. This will help you keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  2. You’ll need to ensure that your home is soundproofed. The metal walls of container houses can amplify noise from outside.
  3. You’ll need to ensure that your home is built to code. Check with the relevant authorities before commencing work on your new shipping container home.

So, those are the top three things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about building a shipping container home.

If done right, container houses can be a great eco-friendly option for people who want to build their own homes on a budget.

Every year, the U.S. imports more than it exports.

Because shipping empty containers back to the sellers, who are all over the world, would be too expensive, thousands of sea-worthy containers are thrown away each year and clutter various ports across the country.

While there is a surplus of containers clogging up U.S. ports, I believe transforming them into usable interior space is an eco-friendly practice.

If it’s good enough for Starbucks…it’s good enough for you! 😉

Get In Touch

Do you think the concept of shipping container houses could be right for you? Do you already live in a recycled shipping container home? Or planning on building one in the future?

Would a single shipping container be big enough for you to live in? Or would all your stuff not fit in a tiny house? Drop me a line and let me know.

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James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

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