Designing with Mother Earth in Mind
5 REASONS SHIPPING CONTAINER HOMES ARE NOT SUSTAINABLE

Shipping container Homes

Any building that is built out of shipping containers is known as ‘Cargotecture’.
Shipping container homes are popping up all over the world. They look quite attractive with their straight lines and rectangular box like shape. Shipping containers were invented to solve the problem of transporting goods safely across the sea and land efficiently. Shipping containers had to be

  • Small enough to fit on a transporter truck and also big enough to hold thousands of cubic feet of goods.
  • strong withstand the oceans and seas.
  • Light enough to be moveable by mechanical equipment
  • Uniform so they can stack easily on a truck or ship
  • Fitted flexibly so they we can use them for transporting dry goods, food, refrigerated items, liquids and lots more.
  • Shipping container homes are a very good idea when it comes to housing the poor and homeless. They are temporary housing solutions. Citiq in Johannesburg, South Africa built student accommodation out of unused silos and shipping containers to help the youth of South Africa. They built these so that there is a low dropout rate of university students who can’t afford accommodation and studies together. Citiq reduced that number by providing affordable housing for students.
    But what about when it comes to sustainable homes that should last us a lifetime? They aren’t the best when you start looking at the bigger picture. Whilst they may be alright to live in a moderate climate, living in a metal box through an Australian summer would not be the wisest move.

    5 reasons why we shouldn’t live in a shipping container home

    1. Hot as an Oven, Cold as a Freezer

    Metal is useful structurally as beams and posts. As a surface material tin roofs are very efficient. Metal is usually the least ideal material that would be used as a wall surface material. This is because metal is a conductor of heat and cold.
    To get a container up to par for energy efficiency in winter, you would have to insulate it. Cover every bit of the metal so it doesn’t act as a thermal bridge.
    In order to achieve even an ounce of energy efficiency, we will need to build an additional structure to house the insulation. We would also have to install external cladding so the sun doesn’t heat up the walls during summer. Hence, the exterior attractive metallic look is gone. The other option is to put the insulation into the inside of the shipping container. To have a good amount of insulation we would reduce the usable interior space drastically.
    Stacking containers are no good either. This is because we don’t have an external envelope. Metal can transfer heat easily from exterior to interior. It is necessary to insulate every external wall exposed to the weather, or we lose heat through thermal bridging.
    This would now add more material and cost to lower down the heat loss or gain.

    2. They are Recyclable

    We can recycle metal over and over again. Hence, we are not saving the container from landfill. In fact, go drop off an old container at a recycling depot and you will receive money for it. They will recycle it.
    Extracting and manufacturing metal uses a lot of energy. It also produces a lot of pollution. So, once we have it, use it well. The ecological footprint and embodied energy of producing metal is worse than wood especially when we use it to form a structure. From a sustainability point of view, we should use the materials available on this earth sensibly. This means that we are better off keeping metal in circulation and apply it to a use that metal would fill well.

    3. Toxic

    Containers house a lot of different things. They could be pesticides or chemicals for instance.
    Containers are usually coated with lead-based paint to withstand the salty air and water in the oceans. They can be toxic to your health. This is one of the reasons why a lot of shipping container home building companies are using brand new containers instead of using the older unused containers as they are very toxic.

    4. Space and shape

    Shipping containers are quite narrow in width and height. Once we add the insulation and HVAC system to be able to live in them comfortably, we would lose a significant amount of space. The widest room would be about 2.17m wide minimum, unless we combine 2 and demolish the wall in between which would give us a 4.4m wide room. Basically, all your rooms would be in the multiples of 2.2m. Shipping containers come in 2 heights, 2.6m (standard height) or 2.9m (rare to find). According to the code’s minimum height of a liveable room is 2.4m. This leaves us with about 250mm for ceiling, insulation and air conditioning ducts.

    5. Structural Integrity

    The corners of a container are very strong, but the roof isn’t. We would need to build another roof over it, especially if we have very wild weather or planning to use the roof for other purposes. The corrugation in the walls are very important to the structure. They provide the structural integrity to it. Hence, anywhere we cut an opening, a window or door, we would require reinforcements. We need to weld where the containers join together to make a larger room. Future renovations will need more welding which is quite costly.
    It is a great material and a good idea to house the homeless for a couple of months until they get back on their feet. Or even if you have a container and have no way of getting rid of it, use it, change it but remember if you are planning to build a brand-new home don’t go seeking out a container home.

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