What Are the Benefits Of A Container Home?

Shipping container homes have become a very popular housing alternative in the recent times. Many architects, builders and DIYers have promoted the idea of ‘cargotecture ‘with the following arguments:

  1. It’s a DIY friendly way to own a house,
  2. Can be sustainable id built out of repurposes discarded sea cans and
  3. Cheaper and quicker envelope for temporary shelters.

With the tiny house culture and minimalism drive at its peak,  the shipping container home concept has gained more traction. This article shall investigate these and other benefits of container homes in greater depth.

1.   DIY Friendly

CategorySub CategoryDIY Friendly?
 InsulationDepends on type
 Partition wallsyes
 Doors and WindowsDepends on tools available
 PlumbingDepends on knowledge and experience.

When talking about Doing it yourself, it is important to divide the project into smaller tasks and understand if all of them can be done without much expertise. In case of shipping container home, following components lead to a completed home. Below is a breakdown of parts that are do it yourself friendly.

  • Foundation– Although the foundation depends on the type of soil one is building on, the precedent for a shipping container home foundation is fairly simple. Most shipping container homes are built on pier foundations. 4 piers on the corner in case of a 20’ container and 6 piers in case of 40’ container.

So it is not wrong to say that is a DIY friendly task for an individual who has the strength to do it.

  • Envelope– Although shipping container is an envelope in itself, it requires some preparation to be made livable. It involves planning, insulation, floors, cutting openings for doors and windows, installation of doors and windows and shading devices.
  • Planning– If one has a good sense of daylight patterns, climate, anthropometry and personal preferences, then planning can definitely be a DIY step amidst many other things.
    • Insulation– This is the most crucial part of a shipping container home. As a sea can is a metal box, effectiveness of insulation determines the comfort within the home and regulates the heating and cooling costs throughout its life. Therefore, it is essential to do extensive research on the type of insulation, method of application, required R values according to the climate zone, code requirements etc. Some forms of insulations such as Board insulations can be easily installed without a professional. However, other types like spray foam, which is another form of most preferred insulation in container homes, needs a professional applicator for effective results.
    • Any error in installing insulation can lead to variety of issues such as condensation, mold, rusting of the metal body, thermal bridging, elevated energy bills, overheating etc.
    • Floors-  The floor of the shipping container often needs to be changed or covered with impermeable surfaces to minimize the effect of the chemicals it might have been subjected to. The floors of the shipping containers are treated with pesticides to protect the cargo from infestations on the ship. These chemicals are not necessarily residence friendly. Switching the floor is a fairly straightforward task, where it has to be detatched and lifted using appropriate tools and a new strong plywood floor of correct size needs to be installed. This can be a DIY task if you have the right tools.
    • Interior Partition walls- If you have an experience of working with wood, then building a simple drywall should be an easy DIY task, as there are not many needed in the limited space of a container home. But, if you plan to add extra structural support for any reason (large windows sagging roof etc.), then you might need to consult a professional.
    • Doors and Windows.- If one has the right tools and precise hand to cut the hole in the metal body to install the windows. Then this can be done without a professional. Cutting through the metal body is not always an easy task, so make sure that you are up to it. Another concern with installation is ensuring there are no leakages and the windows and doors are properly sealed.

Moreover, if the openings are very large, the corrugated sheet body of the container might need some additional structural support.

With ample research, right tools and precise eye, one can DIY the envelope part of the container home. You may need a professional for deciding and installing insulation.

  • Services– Electrical and Plumbing are a crucial part of a comfortable lifestyle. Hiring a professional for these tasks can be expensive, but one should only take up this task as DIY if one is confident. The plumbing and electrical of a container home seems simplistic compared to the conventional home solely because of the smaller scale and simpler layouts. However, it needs just as much care.

With that said, many people have done DIY. Major challenges they faced are:

  • They did not consider the beams under the floor during planning stage and had to cut through it to install their toilets. It can be tedious and can structurally compromise the structure.
    • Lack of knowledge of energy efficient fixtures.
    • Leakage and improper installation.
    • Freezing of pipes in winter seasons.

With proper research and consultation, electrical and plumbing in a shipping container could be a DIY project, based on the individual’s knowledge and understanding of these systems.

2.   Sustainable living alternative:

This argument is based on the fact that the idea of cargotecture emerged from the thought of recycling the discarded shipping containers that were no longer fit for shipping.

On the surface this argument is very attractive and people who want to contribute to the environment get seduced by the idea, but it has several other factors.

  • Not everyone uses used shipping containers these days. In fact, sea can manufacture companies have also started containers specifically for living purposes. If this trend catches on, the production of shipping container will further increase.
  • If someone has access to discarded shipping container, that is structurally fit, then it is definitely a good idea to repurpose it. However, using just once or twice used container does not fulfil this intent, as it ends up pulling containers out of their intended life cycle and creating more demand.
  • Even though shipping containers are being used as an envelope, it takes almost all the materials to build the house of same size to make the container livable. Hence, often it becomes pointless to use the container.

3.   Cheaper alternative for temporary shelters:

To convert a shipping container into a less occupied structure such as office or storage is definitely cheaper and better than a new construction. However, to be converted into a home, it needs a lot of work to make it habitable and comfortable. From installing drywall, plumbing, electricity, washrooms, and a whole lot of insulation.

It seems cheaper only because it is smaller in size. But the cost of a decent conversion is almost similar to a conventional home.

However, these are great for short-term living and storage needs in the areas which do not have extreme climate.

Final Words:

The article rationally discusses the benefits of shipping containers as homes. It is indeed a brilliant and quick solution, but it needs care in implementation so that the initial idea of recycling and helping the environment, doesn’t become redundant.