Shipping container homes and Earthship biotectures are at the top of my I’m-going-to-build-a-home-with-that list as I calmly expressed HERE not so long ago. While dipping the curious stick a little further down the rabbit hole, I found information that made me flip like Dominic Dawes did in the 1992 Olympics.
Credited as the father of containerization, Malcom McLean, owner of the first trucking company to be listed on the NYSE, had no idea that his solution to a shipping problem would turn into solutions for alternative housing.
Sometimes called ISO containers, Cargo containers, or Conex boxes, shipping containers are built to be 20ft, 40ft, 45ft, 48ft, or 53ft long. When converted to be used in construction of a home, they are called ISBU’s (Intermodal Steel Building Unit). All shipping containers are made of Corten steel, a “weathering” steel, which means that due to their chemical compositions, these steels exhibit increased resistance to atmospheric corrosion compared to other steels. This is because the steel forms a protective layer on its surface under the influence of the weather. (copied directly from Wikipedia)
A 53 -foot long craft room is just what the doctored ordered.
WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO LIVE IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER HOME??
+ Strength, +Durability, +Built to resist harsh environments, +Can transport easily because they conform to standard shipping sizes, +Building time is a lot shorter than building a traditional home due to the standard modular measurements.
*Neighbors may think your home is ugly. (really?), *Because welding and cutting steel is a specialized job, you’ll have to hire a professional. *This fairly “new” method usually comes with a side of “I don’t get it” decision-makers so the permit process may take a little longer. *Insulating big metal boxes won’t be cheap. Jeff Hammond (Kat5 Homes) and Alex Klein (Renaissance Ronin) heavily favor the Closed Cell Spray Foam for insulation. Jeff says, “It is by far the most efficient and effective thing on the market, and with containers, the lack of space makes it almost a requirement. It’s also the most environmentally friendly option, because of the massive amount of energy saving.”
ARE CONTAINER HOMES QUICKER TO BUILD?
Victor at ContainerHome.Info says,
“It is said that container homes are faster than regular construction – you read things like the home was built in 7 days – you can say that about modular homes as well but the work is still being done somewhere else. It doesnt only take 7 days and some things like getting approval and sign off will likely take much longer.There is definately a place for container homes and prinicpally that is the opportunity it presents for a greater measure of “sweat equity” – doing some of the project yourself, that is where the savings are and that is what the site is all about”
Quickly becoming my go-to source for this alternative housing construction is Alex Klein, of Renaissance Ronin, who describes himself as a “crochety old jew living in the south”. He’s been building homes using shipping containers for a couple of decades and he wants to show other brave DIYers how. Alex seems to be EXTREMELY knowledgeable (and passionate) about using these Corten Steel boxes. In addition, he and some friends have been working on a project that makes me want to slap somebody (in a good way). The Corganix Project is a hybrid home using a shipping container as the core and earthbags to surround the house – creating more living space (and external insulation)!
Sooo, dinner at your place, Alex?
HOW MUCH DO THESE CORTEN STEEL BOXES COST?
Alex says, “ISBU Containers are running/averaging a hundred dollars a foot, nationally. In LONG BEACH, they’re running a hundred dollars a foot. I checked TODAY. I know for a fact that boxes in the SF Bay area are priced similarly. That means that a 40 foot High Cube is going to cost you about $4000.00.”
When I asked Alex why a used container cost so ^*#&ing much he said, “There are literally hundreds of brokerages popping up as shipping containers become more popular. This is why the prices are getting so “inflated”. It’s making it MUCH harder for the “average joe” to just go buy a container. You’re going to jump thru hoops and the selection (once you learn what to look for) is going to diminish.
SO HOW MUCH WOULD A HOME COST?
PieceHomes (on the west coast) charges $225 – $250 per square foot. Jennifer Siegel, who has worked with shipping containers for more than a decade, and her team at Office of Mobile Design charges about $260-$280 per square foot for a home. Included in OMD’s price is the transportation, installation, foundation, finishes, and steel framed construction. These prices do NOT include the cost of the land (if you’re buying land) or permits. Stillwater Dwellings homes start at $200/sq.foot depending on floorplan and style package.
Although some of the sites I’ve visited have a comparison charts, I wanted to check for myself just how much it costs to build a traditional custom home. I’m still waiting for those figures to come in. When they do, I’ll revise this post to reflect what I learn.
AFFORDABLE OPTION FOR STRUGGLING FAMILIES??
Some sites I’ve visited are building shipping container homes for families in need. I wonder, though, with the prices I’ve seen so far, how can a family in need really afford a shipping container home, let alone afford to build one themselves. This is what Victor of ContainerHome.Info says, “The truth is Banks and finance companies don’t like alternative design technologies ( and for good reason ) so they will not go anywhere near a container home ( yet ) unless you don’t need the money – always the way huh. So you need cash to build – I don’t know any struggling familes that have that sort of cash.”
He went on to say…
WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?
If this process seems a bit overwhelming, it very well could be for the beginner (such as myself). Where do you start? What questions should you ask? Who can you trust? I’m hoping that this blog post will give you a good start. One question that I would have never thought to ask the builders is ARE YOU FINANCIALLY STABLE? Read what Stillwater Dwellings says about why you should ask this very important question. If I can offer any piece of advice, it would be to take it slow and do what I do – “stalk” the builders.
I’M CURRENTLY STALKING…
Robert and Joel of Hybrid Arc and Cargotecture who are based in Seattle, Washington.
Peter DeMaria of DeMaria Designs (and LogicalHomes)
Roy Maufus of Gorilla Designs built this beauty in Utah. Check out what they’re doing to Sega Lily school!
Brian McCarthy, while on a business school trip in Mexico, came up with the idea of using shipping containers to raise the standard of living for families in need. PFNC is located in Mexico.
Victor from ContainerHome.info contacted me a few days ago to tell me about a FREE 120 page e-book called The 30 Most Influential Shipping Container Homes Ever Built. He is a former builder from Australia who now lives in Thailand. His membership site is set up to be a community of shipping container enthusiasts who want to learn the do’s and don’ts of home construction.
PROJECTS AROUND THE GLOBE:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
The Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. It’s a narrow body of water that connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and 60,000 ships per year pass through. An Aljezeera website puts that number at 94,000. To put it into perspective, think about a big, smelly, loud semi truck rattling your windows every 6 minutes of EVERY day for an entire year!
The narrowest part of The Strait of Malacca is only 1.7 miles wide, which creates a major choke point. It’s exaclty what it sounds like. This narrow part of the already-narrow body of water is so small that ships have to drastically slow down in order to pass through. This has been an international problem for many years due to collisions, thefts by pirates, terrorist attacks, and oil spills. Each time crude oil tankers get all choked up in the Strait, a substantial increase in energy costs always occurs.
For those of you who want to dig a little further…
Upcycle Living (Arizona)
Lot-Ek (New York)
Adam Kalkin (East Coast)
Zero Cabin (blog)
Project: GreenCube (part of ISBU Association)