Shipping Container Homes – A Smart Housing Investment


Steel shipping containers (also known as “steel intermodal containers” or “ISO containers”) make for excellent building material because they possess strength and durability, provide simplicity of design and plan, are widely available, and relatively cheap. Their frames are built of tubular steel, which allows for stacking (to customize height), and the corrugated steel body is made to resist the harsh environmental conditions.

Every year, thousands of containers are shipped in the country via trains and trucks. Since the cost of shipping a container back to the native country is relatively more than building a new one, the containers are piling up. Shipping container homes use these containers for building purposes. Such homes are environment AND pocket-friendly in the same run.

Shipping containers have marine-grade plywood flooring already in place, thus reducing time and labor during the home-building process. The construction costs of shipping container homes are usually comparable to those of conventional buildings. Single shipping container home is rare, though not unheard of. Four to seven container units are usually stacked up or laid side by side in typical shipping container homes.

Construction Process

To begin with your own shipping container home, start by chalking out a plan. Determine your requirements and budget, and learn more about the external factors like site, building codes, costs, etc. The aim is to create a design including professional input from architects and designers specializing in container home designing. Develop a schematic design including floor plan, container configuration, and site elevation. Make sure you check out your local building codes and see that your project gets all requisite permits beforehand.

Now to get on with actual construction! This is where the dream turns into reality.  After reviewing your site, you’ll need to determine the type of foundation which will work best for your shipping container home. Shipping container homes are rarely laid on bare earth, since the moisture in earth tends to corrode the metal away gradually. Flat sites require minimum exertion on excavation and leveling. Foundation costs will be high or low depending upon bearing capacity of soil and site sloping.

After setting up a solid foundation comes the container home itself. Insulation is primarily important, since steel conducts heat, and may heat or cool up to unbearable temperatures depending upon environmental factors of location. Check out the binding energy codes and calculate the R-values (insulation levels) required according to project location and core envelope component (wall, roof, etc.). When the appropriate coatings are installed, the envelope can reflect up to 95 percent of outside radiation, resist the loss of interior heat, provide excellent air infiltration barrier and prohibit water from migrating in. “Super Therm”, a ceramic paint made by Superior Products of Minnesota, is used as paint, insulator, fireproofing material and even as acoustic barrier. The results include homes which are virtually indistinguishable from conventional homes, and provide just as much insulation.

Keep in mind that the timber component (i.e., the floor) is almost always treated with serious pesticide. This ensures- a) prevention from harmful insects during shipping, b) protection of floor structure, and c) protection of contents from infestation and damage. In such a case, take care to either remove the flooring, or protect it from affecting the contents of the container home. The issue of weatherproofing of exposed metal of your containers is important too. If you’re planning to bury the containers partially, make sure to berm the earth up around them. Certain vapor barriers and waterproofing will keep the insides of the container structures dry and cozy, and the outsides resilient to weather changes.

With these things in mind, shipping container homes can be built to provide cheap and comfortable housing capable of withstanding nature and corrosion for a long, long time.

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