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Tim80 01-19-16 11:41 AM

Shipping Container Homes
Are shipping container homes more eco-friendly than traditional buildings?

MEMPHIS91 01-22-16 01:15 PM

I don't really think so. In order to properly insulate the containers you either loose most your inside space or you have to spend a lot of money cutting and welding to make them usable. Plus now the price is going up more and more on them. Maybe good idea if you live in FL and want to paint in silver to reflect tons of light/heat. But you still need insulation.

jeff5may 01-23-16 09:37 AM

I disagree completely. Container homes can be made very eco-friendly. It all depends on the upfront planning and design work. As with any home, good plans are essential to sound construction and ensure a lot less trial and error later.

As far as material goes, much of the superstructure can be made from recycled containers. There is no shortage of containers, there are literally millions Of used containers being traded every year. Finding a suitable used container is merely a matter of inspection. In general, even an aged shipping container is at least as durable as a normal wood and plastic stick built home.

As far as finishing and aesthetics go, container homes are favored by people who like an industrial or modern style over a more traditional look. With both types of homes, insulation, plumbing, heating, and ventilation must be added to the structure. Different sites and climates will require different solutions. Within the same locality, these needs will be very similar. Again, more planning invested prior to the build pays off big time.

As far as time to build goes, a container home has a distinct advantage or few. Being a previously manufactured product, the container does not need to be built from the ground up. An average stick home takes around six months to build, and dozens of workers of many disciplines. A container home can be built by half a dozen people in a month easy. With both types of construction, custom work takes longer, but with most container homes, the skin is the exterior finish. With a stick built home, once the sheathing is on, there are still a few layers of exterior to finish.

As far as money goes, lots of elements between the two types of construction are nearly the same. Insulation, heating and cooling, interior fixtures, planning, windows, doors, etc. are comparable in price. Finding items to reuse or recycle can save oodles of costs. The superstructure is not that far apart between methods, either. A major difference is finding financing and zoning or building approvals. Due to the "abnormal" construction, the container home has an enormous disadvantage.

Designing eco-friendly elements into the home can be done on both types of structures. Again, costs are comparable. When all is said and done, what you put into the project is what you get from it. With a stick built home, you may or may not add much resale value by adding these options. Same thing with a container. As long as you are happy with the end product, and are proud enough to live in it, why should it matter?

stevehull 01-23-16 11:00 AM

I just finished work with an architect here in Oklahoma City who is doing modular homes with shipping containers. He only uses what he calls "mega containers" that have just over a nine foot interior headroom.

To maximize interior space, we are leaving the inside as the "raw" metal. All wiring, plumbing, ducts, etc are on the outside. Then we foam the outside and put an exterior finish (metal, wood, brick, stone etc) over that. The last is the roof that can also be a deck.

The costs are amazing. In today's market, costs of less than $50 per square foot are easily done (lot not included) including kitchen (and appliances). I find this simply astounding as kitchens are typically very expensive ($10-15/sq foot of total house).

The containers come out of Houston and shipping them up here is almost as costly as the container (total of ~ $3500). However, a lot of truckers want to avoid a dead head return to OKC so they will put on a contained for the return at a low cost.

The low total cost is because of the ease of putting in utilities (electric, potable water, gray and black water and some air ducting (ERV), the several hour application of foam insulation (R30) and then the use of steel panel exterior. Three of these containers are easily handled by a two ton (24 K BTU) heat pump and conditioned interior air (ERV) are also necessary.

I can't WAIT to do a pressure test as the steel boxes are essentially air tight to start with.

For people that like the urban "industrial" look, these are perfect.

Not only that, but the zoning, permitting and building boards in Oklahoma City are excited to have them put in. Now THAT is a distinct change!


MEMPHIS91 01-23-16 11:18 AM

I should have given more details than what I did. I have helped build one before. So here is what we ran into. First they must be sat on blocks or something else to keep them off the ground because the floors are wood. Crazy thick wood that you have to awesome die in order to get your 4" PVC plumbing into. Next big issue is the walls are not flat, they are beveled and are a pain to cut windows into as well as try to seal from water. Most containers are 7 feet 8-10 inches wide. With 6" stud walls for the needed insulation from the massive metal thermal bridge you loose another foot. Add dry wall and you loose anther 1" or more. You loose 8" on the ceiling. So already you have a tight tight tiny long box to live in. That is barely insulated to a mid climate standard.
Let's say you want to put serveral of them together to make it bigger, that's fine as long as you are making it wider but now you better weld those seems good or its going to leak. You also must keep the top painted because it rust quickly.
My body used 5 to make his place, and every day he wishes he would have jaw built a normal sick house. He spent just as much on the contained home as he would have a sick home that would have been better insulated. They MUST be shaded in the summer or they will run your cooling bull crazy heigh.

I guess if it's just one or two people and you can live in a one container tiny home, then it might really be best, but the time and effort it takes to cut and line up and reweld massive pieces of steel in my experience is a huge waster of torch gas, money and time.

MEMPHIS91 01-23-16 12:55 PM

Steve, I guess I didn't think of adding the insulation to the outside. I guess you could use magnets to hang pictures and things. And the deck on top is another good idea.
Do you think building like this is cheaper than the wood it would take to build a stick home?

AC_Hacker 01-23-16 02:38 PM


Originally Posted by MEMPHIS91 (Post 48887)
In order to properly insulate the containers you ... loose most your inside space...

"most" implies more than half of the inside space.

Do you really think that is true?

I have seen quite a few European projects, and they are all insulated on the interior with spray foam, and then the wall covering of your choice.

Any conversion that looks like a container on the outside is insulated on the inside. Just look at the examples in the first post of this thread.


MEMPHIS91 01-23-16 03:04 PM

Ac, ah yes the word most there is out of place. I had not considered spray foam due to the cost.
I guess I'm still to Americanized to think small space.

jeff5may 01-23-16 04:46 PM

It's all about the planning, I'm tellin ya.,++(3).jpg
quick and simple
little more custom
ultimately awesomely popout

stevehull 01-24-16 06:54 AM

Understand that I am not a "shipping container" advocate who says these are the best. They have their place - especially for an urban environment with people that don't mind smaller spaces.

Personally, I advocate SIPS and use them a lot.

As for costs, compared to stick building practices, it is FAR cheaper to use a shipping container, cut out holes for windows/doors and to run utilities/pipes on the outside, then foaming the outside and providing a peripheral weather "skin" and roof.

Some individuals then put on a thin layer of sheet rock on the inside for a more conventional look, but many really like the utility metal look - some even want the rust stains and shipping scrape marks left as is. A bit too industrial for me . . .

One real issue is the noise. With a bare metal box, any inside high frequency source of sound - even some cooking noises (frying especially), get amplified and I find it way too much. For me, I would insist on some rock wool behind a sheet rock layer. But this increases the costs.

My worry has been, and continues to be interior air pollution using shipping container design. I believe two things are necessary: 1) some minimal forced air circulation and 2) an ERV (or HRV). Unless you have cross ventilation, just opening one window may not allow adequate ventilation. These boxes are air tight to start and this can easily be maintained with simple sealing techniques around window/door edges.

With a single box design, the space issue makes me feel a bit tight. On the other hand, some designs have a box on top of a box with cut outs in the bottom of the second top box to create vertical spaces. Others put them adjacent to one another and do a "cut out" thereby creating more horizontal space. Still others do this and also stack them. Still very tight in terms of space.

These conversions are incredibly easy to heat and cool. With R-30 insulation, and controlled ventilation, a 12K BTU heater is enough to handle a 60 degree-day heating load in a single container. One problem with stacking them is that thermal stratification must be overcome with forced ventilation. Hard to find a small enough unit to do this.

In other areas of the world, a small living space is normal, but (IMHO) shipping box home conversions will not be the rage in developed countries with the exceptions of young urban (or rural) types that will accept the physical realities.

Lastly, fire departments do not like them as it is hard to vent them in case of a fire. Because of the closed space, any small fire becomes an inferno very quickly. You would think the metal box would prevent fires. The problem is all the combustible stuff that we put inside the steel box to live with.

The "mini house" (150-300 sq feet) concept has many advocates and they really enjoy the "enhanced minimalism". Shipping boxes are about the same size . . .

Cheap to built, simple to convert and easy to heat/cool. Those are the positives. But a lot of negatives also.

But those that like them, REALLY like them.


MN Renovator 01-24-16 07:20 AM


Originally Posted by stevehull (Post 48905)
These conversions are incredibly easy to heat and cool. With R-30 insulation, and controlled ventilation, a 12K BTU heater is enough to handle a 60 degree-day heating load in a single container. One problem with stacking them is that thermal stratification must be overcome with forced ventilation. Hard to find a small enough unit to do this.

An inverter mini-split allows for some very small loads and some can handle extreme cold conditions for heating too.

Shade for the summer and insulate well for all seasons.

If thermal stratification must be overcome, a ceiling fan with a loft configuration, or a ducted exhaust-type fan(Panasonic Whispergreen uses a miniscule amount of power) are low operating cost options and generally not that expensive of a purchase in general. A recovery ventilator with ductwork configured with thermal stratification in mind could handle part of this too. ...with that said, I live in a 4 level house and the thermal stratification thing seems to be a little overblown. In the winter, put most of your heat to the lower level, in the summer cool the upper level. I don't even do that in my house at all, the heat and cooling remain in the same configuration year round.

stevehull 01-24-16 07:39 AM


My thoughts exactly on delivering heat (most to lower level). Here in OKC, we need to also deliver cooling and that needs to be on TOP level. The solution seems to be minisplits, with one at top level and another on the bottom level.

The problem with many ERVs are that they are often too big. One that I have used is only 20 cfm (doubles to 40 cfm with remote low voltage SPST switch). Can be configured to only 10 cfm (and doubles to 20 cfm).

They also make a very nice coaxial ventilation tube meaning only one hole drilled in exterior wall. Thin enough to fit into overhead stud space.

A bit expensive (~$350), but they work very, very well.

I have put them in bathrooms to constantly ventilate at low rates. When the shower light is turned on, the volume doubles thereby ventilating the bathroom (use a DPST switch with one side on 120 V AC for shower light, the other pole to control ERV ventilation rate).

They are not listed for bathroom use, but work very well in that application. Too small for kitchen use. Also absolutely NO noise. You literally cannot hear when they are on. My kind of unit (I hate blower noise . . . . ).

Minimal maintenance - just cleaning out air filter once a year. So far, no field failures and clients love them.


roflwaffle 01-24-16 01:27 PM


Originally Posted by MEMPHIS91 (Post 48887)
I don't really think so. In order to properly insulate the containers you either loose most your inside space or you have to spend a lot of money cutting and welding to make them usable. Plus now the price is going up more and more on them. Maybe good idea if you live in FL and want to paint in silver to reflect tons of light/heat. But you still need insulation.

I think it depends on the construction techniques used. Someone could set up a frame/insulation on the exterior instead of the interior. And if they did insulate the interior, the outside would make the perfect base for a solar thermal hot water system. I guess like most things, it depends on what you do with it.

MEMPHIS91 01-24-16 03:29 PM

I think this article makes some good points.
What's wrong with shipping container housing? One architect says "everything." : TreeHugger

jeff5may 01-24-16 07:23 PM


Originally Posted by MEMPHIS91 (Post 48916)

From the way the article reads, i think the author is still missing something. Can't really tell what, but two hands on a shovel might be a good start. Of course, airplanes should just pop like balloons at high altitude anyways. The skin is just too thin....

MEMPHIS91 01-24-16 08:30 PM

Yeah seems like maybe he wasted some money on bad planning so he just condemns the whole thing.
I was at one point 100% against them, now I am 50/50.
I am always looking into home ideas, just incase we move or this house burns. I always like to be prepared. I have a container that could be used for anything right now. Got it for $200 several years ago.

AC_Hacker 01-26-16 08:59 PM

Shipping Containers, another factor...
I have watched a kajillion BBC (NOT BBC America, which isn't really BBC) builders shows and some of them offer very innovative and inspiring examples of what can be done with the containers being used for homes and offices.

However I did learn a very juicy bit, and it is that Shipping Containers are supremely well designed to be shipping containers, at a moderate cost. Part of their genius is that they are welded under tension, so the whole box shares the stresses and strains of shipping stresses.

If you cut a window, or even more, if you cut a door, the tensile mode of strength is broken. This doesn't mean that you can't proceed, but it does mean that certain radical designs need to be very thoroughly thought out, and verified by a certified mechanical engineer.


MEMPHIS91 01-27-16 04:51 PM


Originally Posted by AC_Hacker (Post 48946)
I have watched a kajillion BBC (NOT BBC America, which isn't really BBC) -AC


Love watching some BBC.

I am worried about the paint. I know most paints are ok now, but what about when the paint is heated by the sun. We know very little about these type chemicals and things. This would be a big red flag for me til the off gas is proven safe.

A lot of fire departments use the shipping containers for training and cut huge holes in them and stack them all kinds of crazy ways. One day we will find out just what these can and can not handle. Just hope no one gets hurts.

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