15 years

Building with Shipping Containers


An idea whose time seems to have arrived is the use of stockpiled shipping containers as modular units for building homes. Because of the balance of trade worldwide, these hefty steel boxes are piling up in ports around countries and posing a heavy storage problem. Several architects and builders are taking advantage of this surplus to recycle the containers.

A container has 8000 lbs of steel which takes 8000 kwh of energy to melt down and make new beams etc... The process of modifying that entire 8000 lbs of steel into a "higher and better use" only takes 400 kwh of electrical energy (or 5%). Granted it takes a bit more "muscle" but it is also called as Value-Cycling which may be the next step up from Re-cycling.

Each container measures 8 feet wide by 40 feet long by 9 feet tall. SG Blocks sells the finished structural systems (also called SG Blocks) for $9,000 to $11,000 per unit. The finished units have one or two walls removed and include the necessary support columns and beam enhancements.

Container units are stronger than conventional house framing because of their resistance to "lateral loads" -- those seen in hurricanes and earthquakes -- and because steel is basically welded to steel. The roof is strong enough to support the extra weight of a green roof which has vegetation growing on it if the owner should want it.

As for their energy efficiency, when the appropriate coatings are installed, the envelope reflects about 95 percent of outside radiation, resists the loss of interior heat, provides an excellent air infiltration barrier and does not allow water to migrate in.

One idea that has occurred in the meantime is that this system might benefit from the use of SIP's (Structural Insulated Panels) for the roofs, rather that standard truss framing. SIP's are very well insulated, install quickly, and use much less wood than convention roofs.

Shipping containers are self-supporting with beams and stout, marine-grade plywood flooring already in place, thereby eliminating time and labor during the home-building process. Cross said construction costs are comparable to those in conventional building. Four to seven units are used in a typical home.

This finished house is virtually indistinguishable from conventional housing.

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