The problem with shipping container housing
What’s wrong with shipping container buildings? Nothing, if they’re used for the right purpose.
We recently considered shipping containers for a housing project as illustrated in the photo of this blog post but we dropped the idea after careful considerations. We explain the many reasons why this concept failed using shipping containers below:
Shipping containers are often touted as some sort of godsend for a variety of housing conundrums. However, many steps—often costly—need to be taken to make comfortably inhabiting a shipping container possible.
We get that some shipping container homes look really cool. But if you look deeper you'll find that re-purposing a shipping container into housing has a lot of costs attached just like traditional building. Delivery and installation, insulation (be careful, because "improper insulation will result in heavy condensation on the inside of the metal of exterior walls," as architect Mark Hogan put in a recent op-ed published on ArchDaily about how impractical shipping containers were for mass housing, welding and steel … it does get very expensive.
While container structures do have their uses, they're not some sort of cure-all that can solve affordable housing crises. In fact, they may cause more problems than they solve. There are a few major problems with shipping container structures.
First, they require substantial insulation, which takes away from the already small amount of space.
Second, tall container structures (more than 7 stories) need a lot of concrete, and a powerful crane to do stacking work. This increases costs.
Third, utilities and mechanical systems, especially heating and air conditioning are needed in the all-steel buildings. These also take up a lot of room, particularly head-space. And finally, the "green" benefits of these structures are often greatly overblown, because many containers aren't recycled for construction. It's often cheaper and easier to buy new ones which have not been used in transportation because they don't require cleaning. Also, even when buying a used one and re-purposing it, someone else will be buying a new one instead for shipping purposes.
Many clients are sold on the idea of these structures without understanding the realities, and architects often design them thinking about aesthetics first, not practicalities.
Which isn’t to say that shipping containers can’t be creatively reused — it’s just best done in a temperate climate, with access to good welding equipment. When all's said and done, the best use for old shipping containers is probably what they were designed for in the first place: storage.