Recycled shipping containers for new dwelling constructionAnna Lee
Reusable containers that are ultimately recyclable is the ideal situation for green packaging. Packnet has a number of reusable packaging products that are strong, waterproof, stackable, collapsible and ultimately recyclable when reaching its end of life.
Reusable packaging concepts assume that returning the package is feasible. Shipping containers are very durable and can be used repeatedly. But US ports are accumulating unused shipping containers on a regular basis, and they are sitting around taking up space. The reason for this glut of shipping containers is that imports to the US from Asia exceed exports from the US to Asia. Returning empty shipping containers is actually more expensive than buying a new one from Asia, so they don’t get returned. Some sources say that there are 700,000 to over 1,000,000 idle shipping containers taking up space at ports.
There is a growing trend that actually started a couple of decades ago, where shipping containers are reused by converting them into building structures. Initially they were made into inexpensive storage sheds or even underground shelters; essentially made into a “cheap and dirty” storage structure. Currently we are seeing architects and construction companies converting shipping containers into living quarters. We are talking high end residential homes, apartments and condominiums. Here are a few snippets of recent news items on this trend:
“Royal Oak house being made of shipping containers holds interest, draws stares”- The Oakland Press 10/1/2014
“DC Shipping Container Apartment Complex Opens” – CBSDC 9/29/2104
“Shipping container condos to be built in Corktown” –The Detroit News 9/23/2014
“Make a shipping container your home for less than $185K”CNNMoney 9/5/2014
Shipping containers are boxes that vary in size from 8 x 8 x 20 to 8 x 8 x 40. Six shipping containers can create a 2000 square foot home. They are made out of ¼ corrugated steel with heavy reinforcements on the corners and a thick wood floor that makes an excellent underlayment. The entire container is rust proof and water sealed. After cutouts are made for the windows and doors, plumbing, insulation, electrical wiring and interior paneling are added. The final product is structurally superior to wood. The solution seems to be a great green solution- it recycles materials, and saves on materials normally used in construction. It also appears to be a lower cost housing solution.
There are drawbacks from an environmental standpoint. “The coatings used to make the containers durable for ocean transport also happen to contain a number of harmful chemicals, such as chromate, phosphorous, and lead-based paints. Moreover, wood floors that line the majority of shipping container buildings are infused with hazardous chemical pesticides like arsenic and chromium to keep pests away. “- source. The total energy consumption to make a container dwelling may still be greater than a conventional house if one considers the prep work such as sandblasting, welding and metal treating required making the container livable.
The total impact on the housing market is minimal, if every single one of the 700,000 containers were used for new home construction; the impact would be less than one percent of new homes started in one year. Despite the drawbacks, container structures are drawing praise from most environmentalists and economists. Additionally we are getting more efficient at container construction. Architect Adam Kalkin’s has designed a “Quik House” that can be built for less than $185,000. This is a 2000 square ft home that includes three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a laundry room, pantry plus your kitchen and family area. It requires 6 shipping containers, which can be purchased on the open market for between $900.00 and $2000.00 each.
It is not exactly clear how the carbon footprint of container home stacks up against a home out of traditional materials, but electric car models when first developed were not very energy efficient either. We at Packnet applaud the innovation and “green thinking” that goes into shipping container dwellings.