Building with Shipping Containers Over-rated?
First off let me preface this rant with this. I was surprised I came to this conclusion because at first I think structures built with shipping containers are really cool and “modern” looking. Using unwanted and cheap materials due to the trade deficit with China really make sense to save money on the surface But the more I think about it they don’t seem to live up to the hype for most situations. I’ll go into why below.
Before I get all negative on container built houses or structures I need to mention that there are a few situations that containers could work well and I’ll talk about those here too.
First off containers aren’t cheap. Most people think that the ports are giving them away or something. I live in the port city of Seattle and see thousands of containers stacked and put onto trains every year as I drive to work. Occasionally I’ll see a sign listing containers for sale. Right next to a place where they load containers on barges to ship to Alaska is a metal recyclers yard. Make no mistake that if a container is damaged so much that it can’t be used and no one will buy it they will sell it for scrap steel to the recyclers. When the scrap steel price is high like now, it will raise the price of used containers. I saw used containers for $1600 to $2200 for 20′ uninsulated. Some delivered, some not.
Cost: After you add up all the costs this is the main drawback of integrating shipping containers into your building. Cost of purchase, transportation to site, cost and time involved with conversion, flooring, windows insulation, walls, plasma cutter to make windows and modifications. Containers are freezers in the winter and ovens in the summer. The only thing that will prevent this is good insulation and that will take up more space in your container. Is it cheaper than framing it conventionally with wood? Answer is no. For the same or slightly less cost you could build a similar sized stick built structure that would be as waterproof and possibly more comfortable because you could design it from scratch for humans and not cargo.
Looks: I don’t think people like shipping containers for their looks. In fact I don’t know what is uglier. If your plan is to cover up the shipping container to make it look better, what is the point of using them?
Property Value: It’s not stick built it doesn’t add to the value of your property at least not in a traditional since. Meaning the appraiser for the bank of a potential buyer won’t add any value based on your container home. This may not be fair but when is anything to do with banks fair?
While writing this article I stumbled up the Field Lab in SouthWest Texas, he has come to similar experience and makes the very interesting point that most container buildings are just concepts, renderings and 3D images. Few come to reality. He makes several more good points click the link above for more.
Transportation of the container to your site: The truck that hauls a 40′ container is going to be pretty big. It is possibly to have a tilting flat bed truck deliver it to your place and simply tilt it off the back. However this is not a precise operation. For some jobs you may need to rent a crane to unload especially if you want to stack your containers. If you have a remote site that is heavily treed this may be a problem or cost extra for delivery. On the flip side if you want an instant cabin or living space and could afford a helicopter to carry it pre-made to your site this could be a great solution. Expensive but instant. But at that point you’re pretty much running a military operation and money is not an object.
Strength & Security: The best thing about shipping containers is they are massively strong and secure. It’s VERY hard to break into one of these and you definitely can’t carry one away. If you need a secure place to store valuable tools generators etc while you’re away then they may be a great option. Far more secure than a wood structure. In fact this may be the best reason to use containers in my humble opinion, for secure storage of your valuables on remote sites.
Talking about storage and bad looks you could have a win win situation by burying a container and leave the door exposed from the side of the hill for access. It would be your own bat cave at that point and would be pretty cool. Out of sight but still easy to access.
The biggest asset that shipping containers have is they are very very strong. So if you want to build with them, don’t think so conventionally like you would if you were building a conventional house. Tip one container on it’s end and now you have a 20 -52′ tall tower! put some stairs in the middle and work it into your structure.
Also read 10 things to consider in the use of shipping containers from the Field Lab Site. He just had some containers delivered to his site in the Texas desert.