There is a noticeable, intriguing movement towards repurposing steel shipping containers into living spaces, with a ‘green’, industrial-chic aesthetic and a nod to recycling. While this appears to be an inexpensive and practical use for these units, there is a deceptively complicated set of parameters that make this process an insurmountably challenging one.
Shipping containers are engineered to be used as such: a secure, un-breachable envelope in which to safely move goods in stackable, durable units. When these units are retro-engineered to be used as construction modules, it usually involves cutting into the fabric, reducing the overall structural integrity of the unit. Careful and expensive reinforcing materials must be reintroduced to ensure the structure is safe, and building codes must be followed exactly, otherwise, home inspectors would never allow these liabilities to pass inspection, never mind to be insurable as “risk-free”.
Shipping containers can serve new uses as storage or utility buildings, but the cost of creating quality, safe and structurally-sound living quarters is actually prohibitive. In addition to the requirement of extensive reinforcement (interior and exterior), all of the wiring, heating/cooling and air-movement systems (HVAC), as well as electrical, security and fire suppression systems require engineered modifications or duct-ways and are subject to strict code and procedure inspections.
Container home challenges
It is difficult to create livable spaces in container homes while maintaining safety and longevity of the building. It is an expensive prospect, with limited customization (no option of high-ceilings for example). Window glazing or skylights are difficult to build into these deconstructed sheet-metal boxes, which lose structural integrity when the envelope diaphragm is cut into. The shipping containers are an engineered system, not designed to be modified for aesthetic or modular reassembly; purpose-built systems already exist that are easier, quicker to use and infinitely more customizable, intended for human habitation, without compromising safety or options for open-concept, airy design, integrated seamlessly into the landscape or a potentially challenging building site.
A simpler, cost effective and tried-and–true, quality option is to use modular homes
Pre-fabricated steel-framed buildings housing units to the same effects. These purpose-designed building units are conceptually intended to be used as building blocks, the engineering carefully considered and tested for durability, comfort, and structural integrity.
Once considerations such as interstitial spaces for wiring, ducts, windows skylights and surface finishing (designed into prefab modular houses) are brought into the equation, shipping containers cannot compete in either cost-effective quality, safety or ease/speed of construction.
These modular building units offer the same effective use of space with attention to integrated engineering, customizable materials, aesthetics, integrated windows/skylighting and code-specific electrical, water, HVAC and fire suppression systems. All of the guess-work is taken out of planning and assembly of these customizable units, which can be stacked and configured much like individual shipping containers, but with trustworthy, purpose engineered steel-frames, designed to be lived-in in comfort and safety, with attention-to-detail of the look and feel of quality-finished surfaces.
A similar concept is at work: modular ‘building blocks’ towards a small-footprint, efficient living space, instead using quality, purpose-built living spaces, with an eye to safety, quality, comfort and durability, at a more cost-effective and structural budget.
Karoleena homes offers impressive house design options that are contemporary, energy efficient and most important built for durability.
Click below to compare traditional building methods to a modern modular home, prefab cabin.