December 21, 2012

Comfortably Contained In An Alternative Home

Shipping Containers, Chris Jordan, 2007. Detail of picture representing the 38,000 containers  
 processed through American ports every twelve hours.

Shipping containers carry everything from shoes to wheat. 10,000 of them are lost at sea every year. They are the strongest modular structures in the world, and they make great homes.

Shipping containers revolutionized the freight industry in the 1950s. They standardized the loading, transportation, and storage of goods, and slashed the price of shipping by 90%. Global trade was revolutionized as the ease and efficiency of containers moved goods cheaper and quicker than ever before.

It is no coincidence that consumerism rose in prominence along with the shipping container. It is unlikely that the shopping frenzy for cheap goods could continue without them. Big box stores would become little box stores in no time.

Often it is cheaper for shippers to buy new containers than pay to return the empty ones. Now containers are available across the globe making them an accessible, low cost raw material for building alternative, affordable, and attractive housing.

In recent years a new form of architecture has emerged that uses containers as the basis for designing structures of all kinds. One useful site is the Residential Shipping Container Primer. It describes itself as:
"A do it yourself reference and architectural design service for converting recycled intermodal cargo shipping containers into green homes, buildings and architecture. Includes built project examples, details, plans, techniques, videos, and more."
Altering containers for habitation can be done easily, and previously used standard sizes can be bought for about $1,200 dollars or less. Since they are designed to fit together, connecting containers to build larger spaces is simple.

Example of Container Home

Many people are doing innovative things, converting containers to homes. I came across a nice set of photos showing the complete process of converting two containers into a sensible, snug little home.

Plan using two 40 X 8 containers

Containers joined and set on site, with awning and ready for conversion

A well-stocked pantry is essential...

... as is a place to cook and eat good food.

A repurposed bureau made into the bathroom vanity

The finished container house makes use of an earth berm along the back side

To see the full photo set of this project check here. 


  1. I became self employed earlier this year and since I could not afford to rent an industrial unit I bought an old 24' storage container to use as a workshop. It's sited in a muddy field on a farm but it's mine and now that I have a proper power hookup I really enjoy working in it. It's not insulated yet so it's a bit cold this time of year and it does have condensation problems. Hopefully insulation should cure that.

    A couple of 40' containers is more living space than we have in our apartment so I would certainly not mind living in a container home. Only problem is that in the UK it would be difficult to find affordable land to place them on and to get planning permission.

    1. Excellent idea! There are so many uses for these versatile units. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      I live on the ocean, so access to containers would be easy. However, as you say for the UK, land is unaffordable.


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