Building With Shipping Containers

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Recycling resources through reuse has become increasingly popular in the world of architecture and sustainable design. Surfing the Web, you can find buildings constructed of everything from bottles to kitchen sinks.

This house, located in Quebec, utilized seven 8 x 20 ft shipping containers. The 3,000 square foot house was built for $58 per square foot, easily one-third the cost of building a traditional American home. Photo: lowimpactliving.com

Located in Quebec, this home utilized seven shipping containers. The 3,000 square foot house was built for $58 per square foot, easily one-third the cost of building a traditional American home. Photo: Lowimpactliving.com

Though the latter is a bit ambitious, and probably less practical than the average person desires, there are many well-built examples of homes constructed of recycled materials out there. One such example: shipping container buildings.

Traditionally used to carry goods aboard trains or cargo ships, these steel containers have recently proved themselves as structurally strong, modular building blocks when no longer needed for freight hauling.

When used to carry cargo, shipping containers have an average life span of about 20 years before they are sent to scrap yards. When stationary and properly maintained in architecture, they are likely to outlast other traditional building materials.

Built to withstand huge amounts of weight and pressure, as well as extreme weather conditions, these containers make ideal building blocks. Not to mention the fact that they are plentiful, relatively cheap and easily transported.

The construction of this 1,858 square-foot shipping container home was said to produce only ten contract trash bags of construction waste. Photo: www.zerocabin.com

The construction of this 1,858-square-foot shipping container home was said to produce only ten contractor trash bags of construction waste. Photo: Zerocabin.com

As SG Blocks Co-founder David Cross tells CNN, the average shipping container, weighing around 9,000 pounds, takes 9,000 kilowatt hours of energy to melt down the steel. On the flip side, modifications made to the steel containers for building use approximately 400 kilowatt hours of energy, a 95 percent reduction in energy consumption.

Because the U.S. imports more than it exports, containers end up stacked at ports by the thousands, as it isn’t financially feasible to ship the empty containers back.

Stacks of abandoned containers became the inspiration for artistic and sustainable design just a couple decades ago, though awareness of the building concept has increased dramatically in the last few years.

With its increase in popularity came the establishment of the Inter-modal Steel Building Unit Association in 2007. ISBU was founded to promote and educate the public on safe and sustainable building with steel container units.

Examples of shipping container architecture can now be found worldwide, used in homes, offices, hotels, emergency housing and public buildings.

This article is part of Earth911.com’s Building With series.

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