Container homes, and houses made from multiple shipping containers are built from multiple shipping containers and are all the rage now. They are billed as a cheaper, more affordable avenue to home ownership. They are believed to be faster to build, eco-friendly, durable, customizable and energy efficient. There’s much that isn’t talked about though, things that may not be easily apparent. Let’s talk about some things no one tells you about container house living.
About the weather
All over the world, building design and materials used are a factor of the climactic conditions of the area. Container houses do not adhere to these conditions. Shipping containers are made of steel and can conduct heat and cold very quickly. Without proper insulation and adjustments made to accommodate temperature changes, they can become deathtraps.
Space is already at a premium in container houses and adding all the necessary functionalities does not help. In a normal home, the space taken by plumbing and insulation is negligible but when space is already limited, the small space taken up by utilities and fixings can seem a lot more. Adding plumbing, for example, is not just a challenging task but one that also takes up more space. Others including insulation and ductwork also cut into the space and headroom. This can make an already small space feel cramped and even claustrophobic for some people. They also offer little room for adding storage space which can be severely limiting even for people who are psychologically prepared to downsize.
Shipping containers especially those that have some wear and tear from previous use have a maximum lifespan of about 30 years. You can extend it by fixing any repairs fast before they worsen as well as reinforcing them. While they may be cheaper in the short term, it’s important to keep in mind that residential homes last decades, going even up to 100 years without requiring too much in the way of constant maintenance, repairs and reinforcements. Maintaining a container also requires high amounts of energy and resources which takes away from potential eco-benefits. Then there’s the problem of disposing them at the end of their lifespan, a complication that further detracts from the eco-friendly claims.
One of the most common claims made about container homes is that they are eco-friendly. This claim is made based on the assumption that people repurpose and recycle used containers. This is not always the case. This is not always the case, because new containers are of higher quality, some people opt for them taking high-quality containers out of circulation and forcing the market to make more new ones for shipping. When people do use recycled containers, that is often not the most effective and efficient use of the material.
Regardless of whether the container home is new or used, steel is a material that requires a lot of energy in the production process, too much energy to just use as a residential structure that could be made through processes that consume far less energy.
An empty 40′ shipping container weighs 8380 pounds. A galvanized steel stud weighs a pound per linear foot. These two containers, melted down and rolled and formed, could have been upcycled into 2,095 8′ long steel studs. Framing the walls instead of using shipping containers would have used about 144 of them. Using shipping containers as structural elements for a one-storey building is downcycling and wasting of a resource.
The extra energy used to heat and cool the containers also supports the argument that they are not as eco-friendly as they first appear. All that energy expended to help manage the structure’s temperature when using different, local construction materials would just be good enough makes no sense. Steel containers also have to be transported from distant places further contributing to emissions and environmental degradation. It just makes more environmental and financial sense to build using locally available materials.
The interior of the container may also contain volatile chemicals. Removing volatile chemicals and repairing damage decreases the environmental benefits of building a container home.
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