Shipping container homes have been constructed in Lon-don, Scotland, Am-sterdam (home to the largest container city in the world) Canada and New Zealand, and the eco-friendly trend has recently caught on in the U.S. The steel cargo containers are nearly indestructible, and provide a frame that is mold-, fire- and termite-proof and structurally superior to wood framing.
What’s more, the containers can be found in every port in the world. Eighteen million ISO containers—named such because they are manufactured to specifications from the International Organization for Stan-dardization—are used worldwide to transport products on ships. Once the containers are unloaded at docks they are typically left there, since it’s prohibitively expensive to ship them back to their point of launch. In 2006 alone, the U.S. acquired 7.5 million shipping containers from China and returned just 3.5 million. The leftover 9,000-ton steel containers typically get melted down, which takes 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy per pound.
Logical Homes LLC is an architectural design company in Califor-nia started by Peter DeMaria, who praises steel shipping containers as a construction material, both for longevity and cost. New Jersey-based Quik House also offers prefab shipping container homes and has a six-month waiting list for their modern-style residences. The containers are being put to philanthropic use, too. The Boston nonprofit Containers to Clinics is turning shipping containers to medical facilities complete with solar panels to be used in rural communities lacking health care across the world, and is launching its pilot clinic in the Dominican Re-public this January. Here DeMaria talks about the draw of building by container.
E Magazine: What inspired you to begin using shipping containers in your company’s projects?
Peter DeMaria: Their practicality and affordability as a structural system. In an effort to provide an affordable home that was of equal or greater value than a custom home, we intensely researched many alternative building systems for over a year and the containers surfaced as the superior solution.
E: What are the benefits to building with shipping containers?
P.D.: The benefits are numerous but at the top to the list are: structural superiority, affordability, durability, aesthetics that subscribe to our contemporary era, and the ease by which prefabricated buildings can be created with containers and then moved about. In general, traditional construction is too slow, too expensive, too wasteful and too antiquated.
E: What is the cost of building this type of home compared with the cost of building a typical home? What are the differences in time to complete a project vs. a typical home?
P.D.: Container-based homes are usually constructed at a cost of about 60% to 70% of a traditional home. Depending upon the location, construction times can be as little as two weeks for our smaller prefabricated structures, or six to eight months for larger residential projects. And these buildings have a lifespan that far exceeds traditional construction.
E: What environment-saving options do you offer customers besides the use of recycled shipping containers? Could the homes be engineered with alternative energies?
P.D.: We use the buzzword “sustainable” so that consumers can quickly understand our position with regard to construction and the environment, yet personally I’ve come to reject the limitations of sustainability. Sustainability isn’t enough. Our buildings must be more than simply contributors to a more environmentally conscious society—they must become functioning icons that spearhead new advances.
Our homes include wood sourced from sustainably managed forests and products made from renewable resources, such as bamboo. By recycling shipping containers we gain the benefits of working with steel without contributing to any adverse environmental impact from the production of new steel. Other recycled material in our homes includes denim-based insulation and carpets made from recycled materials, nontoxic caulks and adhesives and low-VOC [volatile organic compound] paints.
We specify Energy Star-rated appliances, efficient heating and cooling systems and LED and fluorescent lamps. We are also excited to work with any buyers who want to integrate tied-to-the-grid electric solar power systems or wind-generated energy. We specify products that conserve water, such as low-flow shower heads, dual-flush toilets and under-sink flow restrictors. In addition to conservation, we will work with any buyers who want to integrate a gray water plumbing system into their home.