Invented in 1956 by Malcolm McLean, shipping containers were intended to be used as a vessel for international shipping. Recognising the potential and value of these containers, over 30 years later in 1987, Philip Clark filed a patent for the “method for converting one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building.” The concept of ‘shipping container homes’ was then born. 

Container homes truly became a widespread trend in the late 2000s when the concept hit the US. Californian architect Peter DeMaria built the first US shipping container home in 2007, which inspired the trend to grow internationally. 

After a tragic flood destroyed Australian couple Todd and Di Miller’s home in Australia in 2012, they decided to take a leap and build their new home out of shipping containers. What they ended up creating was a beautiful 6,000 square foot mansion that they called Graceville Container House. Constructed with 31 containers, the home was featured on television and quickly inspired the masses to consider the possibility of such a versatile shipping container home. 

Container homes weren’t just created for the fun of it, but because the infrastructure and accessibility of the containers are so suitable for housing. Widely used for storage and transportation purposes, shipping containers are relatively easy to come by, made of strong, durable materials and inherently portable. Ultimately, their aesthetic appeal and low price point make them a great base for a home. 

While the novel appeal of shipping container homes is their greatest selling point, people are also drawn to this concept for its sustainability elements. With sustainability being a current buzzword, how exactly do container homes fit into this category, and how environmentally friendly does this make them? 

Logistics of Container Homes

While the concept of container homes we know today may have originated from ideals of novelty, portability, and durability, they also function to benefit the container industry. 

Approximately three billion shipping containers are produced annually, and each last for 12 years before they are then recycled or repurposed. Transporting empty containers back to their origins is an extremely expensive process, and often it is easy to leave them in their ports of destination. However, this means that they are occupying huge spaces and creating a large surplus of empty containers. 

Shipping container homes are a great repurposing method to clear up some of the excess containers while redesigning a technical artefact. Some would also consider their use as an environmental protection strategy as it minimises the materials that need to be produced to build a home.

 

Environmental Benefits of Container Homes

Repurposing materials

Repurposing in any scenario reduces the need to outsource or produce new materials. Materials used in conventional house construction have an impact on almost every aspect of sustainability. Using shipping containers as bases or a substitute for traditional timber-framed home construction reduces the need to outsource a large amount of raw and non-renewable materials, leaving them to thrive in their natural environment. 

Not only is this act of repurposing environmentally friendly, but coincidentally, the containers are already manufactured in standard dimensions suitable for housing structures. They have the ability to be easily customised with built-in properties and partitions, making them excellent modular structures. 

So, while containers are recyclable, repurposing them means reducing the amount of non-renewable resources that are generally required for traditional homes. Reducing waste, and optimising resources, no wonder containers homes have become such a trend. 

Energy efficiency 

Based on the logistics of shipping containers, a container home can be constructed of about 75% recycled materials. While the containers themselves can be recycled, they aren’t made of decomposing materials and cannot be turned into compost for landfills.

This means that for containers to be recycled, they must be melted using basic oxygen furnaces (BOF) and electric arc furnaces (EAF), both of which consume huge amounts of energy and emit greenhouse gases. Specifically, recycling a shipping container can require a massive 8000kWh of energy. Whereas, repurposing the container into a home only takes 400 kWh of energy, and comparatively 5% of which it would have taken to recycle. 

In their essence, repurposing container homes have substantial effects on energy efficiency. In the wake of their popularity, recent developments and technologies have developed more eco-friendly features suited for container home architecture that make them even more environmentally conscious. This includes:

  • Insulated wallboard or panelling; 
  • Well insulated flooring/ceiling options;
  • Ceramic coating and polyurethane foam insulation; and 
  • Low VOC paints, primers, adhesives and sealants.

These additional eco-friendly features undeniably make container homes energy efficient and sustainable constructions. 

 

Australian Eco-Friendly Container Home

Taking full advantage of the potential of the shipping container home trend, an Australian couple converted just three shipping containers into a beautiful 530-square-foot, solar-powered dwelling on their family’s farm. 

After rethinking their lifestyle in 2015, the couple were drawn to a more minimalistic and sustainable lifestyle they could truly be content with. They decided that a container would be the perfect beginning to this journey. 

Their goal was to build a sustainable, cost-effective and stunning home. Through meticulous and careful construction they achieved this goal, producing a home with thermal efficiency and a 7.1-star energy rating

The couple installed additional filters including a rainwater harvesting system that allows them to collect water in large tanks connected to the home. A sustainable home would not be complete without solar power, so the couple successfully installed solar panels on the home to contribute to energy efficiency. For the interior infrastructure, they chose low impact materials like FSC certified, zero-formaldehyde timber and natural sealer. 

Countless environmental considerations were made throughout the design process, yet creative freedom and true aesthetic personalisation were not compromised. The outback masterpiece is both environmentally friendly, and a comfortable place to live.

 

Considerations

Although repurposing holds many benefits, as containers were not originally intended as inhabitable spaces, there are considerations that need to be made to ensure they can make a suitable home. 

Although optimising shipping containers for housing purposes clearly has environmental benefits, they do still require a level of operational energy to make them habitable. Like any home, energy will be required to regulate temperature and insulation. However, it is still much less energy expenditure than traditional homes. 

Secondly, container homes are generally considered to be better suited for smaller living or granny flats. Repurposing a container into a tiny home can be an extremely environmentally friendly and sustainable way to live, however, if a large space is what you are looking for, the environmental benefits won’t necessarily remain.  

Depending on the history of their use, used shipping containers are more eco-friendly. Whereas new, modular container homes are produced in factories and take away from the appeal of recycled materials. Ultimately, if you are considering building a larger container home, stay away from the factory produced, modular homes, and opt for second-hand shipping containers instead. Purchasing a newly produced container intended for a home takes away from the novelty and environmental benefits, meaning you may as well have built a traditional home. 

Ultimately, as bizarre as it may have once seemed, the shipping container house trend is certainly not unwarranted. When purchased second hand, their portability, strength, and suitability for a minimalist and environmentally friendly lifestyle make them the perfect project and base for a new home.   

For more information on how to repurpose a shipping container visit Tiger Containers today. If you are interested in starting your eco-friendly container home journey or require any inquiries, tips or advice, take a look at our blog or contact us.