Building traditional styled homes with shipping containers

Half of the problem when talking to people about shipping container homes is getting them to literally think out of the box. Here we can see 4 container units sat side by side with partitioning sections being added. A standard roof and pretty much the home is starting to take shape and a lot quicker than traditional methods.

shipping container home 4 x 40ft containers

Now cladded over can you even recognise it as a shipping container home? The cladding isn’t glued either they have actually installed it with a “super therm” ceramic paint manufactured by Superior products Minnesota who claim it can be used as a paint, adhesive, insulator, fireproof barrier as well as an acoustic barrier. Also part of the claim is that its insulation properties are equal to that of a conventionally designed home.

shipping container home  4 x 40ft containers

Shipping container home concrete pillar supports using old barrels

Shipping container concrete base supports

Most of you are aware of the business we are looking to develop here in the Philippines as regards shipping containers and converting them into households. This one here is a prime example of “recycling” as its even taken the blue plastic drums which you find all over the place in the Philippines often used for storing water but in this instance they are filled with concrete and metal re-bars to create the base pillars for the shipping container home. Very simple and affective method as it allows you to level up the base without too much hassles.

Modern but simple house boat – Uboat

First looking at this you can easily see why a shipping container could be used for the central hub of the building. As well as looking into it a bit more to see it can’t only be a simple design but with some interesting uses of technology for electric, water and heating/cooling. Initially house boats seem to be designed to keep the poorer less refined members of public out but this design does actually show it can be sustainable, minimalistic and cost effective.

modern house boat - Uboat by Wyatt Little

The simple design is based on a core unit with a lower deck area which is mimmiced in size by the roof section to allow shade for the exterior deck. On top of that the green roof area of the Uboat by Wyatt Little also offers solar energy to assist in powering the house boat.


modern house boat - Uboat by Wyatt Little

Add to that the geothermic loop to regulate the interior temperature of the property and you have an ambient temperature courtesy of your watered surroundings. Add to that the ability to draw up grey water as well as rainwater collectors on the green roof your water supply starts to become sustainable.

Maybe not 100% practical cost wise but the concept is something that could be utilized in other ways. The deck area with matching roof makes sense for container houses as it would help reduce heat build up as it keeps the heat away from the sides of the core building. Its looking into these ideas, concepts and thoughts that open up new ideas and practical solutions to shipping container homes.

modern house boat - Uboat by Wyatt Little modern house boat - Uboat by Wyatt Little

Over cladding the side of a shipping container home

MEKA  Shipping container home

This design is MEKA Designed by architects Jason Halter and Christos Marcopoulous although their actual internal design is not what I wanted to talk about today but the over cladding on this side which offers a “clean” look to the shipping container. Obviously offering a more beautified Container Living experience, on top of this its an ideal way to insulate behind the cladding or to even run pipes and electrics out of view depending what you use for the cladding. Here in Cebu I am thinking maybe bamboo would be a good alternative as its readily available and a cheap resource that also has a negative carbon footprint.

High towered shipping container store – Freitag – Zurich

A store with a statement, as the company heavily uses recycled materials in its products it also makes sense that they went for recycled containers in its store construction. Going 9 levels high on a small land area also means its best form of advertising is itself showing the capabilities of shipping container usage as offices, stores or homes. Its located near Gerold-Strasse in Zurich and utilizes 20ft standard containers in its construction its became a landmark in the area and no doubt has helped get the companies products noticed.

high towered shipping container store - Freitag - Zurich

high towered shipping container store - Freitag - Zurich

Cutting a shipping container opening

First safety tip of the day is be aware that the metal is heavy and your unlikely to know how heavy unless you have either lifted a precut piece or have just cut it out and now realize its heavier than you thought. Would advise when cutting to make sure you organize things so it falls the right way as well as make sure nobody can wander in the way. When moving parts its worth getting another pair of hands to help rather than struggle.

When cutting always try to cut from the outside either by using a plasma cutter or as I have seen several people use an angle grinder. This allows the fumes to escape rather than build up which is what would happen if you worked inside. Would also advise wearing a mask as you don’t know the content of the paint and removal of floor prior to cutting. If using a disc cutter of any kind make sure your working in an area that doesn’t have passers by due to the risk of sparking as well as broken parts of disc flying off. Always wear eye protection.

Plasma cutter will rank above using a disc cutter because of its ease of cutting once setup.Adding metal tubes etc as straight edges as a guide will glide you through the motion of cutting the steel. The time saved especially if working in extreme hot or cold conditions is phenomenal over using a disc cutter but if you have the time and a tight budget would go with the disc cutter unless you can get a rental of a plasma cutter. Bit of an expensive tool to buy for a one off job. Remove the floor in advance of cutting its generally full of pesticides and of no use in a container home, check you have everything it needs as some require a combination of compressor as well as a specialist outlet all can be hired or bought but best to ask while at the store. Be aware there is a potential of fire so be cautious of your surroundings no point cutting on some dried grass on a field for example unless you fancy making the evenings TV report. When your cutting get on with it the tips will burn quickly and are expensive so utilize them as much as possible. You will get hot pieces fall away and this is why you need to make sure there is no hazard that could start a fire from the heat. One of the most important things as a final note is always work in pairs, you could be cutting and not see the potential of a fire breaking out behind you as pieces drop concentrating on the job at hand, you are at risk of falling steel plate and at the same time everything such as measuring is easier with two as your doing a lot of vertical work so if clamping things down for a straight edge to cut having a guy on the top while your lining up the bottom means you end up clamping things a lot easier saving you time and making sure the measurements are correct. Measure twice cut once is the golden rule.

4 x 40ft shipping container home design idea

When starting to design a shipping container home its always good to have a starting point, an idea from where to build from. I came across this home which has dimensions that doing the build with 4 x 40ft containers would actually give you a bigger home than it but the design throws up a home that is a bit unique and its porch deck area which is another feature that could be utilized doing it with shipping containers is an added bonus. Creating the frame then dropping the containers onto the frame before welding them together would give you a straight surface to mount the containers. Utilizing the roof space as well you can set it up with solar panels and have the house installed with 12v lighting. In fact the house below is running on solar energy and is located in the Mojave Desert. Built by Blue Sky Homes its a simple and unique 2 bedroom home that pretty much offers everything a couple would need.shipping container home idea from desert home

 house design plans container home idea porchdining room bedroom bathroom sitting room balcony house view

What people building container homes see

When I mention container living most people will say the buildings get too hot, need lots of maintenance or too expensive and small. What I think a lot of people see is something like this :-

shipping container home

Which is a project in Venice. Doesn’t look like much to write home about and a little bland. Just a row of containers with the side cut out.

But the same project when finished will look like this :-

Shipping container home computer sketch

An ultra modern home which is unique. Ideally suited for a beach house.

Natural airflow cooling for a shipping container home


One of the things that often gets overlooked is the cooling systems on shipping container homes and its one of the reasons that puts many people off having one in hot climates. But if you take the picture above you can see the utilization of several natural ways to cool a building.

A- Is using a ducting system to allow hot air out and cold air into a building which could be utilized on a multiple stacked container home by adding ducting to the exterior rear of the building. You will also notice they have added ceiling ducting to help drive the hot air out.

B- As hot air naturally rises you can see from the sketch that creating a vent at the tip of your secondary roof (adding a secondary roof to shipping container homes drastically helps reduce heat build up as it provides shade) helps let the hot air build up out but even this is assisted by the ventilation ducts to help keep cooler air running along the inside of the roof.

C- The one that may seem obvious but I haven’t seen utilized in most of the designs I have seen is vented windows. As you can see the cool air flows into the property while the hot air travels along the ceiling and out.

These may not be ideal solutions in all locations and due to the extra costs of installation I would look at the general wind conditions of where your planning your container home and if this technology will work for the property or not. Another idea if very “breezy” for cooling is using the pitched roof for gathering cold air and forcing it into the property at a low level and thus allowing full use of the roof space you install for cooling.

Shipping Container Homes The Moral Choice

For me the Shipping Container Home is not only likely to become the home of tomorrow but the moral choice of today. There are many reasons behind my thinking although recycling is part of the reasoning more importantly is abandoning consumerism as this isn’t recycling its stopping things being used and wasted in the first place.

Shipping container homes generally are smaller and designed round specific needs to peoples requirements rather than the cluttered lives that many people live. I remember as a child a teacher mentioning that he nailed his loft hatch shut and the reasoning behind that is if something goes up into the loft its very likely you don’t need it and more importantly it will never come down again. Different teacher had similar thoughts about a bag in the fact you might as well have a small bag that is easy to carry as carrying a big bag you carry a lot of things you don’t use. Both thoughts have method in the madness as I look at many homes and I see under utilized space all over the place. But also just as important disregarded items which is why you see things like “send in your old mobile phones for charity” as they know people shove last years phone in drawers never to use again after they got an upgrade. But for me I think why do I need an upgrade? can’t I have a downgrade in my costs? Last years phone is designed for many years of use why would I want to shove it in a drawer just for the sake of getting a new shiny toy?

I think this is part of the consumerism gone mad that has leaked into society that shipping container homes can improve how people see the world for what it is. If there is a TV company out there maybe its a reality show you can work on and take some major consumers away from all the gadgets and give them a more minimalistic lifestyle but monitoring not only the impact it has on productivity and general wellbeing but also financial gain from not wasting money on things they never needed. Although don’t see advertisement companies too keen on this idea.

The discussion came up the other day with a friend of ours heading back to the UK as we live in a similar way where all our possessions can quite literally fit into 2 bags ready to move anywhere in the world. Neither of us are hippy, neither of us are poor in fact when you balance it up we are probably a lot more wealthy than the majority of people as we abandoned everything that was associated with fixing a location or more to do with increasing our burden. We rent rooms when we are working in a location and long term we don’t live in the UK we just work there. Someone’s going to convert my air miles here to do with my carbon footprint I am sure at the same time take into account that my energy consumption in the Philippines is well below consumer UK not only in home wastage but the fact my commuting is heavily reduced.

But getting back on track it was the abandonment of consumer goods that has made huge financial gains for those that choose to remove the iPAD and BMW lifestyle on credit for hanging onto the car for another few years or getting a new unfashionably economical car over ego, or keeping the desktop PC instead of a shiny new iPAD that looks good but offers up nothing worth writing home about. More importantly having money in the bank!

This all fits into Shipping container home lifestyles as the minimalistic approach is what comes as part of the package. As well as the fact you can build yourself and in modular form meaning the only real upfront big investment is the land your sitting the new home on. Everything else can be added as and when it can be afforded or needed. Its the common sense approach to life having what we need rather than what we want, sure its nice to eat lobster and dine out but everyday? having large houses and having to heat/cool them are a wasted expense alongside the fact energy resources are getting more and more expensive yet downsizing you would instantly be saving even if you didn’t go down the shipping container home route.