I can’t live in a container home.

One of the most common statements when talking about shipping container homes is I can’t live in a container but why?

I started to look into social media and how things have changed over the years. I believe we now occupy three times if not more space than we used to but do we need to is never asked? We are told we need a bigger house, bigger car, an ipad,computer,laptop and yet nobody stops to say won’t one do the job?

Won’t a computer do the job of the iPad and laptop? Or more importantly would the laptop keep you mobile and do away with the other two? tie that in with a dongle and Skype you don’t need a phone anymore either.

We are living in the cluttered age not modern. a 60” plasma is wanted or needed yet I confess I owned 2 plasma TV’s in my last UK home yet you know how many hours I watched TV on them? answer is zero as I use my computer. This is why we can live in a container and yet many people can’t even see the benefits of the wake up call.

One plasma is fine in a container home as it hangs on the wall. There is no way you would need 2! Computer you have to think of its space and very likely to go down the route of a laptop and generally this is how people living in a container think. Do I need it and what is the best option?

But those who say no way I can’t live in a shipping container I bet they find their credit cards often maxed out and they always seem to have more stuff than they have space for it. Not a nag at them as simply this is a consumerist society that is always telling us this is the way life should be.

Funny now though as the combustion engine car is starting to feel the pain of oil prices or more importantly we are. The U.S. still struggles to find cars under 4.0 litre engines yet most of the rest of the world has done just fine for at least 50 years. Fact is times are a changing and the population is growing at a rate that really it shouldn’t be.

We need more space where I say we need to use what we have better. We need to get to A to B and have  a right to a car where I say can you work from home some days and actually have a better quality of life and be more productive?

All in all those who think they can’t live in a container will eventually find that costs are going to see people starting to think smaller in some form. Be it land taxes, heating or cooling. Everything is on the downward spiral of getting expensive.

Recycle Or Build A Container Home?

This may seem to defeat the idea for some being “green” but here in the Philippines its not always about recycling simply because containers aren’t readily available.

shipping container structure

Take a shipping containers basic structure and what I see is a very simple building block that can be replicated side by side. and more importantly easy to build. Now what your doing with the container blocks will make a difference in the support structure and density of the steel for load bearing purposes. Why I am pointing that out is that someone may go “its cheaper to buy a container” well here in the Philippines its not unless you know something I don’t.

Your main dimensions you need to work on are based on transportation needs and not the home itself. For example if you took this open sketched version as a real building block you can actually attach other containers in any direction. Even stacking one on top and removing several of the floor beams for a staircase.

Why this is important is that from an engineers point of view it becomes extremely easy to put a value on materials as well as labour costs. You can decide on sections do you weld or bolt? but all in all you can get a real accurate price structure on your modular container construction.

Building them within standard transportation design metrics also means that you can make these off site or more importantly speed up production and lower costs. These buildings can be built in a factory and shuttered along on a conveyor system or as we used to do in the UK moved by forklifts. E.g. outside we used to weld the frames together before they were transported indoors to have the walls installed.

Pretty much the whole thing can be produced on site in a factory then all the modules can be joined together at their final destination. But that’s not always useful and with many of the areas in the Philippines its full of mountains. How many containers can you fit inside one if just cut and stripped down ready for putting together and welding/bolting? 2 – 3 trucks could be transporting virtually the entire house in parts that could physically be carried and erected on site.

This idea is something I have thought of due to one of my wife’s relatives having half a mountain for sale and this could see homes perched on the top and the most sensible way of transporting materials to the location.

“Eco-Pak” shipping container home design.

shipping container home with steel beam framing

The original prototype Eco-Pak house constructed in Turkey throws up some interesting ideas about shipping container home design due to not only making the shipping container part of the home. But also the fact that you can utilise the shipping container to transport a lot of the equipment and materials required for the build. Looking at the steel frame work design it does appear that it can all fit inside the container. For the first fix it could allow the starting on the project as soon as the container arrives with a secure storage area.

The “Eco-Pak” development was the brainchild of an aircraft structural engineer James Green of Building Container LLC. The system has a U.S. patent with international patents pending, James teamed up with Seattle-based architect Matthew Coates to develop the system. Its primary goals were to make a building that was low cost, structurally sound as well as transportable without the need of a concrete base.

shipping container home with steel beam framing

shipping container home with steel beam framing

The flexibility of the steel design allows for many variables and all delivered via the shipping container unit that comes with the building. A prototype version will be put together in 2013 by Coates Design in the Seattle area.

Source: Coates Design, Building Container

Shipping Container Student Accommodation in Amsterdam.

One of the most interesting shipping container home projects has been the colourful container homes in Amsterdam utilised for student accommodation.

Photo: Student Rose Mandungu stands in front of a colorful apartment complex made from shipping containers in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

We have talked about these before and its good to see the buildings are still causing a bit of media interest. Not only because of being a cheap solution to housing for students but also can just as easily be a solution for couples or single people in need of housing generally. The current housing crisis hasn’t drastically affected homes in Europe as many people tied with the economic downturn generally can’t afford a rung on the housing ladder even with reduced prices. Shipping container homes could actually fill some of that gap but even if not shipping containers the fact is smaller homes make sense on many levels.

Photo: A student relaxes in a shipping container house in Amsterdam.

As you can see above the home is fully functional and provides the daily needs of students. Below the space can be utilised for a workspace. Whatever way you look at it thinking smaller makes people think of how to get the most out of the space they have. Also the fact they reduce their costs on things like electric and heating.

Photo: A student sews in her shipping container home in Amsterdam. Photo: Apartment building in Amsterdam made of stacked shipping containers, each with its own balcony

Photograph by Paul O’Driscoll, Bloomberg/Getty Images

They may seem a little bland from the outside but I also think people living in these types of environments geared towards a specific age group and type of people may actually develop better social development. Having community areas and small restaurants etc. could also feed into the idea. I know when I am city living I just need a roof over my head and a space to relax in the evenings. Having something like this would be perfect as generally I eat out and wouldn’t even need any cooking facilities.

Shipping Container Homes For The Poor, A Good Idea?

There have been problems with not only shipping container homes for the poor but other housing developments and its mainly down to one thing.

People make decisions for others based on assumptions, they haven’t integrated with the communities they are trying to help to assess not only the daily needs but also if the project is viable.

Bamboo homes on stilts offer natural ambient temperature to the home due to the airflow as well as the ground beneath the home heats up during the day and at night that heat rises to keep the home warm. The space beneath the home sees air travel and for tropical climates its been a naturally good home for centuries. How do you adapt a shipping container home to supply the needs of people who will not be able to afford air conditioning or electric?

Also remembering people are used to the outdoors and opening the home to the elements is also essential in maintaining that natural environment that people come from. Doesn’t need to all be “in house” but communal areas that allow people to congregate and meet up are essential in maintaining the normal community.

But what else about cooling? You need to take on ideas from existing architects as the information is already there. It may not be developed for shipping container homes but a lot of it can be. Researching Indian, Thai and African home designs with “natural cooling” will give you plenty of ideas. E.g. mud huts due to the natural properties offer a great cheap home construction method yet is it out of place or too old to be used? I would look at modern mud home design as I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

Water can offer a natural cooling affect in homes as well and has been utilised in India for a long time in areas such as central pool areas in courtyards. Learning how air and water can work together and developing courtyard communal areas there are ways to get cooler air to move round housing developments. Some of these ideas will be a bit hit and miss initially but long term learning how to use them saves not only money but also needs. E.g. naturally cooling means no need for fans or air conditioning, which also means a reduced need for electricity.

There are solutions to every problem but I have seen many a project messed up and not because shipping container homes or in fact large scale brick and mortar homes are wrong. But simply the planning and designs haven’t been thought through properly on immediate and long-term needs of the community. Yes we all want to help but if it makes peoples lives harder it defeats the object of what we are doing.

Why Not To Live In A Shipping Container House.

The whole concept of shipping container houses are people get it and understand the idea and concept wanting to put it into practice and show how its done.

But why not live in a shipping container? First thing is you listen to other people and how being different is a bad thing. The same people advising you in what to do are mortgaged up to the hilt and generally like to have trending items that are the latest gadget, car or any other thing that costs more than they can afford.

Shipping containers make sense for people with a budget and a vision consumer speculation doesn’t fit into that and its why maybe its not for you. Swapping your budget for a new iPad for a sink or maybe the foundations of a shipping container home? Doesn’t sound so good but then again maybe can get both with a credit card? But for many of the container community they are trying to get away from any kind of debt as they are well aware of how banks and other finance houses manipulate people into thinking its ok to be in debt.

But debt isn’t ok if you go back to your grandparents was debt acceptable then? Did they run up such big debts their grandchildren couldn’t pay? Answer is no as it was shunned upon and shameful to owe money or be seen to be borrowing. The mortgage is one thing people may stretch to but generally riding on debt was never the way forward except for the last 50years. Which makes me wonder how much has people really been spending when the estimates economies are looking at 20 years of debt have we really been spending 70 or 100 years of debt and governments have just been signing it off with inflation and over evaluations of businesses and property?

The shipping container home is too small even before you ever looked at the idea as you knew it was a shipping container. Nobody thinks they are taking up 3/4 more space on the planet in the West than they used to though do they? Need to convert the loft, convert the garage, add a conservatory but for what? Gets back to consumerism as in reality as a child I had no extras and we were content because ok we didn’t know better but even today I would much rather my kids experienced the rain and sunshine than constantly indoors. A shipping container is more of a central pod which opens up areas of the outdoor world.

There is nowhere to put all my excess stuff? Agree with you as I have lots of stuff too at the same time when I am working I can carry nearly everything in one suitcase. I don’t watch TV and can use a laptop for most things I need. Even more ultra modern is my new tab that is probably 1/4 the size of a laptop but supplies me everything I need. Ok but what about the plasma? You can still keep it hanging on the wall in a shipping container home but like most things I have found over time the question in my mind is “Do you really need it?”.

When you start doing that its surprising not only how much excess you already have but when buying how much stuff you just don’t buy and find your wallet goes from battered credit cards to real money and buying what you need.

Shipping container homes are about not only a home but changing your way of life if you can’t adapt to it then your right its not for you. At the same time look at what others want in life and not go through life with blinkers.

All Quiet On The Shipping Container Home Front?

With a lot of things going on lately its been difficult to get on with the blog as we have had a lot of visitors. At the same time we have had an increasing amount of interest in shipping container housing which has started me looking at fabrication rather than recycling here in Cebu,Philippines due to one major issue the shipping containers here are holding a high value which can make fabrication of new containers cheaper. At the moment we are in the assessment stages but also we are looking at purchasing some land for another project. If the land deal goes through though it may actually give us some working space for the first unit to be constructed and test some of my theories.

Back in the UK a lot of the issues relating to the climate and other problems are extremely different to the Philippines. For a start we are reversing from heating to cooling but also we generally only construct for a lifespan of 10 years in the UK as the container buildings are designed for temporary use only. Doesn’t mean they will fall apart as some have been standing for over 30 years already but does mean that construction methods need to be looked at and assessments of materials properly. Paints, woods, metals all have to be assessed that they aren’t going to break down over a period of time. Which isn’t normally a problem in the UK market as a guarantee actually guarantees something but here in the Philippines its not so cut and dry and making sure things aren’t going to fail takes time and research.

But I am sure we will get there in the end, the project was never something we wanted to rush into but more importantly was something originally for discussion and idea debate. Getting the right sort of methods could be not only a lucrative business, a home but also a solution to sustainable housing issues within the Philippines islands and other countries.

Fabricating Container Homes In The Philippines Over Shipping Container Conversions.

People are always pushing the recycling of shipping containers as the main concern in the container home building circuit but over here in the Philippines they are rather battered and over priced in general.

You can find prices fluctuate depending on the time of year and even old containers seem to survive here decades after they should have been scrapped, bruised battered and the rust is cut out and new plates welded in but its a market people don’t realise exists that see’s the old containers surviving. International shipping standards keep the containers at a high quality standard but we live in the Philippines with over 7,000 islands how much goods move island to island?

This is why we see inflated prices on old containers that go back as far as the 70s and 80s is the fact they are used between islands and not internationally. If you see the state of them they would never leave the docks on an international vessel. But its this that creates our problem as a good container is always in demand as even the oldest roughest container never seems to see an end of life but simply patched up and shipped off.

Which got me back to a system I used in the UK before which is basically a frame setup and you simply slot the wall sections in. Being open already means that you can then adapt sections from adding staircases,windows and doors to complete sides being left open as unlike shipping containers these are built for the job of container homes. In essence its moving away from shipping containers into modular home construction.


Makes a bit more sense when you see the photo above as these can be manufactured on site or in a factory depending where the final location will be adding to that they are still stackable and get used more than people realise already in places like the UK. Temporary clinics,doctors surgeries, classrooms are all commonly using a similar system and I am looking at this as being the serious way forward with construction in the Philippines due to the costs of buying second hand units. No issues of toxic floors or damaged side panels but simply starting from the frame upwards.

But what about the walls? This is where the tricky bit comes in but is also how its practical. Getting the stuff here may not be as easy as I would like but basically I am looking for foam panels that can either be injected with foam or preformed foam panels that we can glue cladding sheets to externally. Light weight and extremely easy to construct with as well as strong and fire retardant.

Shipping Container Homes Do Some People Miss The Point?

I sigh sometimes looking at shipping container homes as often its an architect monstrosity trying to create something for only one reason, Free publicity. Have some people really missed the point?

A lot of the designs go out their way to make the old furniture fit into a new home and quite simply it was never designed to fit in the first place. Its why you hear the sceptics complain so much that a shipping container home simply doesn’t work. But is that true?

Take a look at static caravans, mobile homes, canal boats or other types of home that are designed round minimalist housing and they all function and work often better than most homes and the reason why is because they are thought through and designed to be functional.

Need a big kitchen? But how often do you use it a day? Washing machines, sinks and other bulky items take up space but ultimately are under used but take up your valuable living space. Can you use a smaller sink or even better remove it from the inside of the home. I live out in the Philippines and the majority of washing is done externally where the water source is be it a pump or mains water piped to the side of a home its generally outside. Makes more sense when you consider you don’t have to worry about getting anything wet and clothing needs to be hung outside to dry. Its the mod cons people are struggling to move away from its not a shipping container has gotten too small but the fact we assume we need so much.

A large amount of photos I have seen of shipping container homes like to show the large sofa sitting in the middle of the sitting room yet it’s actually showing that a huge sofa is wasting space not that its comfy. Most small container homes are designed for 1 – 2 people yet the majority of space is taken up by a 4 seater settee why? A futon sofa bed or some other sofa bed is far more practical or other multi functional furniture.

Life is not only about downsizing but also improving quality of life when it comes to shipping container homes. It may seem people are taking on less but what do you gain by reducing your link to the consumerist world? First of all its the square metre size of your home its smaller your removing years off your mortgage payments in reality adding years to enjoying life instead of giving them to the bank.

Most container homes are designed round open space so its not about sitting watching TV but more about mountain biking or sitting out on the porch watching the world go by while sipping on a nice morning coffee. Its about releasing yourselves from the binds of day to day living with the complexities of things we don’t need to concentrate on the things you want to do and experience in life. This is why I find it odd that some of the shipping container homes I have seen go for book shelves lined with books when there is nothing to say we have to stay in the dark ages what about a kindle or using PDF’s? Ok its not the same as reading but do people really need literally hundreds of books in the home when no doubt many of the shipping container homes will be near a library. No point minimalizing life if in turn we then stock up with things we really don’t need to be there.

What are the best and worst container home you have seen?

SHRIMP (Sustainable Housing for Refugees via Mass Production)

SHRIMP (Sustainable Housing for Refugees via Mass Production) is a rather unique container house project with its ability to extend parts of the building due to them folding within each other.

SHRIMP (Sustainable Housing for Refugees via Mass Production)

The idea is mass housing relief to a disaster stricken area and the units are designed round a shelter for a family of 4 with the entire home taking up 1/4 of the space of a normal shipping container.

SHRIMP (Sustainable Housing for Refugees via Mass Production)SHRIMP (Sustainable Housing for Refugees via Mass Production)

Now I can see the concept and the idea being viable as a solution but often metrics aren’t taken into account with much disaster relief such as containers already being at the ports in a disaster area and quite simply cash and tools would be enough to get things moving rather quickly with the right manpower. At the same time I would be interested to get an ETA on how long it takes to manufacture one of these units as the number of disasters seems to be increasing worldwide on a regular basis. Areas that may not have needed them may do in the future. Also the floating ability of these on pontoons is a great idea to get them to a coastline but one question still bothers me “how do they get them out of the water?”.

SHRIMP (Sustainable Housing for Refugees via Mass Production)

SHRIMP units do however use sustainable wood which is rather ironic this late in the day with places like Haiti that bring a lot of disasters to their doorstep because they pretty much deforested the entire country. It would however whatever way you look at it utilise shipping containers that are no longer in service. Would however though prefer containers to be utilised in their current locations rather than shipped back to disaster zones which are normally thousands of miles away from where excess shipping containers can be found. I believe shipping a container back to its Asian origins will cost around double of what it costs to produce a new container in China.