What are Container Houses?

Whenever anything gets shipped by container-ship, it gets shipped in large containers as it is much easier to stack boxes than organic shapes. Because of various reasons, a lot of containers are only used a couple of times as its cheaper to buy new containers than ship them back again. As such, there are a lot of used containers for sale just waiting at the docks, which can be translated to the following.

"There are a lot of square shaped objects that are easily stack-able, which can be retrofitted fairly easily for sale which haven't been used a ton".

You see now why containers are awesome? We can be a bit more Ecological by taking existing cube-shaped objects and build a house out of them, giving them new life and providing us with some awesome characteristics for the walls of our homes from the curved metal.

Container houses can look a lot of different ways, however they all share some similarities. They are all stacked by the sides / corners, as that is where they are reinforced; as such they share a look as well, and pose some limitations. However, with a bit of creativity these limitations can be circumvented rather handily.

Below can be seen Olotaur Maku, a 17,5 square meter dining area built from a single container and painted black. I believe this is from Hawaii.


Container bar / dining area

Not just one-size fits all.

Container houses are impressive for multiple reasons:

  • Corrugated metal that can be fairly easily insulated to respectable R values.
  • Easily stack-able and build-able to some truly unique designs.
  • low-cost of acquiring them.
  • Already a frame in place that can be cut, reinforced and shaped as needed.
  • long-lasting.

Especially the stack-able, long-lasting and low cost properties are attractive, as they mean it can be made into some very interesting housing possibilities - as well as being a simple method for adding a garage, a gym, a hydroponics setup, a workshop or similar extensions to a property.

The below picture from the Daily Mail focusing on the Before and After of several container homes from their rough state to beautiful houses give a good indication of what can be done with them.

Link to the Daily Mail article


This sounds too good to be true, what are the limitations?

I would love to be able to be cool, quote somebody smart saying "there are no limitations", add in some interesting anecdote right here and boost my own ego, but the truth is: Unfortunately, there are some limitations. Container buildings are made of metal boxes. That metal is not impervious and adheres to the typical rules of a house: It needs a good hat, good boots and the right clothes to survive nature.

Limitations of Container Buildings

I already mentioned the whole "Only stack in corners, reinforce where you cut" kinda deal. That is one of the limitations that are important as the boxes are only strong in the corners and the sheet metal in the center is very thin. The other is moisture.

As the buildings are made of metal, moisture becomes an issue when hot air cools down and condensates into water droplets, in the exact same way you get moisture on the outside of a glass with ice cubes in on a hot summer day. As such, its incredibly important for the health of the inhabitants, and the metal, that the moisture is handled. I'll be posting more about how to do this, as well as resources that help a ton, however the short gist of it is this:

  • Use a water barrier, also called a vapor barrier,  between the metal and the insulation.
  • Remove interior moisture from the air - use a dehumidifer, ventilation, radiators and similar.
  • Use proper insulation material that works with metal.

There are a bunch of excellent resources on the internet for this sort of thing, both in video and written form, as such I'll be focusing on what they are missing, which is often a very simple "step 1, step 2, step 3" approach. I have linked the resources I've used a bunch in the Resources page so you can peruse them as well.

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