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The latest example of tiny homes for hard times. $8000 US.
September 24, 2008 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Shipping containers could be 'dream' homes for thousands. Yes, the design isn't great. They should have a contest for a version that would keep the cost the same. Esthetics don't have to be expensive.
posted by shetterly (65 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Experience late 80s Cyberpunk living!
posted by Artw at 10:25 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


... and then they could stack them on a big ship, see, and they could go out to see... they could form a big colony, linking several ships together by rope and bungie cord... and they could get satellite linkups.. and an evangelical church to get new residents... and they could get a dude with a nuclear warhead attatched to his spinal cord... woah, sorry, got ahead of myself there.
posted by cavalier at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2008 [13 favorites]


With the weak dollar, shipping crates are going for a premium right now!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2008


This will be great for our destroyed economy! Great depression "Hoverville" residents would kill for something as swank as a shipping container.
posted by delmoi at 10:28 AM on September 24, 2008


Steel makes for a splendid heat conductor. You'd need eight inches to a foot of insulation and then sheetrock on top to make it livable in cold climes, and then you're living in a hallway, not a house.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:30 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiousity, what kind of non-containerised home would $8000 get you in Mexico?
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on September 24, 2008


I actually thought about this a long time ago when I actually had to work inside containers like those.

They get brutally hot during the summer and very very cold during winter. There's no insulation and I didn't see any mention of any modifications done to change this (beyond some reflective stuff to keep out heat).
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 10:32 AM on September 24, 2008


Container City.

ContainerBay (with Container Sources and Technical Resources).

Shipping Container Housing Guide.
posted by ericb at 10:33 AM on September 24, 2008


I wonder what the difference in square footage would be if you took and equivalent amount of raw materials and used them to make a geodesic dome instead?

/fuller
posted by mullingitover at 10:34 AM on September 24, 2008


New York Times (2003): Last Stop For Long-Haul Containers .

NBC News (2007): Shipping containers find new life as homes.

Bob Villa endorses the trend [video].
posted by ericb at 10:35 AM on September 24, 2008


Previously on MeFi.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:37 AM on September 24, 2008


WebUrbanist: 10 Clever Shipping Container Homes and Offices.
posted by ericb at 10:37 AM on September 24, 2008


I would actually want to live in one of these things. Perfect size for me. Do they allow cats?
posted by brundlefly at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2008


Bob Villa seems to endorse anyone who will put a dime in his pocket. His show seems to be more informercial than information these days.
posted by any major dude at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2008


delmoi: I would LOVE to live in "Hoverville"
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:40 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, they stole my idea!

Well, my idea was to buy a swack of containers, borrow a backhoe and build a way-cool bunker mansion. But still, I'm suing!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:41 AM on September 24, 2008


Hoverville is the town where you don't put a number on your mailbox or a name on your front door. If someone stares at your house long enough, all that information just appears, floating in their vision.
posted by DU at 10:43 AM on September 24, 2008


Slap*Happy wrote "You'd need eight inches to a foot of insulation [...] and then you're living in a hallway"

Why does the insulation have to be on the inside? Coat it with an insulating layer, and maybe some sheet metal or vinyl siding on top.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:51 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


HOT
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2008


If someone stares at your house long enough, all that information just appears, floating in their vision.

Not to be confused with Schrodingerville, where if someone stares at your house long enough the information appears and your house disapears.
posted by Artw at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've yet to see a couple concerns that I have about using containers as buildings addressed, and until I do, I think the trend is pretty much just a trend, as in "trendy".

1) As mentioned previously, shipping containers have no insulation value. What that means is that you have to install insulation on the interior of the container, reducing its already crapmed dimensions by a foot or more. Plus, to do that, you're basically building a wall inside your building. Isn't the whole point of using the containers that you don't have to go and build walls?

2) Similar to the above problem, shipping containers have flat roofs, meaning that they don't shed water or snow. To shed water or snow properly, you'd have to build a roof on top of the container. At least here, since you're adding to the top of the container, you can add insulation without reducing the interior dimensions, but you're still building a roof on top of something that's already supposed to have a roof.

At this point, you're building walls and a roof on a supposedly "prefab" building unit. Why not just actually build walls and a roof? Then you can: get all the insulation you want; build to whatever dimensions you want; not have to deal with adapting a bunch of tricky details for buiding components that were meant to go into standard construction; and a bunch of stuff I can't think of off the top of my head. Sure, you don't have to build as much of a foundation with a container, but the whole point of doing it still seems to me to be able to say "hey! I'm making a house out of a container" and not so much any of the other supposed benefits of doing so. If we've got such a huge surplus of containers in dockyards that aren't doing anything, I don't see why we can't just melt them down and make something else out of them. A shipping container contains way more steel (structurally speaking) than a houes really needs.
posted by LionIndex at 10:55 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm picturing some frieghtworker moving into one of these, scratching his head and saying 'I think I unloaded this once.. [*sniff*] yup, it was full of frozen meat.."
posted by jonmc at 10:56 AM on September 24, 2008


Why does the insulation have to be on the inside? Coat it with an insulating layer, and maybe some sheet metal or vinyl siding on top.

It doesn't, but with a container, you've already got a perfectly waterproof wall system, so why dick with it? Plus, you're probably going to want a nicer finish on the inside than corrugated steel (although I can totally understand the aesthetic attraction of just that), so it makes more sense to just furr out the inside wall with studs, put the insulation between them, and then throw drywall on it. Also, as I implied earlier, your "insulating layer" is going to be something like 6" thick on every wall. I guess you could do EIFS.
posted by LionIndex at 10:59 AM on September 24, 2008


You could interstack them with a server farm!
posted by Artw at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2008


Um...EIFS
posted by LionIndex at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2008


I think the point is that compared to the houses made of scrap wood and cardboard, these are a big step up, despite the concerns about insulation and water shedding properties of the roof. A wooden pallet acting as a wall doesn't do much for protection against heat or cold. And I'm not sure a snowy winter is the first concern of residents of Juarez.

I'm just glad that someone is thinking outside the box (no pun intended) to actually help other people, not just make a quick buck. At least the ball is rolling and could lead to better designs.
posted by starfyr at 11:10 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


My favorite, a container mid-rise building, quite elegant.

and then you're living in a hallway, not a house

My NYC apartment is 25 feet long and 11 ft wide in one part, 9 wide and 7 ft wide in the other parts. A container 9ft wide by 40ft long would be spacious, imo.

A really good site with lots of examples, Container Bay.

From Bob Vila: Steel shipping containers can be converted to strong, safe, comfortable, and eco-friendly housing in just 90 days. Floorplans and Layout of the Container House video.

Shipping Container Homes by Container City video

zigloo domestique video

Not a redneck mansion.
posted by nickyskye at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2008


"Thirteen girls really died in those motherfucking cans, Lieutenant"
--Lester Freamon
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:19 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the point is that compared to the houses made of scrap wood and cardboard, these are a big step up, despite the concerns about insulation and water shedding properties of the roof. A wooden pallet acting as a wall doesn't do much for protection against heat or cold. And I'm not sure a snowy winter is the first concern of residents of Juarez.

When containers are adapted for that use, I'll be fully behind them. But the only places I've ever seen container houses are in high-design magazine photo spreads, one of which had photos with snow on the ground. This article is the first I've seen otherwise. And if containers are going to be the new shantytowns, I still don't see why they don't cut the containers up into however much sheet metal and get a whole lot more useful material.
posted by LionIndex at 11:30 AM on September 24, 2008


If we've got such a huge surplus of containers in dockyards that aren't doing anything, I don't see why we can't just melt them down and make something else out of them.

Well, they could. Shredded cars are about $550/ton or so (Chicago price), so a 40ft container would probably fetch $2300 once scrapped and placed on the market -- the scrap yard is going to want to pay less than that in order to cover their costs & profits.
posted by aramaic at 11:47 AM on September 24, 2008


Similar to the above problem, shipping containers have flat roofs, meaning that they don't shed water or snow. To shed water or snow properly, you'd have to build a roof on top of the container.

I live in a rowhouse with a flat roof, though it's not completely level, of course, and it has downspouts. Couldn't this problem be solved similarly?

Not disagreeing with the trendy or that the high-end design concept version of this idea is a far cry from living in an uninsulated metal box.
posted by desuetude at 11:54 AM on September 24, 2008


I live in a rowhouse with a flat roof, though it's not completely level, of course, and it has downspouts. Couldn't this problem be solved similarly?

Yeah, that's pretty much what I'm talking about. But putting a roof like that on a container would still require you to build up the slope somehow, and then waterproof it. "Flat" roofs typically have a slope of 1/4:12 (for every 12 inches horizontally, they gain a 1/4" in elevation - at least, they're *supposed* to). On a container, you could probably find a way to just lay down wedges of rigid foam insulation, but if that's your only insulation and you'd like to meet energy codes (at leat in California), the foam will be at least 6 inches thick.
posted by LionIndex at 12:02 PM on September 24, 2008


What I'd like to know - why can't you just stack 9 containers together and put 12 inches of foam insulation between them, build one roof (dome?) and, well, have some decent cheap condos?
posted by BrianBoyko at 12:15 PM on September 24, 2008


"It was amazing to me that in an area where there was such growth and economic prosperity, that these employees of Fortune 1000 companies were living in such poor conditions."

Dude really doesn't have a firm grasp on the finer points of globalization, does he?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:26 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, I visited the Lot-Ek MDU at the Walker museum in Minneapolis. It was pretty nifty, really.

All of the unit's functions and mechanicals (kitchen, bed, closet, dining area, toilet, etc) were separate slideouts, so that you could have a furnished (albeit spartanly) home with no loose furniture; in its deployed state, the center area was completely open and unobstructed.

If you ever want to move, slide everything in and have the unit loaded on a flatbed. Multiple units could be stacked. If I understood the design correctly, it did have an interior layer of insulation all around (you were not looking at raw steel walls on the inside). It was a little short on natural light, but plenty roomy for one person.
posted by adamrice at 12:39 PM on September 24, 2008


As has been mentioned many times upthread, these things get HOT during the day. Large portions of Mexico have a surplus of hot already. These things will require air conditioning, more so than other structures, in order to avoid becoming deathtraps. So the prospective consumers, the urban poor of mexico currently living in clapboard shacks, for these "nuestra casas" will have to a) buy the container and b) pay huge electricity bills.

There's a good solution out there, and I don't doubt that shipping containers, or something similar, will figure into it. But I think a little more work needs to be put into it.
posted by lekvar at 12:51 PM on September 24, 2008


That said, I'd totally get two, one stacked on top of the other. Late 80s Cyberpunk living indeed.
posted by lekvar at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2008


I'm picturing some frieghtworker moving into one of these, scratching his head and saying 'I think I unloaded this once.. [*sniff*] yup, it was full of frozen meat.."

Better that than "I think I unloaded this once.. [*sniff*] yup, it was full of frozen Ukranians"
posted by Pollomacho at 12:55 PM on September 24, 2008


LionIndex: "2) Similar to the above problem, shipping containers have flat roofs, meaning that they don't shed water or snow. To shed water or snow properly, you'd have to build a roof on top of the container.

Why would you need a sloped roof? Houses have sloped roofs to keep water from pooling so the weight and moisture can't damage the wood beneath. This is a waterproof, all steel structure. Any amount of water or snow that is able to collect on top of it is really going to do any harm, is it?
posted by team lowkey at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2008


Why would you need a sloped roof? Houses have sloped roofs to keep water from pooling so the weight and moisture can't damage the wood beneath. This is a waterproof, all steel structure. Any amount of water or snow that is able to collect on top of it is really going to do any harm, is it?

Rust. And, these are used containers, so they're not completely pristine.

It doesn't have to be much of a slope, just a couple inches higher on one side of the container than the other, but it's just not good practice to let water stand like that. I'm in Southern California, so the weight issue hardly matters for us at all -- it's just that standing water will eventually defeat pretty much anything you try to stop it with. It's easier to just get the water off. Leaving them as is will do in a pinch, but I wouldn't trust the container on its own.
posted by LionIndex at 1:30 PM on September 24, 2008


I can understand how, given the massive trade deficit, that there must be thousands of empty shipping containers available. But somehow I just can't get over the feeling of failure that this invokes. It's like a shanty town, but the buildings are all the same size. It's 2008, is this the best we can do?
posted by tommasz at 1:30 PM on September 24, 2008


i used to dream of living in a shipping container... would have been a palace to us.
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:04 PM on September 24, 2008


I could live in that, if there were like.. two on top of each other connected by a ladder, and maybe some secret tunnels to other shipping containers. That would be cool.
posted by tehloki at 2:14 PM on September 24, 2008


My parents built a little house in the Baja about twenty years ago--I think the cost was around $10,000 US, maybe $15,000. I doubt anyone could build a house comparable to what PFNC is proposing for anything close to that price. And they certainly couldn't build it as quickly. Or make a home as easy to move if the jobs move.

Regarding cooling, a strong exhaust fan in a window can make a huge difference.
posted by shetterly at 2:24 PM on September 24, 2008


As for the roof, that's what white roofing paint is for. Every six to ten years, you put down a new coat. Ain't no thang.
posted by shetterly at 2:26 PM on September 24, 2008


But somehow I just can't get over the feeling of failure that this invokes. It's like a shanty town, but the buildings are all the same size. It's 2008, is this the best we can do?

Hey, I'd move into one voluntarily if the insulation issues could be solved and I could find a plot of land where city ordinances would permit one to live in a cargo container. It would save me 33% of my income and make saving up for a real house that much easier. You could do a lot worse. It's probably about as spacious as your average RV.

And on the insulation note-- why not build it partially underground? Surround it with dirt on three sides. The reflective roof would resist heat from the sun, and being somewhat underground gives it a similar dynamic to a natural cave. It also has the added benefit of being tornado-resistant.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 2:34 PM on September 24, 2008


In a past life I was a carpenter. I built plenty of houses but mostly I worked commercial construction (I built lots of grocery stores in Houston, some high rises, banks, whatever, you name it, etc and etc), which is done with metal studs, everything is either screwed together (mostly) or welded (overkill).

It would be a piece of cake to build exterior walls on these dudes, six inches out to allow room for insulation, the wall on one side rising a couple inches higher than the other, to set up the drainage for rain snow etc. A metal frame roof also. Insulate the whole thing, cover it with whatever you want (cheapest which would probably be corrugated tin, which can look pretty goddamn cool if done right). Blow a few windows into it for ventilation and light.

This is not a big deal. Truly. Get a couple of metal carpenters together, some screw guns, some tin snips, a loud tape player with trashy metal playing on it, they could do five or ten a day and no, I am not kidding -- this is not rocket science. Once you've done two of them you can do them in your sleep.

This really is a good idea, and not just for poor people in Mexico but for anyone who doesn't mind stepping outside the box (har.) They are cheap, they are fireproof, waterproof, bugproof, damn near bombproof, they can be moved from here to there very easily, two of set fifteen feet apart with a dog run in between would be fun, you could sit in the shade, whittling, and scratch yourself...
posted by dancestoblue at 2:41 PM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


On review -- Ziggy Zaga's idea of setting them into a berm is great, natural insulation, though you'd have to put windows all along the 'open' side, for light, and cross ventilation wouldn't be as good. And you could still put a roof and walls on whatever is not set into the ground, for insulation capacity.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:46 PM on September 24, 2008


If this had been around a little earlier, it could have helped Dexter and Biney to turn a slaughterhouse into a slaughterhome.
posted by adipocere at 3:17 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


An architect here in Chile is building actual houses for USD$7500, so I don't really think this has a very good ROI.
posted by signal at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2008


Signal, good link. But as far as housing ideas go, every approach has tradeoffs--concrete and cinderblock take their own ecological toll. I agree container homes aren't right everywhere for everyone, but the containers exist, so it's better to use them for cheap homes now while we explore other possibilities.
posted by shetterly at 3:53 PM on September 24, 2008


I've been looking at these things for a long time, and I often thought that, while I couldn't live in one of the 20'x8' units, if you put two side-by-side with doors at the front and back cut into the side to join the two units, you'd have a 360 sq.ft. place with space between the units where one could run electrical and plumbing. If you're a fair claustrophile like me, that's more than enough space, along with all of the benefits mentioned above by dancestoblue.
posted by eclectist at 4:08 PM on September 24, 2008


I see your point, shetterly, but the main aim of housing projects is to give people houses, not find some way to dispose of trash. This proposal just doesn't seem very cost efficient, in terms of the final result.
posted by signal at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2008


Awesome. Now we can have trailer parks on the coasts.
posted by clearly at 4:37 PM on September 24, 2008


I find this desperate and ironic. Of all things, shipping containers... next it really will be sardine cans.

And how about the acoustics?
posted by duskyita at 6:48 PM on September 24, 2008


So we can buy a containerful of crappe from China, then have them loan us back the money so we can mortgage the container?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:17 PM on September 24, 2008


Slap*Happy writes "Steel makes for a splendid heat conductor. You'd need eight inches to a foot of insulation and then sheetrock on top to make it livable in cold climes, and then you're living in a hallway, not a house."

Why would you need more insulation than a regular house (IE:5.5 inches of fibreglass) as long as you keep all the steel on the outside to prevent thermal bridging? Even better spray on polyisocyanate insulation is R7 per inch. A conventional 2X6 wood stud, fibreglass insulation, gyproc/OSB/Vinyl siding wall has a nominal rating of R19. That's the standard wall in new construction across Canada, my understanding is at least some of the US uses a 2x4 wall with a nominal rating of R11. 2 3/4 inches of polyisocyanate plus a 1/4 of gyproc will have an actual R20 rating. And there would be no chance for all to common mistakes and sloppiness in detailing during construction to reduce that rating (poor air and vapour barriers can reduce a fibreglass insulated stud wall's R value by up to 50%). However it'd be better than that in practise as the container's wall are corrugated so when peaks are insulated to 2.75 valleys have 5+ inches. Someone good with calculus could figure out the ideal peak & valley coverage to obtain an average R20 rating.

As far as the roof goes, and I speak from direct experience here with several containers (both 20s and 40s) used for storage, unless you have a snow load to worry about the water will, eventually, run off. And as long as you aren't foolish enough to have penetrations on the roof it won't get inside. Roll on a coat of white rubber roof and the steel will be protected from rusting while reflecting much of the solar energy hitting the roof. It is an excellent solution.

If you do have a heavy snow load then yes you'll need to build a peaked roof to shed the snow. But heavy in this case is several feet of accumulated depth.
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 PM on September 24, 2008


As far as the roof goes, and I speak from direct experience here with several containers (both 20s and 40s) used for storage, unless you have a snow load to worry about the water will, eventually, run off. And as long as you aren't foolish enough to have penetrations on the roof it won't get inside. Roll on a coat of white rubber roof and the steel will be protected from rusting while reflecting much of the solar energy hitting the roof. It is an excellent solution.

Right, but you'll still need to insulate the roof--dancestoblue's scenario seems like it would be more useful for someone like me. But for a quick solution or an alternative to a poorly built shack, I guess a container would work pretty well.

If I were to actually do something like this, I'd build out for insulation on the inside, because I'd rather have gyp board to hang up pictures and stuff there, and I'd rather see the actual container from the outside instead of covering it up with siding. dancestoblue's plan works even then, because you could cut off the lid of the container and reinstall it at a slope, mounted on top of your furred interior walls. Tilt it high enough and you could get a ribbon clerestory window between the container wall and the roof.
posted by LionIndex at 9:59 PM on September 24, 2008


luxury
posted by blue_beetle at 10:47 PM on September 24, 2008


My gut feeling is that a shipping container can withstand any snow load imaginable. Those things are stout. Piling up earth around it, as some of you suggested, would improve insulation with low cost.
posted by Harald74 at 1:20 AM on September 25, 2008


I think that, in Juarez, you'd want to collect any rain water you are fortunate enough to have falling on your house. They do this in South Africa. I wonder too whether there is any economic benefit to placing some form of solar collection on top. This would also keep some heat out.
posted by Goofyy at 4:07 AM on September 25, 2008


They are pretty cheap on Ebay, £500-£1000 for a used Shipping container. might be aq bit hard to transport to my backyard though?
posted by mary8nne at 7:28 AM on September 25, 2008


The Dutch seem to have sorted out a lot of the problems with their version of student housing though i think it would be much easier in a cooler cimate to keep the containers warm rather than vice versa in a hot climate. You have to admit it's a pretty impressive effort by any standards.
posted by rafterman at 10:26 AM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rafterman, great link! If I could edit my post, I would add it.
posted by shetterly at 1:17 PM on September 25, 2008


Shipping Containers Designed to Stay

architecture and hygiene
posted by mlis at 10:28 AM on September 27, 2008


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