Shipping containers used to construct prefabricated homes in Costa Rica

INNOVATIVE RECYCLING by building a home from a shipping container. 

1. The construction of homes using shipping containers eliminates a waste problem
2. The shipping container home provides affordable housing
3. The shipping container home is a low cost and low impact form of construction.
4. The shipping container home construction uses minimal amount of energy

Shipping Container Costa Rica
5. The shipping container home construction comes with additional Green features.
6. The shipping container can be configured for other uses as well.
7. The shipping container is transportable (can be taken where they are needed)

1. In the United States, the importation of goods and services is nearly 60% higher than exportation. This influx of imported goods creates what is known as a trade deficit. America is buying so much merchandise from other countries, primarily China, and selling so little back to them that shipping containers are an impending waste disposal problem and a potential environmental hazard.

Shipping containers are used to transport goods all over the world. It is estimated that 90 percent of the world’s trade goods are moved in shipping containers. One hundred million container loads crisscross the world’s oceans each year in over 5,000 container ships. There is a very big chance that a lot of the stuff you own or buy came to you in a shipping container. But these shipping containers create problems too. After they are used a few times, they become used shipping containers and nobody wants them. These containers currently have no real use since it is not cost effective to return empty containers to their point of origin. One estimate is $900 per container for the average return trip.

Since it’s cheaper to manufacture new shipping containers on the opposite side of the ocean than to transport the empty ones back, the shipping container industry continues to produce more of them each and every year. You might say that shipping containers are a renewable resource of sorts.

But unlike bamboo, or other sustainable resources, shipping containers do not grow on trees. They are not (yet) harmless in their effect on the environment. In fact, they are stacked, dozens of containers high, in port cities and areas around inland freight transit terminals. In some residential neighborhoods, these mountainous stacks of hundreds of thousands of empty shipping containers actually cast a shadow causing the sun to set an hour earlier than in the surrounding area! So, they are already impacting the lifestyle of some coastal residents.

Besides being an aesthetic nightmare, these shipping containers pose a serious waste disposal problem. Unless something is done, the environmental impact will only worsen. Twenty-one thousand containers hit American shores every day of the year, and tens of thousands reach the waterfronts of other countries, with many more at sea on any given day. This method of transporting goods is unlikely to change. As long as we are trading with Asia, there is going to be a glut of shipping containers. We can’t change this situation. What can change is how we look at it.

Rather than looking at these shipping containers as a waste disposal problem, we can choose to regard them as an abundance of potential building material. Shipping containers are readily available across the globe. So there is a bright spot in this darkening sky. Some architects and builders are beginning to take advantage of this surplus to recycle the containers. This then, is the first degree of reparation: to clean up the coastlines by recycling these used shipping containers. Recycling in this way will result in cleaner and healthier coastlines without creating another problem like huge areas of landfill.

Transition from waste disposal to housing

2. The Chinese say that every perceived problem holds opportunities.  And so it is with the current need for low cost and emergency housing. Not all solutions come by design. Some arrive disguised as problems. Some arrive by happenstance. And some arrive by boat!

One level at which this problem can be addressed is recycling. Just in general, it’s a good thing to recycle materials that otherwise have no further use for their intended purpose, and this holds true here. But to what use should we put 8,000 lbs of steel? An idea whose time seems to have arrived is the use of stockpiled shipping containers to build prefab homes. Why not take something just going to waste and difficult to dispose of and turn it into something useful? Making a building (which can last and last) out of what is essentially a huge piece of industrial waste takes recycling to a whole new level. Few ideas can compete with the pragmatic beauty of this one.

Prefab shipping container housing can represent a real solution to some social and ecological problems. Low cost housing built using a minimal amount of energy and a maximum of renewable resources is the second degree of reparation. One shipping container can form the basis for a small, low cost home.

For some people, it’s hard to imagine that a shipping container, a steel box that might have just brought a load of wheat across an ocean, can be transformed into a comfortable home. But that skepticism quickly fades once they tour a prefab shipping container home. They are actually quite spacious. Two generous bedrooms ( or a bedroom and an office ), a bathroom and a kitchen are an easy fit in just one container. which can be as large as 20-by-48-feet.

Take a country like Costa Rica, for example. The value of land has increased to a level where only foreigners can afford to own property and some Costa Ricans who were once property owners are being displaced or have become employees of the new landowners. The cost of conventional building materials has also risen prohibitively. Used shipping containers are a viable and worldwide option for many people in this position.
They can also be the answer to more affordable housing for families worldwide. Container homes can be a great solution for third world countries with housing problems.

One container can form the basis for a small, low cost home. Multiple containers can be used as building blocks to create larger and more permanent structures. The containers are manufactured to be stacked as much as nine high without compromising their structural integrity so second or third stories are no problem. And low income apartment buildings are beginning to emerge on the landscape.

3. A small carbon footprint

There are several reasons for recycling shipping containers into homes rather than something else. One of the most important reasons is the amount of energy required to repurpose them. David Cross, a business development director, explains that melting down an 8000 lb steel shipping container to make steel beams, for example, requires 8000 kW-hrs of energy. The process of recycling that entire 8000 lbs of steel into a shipping container home takes only 400 kW-hrs of electrical energy or about 5% of the energy needed to melt it.

Reusing shipping containers in this way saves not only electrical energy but also the expenditure of human energy (time and labor costs) and the fuel used to ship them back to their country of origin. And since they are built to factory specifications, a lot of guesswork is eliminated. This reduces construction time for building crews and wasted materials. The nature of shipping containers as building material also allows for the possibility of a number of energy-saving designs. So shipping container homes are energy efficient in many ways.

Besides saving energy in a variety of ways, it is much kinder to the earth to recycle rather using shipping containers as land landfill. Steel is not exactly compostable material. It is not magically going to turn into organic matter that will nourish plants. Why would we put our non-compostables into the earth that sustains us in so many ways? It seems illogical that we would dump reusable materials into landfills and let them sit there forever rather than recycle what we can.

Also, since the 1980s, scientists have repeatedly warned us that the world faces a landfill crisis. Former Vice President Al Gore, for example, asserted we are running out of ways to dispose of our waste in a manner that keeps it out of either sight or mind. Everything we make comes from natural resources. Sustainability is the only model that makes sense. Everything we manufacture should be easily re-tooled to be reusable . This is the proper role for technology. This is true harmony with the earth. This is the third degree of reparation.

The primary goal of building a green home is to reduce its environmental impact while also creating a healthy environment for its occupants. Architects and builders do this by emphasizing energy efficiency, reducing fresh water use, selecting materials that are free from harmful chemicals and sustainable, and by building in such a say that minimizes environmental disturbance.

Prefab design construction offers a number of unique opportunities to accomplish these goals. First, the control available in a factory environment allows the designer / builder to be very precise with material planning and use there is very little waste left over when compared to standard construction techniques. Second, hard-to-find green materials can be bought in bulk and used over many projects, minimizing delays and ensuring that no short cuts are taken due to unavailable materials. Third, this bulk purchasing and the delivery of a small number of completed modules to the home site dramatically reduce pollution from transportation to and from the site. And finally, the disturbance of the home construction site can be minimized because there is no need to stage and store large amounts of material onsite for extended periods. All construction takes place off site in a factory. A good prefab contractor might clear only the house footprint itself and enough room to deliver the completed modules. Building a prefab shipping container home is earth friendly.

They also nearly eliminate the use of trees to build a home.

4. container homes can easily be appointed with a wide range of additional green features.

Some of the green design elements Lee has incorporated include generous windows for day lighting.

The shipping container home also a range of other eco-friendly features, including Other energy-efficiency features are also built into the design.
Special paint to keep the interior cool

5. In addition to providing low cost housing with a small carbon footprint, container housing can provide the solution to some other problems as well. The confluence of short construction time, rapid installation and ease of delivery makes the reuse of shipping containers a perfect option for emergency housing during the management of a disaster.
Emergency shelters.

They can be configured for use as other than single-family homes. Shipping containers can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They can quickly provide temporary emergency housing following an earthquake or hurricane. Using shipping containers as a structural material allows for extremely rapid installation. A home can be built in as little as?

Even better, because of their exceptional strength and durability, shipping containers can be used to build houses in earthquake and hurricane prone areas BEFORE disasters occur.

Not only can used shipping containers be used as temporary shelter in disaster situations, they can be converted into workshops, warehouses and small-scale factories. They can be used as portable classrooms or even whole schools buildings. They can also be used to provide temporary secure spaces on construction sites and other locations on an “as is” basis.

And architects are working on many plans and building techniques to make shipping container housing attractive and functional. They do not have to be square and flat-roofed – some are finished off with trussed roofs and interior and exterior finishes make them look very much like conventional housing.

In fact, prefab shipping container architecture is constantly evolving. Imagine an architect let loose with a box full of Lego blocks. Like Lego blocks, shipping containers are stackable. Are you beginning to see the creative options with respect to architecture? These building blocks can be assembled in thousands of different ways. Shipping containers are in many ways an ideal building material. They are strong, durable, stackable, cuttable, movable, modular, plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Architects are acting like kids, configuring these huge Lego’s into innovative designs for college dorms, offices, artists loft space, shopping centers.

Shipping containers can be used to build houses, garages, shelters, offices and almost any type of building you can think of.

They line them up, pile them up, cantilever them, and add on decks, canopies, and achieve a final result that can appear ultra modern, traditional, or whimsical. Shipping-containers have sparked a new creativity among architects and builders. Shipping containers are the transformers of the architectural world.

Prefab homes

6. Transportable

Some shipping container homes are on wheels and can be easily moved to where they are needed. This is a real advantage in emergency situations.

But wheels provide more advantages than the obvious benefit of mobility. Because the shipping container homes are on wheels, no building permits are required in Costa Rica. Of course, the requisite permits vary from country to country.

But even without wheels, shipping containers can be transported quite easily. And rather than multiple trips to deliver building materials. the entire home is delivered in one trip! This reduces both the carbon footprint and costs to the consumer.