Shipping containers for new homes

Britain is in the midst of a housing crisis, according to reports from both government and the private sector, and the crisis is not confined to the UK, by any means.  The UN estimates that by 2050 the population of our planet will have reached nine billion, and the challenges of feeding and housing that many people are daunting.  However, there is at least one bright spot on the housing horizon, and that is the innovative use of shipping containers for new homes.

The modern shipping container carries everything from chocolate to cars to and from just about every part of the world, and around 20 years ago the idea of converting them into viable workplaces and living structures came into play.  Urban Space Management (USM) in the UK has been in the forefront of the conversion trend, and projects such as sports centres, clinics and cinemas have been highly successful.

Now the impetus has moved on to private housing; statistics show that as of 2010 only around 4% of new homes were purchased by first-time, i.e. young adult, buyers.  The iffy job market combined with the dearth of affordable financing has meant that a large majority of young people leaving the nest are going to be renting rather than buying.

Enter the shipping container: compared to the cost of a conventional-build new home and the amount of environmental pollution produced in its construction, container-conversion is a hands-down winner. Turning a container into a cosy and attractive two-bedroom home requires only a fraction of the raw materials needed for a new build and produces an even smaller fraction of the greenhouse emissions during its construction.

USM completed its first residential project in 2001, in the Docklands area of London.  ‘Container City’ took only about five months to complete the original three stories of work studios, and they were so popular that a fourth story was added almost immediately, with adaptable work and living spaces.

The first one worked so well that in 2002 USM added ‘Container City II’, connected to the original by walkways, painted in whimsical colours and designed with porthole windows as a salute to the former function of its basic components.  This one has five stories, a lift and full disabled access.

The UK has a stockpile of containers, cheap and easy to acquire, and with some of the new technology available, they can be amazingly adaptable, energy-efficient, comfortable and appealing homes.  They are coming into increasing use as vacation homes, small business venues, off-the-grid ‘adventure’ habitats and even luxury condos.

According to the UK company CSSC, the introduction of space-age technology applied to the conversion of shipping containers makes it possible to provide good-looking, low-cost home and office space whilst conserving energy and natural resources.  This avenue may indeed be a viable option for the housing needs of an increasingly crowded planet.