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9 things you should know before building a container home

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
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One of the more memorable architectural evolutions in recent years, not to mention in terms of sustainable design, has been the re-use of shipping container to become born-again structures, whether for houses, coffee shops, guest bedrooms, play pen for kiddies, etc. Due to their convenient sizes and simplicity, shipping containers are on just about every second homebuilder’s mind these days. 

But nothing is ever so straightforward as stacking two blocks on top of each other and calling it a home, and container homes are no exception. Let’s have a look at a few facts you need to know first…

1. Insulation is important

Energy efficient: modern Houses by A4AC Architects
A4AC Architects

Energy efficient

A4AC Architects

Would you just walk into a stainless steel box and start living there? Precisely. Insulation is essential, as well as high-quality glazing solutions to ensure that a comfortable living temperature is maintained inside your container home.

2. One container does not equal another

Shipping containers are not all built the same. You have high cube, regular and refrigerated to name but a few types of containers. Do your research on each variety and speak to the relevant manufacturers about the pros and cons.

3. Research your local planning laws/building regulations

Every country has its own sets of rules and standards when it comes to building, which means a container house in South Africa differs from one in Europe. Sure, the container might be a generic product, but climate, fire regulations etc. are not the same.

4. Stick to your design

Container house: modern Houses by A4AC Architects
A4AC Architects

Container house

A4AC Architects

Why does it sometimes take so long to build a house the traditional way? Because people keep changing their minds! 

It’s incredibly expensive and time consuming to replace that shipping container’s wall once you’ve decided it needs to be cut out. Make sure you do as much research as possible and ideally, visit several container homes before you commit to your design.

5. Don’t cut too much

Whenever you cut steel out of your containers, it costs both time and money. Not only do you have to pay someone to remove steel from your containers, you will likely also need to pay for the opening to be reinforced with a steel beam. 

Thus, save a lot of money by not removing large sections of the container.

6. Check out the container you are buying

Pop Up retreat - Shipping Container living: industrial Garden by Edge Design Studio Architects
Edge Design Studio Architects

Pop Up retreat—Shipping Container living

Edge Design Studio Architects

This isn’t a shirt you’re buying – don’t just order that shipping container because it looked good in a photo on the company’s website. You never know when “good condition” actually means “horribly neglected”.

7. You can spend a little extra on a one-trip container

A one-trip container (which means a shipping container that has only made one round in its lifetime) is practically brand new. And it doesn’t cost that much more than an older one.

8. Understand its structure

House Nel: modern Houses by Inizio homes
Inizio homes

House Nel

Inizio homes

Research a container’s structural integrity to know what you’re getting yourself into. For example, the two long walls are both load-bearing and bracing, which means if you were to cut a hole in one, it needs to be compensated.

9. Think about nature

minimalistic Houses by Ferraro Habitat
Ferraro Habitat

Loft-Container 20'

Ferraro Habitat

Sure, you might dream about placing your new container home on a little hill overlooking the sea, but don’t forget to factor in the elements, like wind. That container’s made of metal, which means a large gust of wind is going to make noise – a lot! 

As they say: location, location, location! 

Check out The Cape Town container home.

What are your thoughts on using shipping containers for homes?
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