As the construction industry continues to evolve and adapt to innovations like green buildings, the push for more sustainable materials and the efforts to reduce waste, there is one trend that is pushing the limits of design — cargotecture. Steel shipping containers have been a key component of global trade for the past 50 years, and now these steel boxes that are 8 feet wide by 8-and-a-half feet high — and either 20 or 40 feet long — are becoming a recycled building material that you can use to build your own home.
There are millions of shipping containers all over the world just sitting in various ports, as returning empty containers to their original location is extremely costly. But now, these shipping containers are being used to build everything from low-cost housing to fabulous vacation homes instead of being scrapped.
However, could cargotecture be too good to be true when it comes to building a home? Here are the pros and cons of using shipping containers for your next construction project.
The shape of shipping containers makes them ideal for repurposing into buildings. Compared to building a similar structure with brick and mortar, on average, a cargotecture can be 30 percent cheaper. However, the savings will depend on the location and what type of home you are building.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a cargotecture home won’t be the same as what you are used to in a traditionally-built home— if cost is a top priority. The look and function will be different, and you will have to make compromises. You can upgrade to get the features you want with a little more money.
Ultimately, you can definitely cut costs when using cargotecture.
Since steel containers are designed to carry tons of merchandise across rough ocean tides, they are “virtually indestructible.” Earthquakes and hurricanes are no match for cargotecture, which make containers an excellent choice for building a home in areas prone to natural disasters.
A traditional housing structure can take months to build, but with cargotecture, all you need is about two to three weeks since they are basically prefabricated. Not to mention, modifications can be made quickly off-site. Or, if you are a hardcore DIYer, you can build a home out of a shipping container much easier than you could with lumber, a hammer and nails.
You can also customize a layout by stacking the containers for multiple floors and splicing them together for a larger space.
However, there is a lot of modification required when you use cargotecture. Depending on the design, you may need to add steel reinforcement. Heating and cooling can also be a major issue, so you definitely need to have a temperature control strategy in mind.
When recycled shipping containers are used in cargotecture, it can be extremely eco-friendly. Repurposing the containers instead of scrapping and melting them can save a lot of energy and carbon emissions while preventing the use of traditional materials.
Good luck breaking into a cargotecture structure. Unless thieves have some dynamite or a blow torch, they are not getting inside. This makes cargotecture a perfect choice for building in rural and remote areas.
The green myth
The downside with cargotecture is that sometimes it’s not as green as you would believe. Some people are using brand new containers instead of recycling old ones, and this completely defeats the purpose of cargotecture.
And, to make a container habitable, there is a lot of energy required because of the modifications like sandblasting and cutting openings. Plus, the amount of fossil fuels needed to move the building makes cargotecture’s ecological footprint larger than you might think.
Obviously, when shipping containers are made, human habitation was not a factor in their design or construction. Many shipping containers have lead-based paints on the walls and chemicals like arsenic in the floors. You must deal with these issues before moving into a cargotecture home.
We mentioned earlier that modifications need to be made when you use cargotecture, and one of the biggest concerns is insulation and heat control. Large steel boxes are really good at absorbing and transmitting heat and cold. This ultimately means controlling the temperature inside your cargotecture home can be a challenge. You don’t want to be living inside an oven or a freezer, right?
With cargotecture still being relatively new, it has caused some issues with local building codes. When you build small structures and don’t use traditional building materials, you should always check to see if they meet local regulations.
Images via Julius Taminiau Architects, Mattelkan Architect, Whitaker Studio