Okay, this post isn’t nearly as crazy as the title would indicate. Really, I promise.
We’re all a bunch of hippies here, right? I mean, I am writing on Sustainable Personal Finance, which I’m pretty sure is some sort of code that really means ‘crazy hippie love hour. Also, granola.’ We all love recycling and cloth diapers and all sorts of other crazy stuff, and we all drive the best hybrid vehicles.
No? Just me, huh?
No, I kid. There are some pretty neat ideas coming from people who are attempting to be innovative with the environment in mind. The new electric powered cars look downright cool. Solar power is just a few years away from being economically feasible. Companies everywhere are starting to make changes that will both improve the bottom line and reduce their environmental impact. We’ve begun to realize that we only have a finite amount of resources on this planet, so maybe we should be a little more careful in using them.
If you’re an enterprising recycler, it’s actually quite possible to never buy anything new again. I don’t care what you want, you can find a used item somewhere. If you want to take it even farther, you can only buy food that’s locally grown and produced, organically of course. So, why not take recycling a little farther, and incorporate it into your house? All you need to do is buy a shipping container or 3 and consider living in a shipping container.
After their life is over making trips across the ocean, shipping containers are often auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sometimes these high bidders are businesses looking for cheap storage options, or even to continue shipping with. Or, if you want to get really crazy, you can build a house with them.
Before you poo-poo the idea, check out some houses built from storage containers.
How cool are some of those houses? There are all sorts of reasons why old storage containers make an ideal base for a house. They’re strong, and are designed to both carry weight and be stacked on top of each other, meaning they’re ideal for holding both us and our stuff. They’re also designed to interlock, meaning building more interesting shapes becomes simple.
Logistics of Living in a Shipping Container
Because auctions are happening all the time, getting your hands on a few is easy. Arranging transport to wherever is a cinch too, since these things end up on trains and on the back of trucks all the time. A container can often be purchased for just a little over $1000, and can be transported to almost anywhere you’d want for another $1000. Living in a shipping container and buying a home in Canada made easy.
Sizes of containers vary from only 20 feet long to 53 feet long, with 48 foot and 53 foot containers being the most common, since that size is about as big as you’ll get on a truck or train. Typically containers are 8 feet wide as well as 9.5 feet high. Since nobody wants to live in only a 8 foot wide house, you’ll need several. Let’s assume, for simplicity, you buy 4 containers that are 40 feet long and 8 feet wide. Set up all side by side, you’d get a building that’s 40×32 feet, a perfectly livable 1280 square feet.
Next, you’ll have to renovate the inside, unless you’re into never inviting anyone over to your house again. You’re going to have to cut doors, windows, put in drywall, plumbing and heating, and that’s just getting started. If you’re handy enough to do this yourself then you’ve got yourself a fun summer project. The rest of us will have to hire professionals. Look to pay anywhere from $100-$200 per square foot, depending on how much you do yourself and the level of finishing. Our hypothetical house from above would set us back $192,000, including the costs of the containers and assuming $150 per square foot in construction costs.
Thanks to the large amount of consumer goods imported from China, there are all sorts of containers around. This idea is starting to gain traction. The are several American home builders who are starting to exclusively build using storage containers. There are small pockets of these types of homes all over Europe. With an estimated 300,000 empty shipping containers just sitting empty, I’m not sure why this idea isn’t much more popular.
Before you go buy a bunch of shipping containers for your next house, keep in mind a few warnings. Municipalities are generally not so friendly to strange new ideas of new building materials or strange looking houses. Your dream to own one of these homes may be squashed by an overzealous municipal planner who doesn’t like interesting new things. Maybe you should get some sort of approval before you buy the land and have 6 containers waiting there.
Living in a Shipping Container: Upgrades
Another thing is that the cost of these homes goes up significantly if you’re looking to put siding or stucco on the side of it, in an attempt to make it look more normal. Embrace the look of the container and you can save all sorts of cash. Paint should be fine for the outside of it- after all, it is made of steel. The same concept applies to the inside of the house, where you can get away with it.
Because steel is a really bad insulator, you’ll have to shell out the extra cost to insulate the crap out of the thing. You will want to consider an ecoEnergy retrofit to say the least. Also, it’s a lot more difficult to cut holes in steel than it is through drywall, meaning you’ll have to get a welder in to make your doors or windows. A crane will be needed during construction, and those things aren’t cheap. And, you’ll want to make sure no industrial waste was spilled inside your container, or else cleanup will set you back almost as much as the value of the thing.
Storage container houses are an interesting way to recycle. Look for them to become more and more popular. And if you ever move into one, I’m totally inviting myself to the housewarming party.