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Turn A Shipping Container Into A Perfect Eco House

Posted by Ron Wolf, Guest Columnist

Feb 22, 2018 5:52:05 PM

Shipping containers serving as homes are both environmentally friendly and affordable, which are the main reasons why most people opt for them. Going green is gradually reaching a constantly growing number of people, while costs of living are forcing people to find cheaper solutions. But the question is - how exactly to turn a shipping container into a comfortable, eco-friendly house?

container houseFirst steps

Before you actually start building a house from a container, make sure you did the following:

  1. Consult an expert If you have ideas such as removing some walls or any other component, you should definitely consult an engineer. If you don't use proper reinforcement, any changes could make the structure unsafe in the end. Of course, smaller openings like doors and windows can't affect the safety, but bigger changes shouldn't be done before a professional gives the approval.
  2. Do the purchase Purchasing of the containers could have to be planned in advance, as sometimes they should be specially ordered from other countries. Used containers may be faster to acquire, but you can't really know what was inside of them. There are a lot of places online where you can find containers, and if you opt for used ones, it's better to buy them locally.

The Building Process

Now the physical work starts. Let's see how the process should look like:

  1. Build a foundation Whether it will be concrete or wooden supports will depend on the engineer's suggestions and your own preference. In case you opt for a poured concrete foundation, then also include embedding steel plates into it. If you want a cheap and easy DIY foundation, piers are the best option instead of walls.
  2. Place and connect the containers Containers are the easiest to place with a crane or, optionally, a rough terrain forklift, but you have to make sure it can handle the 5,000-pound weight of a container. The final adjustments can be easily done with a large crowbar. Containers are usually connected using bolts, specific clamps, or through welding. For DIYers, the quickest, but not always the safest, is to use large bolts and drilled metal plates.
  3. Add structural reinforcement There are many options here, but none of them can be made without an engineer, so listen to them when it comes to whether to use steel box beams or an alternative.
  4. The roof It's possible you won't need a roof but if you do, you can do a version of a pole shed with rafters and purlins covered with roofing made of galvanized metal.
  5. Create the openings  A plasma cutter or cutting torch is best for cutting out the openings. Whether you'll do the cutting on your own or hire a professional depends on your skills.
  6. Deal with the flooring The wooden floors of shipping containers are usually treated with pesticides, so you need to remove them or to encapsulate them. You can encapsulate the floor with epoxy, and add another physical barrier, namely subfloor.
  7. Electricity and insulation It's better to be done next, so it's best to run a wire around the steel and create a custom nail protector. Insulation can be on the inside or the outside, but you should first consider whether to use natural materials for insulation.

How to make the container more eco-friendly?

There are tons of ways you could help the environment, just take a look at several possibilities:

  • eco-friendly insulation - cotton insulation or GreenFiber Cocoon are natural substitutes for insulation of the container.
  • recycling - use recycled wine bottle corks for cork flooring. Also, a container house doesn’t have too much space, so choose the things you don’t really need in the house, recycle some of them or find some premium storage services to keep the rest of things outside the house.
  • install solar panels - it can save you up to $200 a year on the electricity bill, just make sure the roof is facing south and ask the supplier to test the roof first.
  • LED lights are energy-efficient, while access to natural light makes it possible to keep the lights off during the day.
  • natural ventilation - no need for air conditioning.
  • carpets on wooden floors save 4-6% on heating bills.
  • the fridge should be kept the shade.
  • seal up any ‘drafty’ areas on the container.
  • replace single glazed windows with double glazed window - it reduces the heating bill.

Final comment

Even though turning a shipping container into a home isn't easy, it doesn't mean that the hype isn't there. The careful planning beforehand is essential, but also sticking to it during the whole process and making sure every dollar is tracked. If you think you're up for the challenge - go for it!


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