Dad was a Master Builder of the old school and known for his quality workmanship. When his teams built a house, it was solid, square and built to last. Before I could follow in his footsteps, the credit squeeze of the 1960’s hit, he closed up shop and we went farming, but I have always been interested in developments in the building industry.
Traditional structures are built with frames of timber or steel, and with materials not as plentiful as they were, framing timbers are not the quality they used to be. I still have friends who are in the building game and one is a plasterboard fixer. These days one of his greatest frustrations is trying to hang plasterboard on frames that are not square and which have warping in the timbers. If the underlying structure is not square and flat, the finishing off cannot look as good as it should. He is often delayed in his work while the framers are called back to square up their work.
Consider also the time and material usage in building the frames, erecting and finishing them, all adding to the cost of he structure. Consider also the foundations of the traditional structure, the many stumps to stabilize the floor, or the concrete slab. Then there is the vermin proofing, and decay proofing to add to the costs.
Used shipping containers are built to carry payloads of 20 tons, across the oceans of the world, without distorting or corroding. They are built to precise measurements so that they can be stacked on top of each other, loaded onto trucks, trains and ships and precisely lock into place so they won’t move in transit. They are designed so that they can carry their 20-ton payload supported by only the four corners of the container, without distorting and I repeat, they can be sacked on top of each other. They are sealed to be weather proof and secure to prevent break-in and theft.
Of course they have been used for storage sheds and offices on building sites for some time now, because they can be easily relocated without damaging them, They are designed to be lifted and moved by cranes and forklifts. In places like Papua New Guinea they are used as corner stores because of the security they offer as burglar proof, robber proof structures. They are built to be secure.
Mining companies have seen the benefits of using shipping containers as housing for their workers at mine sites for some time as they can be fitted out at a workshop, transported to a mine site and quickly installed and inhabited.
Recently there has been some discussion that the use of shipping containers as housing might be a useful alternative for housing the poor and homeless, but the criticism has been that this will crate ghettos of substandard housing, creating more problems than would be solved.
I would suggest that the humble shipping container represents the greatest revolution in the building industry for some time. As other materials are becoming less available and the issues outlined above persist and increase, shipping containers, which have outlived their original purpose, litter dockyards around the world. They are ready made housing modules, awaiting discovery and use. They are economical building blocks, more solid and durable than traditional materials and methods, which can be erected faster and more accurately than our current styles of housing.
When set on solid foundations, they are cyclone/hurricane proof, would survive earthquakes and landslides better and can be used either above or below ground level.
Of course there are some limitations. Modules predominately come in 8-foot widths and either 10 or 40-foot lengths. Cutting them smaller would compromise their design strength. They already come at standard ceiling height for housing. However, sidewalls can be opened up for wider living areas, but designs need to be multiples of the standard dimensions of shipping containers. And of course, they look like shipping containers, unless of course, with a little imagination, you clad them as you would any other form of housing. And there will be some building authorities for whom these are outside their ability to perceive the benefits and approve.
Realistically the limitations are only our lack of imagination in utilizing these amazing building blocks for safer, environmentally friendlier, more economical shipping container housing. They have been approved as housing structures and additions in various authorities around the world and any change takes some effort to bring about.
For those who can catch the vision, here is an opportunity waiting to be explored further.
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