In the United States, the need for housing remains fairly high. According to an article in Forbes, 2.02 million homes were listed for sale by the end of October 2016. That might sound like a high number, but it will only take care of 30 percent of the current demand. A more balanced economy would offer closer to 6 to 7 months’ supply to satisfy the urgency of the market.
In the United Kingdom, The Guardian reported that the housing crisis is even more critical. Currently, 1.2 million people are enrolled on housing waiting lists while more than 6 million face tenure insecurity and lack the ability to ever buy their own home.
There are multiple statistics that all support the same problem—the world is in a major housing shortage crisis. Lawmakers and companies worldwide are looking for ways to combat this issue, and finding new, inexpensive ways to build houses quickly would be a powerful way to rebalance the market.
One innovative solution to the housing crisis is the construction of container cities. It may sound futuristic, but the idea isn’t too farfetched. Container homes started gaining popularity in the early 2000’s and since then, more and more people have jumped on the container home bandwagon. In cities all over the world, architects are looking for new ways to use containers to build apartment buildings, offices, and even container skyscrapers. Ranging in length from 20 to 30 feet, shipping containers are typically only used for shipping purposes for 10 to 15 years, but they can last much longer. They are flood - and fire - proof, making them great home-building material.
There have been many examples of how a container city could be a real solution to the housing crisis. The Wenckehof, a student village in Amsterdam made up of 1,000 recycled shipping containers, was originally built as a temporary housing experiment. Though it proved so popular with students it was given permanent status by the Amsterdam authorities in 2011. In Berlin, repurposed shipping containers have been used for student accommodation and to house asylum seekers. London has also seen a rise in container structures, like the famous Riverside Building. Completed in just eight days using 73 shipping containers, each office has double glazed windows and an external balcony.
Container homes aren’t just limited to offices, apartment buildings or individual homes. Starbucks has built some of their drive-thru stores out of shipping containers. Using end-of-life-cycle shipping containers provided the company with a way to create locally relevant and sustainability designed stores. Since the store is assembled offsite, delivering and installing the structure takes less time than traditional stores and, at less than 1,000 square feet, the design provides the company an opportunity to expand into sites that were previously too small to sustain one of its more traditional stores.
Benefits of building dwellings, apartments and offices with containers
There are plenty of examples of how container homes, offices, and apartment spaces can work but what sets them apart from a home built out of traditional materials?
Benefit #1 - Good value for money.
Container homes, offices and apartments represent extremely good value for money and are much more affordable than traditional brick and motor homes. There are many examples of container homes that cost less than $50,000 to build and all of these homes are functional, stylish, and energy efficient.
Benefit #2 - Sustainable housing option.
The effects of climate change continue to be seen throughout the world. Scientists predict climate change will continue and as such, a growing number of people are becoming more environmentally conscious. Container homes offer homeowners an eco-friendly option. They can be built with recycled shipping containers and can be constructed to run on solar power and other types of green energy.
Another green benefit is every time a shipping container is recycled and upcycled, we are repurposing around 3,500KG of steel. Add this to the efforts companies are making with eco-friendly packaging and renewable energy, and you can see that actions are being taken to combat climate change.
Benefit #3 - Quicker to build.
Container structures can be built extremely fast. The container itself provides most of the structure, allowing builders to work quickly. As mentioned previously, the Riverside Building was constructed in just eight days.
The supply is there. It is estimated that there are 24 million empty shipping containers in the world that will not be used for cargo again. They containers are still in good condition, they just can’t be used for shipment. This provides an excellent base for building container cities.
Benefit #4 - Unique and modern design.
Container homes and structures can be incredibly beautiful. Designers and architects all around the world have built unique and aesthetically pleasing building and structures. The possibilities are endless with what you can do with the container space.
Are there any downsides to container structures?
Like most products and ideas, there are 'pros' and 'cons'. Container structures are no different. Here's some factors that need to be considered:
Downside #1 - It can be expensive.
It can be costly to insulate the structure and install heating and cooling systems, though builders are working on finding new solutions to this problem by being resourceful, creative and using their negotiating ability to keep building expenses low.
Downside #2 - Lack of experience building with containers.
Another downside is the lack of contractors with container building experience. The container building market is still small, so there would need to be an increase in the amount of trained professionals able to handle the container building process.
Downside #3 - Restrictive council and municipality regulations.
Building permits are the bane of any builder's existence, but when it comes to obtaining them for container homes, it can be even more frustrating as our local governments are not knowledgeable or equipped (yet) to deal with these structures. Each city has its own set of building regulations, and it will be important for legislatures and builders to work together to construct structures that are safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing.
Overall, shipping containers can provide an innovative and economical solution to the housing shortage the world is currently facing. They can be built quickly, at low cost, and are environmentally friendly.