Shipping container homes have received a lot of attention in the past few years, thanks to the trend in tiny living and alternative housing. These unique homes are affordable, quick to build, and highly customizable.
So, are container homes sustainable? Container homes are built with recycled shipping containers, significantly limiting the need for construction materials. A container home requires fewer resources, making it a sustainable, eco-friendly form of housing.
Here is a closer look at why a container home is one of the most sustainable housing solutions.
What Is a Container Home?
The first shipping container homes appeared in the late 1980s. Thousands of these homes now exist across the globe. Each home is made from one or more used shipping containers. Shipping containers are made from steel and designed to protect cargo against harsh elements. The durability of a shipping container makes it suitable as a frame for a small home.
The containers are reinforced and modified to include windows and doors. They include all the amenities of a standard home, including a full bathroom, electricity, and bedrooms. But to answer ‘are container homes sustainable?’ we need to know more about these alternative housing options.
The use of recycled material is the main reason why shipping container homes are considered sustainable. Thousands of shipping containers are discarded each year. Container homes help keep more metal from getting added to landfills.
You also eliminate or reduce the need for certain building materials. The container acts as the frame for your new home, cutting down on the use of new wood or metal studs. Building a container home is also quicker compared to building a traditional home. It involves less work, which cuts down on labor. Fewer people need to drive to the building site, limiting carbon emissions from vehicles.
Five Ways to Make Your Container Home More Eco-Friendly
The construction of a container home is more sustainable compared to other types of new home construction. Yet, a container home may not offer the most eco-friendly living environment without a few considerations.
A steel container requires additional modifications to make it more livable and sustainable. Here are five ways to limit the carbon footprint of your new shipping container home.
1. Start with a Quality Shipping Container
The condition of the container used for your new home impacts its longevity and energy efficiency. An old container that has experienced additional wear and deterioration offers less thermal protection and may break down sooner.
Instead of recycling a container that is near the end of its life, look for containers that have only completed one or two trips. Containers that are slightly used may still get discarded despite offering the perfect frame for a container home.
Older containers are more likely to contain volatile chemicals that you need to remove or encapsulate. You may also need to complete more repairs or add extra metal sheeting to deal with the damage.
Slightly used containers should require less work, which makes them more sustainable.
2. Use Local Materials and Labor
Sourcing your building materials from local suppliers helps reduce the environmental impact of constructing a shipping container home. Using local materials keeps you from contributing to the supply chain that moves wood, brick, and other material across the country. You avoid contributing to greenhouse gases released from trucks traveling long distances.
Along with limiting your carbon footprint, using local materials may help cut costs. Deliveries cost less when you choose a local lumber yard or a nearby building supplier. You can also rely on local labor. Working with subcontractors in the immediate area further limits the contribution of carbon emissions from vehicles.
3. Choose the Right Type of Insulation
Container homes are made with steel containers. Unfortunately, steel is very efficient at conducting heat. As steel is not a good insulator, you often need extra insulation to properly heat or cool a container home in most regions.
Spray foam is often used in shipping container homes, as it can easily adhere to the metal container. However, some spray foam insulation products contain volatile chemicals that may lead to health issues. A more environmentally friendly option is to insulate with straw bales. Straw bales reuse leftover agricultural products while offering significant insulating value for your new home.
If you want to stick with traditional insulation solutions, consider using foam boards or rigid fibrous insulation. Both options provide better thermal protection compared to cheap rolls of blanket insulation.
4. Install Energy-Efficient Appliances
The efficiency of your shipping container home largely depends on the appliances that you install. From the furnace and water heater to your TV and computer, each appliance adds to the energy needs of your home.
If you want an eco-friendly shipping container home, install the most energy-efficient appliances. Avoid installing an air conditioner or furnace that significantly exceeds the needs of your small home. A larger unit does not increase the heating and cooling efficiency of an HVAC system.
Using solar panels may also limit your carbon footprint. Solar panel systems create and store electricity, helping to limit your energy consumption.
5. Consider Adding a Green Roof to a Container Home
Along with the walls, you need to ensure that the roof is properly insulated. One solution is the installation of a green roof. The steel container provides a suitable surface for setting up a green roof, which is also called a “living roof.”
A green roof includes a layer of live vegetation on top of a waterproof membrane and growing medium. The vegetation helps reduce rainwater runoff, as the plants need water to grow. Plants also absorb sunlight, which helps cool the shipping container home during the warmer months. You can conserve energy while keeping your home cool instead of blasting the air conditioner.
A green roof also shields the rest of the roof from the sun, rain, and wind. Along with increasing the energy efficiency of your container home, a green roof may extend the life of the container. If you install solar panels, a green roof may increase the efficiency of your solar panel system. The vegetation helps keep the roof cool, which allows the solar panels to operate at peak efficiency.
How Long Do Shipping Containers Last?
The typical shipping container home can last 25 years or longer. Most containers last 10 to 12 years at sea but can survive much longer when used as a home.
While 25 years is the average service life for a repurposed shipping container, your new home may last many additional decades with proper maintenance and care. Pay attention to signs of rust or water leaks and address any issues quickly to limit long-term damage.
Conclusion: Are Container Homes Sustainable?
Modern shipping container homes can offer a sustainable alternative to traditional housing. Recycling old containers is an environmentally friendly practice. You limit the use of new building materials, which reduces the impact of the construction project.
Yet, you need to choose the right design options to make the shipping container more sustainable as a home. To ensure that your shipping container home is eco-friendly, it needs adequate insulation and roofing. You should also start with a container that is in good condition to avoid replacing it in just a few years. With the right steps, you can limit your carbon footprint and enjoy life in a comfortable shipping container home.