The durability of shipping containers is one of the reasons why they are taking the alternative housing industry by storm. Despite their structural strength, homeowners may want to know how long a shipping container can really last as a home.
How Long Do Shipping Container Homes Last?
Shipping container homes should last at least two decades. However, a quality container with proper modifications and maintenance will last significantly longer.
Rust is the biggest threat to the lifespan of a shipping container home (SCH). Rusting causes the metal to weaken and reduces the stability of the container. Here is a closer look at the lifespan and durability of shipping container homes.
Built to Withstand the Harshest Environments
Shipping containers are built to transport cargo in rough conditions. Metal shipping containers on a cargo ship may be exposed to severe wind, rain, and other elements that would easily destroy a wood crate.
Shipping container manufacturers follow specific ISO standards. The standards outline common dimensions and design elements, which ensures that all containers are built to deal with the same conditions, including severe weather.
Testing indicates that a shipping container can withstand wind speeds up to 180 mph without showing signs of structural weakness. For comparison, an EF-2 or EF-3 tornado with speeds between 111 mph and 165 mph can destroy a traditional wood home in a matter of seconds. While a tornado may still damage an SCH, it may not demolish the entire structure.
Shipping containers are also made from steel, which is a durable, fire-resistant material. Shipping container homes are less prone to damage from fires that start outside of the home, such as wildfires or fires from nearby structures.
Metal containers are also less likely to collapse during a fire. If a fire reaches or starts in the interior of the home, the steel frame of the container should maintain its structural integrity.
Shipping Containers Shield Against Pests
Woodcutter ants and termites can create significant damage to a wood home. Infestations can destroy the wood beams supporting the rest of the home on the foundation, decreasing its stability.
Pests are less of a problem with shipping container homes. Ants, termites, and other critters are not attracted to the metal sheets that line a shipping container. Raccoons, squirrels, and other mammals cannot dig their way through a crack in the wood.
Shipping Containers Protect Against Moisture
Shipping container homes with proper sealing are less likely to suffer from moisture problems compared to a standard home. Rain and water cannot penetrate the corrugated metal panels. However, without quality welding, leaks can appear at the seams.
As the metal exterior shields against water, mold, and mildew become less of a threat. With a standard home, leaks can penetrate the wall cavities and cause mold to spread through the insulation. The moisture may eventually cause water stains to appear on the drywall. These issues are less of a concern with a shipping container home.
Moisture can still reach the inside of a shipping container home but is less likely to cause significant damage or impact the structural integrity of the property.
Shipping Containers Are Highly Stable
Along with protecting against the elements and pests, shipping containers are very stable. They are made to be stacked and carry heavy loads. When converted into a home, shipping containers are likely to experience less stress compared to their intended use on cargo ships.
Traditional wood homes tend to creak as the foundation and wood frame settles. Metal shipping containers do not settle. Steel does not undergo the same level of expansion and contraction that wood experiences due to changes in temperature, which helps it maintain its structural integrity year after year.
What Impacts the Lifespan of a Shipping Container Home?
The design, construction, and maintenance of a shipping container home are the biggest factors in its longevity. If the home is poorly designed or constructed, it may not last long.
For example, many shipping container homes are made with multiple containers. If the containers are not merged with quality welds and additional reinforcements, the home may suffer from leaks or structural issues.
Not reinforcing windows and doors can also limit the stability of the container and the lifespan of the home. When cutting metal sections from the container, it becomes less secure. You need to weld steel bars or beams to keep the corrugated metal panels from warping.
Rust is also a potential problem with shipping container homes. Shipping containers are made from metal, which contains iron. Exposure to air and water causes iron to rust, which weakens the container.
Most shipping container homes are painted to protect against rust, as layers of paint prevent moisture from penetrating the metal. However, paint eventually wears and peels. A small chip may even allow enough moisture to reach the metal for rust to form.
Shipping container homes should be regularly inspected for signs of worn paint and rust. If you detect rust early, you may try to remove it by scraping it off with a metal brush. Follow up with sandpaper to remove scratch marks and then repaint.
If the rust is severe, you may need to replace the affected area. Cut the rusted steel from the container and patch it with another sheet of metal.
You also need to consider the condition of the shipping containers when they arrive at your lot, as most container homes are built using containers that are 10 to 15 years old. The lifespan of the home may be reduced if some of the containers already show signs of rust.
Shipping container homes can last two decades or longer depending on the quality of the construction and ongoing maintenance. However, they can cost about half as much per square foot compared to traditional wood homes.
Keep in mind that the steel rails and end frames that support the container may last 100 to 150 years. After the original containers start to show signs of wear and tear, you may be able to replace the corrugated sides as needed to extend the life of the home indefinitely.