Post Publication Addition: Since writing this article, I’ve learned an awful lot about ISBU homes. I’ve even teamed up with an expert on container homes, and together we’ve written a book. If you’re interested in living in an amazing container home yourself, my partner, Alex Klein, and I have written an introductory book on how to do it. Alex has built over 100 ISBU homes around the world, and even consults with Congress on using these containers for housing. The book is called Introduction to Container Homes and Buildings. Want to check it out? Head over here for more information.
If you’re a regular reader of The Greenest Dollar, then you probably already know that I’m enthralled with the idea of living in a micro home. For the uninitiated, a micro home is pretty much the backlash against the McMansion movement of the past twenty years.
The trend now is in the opposite direction. Hallelujah! We’re going Small. Green. Efficient.
That’s micro home living.
So, it is with the utmost excitement that I share this idea with you. And, the idea is constructing a home using old steel shipping containers.
Now, before you throw your mouse at the screen in disgust because those steel shipping containers are just too ugly to even think about being used as a house, just take a look for a moment at what’s possible and then we’ll talk…
Pretty amazing, right? All of those images are from ContainerCity.com, which is the website for Urban Space Management, a group of builders in London who are building entire communities, schools, and farmer’s markets using old freight containers.
These container homes funky, green, amazingly affordable, and comfortable. If you want to see more images (all of which will knock your socks off) they have a really amazing portfolio of past projects on their website. Again, which you can find here.
There’s also this really amazing clip from Modern Marvels that you can watch. It’s all about Container City, how the builders did it, and how much it costs to live there (you’ll be amazed at how cheap it is).
Can You REALLY Live In A Shipping Container?
Well, I’m new to this myself. When I originally discovered micro home living, I stumbled across a few people who had transformed shipping containers into homes, but I was so enthralled with the modernist designs of the pre-fab mini homes that I gave the freight homes a blind eye.
I stumbled across container homes again over the weekend, and this time it was a Eureka! moment. I mean, the idea of living in an recycled shipping container is just brilliant. It’s still a mini home because they’re not that big, and they’re way, WAY cheaper than the weeHouse or miniHome designs I was looking at (which were going to set me back at least $150,000, not including the land. Ouch!)
How much are shipping containers?
Well, after digging around online this weekend, it seems as if the average is $1,500 to $3,000 each. And, that’s for shipping crates that are 40 ft long x 8 ft wide x 8 ft tall.
Important Addition: After this article posted, a fellow blogger/builder by the name of Ronin wrote in about his experiences building shipping container homes. He offered up some fascinating tips on pricing these out, which you can see in the comments below the article.
Another amazing thing about these shipping crates is that they’re made to stack on top of each other. If you watched the YouTube video about Container City then you know that every container is made exactly the same, which means they can easily be stacked. This leads to some funky, Lego-like structures that are fun and very interesting to look at.
So How Green Are Shipping Containers?
Shipping containers can be made as green as you want them to be.
Andrew and I are so enthralled with this idea that I think we’re going to go this route instead of buying a micro home. Our idea is to buy three containers, two of which we’ll combine and renovate into a living space, and one which we’ll leave separate for a home office/exercise space.
My goal is to incorporate wind and hydro power into our design so that we can be off-grid wherever we end up plopping our crates down. We’ve already come up with a really cool design (opening up the roof to allow tons of natural light in, as well as cutting plenty of oval windows like they did with the Container City project, and building a wrap-around deck).
Time for research mode.
Aren’t Shipping Containers Cold and Uncomfortable?
Well, obviously I’ve never been in one. But all the images I’ve seen thus far say the exact opposite. These freight containers are not dark, cold hovels to keep the rain off your head, and you won’t feel like a hobo if you live in one. Once you do some renovations, they can be incredibly inviting, warm spaces that let in far more light than my current home does.
People have cut away entire walls, opened up the roof, and stacked two or three or four willy-nilly to create living spaces that are amazingly inspiring.
You can also buy shipping containers that are already insulated, although I don’t know at this point how well they’re insulated.
And like all mini-homes, they’re also very cost-effective to live in. How much money do you think it takes to heat a 300 square foot living space? What about to cool one in the summer?
Answer: not a lot. Especially if you incorporate a small wood-burning stove.
This young couple (pic on right) in New Zealand transformed a small shipping container into a paradise house. Think they pay a lot of utilities?
More Shipping Container Resources
So, is your heart pumping with excitement like mine was this weekend? If so, awesome. Here’s a list of more resources you can check out to get you moving…
- RenaissanceRonin: Ronin’s blog is a must read if you want to learn more about living in a shipping container home. This post, here, would make a great start on his blog. And, he’s completely hilarious, so don’t miss it. Also, check out this post to help Ronin finish his shipping container home: “Interested In Shipping Containers? Then Help A Fellow Blogger”
- Prefab Modern– This is a wonderful book all about Prefab Modern housing. It’s got tons of shipping container homes in there, and jaw dropping photographs. After reading this book, you’ll be on fire to live in one of these small homes. Highly recommend.
- Treehugger.com: 12 Shipping Container House Ideas– Lots of nice design ideas and pictures for this article.
- Container City– I know I’ve posted this link three times by now, but just in case you haven’t clicked on it yet…
- FabPreFab.com’s Container Bay– This site has an almost inexhaustable list of shipping container projects all around the globe. The rest of their site is also highly useful if you’re interested in seeing more modern, pre-fab mini homes. Highly recommend it!
- TruckertoTrucker.com– If you’re wanting to buy your own shipping crates, this trucking site has a really comprehensive list.
- ContainersNow.com– Another site selling shipping containers. This one’s great because they list prices, which is helpful.
- AccessContainer.com– This site has a ton of different types of shipping containers, and even a model that’s specially cut out to become a home (which would save money from hiring someone to do that). If you click on “Container”, the precut containers are the last link down the page, where it says “45′ Container Home”.
- ZeroCabin.com– This site is amazing. Seriously. Go here now, and just scroll down. These shipping container homes will blow you away.
- Hive Modular– This architect was recommended by Ronin, and his shipping crate designs are completely fabulous. Check out it.
More Micro Home Resources
If you’re new to micro home living, then you might want to investigate these resources…
- Shameless Plug #1- “Why Live In A MicroHome?”– Posted here at TheGreenestDollar.com
- Shameless Plug #2- “Building A Strawbale Home”– Posted here at TheGreenestDollar.com
- Small House Society– The ultimate resources for small home/micro home living.
- Tiny House Village– This is a brand new organization that’s trying to link people interested in micro home living with other like-minded folks to create micro home villages. Definitely a worthy cause!
I’m sure I’ll be posting more articles on this topic. ISBU homes are definitely taking off, so stay tuned!