One of the unintended by-products of the trade imbalance with China is the growing inventory of used shipping containers available in the United States. As containers became more accessible, those in the front line of creativity–the architects, designers, and environmentally conscious individuals–saw an opportunity to create a new brand of prefabricated housing. This new brand isn’t made completely from traditional materials, but their core is constructed from shipping containers.

Shipping containers were originally repurposed for on-site storage on construction sites and similar areas. Shortly after they were initiated into this function, people started to realize that portable office space could be installed inside and easily moved from one jobsite to another. This eliminated the need to build a new structure and worries over damaging a less sturdy structure during a move. As the level of comfort grew, designers began to create affordable homes from shipping containers.

The first generation of shipping container homes was designed with goals similar to those of traditional modular housing. The main objective was to create affordable housing; style was secondary to the function. The features of early container homes were primarily utilitarian and focused on the inside of the container, while the outside remained unaffected. When viewed from the road or sidewalk, they appeared to be a shipping container with extra doors and windows.

The Modern House-Container

Today, shipping container homes are designed to be a complete package and appeal to a wide range of homeowners. They’re designed to be attractive and functional, and many are integrated with features that aren’t readily available on a standard frame house. For example, container homes typically have a flat or slightly angled rooftop. This slight angle lends itself well to having an integrated water collection/filtration system and solar panels. Other homes have built-in rooftop gardens that are watered primarily by natural precipitation.

The cost-savings benefits that were the hallmark of the original shipping container homes are still there. Container homes can largely be built off-site in a factory setting. This saves the travel and logistical costs of moving a crew and equipment to the site on a daily basis.

In terms of structural integrity, container homes are typically designed by architects that specialize in this type of housing. They have a firm understanding of the load-bearing points of a container, and how much stress can be managed through the frame and walls of the box. By original design, shipping containers are able to carry a great deal of weight through their frame. This can be seen in any container yard where fully loaded containers are stacked four or five on top of each other.

The amount of information available on container homes has grown exponentially over the last few years. If you’re interested in learning more about shipping container housing, there is a growing number of books published by authors, architects, and designers readily available on A quick search on Google will provide you with hundreds of articles, ideas, and pictures of what the market has to offer. If you’re thinking about building a new home and want to live in a unique, environmentally sustainable house, a house made from shipping containers could be a good option to explore.

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