When you look up shipping container conversions, a plethora of pictures, articles and stories immediately flood your search engine. Mostly, the posts are about how shipping containers were turned into an office, single family resident, food stand, bar, swimming pool, artist studio, etc. (full list at the end of the blog). All the conversions are intriguing, but none as fascinating as turning the shipping containers into an apartment. The truth is, here in the US, there are only a handful of multifamily housing that have been built out of shipping containers.
Although, the shipping containers turned apartments are not popular in the states, there are quite a few places in the world where it is considered the norm like in Holland and South Africa. On a large-scale conversion, such as malls or market places, the Ukraine, Russia, and New Zealand have been known to use these containers as well. The point being, it’s proven successful.
The US has been considering it for decades: in 1987 Phillip C. Clark filed for a US patent described as the “…method for converting one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building at a building site and the product thereof…” (Wikipedia). Projects have come from it since then, just not on a multifamily scale. According to Christian Salvati of Marengo Structures, when it comes to shipping containers being turned into apartments “there were a lot of concepts and renderings, but very few things were actually being built.” This makes one wonder, why? The task of getting funding and permits approved for turning shipping containers into apartments is a hassle in the US.
Regardless of the challenges it’s being done in current day. In 2015, Christian Salvati’s six-unit apartment complex was the first of its kind in New Haven, Connecticut. In Phoenix Arizona, Architects, Brian Stark and Wesley James, brought to life an 8-unit apartment in September 2016. The first shipping container turned apartment in Columbus Ohio was completed in February 2017. Also in February 2017, a 16-unit homeless shelter opened their doors in Orange County, California. It was the state’s first multifamily housing made from shipping containers.
Even more fascinating is to learn about the shipping containers themselves. The shipping containers are of course, first used to transport goods overseas. The used shipping containers recycled for housing or other intent, are generally10-15 years old. It’s likely that they have been all around the world before purchase. The prices vary from $1200-$2400 each. Hiring the transportation companies to haul them out and place where desired can be costly ranging around $20,000.
Standard shipping containers are 20 or 40 feet long. They are typically 8 feet 6 inches high. The width of a container is 8 feet across. Although the size is long and narrow, they are designed to hold weight on its 4 points (aka corners). As long as these four points are not damaged or altered, it’s common that the containers are laid next to each other and opened on the interior to widen the space.
Shipping containers are made out of corten steel Christian Salvati explained: “corten steel acts like copper, if it gets wet, it oxidizes, which is a type of rust. It gives itself a patina, think of an old car, it rusts, you can flake it off and you can ultimately get through. When a container rusts, it just gives itself a shine and it won’t go anymore. It’s auto protecting itself.” The corten steel look serves various purposes. Stark and James purposely purchased all the same color containers for their apartment in Arizona and left them as is. Christian Salvati on the other hand used the same type of paint as the merchant ships, and made them his own. It’s top quality paint, and durable to last the conditions overseas. Probably no need for ever needing a future paint job.
In preparation for placing the containers together to form the apartments, it’s best to have everything pre-fabricated and each container labeled for the crew to know where it goes. It’s also expected that most of the money goes into installation on the containers. Once they are on-site, it’s easiest and most effective that the containers simply be secured together with the same fittings used on the container ship. It’s basically held together with bridge fittings. No welding is necessary to hold them in place.
The weight that the containers can hold is astonishing. According to ContainerContainer, The max gross weight of a standard 40-foot-long container is 67,200lbs. Brian Stark claimed that they support 275lbs per square foot. This leads one to wonder why they are not stacked higher? The truth is the fire marshal won’t allow it. There are no existing rules to go by for shipping containers, no tests have been run and no data published for their combustibles. Brian Stark had the idea to “clad or monocoat them with a fireproofing material on the outside so that you can stack the containers maybe 8-10 high and create an elevator core and cover them all”. The structure supports it, they stack them 8-10 high on the container ships. Why not?
Everything starts with an idea, it’s mind blowing how far those ideas go. The List below was provided by Wikipedia. It’s a full list of what shipping containers have been converted into. What comes to your mind?
- Affordable housing
- Press boxes
- Emergency hurricane shelters for thoroughbred horses
- Concession stands
- Fire training facility
- Military trainingfacility
- Emergency shelters
- School buildings
- Apartment and office buildings
- Artists’ studios
- Moveable exhibition spaces on rails
- Bank vaults
- Medical clinics
- Shopping malls
- Sleeping rooms
- Recording studios
- Abstract art
- Transportable factories
- Modular data centers(e.g. Sun Modular Datacenter, Portable Modular Data Center)
- Experimental labs
- Combatant temporary containment (ventilated)
- Starbucks stores (e.g. 6350 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660 USA)
- Intermodal sealed storage on ships, trucks, and trains
- House foundations on unstable seismic zones
- Elevator/stairwell shafts
- Block roads and keep protesters away, as photo journalized during the Pakistan Long March
- Construction trailers
- Mine site accommodations
- Exploration camp
- Aviation maintenance facilities for the United States Marine Corpswhen loaded onto the SS Wright (T-AVB-3) or the SS Curtiss (T-AVB-4)
- RV campers
- Food trucks
- Hydroponics farms
- Battery storage units