Used shipping containers are easily the bulkiest, heaviest, and most perplexing apparati to manage when excess units of these 20-foot-long, metal crates start piling up. With an estimated number of 2 to 2.5 million manufactured every year for the shipping and port industry, not to mention around 120 million working containers, the issue of what to do with decommissioned or extra containers becomes a primary concern.

Fortunately, residential developers and homeowners are finding purposes for what otherwise would be environmental albatrosses. They are converting used shipping containers into contemporary, cost-efficient homes, rather than rendering them to the energy consumptive processes of scrapping or melting them down.

Environmentally Conscious Homeowners Choose Used Shipping Containers

A Practical Point of View

Shipping containers are mainly composed of either steel, aluminum, fiber-reinforced polymer, or a mix of these materials. There are different types of shipping containers, depending on the size and type of cargo. Because of their inherent bulk, excess shipping containers prove unwieldy to discard in junkyards or landfills.

For the most part, reducing the production of shipping containers poses consequences to the global trade market, which depends on expedition of product to keep the economy of goods flowing. Meanwhile, reprocessing or melting a used shipping container requires at least 8,000 kWh of energy—an awful lot of energy to spend on making a metal hulk useful to society once again.

Innovation and economic necessity merge to provide a more sensible approach: Reuse the shipping containers to convert them into economical dwellings without expending great amounts of energy, outside of transporting them to their ultimate destination.

Why Companies Need to Recycle Used Shipping Containers

Like every other commodity in the world, shipping containers are subject to an expiration date, 20 years to be exact. Though this period is indeed long, it is economically unfeasible to send containers back to their places of origin. A system of sending cargo in a new container proves more expedient economically and logistically. For this reason, thousands of empty cargo containers are left abandoned at most ports, not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well.

Again, under the dictates of economy, it makes more sense for shipping companies and other middlemen to utilize their considerable connections for selling these bulky products to those finding a good use for them. Because supply is high, and demand not yet too great, these containers are being sold at relatively reasonable prices.

Affordable Living

Affordable housing continues to challenge society, especially when it comes to the need to subsidize such developments from federal or state government. Such events as the 2009 mortgage crisis crop up over time to set back attempts to maintain affordable housing.

In the face of such challenges, a resource for modular housing—i.e., empty, used shipping containers—presents itself as a forward-thinking solution to eliminating wasted resources while providing a societal essential, low-income housing. Urban planners, architects, and engineers, meanwhile, benefit economically from a new industry related to their professions.

For container investors, the initial capital outlay for converting these units to a viable dwelling amounts to 10% less than if using conventional materials. After all, a shipping container is essentially pre-equipped with a frame—floors, ceilings, and walls. The builder therefore needs only to install windows, doors, and insulation at the very basic level.

Modification doesn’t require as much energy as reprocessing. In fact, the average amount of energy a builder might expend in transforming a shipping container into a suitable home is only 400 kWh—7,600 kWh less than any typical remanufacture. Since repurposing a shipping container does not entail use of extraneous energy or building materials, like cement and bricks, it is tagged as eco-friendly by most environmentally conscious organizations worldwide.

Though it might seem odd at first, living in a used shipping container is not as bad as you might imagine. With container homes’ growing popularity among young, urban dwellers, an investment in these innovative abodes becomes ever wiser as their novel application is not expected to fade anytime soon, according to the industry forecasts. Living in one will not only save you some money, but also save your planet from wasted energy usage.

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