When people talk about shipping container conversions, it is easy and incredibly fun to explore some of the truly amazing and imaginative ways in which a standardised, utilitarian storage solution is converted and personalised.

Shipping container arcades, swimming pools, restaurants, street food promenades, art galleries and even immersive theatres are sensational triumphs of ambition and creativity but could shipping containers help to solve a more mundane and much bigger problem.

With average house prices over nine times the average annual wage, there is a clear, and evident affordable housing crisis, where there are not enough homes available and the ones that are on the market are so expensive that they are profoundly out of reach for the average buyer.

Even with a relative decline in the housing market, the prices are not falling far enough, fast enough for many people to have an affordable place to live to call their own.

Could salvation come from an unlikely source?

Embracing A Modular Future?

Shipping containers are inherently very sturdy, very practical, are built to be stacked together and can be very easily modified to add extra comfort, practicality and features.

Whilst it is very possible to build a complete micro-home or hotel with a single TEU or FEU container, and indeed there are some amazing examples of maximising every inch of a space, this is not necessary for every shipping container home.

They can have panels added and removed to add width without reducing stability, they can be stacked to provide multiple floors and there are plenty of different interior design styles that suit the industrial aesthetic typical for corrugated containers.

What makes them ideal for affordable housing, however, is their inherent prefabrication and modularity, which means that the vast majority of construction and assembly work can be undertaken in a factory before the semi-finished container is taken to the building site.

This means that, unlike conventional construction which requires a lot of mixing materials on the site itself, most of the work can be done efficiently in a factory, before it is moved into place and any final adjustments and touches are undertaken.

This is similar in approach to other prefabrication techniques such as modular homes, timber frame construction or kit houses, but is even easier, faster and thus cheaper.

Whilst a timber frame kit home still needs to be assembled in a process that can take a few days (albeit still far faster than concrete, brick and mortar), a shipping container home could be set up in less than a day, depending on the transportation time.

This approach has already been used to set up temporary accommodation to help people avoid homelessness and sleeping rough, and it would not take too much work to expand this to permanent arrangements and homes available for less than the current price.

There are some aspects of housing issues that shipping containers cannot fix, it must be said. A lot of the cost of a home is in the value of land, and irrespective of building materials, this will still be a significant part of a home’s cost.

With that said, shipping containers are already playing their part, and due to their construction materials are far more ecologically sound than concrete or brickwork.

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