There are around 17 million shipping containers in the world and only a third of them are in use. Empty unused containers are taking up space, because it is just cheaper to load and send new containers, rather than transport empty ones back to their origin port. So, why not use these boxes for housing?

People argue that building homes of these unused containers are environmentally friendlier than usual buildings. For each recycled shipping container they are reusing around 3,500kg worth of steel. If you think that melting these down and recasting the steel into something else is more environmentally friendly, you would be wrong. This would actually require an incredible amount of energy and it would cost a lot of money – this is why there are so many abandoned shipping containers in the world. However, most companies, which build these kinds of houses, only use brand new containers.

shipping boxContainer village in Amsterdam

From Berlin to London to Hong Kong, shipping container homes have been built as a cheap alternative to traditional houses. The reality shows us that the only way to make it cheap is to stack the boxes one on top of the other. The problem is that one container alone creates awkward living space because of the long narrow shape. Therefore often multiple boxes are needed to gain more space. Actually you can play with the structure, but it all comes at extra cost. So, container homes are only a cost – effective solution if you do not need much space. Hence shipping containers are unsuitable for large-scale projects.

Why are so many people around the world convinced that container boxes are the future of housing? Speed of installation, costs and the capacity to re-use units in new locations are the most obvious benefits. A student village in Amsterdam called Wenckehof, which is made up of 1000 recycled shipping containers was actually built as a temporary housing experiment, but then turned so popular that Amsterdam authorities gave it a permanent status. It offers a small low-cost housing solution in cities. Recently, shipping containers have been used to house asylum seekers. These containers might be the solution for the housing crisis in many cities around the world.

Container village in Amsterdam. Floor planContainer village in Amsterdam. Floor plan

Will the future bring us to build more shipping container houses? Biggest advantages are the cost saving aspect, the eco-friendliness and the speed. It is actually perfect for students and singles that do not need much space and search for low cost alternatives. Shipping container homes make sense for temporary or basic solution for living. It would also be a great housing solution where people are in need, such as developing countries and after natural catastrophes.