[FoRK] Durable, cheap housing

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sat Sep 19 23:11:54 PDT 2009

We've talked about this before.  Some points:

These could be a great basis for hurricane-proof housing.
Whatever official ordered those toxic, substandard, ridiculous housing 
units for Katrina victims missed a great opportunity to spec emergency 
housing built from quickly converted shipping containers.  (Making kits 
for that seems like a good business.   Perhaps a kit that could be used 
either for a lightweight plywood house or to convert a shipping 
container with the right holes.)

Recycled homes, one box at a time

 CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- Magoline Hazelton is used to people 
driving by her home just to take a look. She's also known as the "house 
lady" by her fellow residents in North Charleston, South Carolina.
Four shipping containers were used to make this 1,280 square foot house 
in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Four shipping containers were used to make this 1,280 square foot house 
in North Charleston, South Carolina.
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 From the outside, Hazelton's home doesn't seem much different from the 
rest of the neighborhood. But there's one big difference. Her house is 
made from cargo shipping containers.

Using containers to build homes has increasingly become a trend in the 
past several years because it can be cheaper and faster than using 
traditional construction methods. There are also plenty of containers at 
most major ports.

About 18 million containers are used worldwide to transport a variety of 
everyday products, such as cars, toys and food. Because the United 
States imports more than it exports, many containers end up stacked at 
ports. Photo See one of the homes being built »

SG Blocks, a company whose name stands for safe and green blocks, has 
made a business from the container overflow.
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Co-founder David Cross previously worked as a merchant marine and spent 
a lot of time at sea, dealing with shipping containers.

"As you're looking down the deck of the vessel, you see hundreds to 
thousands of containers perfectly configured," Cross said. "They were 
stacked nine high below deck, five or six high on deck, and I just kept 
seeing hotel after hotel on the deck of our ship." Video Watch how 
residents like living in the homes »

Cross also saw value in the strength of the material.

"The containers are designed for hostile dynamic life at sea ... capable 
of carrying 60,000 pounds. It just made imminent sense, that with minor 
modification, it could become a multi-family living system."

In 2003, Cross partnered with engineer Steve Armstrong to help bring the 
idea to fruition. A year later, Hazelton's house was built in South 

According to Cross, modifying containers into homes uses significantly 
less energy than melting them down.

"These containers weigh about 9,000 pounds, and it takes about 9,000 
kilowatt hours of energy to melt down 9,000 pounds of steel," Cross 
said. "We modify that existing piece of steel with approximately 400 
kilowatt hours of energy input. [That's a] 95 percent energy footprint 

The energy saved by transforming a single container into a home, rather 
than melting it down, can power a standard 70-watt lightbulb for up to 
15 years.

The time it takes to assemble a container home can vary, according to 
Cross. Hazelton's home took 10 weeks to build. Generally, SG Blocks has 
found that recycled homes cut construction time in half.

"Typical homes can take four to eight months [to build]," Cross said. 
"For container homes, it's usually two to four months."

According to Armstrong, who is president of SG Blocks, the cost of 
building a single family container home is comparable to a traditional home.

"But you get a steel home instead of a wood home," he said. "So, it's 
more durable and has a lower carbon footprint. It's also water resistant 
and termite resistant."

The construction becomes cheaper as you get into multi-family homes. 
According to Armstrong, multi-family mid-rise units cost 10 to 15 
percent less than typical "stick frame" homes.

"That's a lot to do with speed and ease of construction," he said.

Companies around the world are using shipping containers as building 
materials to create offices, army barracks, dorms and even designer homes.

"[We] can make these look like anything you want. [We] can put a pretty 
dress on any skeleton," Armstrong said. "So, if you want it 
minimalistic, so you can see the container walls, we can do that. If you 
want stucco or brick or siding, [we] can do that as well."

While each container has its own roof, when multiple containers are put 
together side by side, there are gaps between the boxes. Therefore, a 
traditional roof is put on top of the entire home, providing additional 
safety in inclement weather.

"When the boxes are joined together, the gaps are sealed, so even if you 
lose your roof above, you'd have some protection," said Armstrong.

The second roof also provides another benefit. Hazelton finds she can't 
even hear the rain hitting her home when it's pouring outside.

Her house has been almost maintenance free since she moved in.

"The only thing I've done here is exchanged the hot water heater. 
Nothing else I've had to do in the last five years ... so far, it's 
pretty good."


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