Why Are Shipping Containers a Green Building Solution?

by Caroline Littlewort
(South Africa)

Craftsmen at a container conversion company constructing fitted cupboards

Craftsmen at a container conversion company constructing fitted cupboards

I'm very interested in container homes, which I allude to on the eco-cities and micro-homes pages in my website, and today I was privileged to visit the production facility of Berman-Kalil in Cape Town, who convert containers on an industrial scale and ship them all over Africa.

They have lovely videos too. Berman-Kalil stood out for me in the excellence of their design: modern, minimal and elegant.

Going off Grid

Their craftsmen can fit out a micro-home that is off the grid, with solar panels, chemical or biological toilets and rain collection from the roof.

Why shipping container homes are the solution?

Firstly, in most ports the containers pile up, because they have a limited life span. Shipping companies are fined for abandoning old used containers, and many are traveling the seven seas, empty of cargo, from port to port. When they are no longer usable for shipping, they are still sturdy and easy to lock up, and have many uses on land, as store rooms, micro-retail outlets, classrooms and offices, mini hospitals and police stations, and also as homes.

Reducing Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Secondly, building materials account for 1/3 of global carbon emissions, and containers are recycled, reducing the carbon footprint of the new home, which is enormous if new bricks, tiles and cement are used, as they are all produced with firing processes.

Thirdly, countries with a housing crisis need quick, cheap and sometimes temporary solutions, to get roofs over heads. Very often housing shortage is accompanied by a lack of other kinds of functional spaces. Containers can serve as working space, enabling the reduction of overheads for new businesses, and the cost of provisions of clinics and schools for the state.

Then, containers can be arranged in a multitude of configurations and bring out the creativity of the cutting edge architect or innovative home owner.

Also, because of the basic unit of container architecture being consistent and standardized, it’s a form of modular building, and leads to the possibility of easily copying good configurations, making great architecture within everyone’s grasp.


Lastly, there are a few more points to be made about that idea of consistency.

For instance, a village feel can be created by modular building. I remember living in a caravan village in Germany, and it had a lovely feel about it. The units will give a whole settlement visual consistency and are more likely to be beautiful.

If you look around you, the most ugly parts of suburbia often get like that because there is such a mix of architectural styles and building materials. Just imagine a future with villages made up of shipping container homes.

I found that Brad from Berman-Kalil has an eco-village project in mind, using shipping containers. It will be in Robertson, a spiritual retreat, with permaculture and organic farming. What a perfect area to do that.

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