Shipping containers are built to carry huge loads and the refrigerated units are very efficient at climate control. So it’s unsurprising that when they’re retired from the sea, they’re being used as the building blocks for homes and offices.
“You can put 60,000 pounds in them and then stack them 8 high and then put them on a ship,” explains architect Karl Wanaselja. “They’re incredibly strong so they’re way stronger than a house ever needs to be so in earthquake country they’re a good building block”.
Given their strength they work well in earthquake country. In Berkeley, California Wanaselja and his business partner and wife Cate Leger created their home-office using a shipping container. It cost just $1800.
“The Port of Oakland has hundreds of these things leftover. What happens is after they’ve been around the world I don’t know how many times they get dinged up and get holes in them and sometimes they get dropped and there’s a certain number of patches they’re allowed to have before they no longer meet the international shipping standard and so when they’re at that point they get retired and then sold off.”
Wanaselja and Leger cut their 40-foot long refrigerated unit in half and placed it in a T shape in their backyard (with the help of a crane). They didn’t need to add any insulation: they’re designed to not have any thermal bridging between the interior and exterior and the polyisocyanurate insulation (a plastic, but it came with the container) has the highest R-value of any foam insulation.
Using a sawzall (reciprocating saw), the couple cut huge windows into the aluminum/stainless steel structure. Wanaselja says he was initially intimidated by the idea of crafting out of aluminum (the exterior material) and stainless steel (interior), but “once I got over my learning curve I actually like working with metal”.
In this video, the couple talks about working in a cargo container, using materials like the soy-based plywood floor (Purebond) and the music made by rain and branches on a metal roof.