Shipping containers become distinctive housing on land

ByABC News
July 15, 2008, 5:42 AM

— -- An outside-the-box idea has some architects and home-buyers turning to inside-the-box eco-friendly, affordable housing that uses as building blocks the 8-by-40-foot steel containers often left vacant at seaports.

Mainly an "experiment" at this time, the homes have the potential to take off in the industry, said Bill Gati, a member of the American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Design Committee.

"It's cutting-edge, and people that use it are considered mavericks and trail blazers," he said.

Architect Peter DeMaria of DeMaria Design in Manhattan Beach, Calif., says the recycled containers, which cost between $2,000 and $3,000, are only "the tip of the iceberg" of the designs. The homes, which use anywhere from four to eight containers, can include add-ons such as solar panels, green roofs, radiant heating and other environmentally friendly or energy efficient features, DeMaria says.

David Cross, founder of SG Blocks, a company that modifies containers at 17 U.S. locations, says there are about 75 homes nationwide using shipping containers.

The company, which formed at the end of 2006, plans to modify more than 1,000 containers next year. Multifamily, multistory buildings constructed with the containers cost 20% less to build than those that use traditional materials, Cross said. The container buildings also are finished 40% faster, he said.

Low-cost modern housing

With high construction costs throughout California, Anna and Sven Pirkl turned to DeMaria for a lower-cost modern dwelling that used recycled materials for their Redondo Beach lot. DeMaria designed a 3,220-square-foot home on a 8,860-square-foot property for the couple, DeMaria said.

More than a year later, the Pirkls don't mind that their home, completed in May 2007, stands out in the neighborhood because of its modern design, Sven Pirkl said.

On the outside, the Pirkls didn't try to hide that their home is made from six shipping containers cut into eight, although the couple did use beige acrylic paint to cover the containers. On the inside, the Pirkl's home has high ceilings, concrete floors, recycled cotton insulation and walls framed from formaldehyde-free plywood, Pirkl said.