Home Sweet Shipping Container?

Just in time for a recession, cargo container homes approach the mainstream.

ByABC News
November 6, 2008, 7:40 PM

Nov. 7, 2008 — -- You've probably seen them stacked high to the sky at city ports, left empty after traveling around the world carrying furniture, appliances and other household goods.

But the next time you see a shipping container, it might be far from the waterfront and serving a purpose for which it was never intended: housing.

Originally developed as an artistic experiment, shipping container homes are moving into the mainstream, as architects and builders recognize the economic and environmental benefits of working with the giant Lego-like steel boxes.

"It's not just a bunch of mad scientists tinkering in a garage making these buildings," said Peter DeMaria, principal architect of DeMaria Design Associates, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based firm that has designed several container-based suburban homes. "It's people who understand the economics and understand the environmental benefits."

Each year, millions of shipping containers arrive on American shores. Because it's so expensive for empty containers to make a return trip across the ocean, DeMaria estimates that up to half never make it back. Some industry experts say the number of containers available for reuse hovers around 100,000, but can reach 700,000.

In addition to the several modern homes DeMaria's firm has already completed in southern California, it will launch a new line of shipping container homes in the coming weeks.

In the last year, he said, 25,000 people have inquired about these Logical Homes through the company's Web site. Each day, he said, about 10 others approach the firm by telephone or e-mail.

Although architects and builders have been experimenting with shipping container homes for the last few years, questions about structural integrity and legality have continued to nag.

But, DeMaria said, a home he designed for a family in Redondo Beach, Calif., last year changed the landscape for his company and others in the field.

Its completion demonstrated that a container-based building could conform to local building codes, he said, and proved that "it isn't going to fall down, rust away. The technical, functional issues have been put to bed."