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Container home: is it a real eco-friendly building solution?

It is one of the trendy building solutions of the moment: using maritime containers as a house. These modular homes with attractive price are convincing thanks to their short construction delays. Often described as alternative and eco-friendly housing, do these houses really represent a sustainable solution?
Major advantages

There are two types of container homes: converting an industrial container or assembling several containers using a metal frame. If container house is popular, it is because it benefits from many advantages. 

One of the main arguments is its price: between 400€/sq.m and 2 000€/sq.m (turnkey house), according to the French website The variation of its cost depends on the selling price of the container itself, its transport and its installation/adaptation costs. 

Another strong point is that these modular constructions are quick to build. The foundations being light, as well as the necessary exterior fittings, the container house can take shape in only a few weeks, and up to a few months if it is an assembly of several containers. 

Finally, this type of construction allows for architectural freedom. Thanks to its modularity, it is possible to define a customized assembly.

But not so sustainable performances…

Most manufacturers and builders specializing in container houses put forward the ecological advantages of this habitat. However, this argument is justified when the container in question is recycled, and that its transport does not explode the carbon footprint. In order to guarantee a perfect exterior appearance, more and more builders are proposing new containers, sometimes manufactured on the other side of the world, and with high embodied energy. 

Specialists also talk about the “Faraday Cage” effect. Indeed, the metal structure of these houses acts as a protection against external electromagnetic waves. On the other hand, the radiation present inside will tend to remain locked up in the house.

Moreover, indoor air quality can be a particularly complex issue when purchasing a container. Some containers, before being recycled, have carried toxic substances, which affect the indoor air quality when they are converted into living space. The choice of an optimal ventilation will then be essential. 

Finally, one of the major drawbacks of this type of housing is the level of thermal performance. Steel being particularly conductive, a container can be a real thermal sieve, hardly habitable in summer and winter. The importance of insulating the structure is crucial, and again, for the house to be considered as ecological, it will be necessary to choose sustainable materials.

As you can see, in order for the container house to be considered as an ecological option, it will be necessary to pay attention to the following elements:

  • The type of container (new or recycled) and its transport
  • The management of internal electromagnetic waves
  • The potential toxic substances transported before recycling (indoor air)
  • The choice of insulation and its installation

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