Sustainable shipping container homes offer cities unique green architecture

Sustainable shipping container homes offer cities unique green architecture


Green architecture has taken the nation by storm, with people and businesses showing greater interest in green construction. In recent years, the rise of the tiny house movement has snowballed — evidence that living with less is really more. Now, a new kind of minimalist architecture has taken shape — the sustainable shipping container home.

Cities across America have honed in on fighting back against climate change, recognizing the importance of building more resilient metropolises that safeguard citizens and economies. As the United States invests in decreasing greenhouse gases by 50%–52% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, some industries — such as architecture and construction — are getting creative.

Sustainable shipping container homes allow cities to follow through with climate resilience initiatives and look toward a greener future. But what is a sustainable shipping container home and how can it be environmentally friendly?

Green container cities: a growing trend

To understand what makes shipping containers conducive to residential construction, one must only look at their original purpose. Shipping containers are large and highly durable, capable of holding and transporting goods across entire oceans. They’re also versatile enough to contain dry and refrigerated goods, liquids and hazardous materials.

Shipping container architecture — dubbed “cargotecture” — can potentially resolve the U.S. housing crisis. For example, Detroit, Michigan, has the highest poverty rate at 31.8% — more than any other city. This number will likely increase as climate change ramps up, generating economic shock and driving more people into homelessness.

Because of their cost-effectiveness and ease of transport, shipping containers allow cities to deliver more modifiable social housing in less time than traditional construction. The steel material also ensures a secure place to live.

Sustainable shipping container homes lend themselves to the wave of pre-fab construction. Of course, cities can also construct offices, shops, galleries, eateries and other public spaces out of recycled units. One example is the Container City of Cholula, Mexico — a 48,500-square-foot city outfitted with upcycled shipping containers for a wide range of public uses and multi-family housing. Many find the brightly-painted shipping containers a sight to behold.

Other container cities have popped up in London and Brooklyn’s Greenpoint — the latter was constructed into $380 to $420-per-night waterfront rental properties, ideal for “glamping” in New York City.

Although still considered a blossoming trend in green architecture, the global container market is growing at a rate of 5.7% by 2029 — equivalent to $87.11 billion. Could these funky structures make sustainability feasible in cities most vulnerable to climate change? Many would argue they can.

The appeal of a sustainable shipping container home

According to one recent survey, 85% of consumers shop sustainably — 32% of Millennials, in particular, prefer making green purchases. As such, buyers — especially younger generations — find several aspects of container living appealing, including cost, sustainability, design options, minimalism and safety.


In a housing market where many prospective homebuyers are priced out, the cost of a sustainable shipping container home is a refreshing change. Although smaller than a house, you can modify containers with high-end features at a reasonable price.

The standard shipping container is 8-by-8-by-20 feet and could cost as much as $1,200 — larger containers measuring 8-by-8-by-40 feet may run about $10,000. Buyers can purchase used shipping containers, which are usually less expensive than new ones. All in, building a container home may cost about $35,000 — the more green materials, amenities and features you use, the more expensive it’ll be.


The U.S. construction industry created 600 million tons of waste in 2018. A few short years later, green building practices have leaned into recyclability and material reuse to reduce industrial pollution.

An upcycled shipping container is the obvious choice for sustainability. For starters, you prevent further container disposal and avoid the need for new container manufacturing. Reprocessing shipping containers also expends 8,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, compared to only 300 kWh to restore it for living purposes. That’s a significant reduction in energy consumption.

Other ways to make your shipping container home more sustainable include green materials like bamboo flooring, installing solar panels and smart devices, adding windows for natural including water-conserving and energy-efficient appliances, and ensuring proper insulation.

Design options

Buyers may opt for one shipping container to build their homes, delivering a similar lifestyle to a tiny house. However, many people use multiple containers for more space.

There are numerous design options available when using multiple shipping containers. You can stack containers side by side and create one open living area or designated rooms — you can also stack them on top of each other for two-story living.

Some shipping container homes have unique designs, such as the Starburst House under construction in Joshua Tree Park. This desert home is a 2,000-square-foot architectural wonder with an exoskeleton design.

Minimalist living

Aside from consuming fewer goods and creating less waste, the minimalist lifestyle that comes with container living makes people happier. A 2019 university study found reduced consumption and saving money made young consumers happier. Interestingly, the study found green buying had little effect on one’s subjective well-being.

With less living space comes fewer personal items. For many, shedding excess belongings and decreasing buying habits is the best way to live.


Those living in remote areas or neighborhoods with high crime levels may feel a greater sense of protection in a sustainable shipping container home. Consider that shipping containers are constructed to be stacked on top of each other, sometimes packed to the gills and several units high.

It’s unlikely that someone could break into the steel housing, especially if you modify the original locks. Likewise, shipping containers can ensure your safety during natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or other major storms.

A greener future with sustainable shipping container homes 

Although one must make a few sacrifices, a sustainable shipping container home is ideal for those interested in living green and living with less. Of course, the outcome of container homes and other cargotecture structures could also benefit cities interested in green architecture. When designed correctly, sustainable shipping container homes could pave the way for a greener future.


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Emily Newton