The first shipping container was built by an American gentleman named Malcolm McLean in 1956. He owned one of the largest trucking companies in the South. He was an observant man who noticed that the loading and unloading of freight was slow and unorganized. Malcolm bought a tanker company and experimented with loading and unloading freight more systematically, and with the container’s design as well. In the 1970’s his final design, which was to become the standardized shipping containers we know today was accepted and popularized by the U.S. Navy. This new box was inordinately strong and uniform in shape and size. This feature made the box easier to load and unload, easier to store, stack, and ship by land, rail and sea and reduced shipping costs by 90%.
Fast forward 30 years or so and you have the ISBU, or the Inter-modal Steel Building Unit. This acronym was born when forward thinking individuals began to consider what to do with the 700,000 surplus shipping boxes that were littering America’s coastlines. It was obvious that they could hold items, as this had been their former job. The only reason most of these had become surplus containers was because it was cheaper to store the empty container than to ship it back to its former country empty. It was obvious as well that these could be stacked safely and quite neatly because they were stacked all over the place. Perhaps it was a romantic fellow who loved old movies about transients who “rode the rails” and lived in railroad freight boxes that first thought of using this surplus object for housing, but whoever first conceived the notion set the design world ablaze in about 2006. Since then, designs for shipping container housing have exploded.
Creative thinking aside, what makes the shipping container ideal for housing humans? Well, the first and most appealing is that the strength of the Cor-ten Steel creates a frame that is stronger than a standard wood construction home and since it is already built, the cost is minimal comparatively. Secondly, the shape lends itself to stacking and modular design. The fact that the box is already weather resistant, was built to be theft resistant, and resists mold, pests, and aging makes this a winner for revolutionary home designers and their open minded clients.
ISBU or shipping container homes are all the rage currently and quite environmentally friendly because they recycle an already built but no longer used product. Shipping container homes reduce the amount of resources spent on new construction, along with the labor and monetary costs as well. But what other types of eco-friendly housing is available nowadays?
The list is long and unbelievably interesting.
Most of the eco-friendly housing is made from recycled materials. The materials used to build these homes may surprise you. What do glass bottles, old tires, cardboard and bananas have in common? All are materials recycled to build homes; odd perhaps, but true. Hand woven banana plants form the façade of a three story home in Thailand, while in Australia a plastic coated modular cardboard home kit costs about $35,000. While recycling may be a great idea, it isn’t a new one. In Nevada, a home built in the 1920’s was constructed out of 51,000 recycled glass bottles and it still stands today. In some of the less affluent parts of town old tires have been used to make cozy, if unsightly little homes. While no longer road worthy, old tires stack nicely, are easily found in back road dumping grounds, and they can readily be insulated with last season’s wardrobe or yesterday’s news.
While recycled fare is a prime building material for the eco- friendly home builder, there is more readily available materials that has an even friendlier impact on the environment- it is nature herself.
Hay is a 100% renewable resource. It is far less expensive than wood or brick but quite sturdy when baled and finished properly. It is even its own insulator. Another natural resource that is not foreign to the environmentally concerned homebuilder is dirt. Adobe is made from dirt, sand, and clay along with some other porous or fibrous material like sticks or hay or even manure. It is then formed into bricks or blocks. Adobe homes are hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. These homes are very durable and are great for sunny and dry climates because the adobe is a natural insulator like the hay bales are. Cob or “hobbit” houses, yurts, and even earth bag homes are created from all natural resources as well, have little impact of their surroundings.
All of the houses listed are potentially “do-it-yourself” building projects; however a competent architect and designer are two of the most important resources you can use when building your eco-friendly home.