Repurposing shipping containers provides "a false sense of 'green,'" writes Laura Grange, marketing coordinator for the Northwest building and remodeling firm, Hammer & Hand. Among the many drawbacks to using these ready-made boxes as housing are:

  • Moisture problems. In the northwest (as in other wet or cold climates) you need to move a significant amount of moisture produced inside the building to the outside. The steel construction does not allow for vapor movement.
  • Extra skin. Steel skin needs a complete insulative layer either inside or outside the skin. This means you need to expend just as much effort and cost as you would with standard construction, with the added cost of the container on top of it.
  • Higher subcontractor costs. Subs who interface with the thick steel skin will consider the work as additional effort compared with normal construction. Hammer & Hand sees most of its subs reacting to the uniqueness (and therefore unpredictability) with higher prices to account for the risk.

And if this weren't bad enough, in the end containers rarely don't deliver all the so-called green returns that clients may have wanted to begin with: "Most homes are not built with recycled shipping containers, but rather new ones, for many reasons ([old containers have] high levels of chemical residue, lead paint, structural damage) ... the carbon emissions resulting from manufacturing and transporting the containers (new or used) also lowers their green score."

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