Friday 14 December 2018

Could €2,000 shipping containers help solve Ireland’s housing crisis?

Ceardean Architects helped convert a 40ft shipping container in three days in 2014. Photo: Ceardean Architects
Ceardean Architects helped convert a 40ft shipping container in three days in 2014. Photo: Ceardean Architects
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

When a shortage of student accommodation became an issue in Copenhagen in Denmark five years ago, a housing start-up decided it had the answer.

It would build low-cost apartments using shipping containers, to create modular dorms that could float in the city’s harbour.

And next year in Los Angeles, where over 45,000 people struggle with homelessness, a new project of 84 studio and one-bedroom units will open. The primary building material, again, will be shipping containers.

Here in Ireland, TV architect Patrick Bradley changed the landscape of Irish house design when he built his own home Grillagh Water House using four shipping containers.

He said he looked to using shipping containers for his home which featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs, when he realised he wouldn't be able to meet his budget using conventional construction materials.

A single shipping container can be purchased for €2,000 in Ireland, but how viable are they as a housing option? Do they make for cheaper homes? Or are they just an aesthetic feature?

Dougal Sheridan from LiD Architecture says shipping containers homes can be quicker to build than a more conventional home.

“They can be [economical]. We’ve done quite a bit of research on how you take a shipping container and turn it into something that complies with building regulations.”

“We would use them and are looking at using them again on other projects. However they are just another form of construction. What they do offer is a degree of off-site fabrication, which means you can construct projects more quickly, because of their modular nature.”

“They also result in a very high quality construction, essentially they’re steel frame buildings, and can have a very good thermal performance, very good air tightness and have a good A1 rating.”

He added: “It’s less disruptive to neighbours in a way. You can have a much cleaner building site. It’s less expensive than conventional construction… It can be a good option.”

A tiny 24-square-metre home can be constructed from a 40-foot container, and a 12 square-metre can be made from a 20-foot container.

“A single container that’s fitted out can be turned around very, very quickly.”

“If it’s done with a few containers and the containers are interconnected, that’s more complex.”

“The containers themselves are inexpensive but you have to invest money into turning the container into a building essentially, but in terms of the speed of construction they offer a cost saving.”

“It’s not as new or as radical as it might seem.”

“[Shipping containers are] very durable materials. They’re made from COR-TEN steel which is very good at weathering, it forms its own protective layer in the steel with the oxidation.

Four years ago, Cardean Architects helped to build a shipping container home which was eventually donated to St Vincent de Paul.

The project manager Michael Malone told Independent.ie: “It effectively took €70,000 in real money to convert it.”

However, he cautioned: “Ultimately you’ve got the space equivalent to a large caravan. It’s easier getting a conventional built mobile home rather than taking a steel box which is unwieldy and trying to convert that and make it a permanent house, that you’d live in for 30 years.”

“In going through the analysis of it, it is cheaper to do it in terms of conventional construction.”

“33 square metres is half the size of a one-bed apartment. In order to build a two-bedroom house you need three shipping containers.”

Modular homes, garden pods and log cabins can be bought for prices ranging from €30,000 to €100,000. They could be an easier alternative to shipping container homes, according to Malone.

“In the true sense of a house, to get a container to end up as a permanent solution, you will spend as much on your home,” he said.

“There’s plenty of options on the market in terms of modular housing, purpose built housing to standards. It’s a much better way of going.”

“The fabric of the house is the cheapest part of the whole thing – the blocks and mortar. After that then you have things like site costs, planning costs; it needs to be properly wired and plumbed to a standard so there’s not necessarily any savings there. You can buy the fabric of a container for around €2,000 in the docks, you’re getting 30 square metres of volume, but if you need more, you need more containers.”

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