Container homes (still) overrated

Originally published at: Container homes (still) overrated | Boing Boing


As with “obviously” scammy email from foreign princes, the product selects the customer.

The marks being people with vivid yet stunted imaginations who easily get lost in their aspirational fantasies to the point that they ignore or deny the reality-based constraints of making them come true.

The lack of affordable housing in desirable cities adds a layer of desperation to what drives this particular fantasy. A similar situation exists in the personal finance sphere when it comes to cryptocurrencies.


That video was nicely done.
The part about using them for temporary refugee housing reminded me of these things I first heard of in relation to the ND oil fields:

(Basically, turn a semi-trailer into a mobile shower house. Pretty cool.)

Also, re: quick refugee housing/shelter, I got to visit this place a while ago:

And it’s a really cool concept. All you bring is the bags, and use local earth to fill them. If it’s really temporary and you don’t plaster them, you can just empty the bags back out when the camp is no longer needed.


When I see a container home here in Texas, or a container-anything really, I automatically think “oven.”


Me, too!
That’s one of the things I liked so much about the earth bag construction. Really good thermal regulation.


I’m curious how these compare to container homes.


I think the container fad has a lot to do with the divide that has formed over the past 50 years or so between people who build and fix things, and the people who just use things made by others. The latter spend their entire adult lives driving modern cars, working in modern offices, and living generally isolated from the underpinning machinery that makes their world function.

If you’re never built much of anything or done much of anything with your hands besides typing, a shipping container might seem like a romantic idea. The people doing this have probably never seen one before they buy it, nor have ever done much construction so they don’t understand why we build things the way we do, and why a giant metal box is not how we build housing.


There’s one here in central Texas that I think of as the “Jenga House”—it uses at least twenty 20’ and 40’ containers. They seem to keep adding to it.

In the abstract, I can see the appeal—these are commodity items that you can pile up like giant legos. When the abstract becomes concrete, the appeal collapses.


Having watched the video now, I agree it’s a great piece. They nicely covered the emotional reasons people are drawn to containers.

There’s a big piece missing from the conversation so far though, and it’s the thing missing from almost all conversations about affordable housing- land use. People try to “solve” housing with shipping containers, tiny houses, and other gimmicks, but people rarely spend as much time talking about where these gimmick houses are going to sit. The land is the problem preventing affordable housing, not the structure. A regular stick-built house is frankly not particularly expensive to build. It’s the land that it’s sitting on that is the problem. Land is not distributed equitably or used in a way that can help everyone who needs housing.

Ever notice how these hipsters who build tiny houses in videos always magically have some beautiful 80 acre parcel to plop it down on? How did that part happen?

Until we change the way we talk about and maybe even own land, the “affordable housing” conversation is pretty moot.


In most of the videos I’ve seen, they mention (always very quickly in passing) that the land belongs to the parents or another older relative. Then these (usually white) young people go back to extolling the virtues of a tiny house lifestyle that anyone can enjoy.

Social capital frequently also plays a big part in how these self-reliant young homesteaders end up acquiring building materials and/or architectural and construction help.


Yes, and!
To a somewhat lesser extent, infrastructure/systems.
People get all excited about designing and building the structures, because that’s the fun, visible part. But without water, electricity, sewer, etc, it’s not a long-term solution, it’s just like camping but sturdier.
Making the shell is really the easy part. Putting in the life-support systems is much more difficult.


Same. My wife had a job where her office was a converted shipping container (all the offices were). The front was all windows and this thing was sitting in full sun all day in a place that is known for summer temps regularly going above 35 Celsius. Even with thick curtains and air conditioning that thing got HOT in the summer.


I didn’t watch the whole video, so maybe they mentioned it, but I’ve read that they are not good in places with cold winters either.


They need a lot of insulation, for sure. Generally what happens is that, in order to be livable, you have to make so many heavy modifications to the structure that all is left of the “shipping container” is a sheet metal skin. You need insulation, vapor barrier, door and window drip rails, seals all around, a roof structure that will drain, a foundation with proper drainage, subfloor, flooring, drywall, etc.

The only part of a traditional wood frame house that is being “saved” with the container is the siding and the subfloor, basically. Everything else still has to be added for it to be livable, and all that is made more difficult because you’re dealing with a weird metal box instead of lumber.


The land use issue is also why the van life culture in increasingly popular. Now that telecommuting has grown in prevalence, certain people who are attracted to the tiny house concept take the idea one step further and just build out really nice buses, or RVs, or box trucks, or vans or whatever and just avoid the whole land issue by constantly being on the move and relying on the infrastructure in place for camping and trucking,


I blame Avatar for starting that trend:


The scary part about that in the US is that in your vehicle you have none of the rights that you (allegedly) have in your home.
I used to live in a cargo van I fit out very crudely, and had it impounded after an illegal stop and search so I lost not only my vehicle, but my home and all my belongings until I could get it out.
If I were ever to do that again, I would definitely want some kind of “home base,” even if it was just a rustic cabin in the woods.
Friends who live on sailboats have similar concerns.


That is such a good point that #vanlife folks don’t talk about nearly enough. Also as far as “the system” goes, you are homeless. You have no address, which makes getting healthcare, mail, legal services, utilities, internet, phone, credit cards, bank accounts, immigration/citizenship services, and all sorts of other things difficult, I imagine. There are some workarounds for some of these things, I assume, but it must be not easy (disclaimer: I haven’t done it, I’m just speculating).


The general workaround I’ve heard is just like the land use case. They’re all relying on someone who’s already got a fixed address. Whether it’s a close friend or a family member.


There are lots of full time rv forums.

For the most part, once they get the information they all have very little issues regarding mail and healthcare.

I had a friend that went pretty far off grid they would use a post office box for most mail and then use a service to get the mail forwarded.

There are also services that provide street addresses for those that need it.

A lot of full timers spend chunks of time in the same general area, vanlife people are more mobile so mail is harder.

Our home is never going to be worth more than it is right now, we could sell, pay it off and have a nice piece of early retirement cash but I can’t convince the wife to sell and live in the RV until prices come back down.

She needs a permanent roof.

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