If you live in a container home, you are probably already doing more for the environment than most of us. The containers, especially if it is a used container fixed up and converted into a home, have a low impact compared to buildings. People that choose them choose them for a reason. While they might require some fixing up, the amount of materials needed does not match those required by the average home.
Yet there is always more to do where the environment is concerned, and you are probably wondering what is possible. Some solutions are common to every home, while others are mostly about the fact that you live in a container home. In either case, considering the possibilities won't do any harm.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some of the most common and helpful ways to make your container home more eco-friendly (and maybe improve your life in the process):
The one thing that your container home will likely need the most help with from the start is its energy usage when it comes to temperature control. Depending on your climate, the amount of insulation you need will be important, but insulation you will need nonetheless as steel conducts heat very well. There are only so many clothes you can remove in the hot weather and only so many sweaters you can put on in the cold. After a certain point, you need to figure out your heating and air conditioning for the worst the weather has to offer.
You can do this for your container home. Installing heating and air conditioning isn't much different than doing it for another home, though you probably will not need such an expansive or strong system. A space heater or window unit might be enough for your single-container home, though you will want to find the most eco-friendly option possible. You could write entire articles on this subject, and in general, you may wish to consult an HVAC professional to make sure your home will be safe with your solution regardless.
Just as important as your heating and cooling is your insulation, which prevents the energy usage from literally just leaking out the walls. Insulation can be expensive and a tough choice, but make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible. Some insulation forms are not the best for the environment, and while you do not want your insulation to rot away or degrade in your home, there are plenty of options that make for fine substitutes, such as wool, denim, aerogel, and others.
Your windows and doors are also important. They are where you will lose much of your heat, even if they are closed. Finding windows and doors that can seal in the heat (or cool air) will prove beneficial, as will controlling other ways for heat to escape your home.
If you are reading this, you probably already have a container home or are in the process of building or acquiring one. You should not tear your home down and start fresh to install these solutions. However, should the opportunity present itself or you think the benefits are worth the investment, please keep the above noted in mind.
Container homes are usually small in nature, and if you have a decent amount of property surrounding the space and the soil is good, you can plant a garden for yourself. Even if the soil is not all that great, you can either get some soil for a box garden or try to find some hardier fare that will survive in practically anything. Look towards the local plant life for ideas, and work from there. We would, however, caution against using fertilizers or treatments that could harm the environment. Natural compost and materials are by far the better option for all factors involved, even if it requires a bit more work and planning.
Not only will you be helping the environment using your space, but you will also be feeding yourself with fruits and vegetables (and maybe some herbs) that you know are going to be fresh and perfect for whatever recipe you want to try. The work to maintain it can provide you with some moments of peace in the outdoors, and you will have something to look forward to every year.
If you are worried about the work put into such an endeavor or the space involved, why not give it a trial run using a couple of potted plants? You might be able to get some fresh herbs, and it will not take you more than a minute or two a day to maintain.
The top of your container home is not necessarily doing anything at the moment, right? Why not install some solar panels on the top of it, so long as they are not too heavy for the structure. There's also the option of installing some in your yard, presuming you can keep them safe from the elements and you have space.
That being said, the location of your container will affect how helpful this measure will be. If you are in the rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest, it might not be as wise of an investment as if you were living in Arizona. We recommend checking to see how other people who installed solar panels in your area have fared and checking records to see if the math checks out for your area.
Solar panels and the associated equipment might also be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so. For an average home, they can cost more than $10,000 (though you probably do not have a container home the size of an average home). If your container home has the space for the batteries needed to use solar power, you may have the opportunity to sell power back to the grid, potentially recouping some of the costs over time.
Also, note that while solar panels can be expensive and require an investment, you might be able to get some help from government programs, depending on where you live. At the very least, you should be able to get a tax break on them.
One last thing about solar panels: this is one area where newer can be better, as you want the most efficient panels possible. You also want long-lasting, durable panels as there is an environmental cost in producing them, so future-proofing is a must.
If you have a container home, you probably do not have a home filled to the brim with appliances. Those you do have could probably be more efficient, depending on your current model. Older appliances, in particular, were not built with efficiency in mind back when environmental concerns were not as important. Modern appliances, in some cases, must by law be so efficient, with the standards increasing over time.
The most common appliances you can upgrade are:
We do not recommend throwing away any appliances that you are currently using. If you want to upgrade anyhow, we recommend donating them to a friend or helpful organization so that they still find usage while you can enjoy your new one without guilt.
Also, there are often settings on appliances that use less energy, perhaps for lighter loads or a longer, less-intense cycle. Do not forget these exist and see when they would be most appropriate in your household.
Getting water into your container home can be an interesting task depending on where you live. Regardless of how you take care of both intake and waste output, reducing your water usage can greatly impact how much damage your home is doing to the environment.
While we are not suggesting you shower less or go without washing your dishes, there are a few ways to reduce your water usage in your container home:
When you make a container home, there is a strong chance that you are making your home out of more than one container. This is fine, especially if you have multiple members in your household or do something like work from home, requiring some office space. Yet what if you needed one less container? Or could stall needing to add one more down the line? Could you carefully consider how you use your space and cut out some bulkier items? Some ideas for maximizing your space include:
On top of using the above tips, we are certain some behaviors or spaces will suit your container home particularly well, so think about it, tour your home, and take notes.
Continuing from the previous point, the minimalist movement has been catching on over the last decade, both as a reaction against the consumerism of the past (and still present) and acting as a way to save money and resources. If you have a container home, you probably already have a minimalist streak in you, if only for the relative lack of space. When was the last time you went through all your possessions and checked to see what you really needed or what was bringing you enjoyment? As for getting through everything properly, here are a few tips:
Of course, we do not recommend just throwing away all your old things. We would encourage you to donate them, use them up, recycle them wherever possible, or simply not replace them.) Since there are so many potential options and lifestyles, we will leave it to you how best to do this, but we are certain there is a way.
Once you remove the clutter, the second step is to take in less and consume less, so try to go digital when possible, buy used when possible, and carefully consider every purchasing decision. Do not stress yourself to the point of breaking and giving up on the concept, but self-awareness can lead to great changes in your home.
Most shipping containers are built to survive a much harsher environment (the middle of the ocean) than where you plan on living. Therefore, many of them are treated with chemicals and pesticides designed to preserve them and keep out insects and rodents. This is generally a good thing for goods stored inside the container, but not such a good thing for the environment or anyone planning on living in the container for a long period of time.
It is unlikely that a prefabricated container will be toxic, but you should check out other containers before buying. Replacing the flooring is a good idea in any case, and you may want to give the container another go-over with a sealing primer or paint, as toxic paints can be common, and you do not want to poison yourself or put anyone around you at risk.
That being said, dealing with toxic materials is naturally dangerous. Trying to remove or wash off everything outright might have the opposite of the intended effect, which is why we recommend a sealant instead. Just make sure that the sealant is non-toxic and you apply it safely. If you are truly concerned and not used to such work, you might want to consult a professional.
The same principle you use for your food can also work for some of your building materials. If you are modifying or still building your container home to your preferred specifications, try to pick out parts, etc., that are produced locally (and ideally with the environment in mind). Doing so will lessen the transportation costs and impact on the environment. Whether it is plants for your garden or wood for making your own furniture, there is likely a local (or relatively local) option. Ordering online to have the parts delivered will not be any worse than taking the drive yourself.
Depending on where you live, you might also have the option to work with surplus materials from construction projects that might otherwise get thrown away. You might need to work with them a little more to get them to fit, but these materials can still work fine for your projects and will likely be cheaper as an additional benefit. Do a quick search to see what you find, and do not be afraid to experiment here, as you might come up with something unique.
Your shipping container home has more working parts to it than you might think. While they are not necessarily moving, you need to maintain them and make sure that hinges, pieces of insulation, pipes, and more are in the best order.
If something goes wrong, try to think with the mindset of repairing parts and panels whenever you can, using the tools you have around you. You might even think of replacing the entire system when it is just a piece that has a problem. Sometimes some elbow grease and creative thinking (and maybe a welding tool) are all that is needed.
That being said, under no circumstances should you try to continue a repair when a cause is lost and a replacement part is needed. Nor should you put yourself in any danger when making repairs. This can only lead to further damage and even adverse health effects. You cannot help the environment if you are not well.
If you are buying a new shipping container to start building your home with, you can be sure there will be no defects or decay. Still, you are also preventing the shipping container from having a useful life transporting cargo over the ocean, effectively necessitating an additional container's production. This is not the best thing for the environment. Instead, we recommend a well-used shipping container to start with or for any expansions.
If you use a shipping container that would likely be abandoned or destroyed otherwise, you are maximizing the usage of the shipping container, and you are using materials that are non-renewable and difficult to create (processing steel is not cheap or easy by any measure). You may need to put in some extra work to restore, but the savings from buying a used container can often be worth it.
That being said, not all used shipping containers will be equal after many trips at sea (there could be a difference in treatment by the shipping companies and ports). We strongly recommend that you inspect any used shipping container you intend to purchase. Do move on from anything you do not think you could patch up easily, and use your best judgment. We do not want you to be discouraged by your new shipping container home before it is even ready.
The location of your container home, what other resources and space you have available, and your lifestyle will all partially dictate which of the above methods, if any, will be the best for you and the most helpful for the environment. Nonetheless, we hope that by reading all of the above, we have given you some ideas to work with and have jumpstarted your thinking on creating a more eco-friendly life for yourself. Experiment a bit, keep on the lookout for new technology, and keep on reading for more ideas.