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Shipping container & similar pre-fab housing: this article describes the use of shipping containers & similar structures as a base for design & provision of emergency or disaster housing, temporary structures, or even permanent homes that can be transported, erected, even stacked on-site where housing is needed in both urban and more remote areas. We include examples of container based housing designs and we list the factors that should be considered in both cost analysis for container based housing and in project set-up & maintenance.
We provide sources for renting or buying shipping containers new or used for housing or storage or office projects, and we list expert resources, books & documents on container housing architecture & design. Page top photo is an example of creative design thinking applied to round and other shaped-containers, in this instance, from Private Passage, a New York City sculpture by Malcolm Cochran.
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Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and further-developing a disaster housing plan that New York City has been working on since 2007, FEMA and New York City officials began plans for a project to test disaster housing units, including designs such as using shipping containers that could be stackable to provide higher density housing in urban areas where otherwise space may be limited. The city will construct a prototype disaster housing set-up testing stacked or multi-story units on a parking lot near the Brooklyn Bridge. 
This office built using a shipping container is an example provided by Wikipedia.
Standard shipping container sizes vary by country, age, and intended use. Construction material is usually steel (typically COR-ten steel) though there are also (more expensive) aluminum shipping containers. Generally in the U.S. shipping containers are available in these dimensions: 
Synonyms for shipping container in shipping use include ISO container, Cargon Container, Conex Box. When used for occupancy or storage, these containers are referred to as Intermodal Steel Building Unit (ISBU) or a GreenCube. 
A number of factors combine to determine the suitability of converted shipping containers as temporary disaster housing or for longer term applications, including:
Our photo of a bottle structure as home (left), Private Passage, a sculpture by Malcolm Cochran, illustrates the wide range of experiment and creativity that has attracted architects and other designers to the adaptation of containers, especially shipping containers, but even a wine bottle as ready-made structures that can be converted into a home.
Properly titled Private Passage, this bottle house was the first permanent public sculpture commissioned as part of Hudson River Park. The bottle house or Private Passage is on display in Clinton Cove, along what is popularly referred to as the NYC RIver Walk . Private Passage is a 30 ' x 8’6” diameter wine bottle resting on its side. The interior along with the portholes form an interpretation of a stateroom derived from photographs of the Queen Mary. This artwork, not intended as a habitable structure, was created with support from the New York City Percent for Art program administered through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
This all stainless interior gives a glimpse into an all stainless steel design concept used in a container home on display on the River Walk, NY City.
As you will probably agree, this end view of the all-stainless bottle house shows a concept a bit more narrow in width than the more generous 12' x 40' shipping container structure widely used for this approach to emergency, temporary, or even permanent housing.
And unlike the rectangular-modular shape of shipping containers, round tank-containers won't accept stacking for taller structures in more crowded areas.
Watch out: when buying a used shipping container; because a shipping container may have been used to transport illegal drugs or other chemicals or substances that could be harmful it makes sense to have the unit interior inspected, if appropriate, tested, and cleaned before taking further step to convert its use from shipping to a home, office, remote cabin or other structure.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: prefab housing for the homeless?
(Mar 8, 2012) Tjibuya Daman said: [by comment box on InspectApedia home page]
I would like to buy prefab housing to use to accommodate homeless people in my country. i am however not sure about how to maintain these houses in the long run
Tjibuya: regarding pre-fab housing maintenance, the requirements will depend on just what you mean by pre-fab. There is significant variation in materials, construction, even site delivery and assembly among types of manufactured housing. Search InspectAPedia for "DEFINITIONS of Mobile Home, Doublewide, Modular, Panelized Construction" to sort these out and then let me know which you are referring to - or describe to me in your own words what you mean by prefab housing and we'll discuss further just what special maintenance concerns may be important.
If by maintenance you refer to building maintenance (as opposed to keeping such a program going) key is choosing materials and construction types that work in the climate and environment involved and that will require little or no building maintenance.
A second maintenance topic that may require more money and energy is the provision of potable water, sanitary toilets, other utilities.
Certainly there is a wide range of options such as
But before launching any new program one would want to be guided by people living in the community about housing preferences & needs, land space, legal requiremetns, etc.
Questions & answers or comments about shipping container housing designs, uses, where to buy shipping containers for conversion to a house, how to convert a shipping container to housing, shipping container house inspection & maintenance.
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