Shipping Containers Provide a Housing Solution

Shipping Container HousingArticle

The shipping container trend has arrived in Colorado.  The time is right to start using the tremendous oversupply from importing foreign goods.  (Ironically, at the time of this article, a dockworker union strike has resulted in thousands of shipping containers stranded on ships off the coast of California and threatens the East Coast trade.)  The piles, literally walls, of shipping containers are transforming Los Angeles docks and neighborhoods.  They are attracting undesirable activities, vermin and have become quite a nuisance.    So the question is, “How can we solve the senior housing crisis while benefiting the environment?”    Shipping container homes!

Architects across the country and around the world are coming up with ways to create inexpensive housing alternatives for seniors (and others like the millennials) who don’t want a large living space or the cost.  Relevant designs have resulted in award winning homes.  Areas with low cost land are experiencing new levels of interest as more seniors are “thinking outside the box” and researching previously overlooked towns.

What Are Seniors Looking For In Housing?

  • Cost.  This isn’t a deal breaker for some seniors who drift towards Active Adult communities starting in the 400’s.  But for a majority of Americans who are counting dollars and/or on a fixed income, an inexpensive community is attractive.
  • Size.  Many seniors are downsizing at this stage in their lives, due to empty-nest or other changes in lifestyle.
  • Community.  Being part of a community is key to a healthy balance.  Seniors have more time to give to the community and benefit the most from the support.  A diverse community, serving all age groups, is vibrant and attractive.
  • Health Services.  Seniors enjoy being close to basic health services, such as doctor, dentist and hospital facilities.  Many are members of health clubs, as staying active is key to longevity.
  • Culture and Entertainment.  Dining out, seeing a play, attending a concert, joining clubs and frequenting events are all ways seniors can stay social and engaged.
  • Climate.  Most seniors are excited to be outdoors, enjoying nature.  Gardening is a trend for retirees as well.  A nice climate, that allows outdoor activities much of the year, with a decent growing season, is very attractive to seniors.
  • Transportation.  Although still a challenge to get on a bus or train and be shuttled to your favorite venue in Colorado, the easy access to airports is a plus.

Colorado – Your Next Home Town

Colorado towns offer most of these things, as evidenced by the steady increase in population.  The climate boasts 362 sunny days a year.  The average temperatures are between 30-75 degrees.  Due to the high cost of housing in the urban centers, many rural areas are seeing an influx of fixed income seniors.  Infill city lots that have infrastructure in place, are being redeveloped into senior subdivisions.  Small senior houses fit into this type of development due to their proximity to amenities and  easy emergency access.

Steel Construction

Shipping container homes are a method of saving our precious natural resources by using a structurally-sound material that the United States has in abundance.  It’s a way to reuse an already manufactured module and turn it into a “dream home.”  The average construction cost of a 2000 square foot “stick-built” house in Colorado is averaging $130/ square foot in the Denver Metro area (  A used 40’ x 8’x 8.5’ steel shipping container is $2,000-$4,000.  The steel container provides a strong, cheep building material that can be redesigned and stacked.    Designed in Denmark

The area can be readily modified and connected for efficient use of space. Most of the time, the exterior will be cocooned with insulation and some sort of exterior finish, like Hardie Plank.  The interior walls are simply the steel container, giving the home a modern, “industrial chic” appearance which is a popular design.  Other non-combustible materials may be used on the exterior, allowing the house to be utilized in wildfire interface areas.  Simple interior finishes can keep the cost down significantly.  Some builders will reuse features of the container itself to accentuate the unique design.  In some cases, shipping containers come with wood floors already installed.  In the design represented below, passive solar features have been incorporated into the home, using solar panels on the roof, in addition to tapping the sun’s power through the angles of the windows and roofline.  Constructing the home on pedestals or peers allows utilization of land within a floodplain or otherwise constrained due to natural features, after certain modifications.

Many “kits” or “prefab” buildings are available on the internet.  The unlimited configuration of the container can be designed to suit all senior needs.  Putting the homes on trailers can allow mobility if the occasion arises, allowing more flexibility for those seniors who prefer to be “snow birds.”  As housing and basic material prices continue to rise, finding adequate senior housing becomes more difficult, which makes shipping container construction worthy of consideration.