Real Estate Trends: From Trash to Treasure

By Paige Tepping

From homes to cabins to dormitories—and
everything in between—re-purposed shipping containers, or ISBUs (Intermodal
Steel Building Units) are making their mark on the residential real estate
sector, blurring the lines between two very distinct industries as one’s trash
becomes the other’s treasure. Originally built to transport goods, the average
life of a shipping container is now being extended, thanks to environmentally
conscious consumers, builders, designers and a host of other real estate
professionals who see their potential when it comes to building homes.

“While the number of ISBUs available for construction isn’t nearly as
high as the media began reporting in 2006-7, various shipping companies ‘retire’
and sell older units about every 5-7 years,” says Barry Naef, managing director
of the ISBU Association. Conceived in 2006 and officially functioning by 2007,
the ISBU Association was created to inform, educate, promote and protect. Naef
goes on to say that the maximum number of ISBUs in North America rarely exceeds
10,000 within a given month.

The advantages that come with incorporating
container technology into the home construction process are numerous. According
to Naef, ISBU modules can be up to 25 percent less expensive than conventional
construction. However, he goes on to say that the biggest factors driving
consumers toward ISBU module homes are the strength, longevity and speed of
construction. In addition, the fact that they can be re-purposed or recycled
can’t be overlooked either.

“We’re basically taking an instrument of
trade and turning it into an instrument of construction,” says David Cross, vice
president of business development, SG Blocks, a company that redesigns,
repurposes and converts steel cargo shipping containers into Safe Green Building
Blocks (SG Blocks) for commercial, industrial and residential use. The company
employs its SG Blocks Building System, a proprietary structural engineering
method that offers a safer, faster, longer lasting and more economical
alternative to conventional construction methods. While construction time can be
cut by up to 40 percent, clients can typically get any size home they want since
containers can be broken down and modified to fit any need.

containers are designed to carry tens of thousands of pounds across brutal
seas,” says Duke Claghorn, business development associate, SG Blocks. “The
strengths that are built into the container translate into housing situations
very well.” One such strength is their stacking ability, which enables a very
efficient starting point within the construction industry. “Re-purposed shipping
containers provide a really sound, environmentally friendly methodology that can
be easily translated to multi-family, multi-story projects,” adds Cross.

Whether clients are looking to build a cost effective home or they’re
interested in showcasing the containers throughout the space, container
technology has something for everyone. “Once the structure is up, there are
virtually no limitations,” says Paul Gavin, chairman and CEO, SG Blocks.

While the sky’s the limit when it comes to utilizing re-purposed
shipping containers, over the past five years, they have become more prevalent
in the following areas:

1. Residential and Commercial Building
(permanent and temporary): Homes, offices, cabins, medical
facilities, dormitories, hotels, schools, emergency shelters, disaster shelters,
restaurants, retail stores

2. Technology Shells
(permanent and temporary): Equipment housings, data centers, mobile expo booths,
special events, sanitation recycling, energy modules, restrooms

3. Storage Units (permanent, mobile, temporary):
Residential, commercial, military