Shipping Container Housing Comes To The Beach, Jumps Shark

Beach Box/Promo image

Preston at Jetson Green shows The First Container Home in the Hamptons, and it is an interesting project to discuss in terms of the question, Does Shipping Container Architecture Make Sense? The developers claim that it does, and that it is green.

The Beach Box it! team supports and strives toward a completely sustainable lifestyle. We practice what we preach by incorporating ecologically-conscious building techniques, without sacrificing luxury. By embracing the value and versatility of reusing and recycling cargo containers as the building blocks for the Beach Box, we have created a durable, efficient, beautiful home.

Beach Box/Promo image

There is no question that there are some nice green features in this 2,000 square foot, $1.39 million dollar beach house, although the builder sometimes sounds a bit confused:

The custom kitchen features EcoTop counters by Kliptech, a renewable/repairable surface composed of a blend of 100% post consumer recycled fiber and rapidly renewable bamboo fiber. The beachy-chic white washed white oak floors, cyprus [sic; do they mean cypress?] siding and decking are certified sustainable by the FSC. An energy-saving demand tankless/instantaneous water heating system reduces energy output [sic; reduces energy input] and costs. A high-standard 16 SEER HVAC unit has been installed for maximum energy efficiency- friendly spray polyurethane foam insulation is super energy efficient. A white thermoplastic roof membrane reduces energy costs by reflecting solar energy thereby eliminating additional stress on the cooling system. Low emissivity-glazed windows reduce energy loss. [sic- reduces solar energy gain]

Beach Box/Promo image

But the real problem comes when you are trying to adapt an 8' wide shipping container to luxury housing, where the 7'6" interior dimension of a shipping container is considered substandard for just about anything but a bathroom. When you look at the plans you can barely find the shipping container walls; they have been almost entirely cut out and disposed of, and replaced with columns and beams. Meanwhile on the exterior walls, cutting holes in steel is expensive, so two of the bedrooms have no cross-ventilation and the bathrooms have no windows, in a beach house where there is almost always a breeze that could be taken advantage of.

beach box/Promo image

On the upper level, the entire wall is removed from two containers, the end walls are almost entirely removed and the side walls cut up for doors, and the fireplace. There is hardly anything left of it. The exterior walls have been insulated and drywalled on the inside and clad on the outside. About the only shipping container you are left with is the corrugated steel ceiling. Really, it hardly seems worth it at all.

Beach Box/Promo image

Then there is the exterior. Shipping containers don't have overhangs, so the windows, Low-e or not, are fully exposed to the sunlight without shading, except for that one under the deck. No wonder air conditioning is required.

Alastair Gordon/via

If one looks at the beach houses of 50 years ago, like the ones designed by Andrew Geller, there are deep overhangs shading the glazing. There isn't that much of it. There wasn't any air conditioning needed or wanted.

I really do believe that there is a role for shipping containers in architecture, and that they can be very green. They are solid and are not going to get blown away in a storm. I am not so certain that they make sense if one cannot fit inside or between them and they get cut up so much, or if every rule about appropriate design, like proper overhangs and shading or natural ventilation are ignored. Just reusing and recycling isn't enough.

Tags: Green Building | Greenwashing | Shipping Containers

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