Modular living quarters / shipping containers etc.
August 14, 2009 at 12:01 pm #1044
I was glad to see that the issue of using shipping containers for housing has already been addressed. I am only starting this as a separate thread because the previous thread was a confusing patchwork of posts about containers for housing and containers as building materials.
Previous posters have given some good links to information about homes being constructed from shipping containers, and some great ideas. I just wanted to add a few considerations.
(1) One big advantage of shipping containers is their standardized size. There are already ships built to carry cargo containers, and equipment designed for moving cargo containers. I’m not sure how versatile this equipment is – perhaps most of it would work for oversized containers, which would be useful.
(2) We would not necessarily have to use actual shipping containers, but could start production of units that happened to be a standardized size in order to facilitate transportation – from a factory to a seastead, and again from seastead to seastead. Consider trailer homes as an example of the concept – these homes are built in a factory and ready to be moved, but are not all-steel construction even though they do sit on a steel frame platform. They are also a good deal wider and roomier than a container.
(3) Alternately, if changes to the infrastructure for moving modules is not too expensive, we could settle on a larger size, which may or may not correlate to shipping container sizes for purposes of standardization (for example, a standard two-container-wide width might be useful in making use of existing ships, while requiring small modifications to some types of equipment for moving the containers). Containers are the size they are because of the places they need to fit, notably including roads. Without roads at sea, some of these concerns no longer apply, and the rules could be re-written. At the same time, using containers as a basis would allow containers to be used as “half-size” units, allowing people with fewer financial resources (like myself) access to seasteading.
(4) I have, incidentally, seen whole families living in shacks less than half the size of a small shipping container. Keep in mind that Americans live in houses that are much bigger than they really require. Even in a civilized place like New Zealand, I noticed that the average new house is no more than half the size of the houses being built in America today.
(5) For use on existing ships, it might be helpful if each module contained a section of hallway at one end, standardized in shape and size. This would allow rows of containers to be stacked high while allowing access to every container in the stack. For seasteads designed to carry modules, however, it would be better to have corridors, stairs, and any other services designed into the seastead. For one thing, it would make it easier to deliver electricity, water, sprinkler systems, communications, etc. If a module with a hallway section were installed in such a designed system, the owner would have a front porch. 😉
(6) Common areas. There really isn’t a need for every module to have their own area for entertaining, or perhaps even a kitchen or a bathroom. Many places around the world, people live in buildings with one bathroom on each floor. It has its advantages. Especially for early efforts, dominated by large numbers of men, it would make sense to have a common bathroom and hire a janitor to keep it clean. That eliminates some of the complexity of modules. By having common areas for entertainment or cooking (again, especially if there are a bunch of men around who don’t especially want to cook), module space for these activities can be minimized or eliminated.
(7) So far interest in seasteading has been largely from developed nations, but if costs come down and things work out I expect that there would be many immigrants from nations where the bare-bones approach we’ve been describing would seem to be luxuries. One good thing about used cargo containers is that they would be cheap enough for many such people, who could never hope to afford the type of lifestyle we expect. Even from developed nations, the ordinary laborers, shop clerks, tradesmen, and many others might not be able to immediately afford higher end modules – yet their presence would be crucial to success. Let’s not forget to keep them in mind while making plans.
(8) In a designed modular seastead, it might make sense to build structures where modules can be inserted from one side without disturbing other modules. After all, it wouldn’t make be good to be continually shuffling the modules on top in order to add or remove one from the bottom of a stack. With such structures, there would also be an opportunity to offer enlarged premises, where an individual would own their module but rent a few stick-built rooms to go with it while the module is in place. This would make moving, scaling up or scaling down much easier while retaining some of the comforts of more space. Family coming to stay for a couple weeks? Just move your module down to an open dock in the local hotel, so their bedrooms and some space to entertain are right outside your front – or side – door.
I’ll probably think of some other ideas later and add them to this thread. Comments?August 14, 2009 at 12:28 pm #7419
previous post, last paragraph: “make be good” should be either “make sense” or “be good”, your choice.August 14, 2009 at 3:13 pm #7421
Aren’t there already companies building houses from scratch, sized like containers? Or does everyone use a container as base material?
Anyway, if you built a container sized house you would need to include all the fastening and lifting holes and fitting that containers have in order to make them equally usable. And they’d need to be strong as well in order to be stackable. This may or may not limit material choices.
Having them road-transportable is probably always an advantage. If not this will limit where you can put the factory that builds them.
A container ship with container houses is an interesting prospect. The question is whether the flexibility of containers will trump the economics of buying an old cruise ship for instance. Is it practical to enable people to move with their containers if this requires five containers on top of them to move as well, disrupting their lives and business?
Just some random thoughts.August 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm #7422
For inspiration you can look at this company called Pack Rat Portable Storage…the website is http://www.1800packrat.com. It is a personal storage company that delivers shipping containers to you. You fill them up, and then they pick them up and store them in a big warehouse.
Their containers look smaller than a standard shipping container, but they still seem pretty big. I tried to see how they stack the containers in their warehouse and I can’t tell if the containers are resting on each other or if they have some kind of support system in place. I think they can move containers underneath without disturbing the containers on top…which would solve Carl’s concern about disturbing your vertical neighbors when you wanted to “ship out”.
Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!August 14, 2009 at 9:00 pm #7427
I don’t think you can extract a lower container from a ship. All the lifts they use that I have seen come from above hanging in wires and attach to the roof of the container. The containers below the level of the side of the ship are physically boxed in and are definitely not going anywhere without lifting the top containers off.
You would need a ship with a container crane on it in order for this to be feasible at all. This is not standard equipment as far as I can tell.
Perhaps the inconvenience of moving the neighbors won’t be such a big problem. It probably won’t happen very often. Presumably there will be a fee to discourage frivolous moving…
¨September 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm #7746
*double post*September 15, 2009 at 11:18 pm #7745
Carl: There are plenty of cargo ships with their own cranes:
As stated earlier, there’s already tremendous work being done to convert unused shipping containers into housing. It’d be prudent to leverage this knowledge/know-how/industry to produce customized living sea-ready containers. Some engineering would definitely need to be done: standardized locations/modules for plumbing/electricity, but that’s probably more policy than an actual “challenge”, so to speak. One could also do work into solving things like multiple-container units (modular/closable stairwells for vertical stacks if an owner wishes for more than one unit.. ), with considerations to be made for transport, stacking/unstacking, etc. The obvious benefits are: No more engineering changes need to be made as cranes already exist to handle these units, as do the ships and railcars and tractor trailers. No need to reinvent the wheel here if you go this route, otherwise you have to maintain another fleet of things that becomes quite expensive to maintain over the long haul.
In fact, it’s a thought exercise of mine that you could dispense with the whole notion of a “floating island”, at least in the short term, and just buy a container ship. zone it out, organize it with airspaces to build landings/stairs, and you’d have a compete, ocean-going vessel and hold anywhere from 2000-10000 containers (or more if you allow 20 footers on board). The infrastructure exists. You could use such a vessel to become a floating research facility to work out bugs in things like waste reclamation, food production (green spaces?), storm survival, power generation (I imagine some containers placed above-deck that would unfold solar panels in calm, sunny seas (over the water, not the containers), etc. This technology could then easily be scaled for the future seasteading structures. Heck, such ships could be used to ferry residents and their housing between colonies as required. Imagine the ease of resupply, as well. Supply ship comes out to meet ship (I doubt these ships would be able to dock in many locations as I also imagine them to be heavily armed due to pirate threats), crane loads/unloads waste containers with fresh supplies. Outgoing containers could contain outgoing goods and services and the container ship could absolutely carry cargo as well as residents if space is available.
I imagine 2 basic setups (with mixtures in between, of course):
1) Ownership – like in some trailer parks, private ownership of the container. You pay for a spot, maybe extra for a guranteed spot in the stack, and that container can be moved on/off the ship using either onboard cranes (would have to stack/unstack.. pain in the butt, but that would just have to be an accepted occurence on the ship) or even at a docking facility with them. You hate the ship? Get off at the next dock and wait for the next ship you might like more (or arrange for a supply ship to take you on/off.. I imagine there would be a small industry to develop for this)
2) Ownership – condo – You “buy” the container that’s already on the ship, but you can’t take it anywhere. Just like a condo.
3) Leasing – like an apartment. Sign up for a lease, pay your monthly fee, move out when the lease is up.
I can foresee ships having all three types available.
Anyway, with the excess in shipping containers and with a ton of idle ships out there, this is probably much more immediately feasible than some other options.September 20, 2009 at 2:17 am #7820
I just saw in the news lately that there is presently a glut of container ships due to the slowdown in the world economy.October 15, 2009 at 5:00 am #8273
Container ships in storms lose containers from their decks and even risk sinking if the containers shift around too much. Using container ships and containers is a good idea, but perhaps not as reliable or storm-proof as imagined. I certainly would not want to be living in a container that got tossed off a ship during a storm with 20 meter waves.October 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm #8287
Planetmongo: Thanks for the tip on the crane ships, I didn’t think of that.
Jeff: While ships and containers aren’t storm-proof, they can be parked in calm(ish) waters and moved away from storms. And if that doesn’t work perhaps people can seek refuge in the ship proper during those times when the weather is extremely bad.October 16, 2009 at 7:05 am #8325
Also, Container ships with a lighter load of containers would have increased stability. If the intent was to modify a containership for proof of concept seastead, aka big sea living on the cheap, then this is doubly possible.
In Mumbai several expedited structures were built with standard shipping containers. The Indians would arrange them corner to corner in an open square, stack them two deep, and trussle a simple roof across the space. It made for a rapidly constructed office space with open concept middle and containers for doored offices on the perimeter. This is apparently a standard practice for long term construction sites in India. In America the structure would not pass code without significant modification.
We could do similar midifications to a container ship. In the end we can have what is essentially one of these container apartment houses secured to the deck of a ship. All of the construction can be done at dock, probably while the ship is still in the water. Pre-fabricated containers can be manufactored in a dry factory setting at an economical distance, and then transported to the port where then can be assembled on the ship.
A corporation could be established to purchase flats on the floating complex. Ownership can be done in a number of ways, but what is most logical to me is the Condo and timeshare approach.
Some steaders can live like a condo, othes will live temporarily like a timeshare, all are owners and all pay a certain regular maintenance. Work for the community can take the place of some or all of the capital investment. Unused space can be sublet to others on board or rented out. The company could use the extra space to ferry emigrants from one nation to another for cheap.August 21, 2010 at 7:04 am #11170
Container ships are cargo ships that carry all of their load in truck-size intermodal containers, in a technique called containerization. They form a common means of commercial intermodal freight transport.
Container ships are designed in a manner that optimizes space. Capacity is measured in Twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU), the number of standard 20-foot containers measuring 20 × 8.0 × 8.5 feet (6.1 × 2.4 × 2.6 metres) a vessel can carry. This notwithstanding, most containers used today measure 40 feet (12 metres) in length. Above a certain size, container ships do not carry their own loading gear, so loading and unloading can only be done at ports with the necessary cranes. However, smaller ships with capacities up to 2,900 TEU are often equipped with their own cranes.
Informally known as “box boats,” they carry the majority of the world’s dry cargo, meaning manufactured goods. Cargoes like metal ores or coal or wheat are carried in bulk carriers. There are large main line vessels that ply the deep sea routes, then many small “freeder” ship that supply the large ships at centralized hub ports. Most container ships are propelled by diesel engines, and have crews of between 20 and 40 people. They generally have a large accommodation block at the stern, near the engine room. Container ships now carry up to 15,000 TEU (approximately equivalent to 35 100-car double-stack intermodal freight trains) on a voyage. The world’s largest container ships, the M/V Emma Maersk and her sisters, have a capacity of 15,200 containers.August 22, 2010 at 8:39 pm #11179
We could possibly sink containers on top of each other in shallow areas, to make an artificial island. How tall are they?
Seasteading is to Boat Living what Traction Cities are to Vandwelling – simply a matter of scale.September 1, 2010 at 9:30 pm #11253
We could possibly sink containers on top of each other in shallow areas, to make an artificial island. How tall are they?
If the containers were made of concrete or other saltwater resistant structure, it would be an acceptable idea.
Shallow areas usually are near to (Or inside) territorial waters of any country (Vide Minerva Reef). Or else, they are ecological sanctuaries, plenty of beautiful coral reefs.
Containers are made of steel, that rusts in a couple of years inside salty water. Unless they be used as basis for artificial reefs, it wouldn’t be possible.
“A Dream you dream Alone, is a Dream you dream Alone; But a Dream you dream Together becomes Reality.” Raul SeixasSeptember 3, 2010 at 9:47 pm #11270
Well, we could always use them as the basis for an artificial atoll. Sink them in a ring, maybe fill them with sand dredged from the bottom, and let coral do it’s work. If we do it in a shallow area, with maybe 15m depth… we could then fill the center with dredged sand as well.
Seasteading is to Boat Living what Traction Cities are to Vandwelling – simply a matter of scale.
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