In Summary

The container project

  • Building a container home can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. One of the biggest advantages of building your home using shipping containers it the cost saving aspects and their mobility. Also, they can be built at an incredible speed.
  • According to Francis Tamale, a container housing consultant, containers are not only cheap and quick to build, but they are also environmentally friendly because for every shipping container recycled, we are saving around 3500KG of steel.
  • However, just like with traditional home building, one should make sure they have the right amount of information before building out of a shipping container.

Micheal Kisitu, 30, inherited land from his father. However, five years later, he has not built a house because he fears he might fail to finish the building project. His option is to build a shipping container house because he was told it is more cost friendly than a permanent house.

According to Ethel Namono of Iconic hedges, building a house is no small feat. There are thousands of materials, pieces, and tasks involved. Unless you are a builder or experienced in building, it is intimidating. But containers are perfect modules that simplify the entire process. Think of a typical 1,000 square foot house. Try and work out the total length of timber for the framing, number of floor tiles required, and ceiling rafters, not so many can afford. Now think about that 1,000 square foot house made out of shipping containers. It is 340 foot containers.

By reducing the house into three base component pieces, it is much easier to understand, design, and build.
According to Francis Tamale, a container housing consultant, just like any other house, one is supposed to first get construction documents for their container house in order, before putting up a structure. That is, ensure you have an approved plan and all required documents from authorities.
After getting all necessary documents inorder, consult the container factory on the kind of modifications you would like to make on the containers. It is at this stage that the client purchases the container.

Site work
According to Tamale, like the normal houses, construction work starts with grading that includes any required excavation for the foundation, utilities, storm water management, and septic. Install septic system and any storm water management system if required.

Foundation
The foundation is a typical slab on grade application for shipping container home design. Tamale says the panels, which include insulation and exterior water proofing membranes, are added at the factory.
Utilities such as water, electrical, and gas supply lines if required, are run to the base of the foundation and then to their respective locations in plan. Foundation walls are then back-filled, soil compacted, gravel added, rebar laid out, and then slab poured.

Container modifications
According to Tamale, the roof, sides and back, floor, front doors, frame, and rails form an integrated structure. They are strong and made to carry floor loads far in excess of what is required for typical home construction. But, when you modify them, for instance, say by cutting holes or penetrating members, they are weakened. Tamale emphasises that regardless of what level of modification your container home design calls for, it is recommended to review with a structural engineer or architect.
Steel cutting, framing, and welding is a large part of container home design and construction. Typically, steel construction is not used much in single family or smaller home design because of expense.
However, cost of steel against wood or light gauge framing is substantial and the labour cost for steel versus carpentry is also higher.
To combat this, Tamale says it is best to have as much of the welding and reinforcing done off-site before setting the containers on site and starting the interior fit-out. He cautions that if you do not have experience in metal work, or are not hiring a general contractor, you should plan on doing most of the container modification work off-site prior to delivery.

When the shipping containers arrive on site, they are crane-lifted one by one onto the foundation, hooked into place, and welded. These heavy-gauge steel containers are so strong that only need fastening at the corners to hold fast, much as they would be on a ship.
The bottom corner blocks of the container are welded to steel plates imbedded in the concrete slab to secure the house to the foundation. All corner blocks are welded to each other to secure the containers to themselves.

“Installation of windows, exterior doors, flashing, and any sky lights is now done “says Tamale. Windows are set into openings that were measured and cut prior to delivery of the shipping containers or roughed out on site.
All openings for windows and doors should be framed with a steel section. Hollow rectangle sections work best, but an L section will work as well.
Install interior framing, insulation, heating and cooling systems if so you want, plumbing, electrical, and rough out all fixtures Metal studs and drywall are used for interior partition walls. Once insulated, the existing container walls are faced in drywall for finishing.

Challenges
According to Tamale, who is a consultant in this field, Ugandans are yet to appreciate the possibility of having containers as homes because they associate them with cargo carriers therefore this has still left the clientele low.
He adds that some materials used in the modification, for example, the gypsum board plus the container itself, are expensive. They literally fluctuate with the dollar. Tamale also says there are few people with the expertise in this container housing sector therefore sometimes it might call for expatriates especially for big projects, which makes the cost go up, but he says he is happy most of the work can be done here by Ugandans.
According to Yusuf Kiwanuka, who owns a container house in the village, the only challenge he has with it is the temperature regulation but Tamale says this is a solvable challenge.

Cost
According to Tamale, a three-bedroom container house will cost you Shs64.8m and this will have one 40 feet container and one 20 feet and this will take an L format on a 50 by 50 feet plot of land.
Tamale adds that the cost is inclusive of tiling, electrical fittings, boarding, site clearance, pillar setting, plumbing works, and insurance, roofing, interior and exterior painting minus furnishings. A two-bedroom house on the other hand, will cost 46.8m.