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EgaoNoGenki's avatar

Is ANY organization going to move retired shipping containers to Haiti to become repurposed as new homes? When?

Asked by EgaoNoGenki (1164points) February 13th, 2010

Bob Vila has a page promoting green construction: homes repurposed from retired shipping containers.

More than that, You’ll find much more about container housing here on Google.

By the way, plenty of sites are proposing the idea of sending shipping containers to Haiti for emergency housing.

But, and this is most important, who is FOLLOWING THROUGH with those proposals?

We have a glut of shipping containers because we’ve been importing more than we’ve been exporting, so shipping containers keep piling up at and overcrowd our ports. The ports’ authorities are pretty much chomping at the bit to get rid of them, because they’re running out of space to accommodate the overflow.

So do you know any company/organization/etc. that is actively bringing these containers to Haiti right now? If not, what’s the holdup? How much and what kinds of red tape do they need to cut through before finally following through with this housing relief plan?

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15 Answers

LunaChick's avatar

I don’t know of any organizations that are actively bringing shipping containers to Haiti, but it is a brilliant idea. A friend of mine and I discussed container housing, before the tragedy in Haiti – it’s a great form of “recycled” housing. I didn’t even think about having a charity do this, after Haiti. They’re getting tons of supplies shipped to them, they can use the containers to solve the housing crisis. Hopefully someone will follow through with this plan – if I had the money, I would get the ball rolling myself.

grumpyfish's avatar

Why not start your own org to do it? Must others do things for you?

With fiscal sponsorship you can be up and running really quickly, without having to wade through much red tape.

Jewel's avatar

I would think the main obstacle would be ownership of the containers. Like milk crates and postal trays, they are often stolen for home use, but it is a crime since these are containers purchased by someone and expected to be returned and reused. Shipping containers are far too expensive to simply trash, and unless there is money to buy them, they probably won’t be going to Haiti unless they are full of frieght.

laureth's avatar

@Jewel – Shipping containers often are trashed, rather than reused, because of the expense involved in shipping them back, and they often sit abandoned waiting for a use.

However, one of the public comments on that first link reads:

I know that it appeals to the Lego-lover in all of us, but shipping containers are actually poorly suited to adaptive re-use. They only work as just the lowest-performing shell for subsistence living (i.e., better than sleeping on open ground), or conversion to a mediocre product at a very high technological cost.

The very design of a container—with a full-width/height door at one end—is a bitch to seal, and to cut into. Doors and windows are extremely tricky and labor intensive to install, since the walls are corrugated and load-bearing. The steel shell is a nightmare to insulate; it’s a serious thermal pendulum, and it booms like a drum. They’re much heavier than practical and can only be moved with specialized equipment.

I know, I know—don’t rain on the colorful, building block parade! Full disclosure: I was trained as an architect.

On the other hand, I bet it sure beats having no home at all.

HungryGuy's avatar

Yeah, make ‘em live in, basically, abandoned truck trailers in 120 degree heat. That’ll teach ‘em, to make deals with the devil :-p

lilikoi's avatar

I am not sure how the cost of shipping and locating these containers and outfitting them to be livable compares to the cost of rebuilding in the country. Labor is a lot cheaper in Haiti than in the U.S., and I am not sure what the cost of various construction materials is. It is a lot faster, usually, to build from the ground up new than to retrofit an existing structure (because then you are working around several pre-existing constraints). I fully agree with @laureth. I’d probably prefer to live in a tent than to live in a highly conductive metal container whose insides change temperature quicker than that of a cold-blooded fish. Insulating those things I’d think would be a major design challenge.

EgaoNoGenki's avatar

@laureth and @lilikoi I think locally-available labor and insulating materials can keep the costs lower than flying them in from the 1st world. I think the only 1st-world labor to help build container homes there should be trainers who teach local labor to do it themselves.

The main outer structure (the containers themselves) being earthquake-proof will put the biggest worries aside and take care of the rest.

Sure, steel is built for durability, but steel-cutting equipment is in Haiti too, so without flying that in, it shouldn’t cost as much in Haiti to cut out openings for doors and windows as it would to do the same in a 1st-world country.

Trillian's avatar

@EgaoNoGenki so are you saying then, that somebody should do something?

EgaoNoGenki's avatar

I also think the particular comment that @laureth pointed out was made by an architect who would lose business if container home construction largely replaced the traditional kind, so s/he was defending his/her old way of life vehemently. (Well, blacksmiths and horse stable caretakers did the same when the Model T rolled around.)

This Wikipedia article shares the advantages and disadvantages of having container homes.

Haitians will be lucky to get low-cost housing that can be shipped in, set on a foundation and refitted for residential use faster than traditional (re)construction. After all they’ve been through, the container housing’s disadvantages will not be that bothersome for them. It’ll be the least of their worries, also because the living conditions most Haitians had before the earthquake was inferior to what the container homes will have for them.

It’ll still be quite a step-up from destroyed homes, homelessness, and tents with no running utilities. Some Americans might not prefer container homes, but Haitians will call it a godsend; a gift from Heaven. They’ll not complain about the disadvantages because their new blessings that container homes will be, will far outweigh them.

bea2345's avatar

That’s a brilliant idea.

grumpyfish's avatar

@EgaoNoGenki It sounds like an excellent plan—how can I help you implement it?

WVUMIKE's avatar

Used steel shipping containers (20’ and 40’) are bought by companies like Mobile Mini Inc. and then rehabbed and rented out as storage units or even mobile offices. These containers are bought by MMI once they are no longer seaworthy (not airtight to meet ISO standards).

reddogsteel's avatar

Assist International, a U.S. based Non Profit Organization ( )of which I am the V.P. is shipping containers to Haiti and has teamed up with LOML Design and Red Dog Steel Buildings to convert them immediately into high density homes for orphans with a long term plan of converting more of them into family style orphan homes. The plan drawn up by LOML Design places two containers parrallel about 15’ apart with a roof structure spanning them to create a common living area in between. Each container will house an orphan family of 12 kids plus a set of parents. You can look at early sketches, though it has evolved into a better living space since then, at my blog. ( Assist International has a 20 year history of building family style orphan villages in Romania and Africa. We are following through. GE has donated the first containers which will ship next week and we are hoping the metal building companies will donate the roofs. Assist is shipping the containers full of food, water, shelter items and clothing before conversion.

Jewel's avatar

Amazing plan! I wish you the best and have no doubt that you will make this idea work.

MaryW's avatar

Holy Cow do you know how hot they would be!!!!
Even a fan would not help. BUT I suppose the shade outside would be good as long as they did not block a breeze.

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