Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Welcome to my crib! Do you want a tour? This is my bedroom. This is my living room. This is my kitchen. And this is my bathroom. Because I... am in this. There's a whole AirBnB category just for shipping containers. And behind that is a couple of things. There's this fantasy that you buy a shipping container for $4,000 bring it to a mountain, and you're happy. You're happy now. And the other is that if you want affordable housing containers homes are the answer according to this, and this, and this, and this... So is it true? No. About a week ago I drove through a ton of fog Warrenton, North Carolina to stay in a shipping container. I brought some food props to make some elaborate shipping container models out of graham crackers which my editor was skeptical that I could pull off but I told her that I used to have a graham cracker addiction. So... full proof. And then I got to my house. No, the one behind that one. After I bonded with other guests, owner Michael pulled up who built this development with a tiny house, another shipping container, and my house. It's your home for tonight. Were you nervous cutting such a big hole? I really believe in my team, you know, and they will tell me if they believe they can't do it. To really re-emphasize, this is considered a real house. Later on, propped up agains the house, I found the cut out pieces of my actual container. That is very cool. You can actually see some of the printing of the container. That creativity is the promise of shipping containers, which I was gonna demo with my graham crackers, and it started out great... Look! I did it! But... No! No, no. No. You were right. Here are the supposed pros behind the shipping container home. It's standardized. This one's 40 by 8. 320 square feet. That means they're stackable. They can be modified with a simple cut through the steel. And you can just crane them... anywhere. They're also super strong because these things are made to carry stuff in big stacks across the ocean. And best of all, you can get them super cheap because containers are everywhere. It's still raining a bit and I'm totally hopped up on sugar now. So I thought I'd give you some reflections on my first night in the shipping container. It's pretty interesting. I definitely don't notice the size element. I don't feel constrained by that at all. And the way that Michael made the bathroom large makes it pretty easy to get comfortable. There's this lock on the garage door that you kind of... click shut. Makes it feel like a panic room. Which I actually like. Because it makes me feel like I'm important. It's like a good hotel room with a real creative touch to it. I'm going to go to sleep now. But something cool isn't necessarily practical. Or easy. Before I partied all night long in Warrenton, North Carolina. Just gonna eat this bad boy... I talked to two people about whether shipping containers are practical affordable housing or if they're kinda of overrated. One is Belinda Carr, an architect who has a Youtube channel that racks up huge views for videos about stuff like insulation and actually went viral with a video that wasn't super positive about shipping containers. And I talked to Mark Hogan, an architect who wrote an article 7 years ago about shipping containers and is still part of the big debate. There's no debate. I mean... they're garbage. It was a very old argument when I wrote the article and someone keeps recycling it every six months. It comes from me in architecture school. Almost every year they were pushing this idea of modularity... the idea that a home, each part of a home could be a different box and you could just switch out the box if you wanted to expand the home. And and we were kind of brainwashed in that sense. Everyone. I'm talking about everyone in architecture school. And then I got to the real world and I started like diving into building science how things are constructed, not just how things look, but how they function. Slowly, this argument about modular shipping container construction fell apart. It's an interesting look. And it appeals to people because it seems logical. As long as you don't think about it for more than 5 minutes. One of the first thing you see with these houses is stacking. The way containers work is they have these four major structural points in the ends of the container. They're supposed to bear most of the weight on those four footings. So when you see them on a ship out in the ocean, they're all stacked vertically. Once you start offsetting it or turning it at an angle no other part of the container is truly structural or can bear the weight of the container. So you have the reinforce it. The same goes for cool windows, and doors, and garages. When you cut a hole, you need to reinforce. The container itself has made it a very thin, flimsy metal. But because of the geometry and the corrugations... it basically functions as a box beam that that makes it stronger, which is why you can lift it up with a crane and put it on to a ship. As soon as you start cutting holes in it, it no longer functions structurally as a beam anymore. If you are able to get labor for all that to a remote location, you'll still need to build a foundation for your container to clear building codes and be stable. That could be a slab, or piers, and then it's stuck there. And you need utilities too. So this is actually with a real foundation, and it's concrete piers. And then we welded the shipping container onto the piers itself So this is actually considered a house on a very small scale. Modular design is great, but to make it livable, you have to add expensive, and pretty permanent, insulation. So we took a shipping container, we did spray in insulation... and then we put the tin over that insulation. And then it met the code requirements. The thing that I responded to in the article is the idea that it was a solution to building low cost housing, which is usually what it's presented as. And it's clearly not that. The overall project's not very expensive for a house, but per square footage it adds up. Okay, so shipping containers are so bad, why are they still a trend? I came to the conclusion that as affordable modular housing they're wildly overrated. But as cool, fun things to stay in and to design... they work. Also, I went on Getty images and, yea... shipping container housing for Ukrainian refugees is a thing. It definitely makes sense for temporary, really fast housing. But as an environmental or affordable housing solution? The next morning, I had breakfast. I slept well, I mean, I felt very safe because I've literally seen all the entrances and exits hanging against a wall. It was, go to sleep and take a really nice shower. They had a double shower and heated floor. Let's get some jam on here. I finished my graham cracker nachos and packed up. Later, at home, I went on Vox Media's music service and searched for a song that was bittersweet. I don't think I've ever met anyone who built something out of shipping containers who said they would do it again. The obsession I think is that people think they've come up with a workaround. And then they don't want to be proven wrong. And so they just dig deeper and deeper into this hole. I think humans have this obsession with modularity. It's this vision people have in their head of "oh, if I want to grow my home or if I want a larger bathroom, I can switch out this container and bring in another container." And the idea that if my home wants to grow, I can add in two more containers and it can grow that way. How did you feel when you first saw them on the site. There was a sense of excitement, but then I looked at my bank account and was immediately disappointed. Because I realized it was really going to be a challenge. You have to be a little naive and arrogant to do something like this because it is a lot more work and money than you initially expect. Warrenton, North Carolina is a tiny town but it's known for the revival Greek and Roman architecture they built. It's kind of artificial. Car. In the same way that shipping containers are a form but they aren't necessarily practical to live in all these columns don't make it easier or more functional but they did connect the people of Warrenton to a cultural legacy that existed. And that's kinda what we do with shipping containers too. I mean, we live with stuff that is moved around in these things, all the time. So why not occasionally expose them to our daily lives. It might not be practical to live in them, but it might be meaningful. Even if it's not as easy as it seems.