Why more middle-class South Africans are looking to move into shipping containers

 ·10 Dec 2017

The development of shipping containers in the 1950s transformed the face of the transport industry, but no-one realised at that time that it would take the building scene by storm some years later.

In recent years the shipping container, being both durable as well as climate resistant, has gained popularity within residential as well as commercial property,” said Leon Breytenbach, national manager of the Rawson Property Group’s commercial division.

“Multi storey office or apartment structures house permanent occupants all over the world, as forward thinking architects, developers or governments demonstrate their belief that this unconventional trend is here to stay,” he said.

Logical alternative

According to Breytenbach, shipping containers offer a logical alternative to conventional commercial buildings.

Resembling large Lego blocks, they lend themselves to a simple, modular building design which may be combined with a variety of materials such as an assortment of claddings, to give rise to attractive, trendy, yet efficient structures.

Although they may be imagined to be a cheaper method of construction, this is not necessarily the case.

“Containers, being made of metal, are excellent conductors of heat or cold thus requiring cladding as well as heating or cooling systems to make them habitable,” said Breytenbach.

They require similar or better finishes than a conventional structure, as well as professional fees, cost of services, and so forth, causing the overall spend to be not too dissimilar.


Breytenbach also believes that containers will work out to be more economical than a standard home for a number of reasons.

This is because they are durable, resisting the rigors of harsh climatic conditions, but are also portable so may be moved to another location without much difficulty or loss of working time, greatly reducing the cost of redeveloping a new property, he said

They also allow fast-tracking of the building process, significantly reducing the construction time, he said.

“Buildings constructed from shipping containers bring a uniqueness to modern commercial property when they are skilfully designed, attractively appointed and favourably located; an attractive alternative for any discerning tenant,” said Breytenbach.

“There is an ecological benefit as well. The United States alone, although re-using three quarters of the containers they import annually, still have a surplus of over five million spare containers per year.

These would use a vast quantity of electricity if they were to be melted down for recycling. By using these containers as building modules, they are reducing the need for other resources such as clay bricks or timber to be produced for the building industry.”

“It is far better to turn this surplus into necessary housing or commercial premises than allow them to take up land in ever growing container dumps,” he said.

Be aware

One thing prospective buyers have to be mindful of is the building regulations in their area with regard to the use of shipping containers as building modules, said Breytenbach.

Rather be sure before embarking on a project which could attract legal hitches, troublesome delays or costly fines, he said.

“Employing the services of a good architect or developer who knows the regulations should save you time as well as trouble.

“While containers are standardised, mass produced objects which encourage great originality there may be a few draw-backs.

“Designs must necessarily link as well as stack the units, making sure to exclude the natural elements while giving stability to the structure. In order to exclude the natural elements, joins must be completely waterproof, thus utilizing the containers requires expertise in design as well as in attachment,” he said.

Read: A look inside Joburg’s new R4,900 a month container homes

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