With today’s focus on sustainability and thinking “green,” I was shocked to hear this statistic: There are estimated to be over 17 million Intermodal shipping containers in the world, and 700 thousand of these are sitting empty and abandoned in the U.S.

The primary reason for these extra containers is that America is now a net importing country (more containers coming in than going out). It doesn’t make financial sense to return an empty container to Southeast Asia. I got this information from a Bob Villa video where he interviews TAW, a company that converts these hurricane-tough steel containers into homes in Florida, as an alternative to wood or concrete block construction. As you can see in Bob’s video, the homes are not simply a single box with a few windows and a door: The containers are integrated into more traditional, structurally sound – and roomier – home designs. It’s exciting to think of unconventional uses for the thousands of empty containers. For example, maybe Habitat for Humanity could explore building with containers, creating low-cost but durable homes for those in need.

While I ‘m really intrigued by the residential application of intermodal containers, I’m not involved in that industry. But I am doing my part and thinking “green” by helping container companies find new uses for intermodal containers in commercial and military applications. In a commercial capacity, we supplied a company with fire-resistant structural panels for walls and ceilings. The end use was a simple shipping yard office. We provided 3/8″ plywood/FRP panels for this job, complete with PVC extrusions to connect the panels. Other panel options would include FRP or aluminum sheet bonded to XPS (Dow Foam) or EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) for container inside wall systems. Once a shipping container is altered for building use, it becomes an ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit).

In another situation, the military wanted to incorporate shelving into the containers. Since weight was an issue, we sourced a light weight composite product where heavier steel was previously used. The composite provided just enough sturdiness without adding extra weight (and cost). The customer was very pleased that we went above and beyond, looking for a product that not only met – but exceed their specifications.


Container converted into office space.

One of things I enjoy most about being in the panel and lamination industry is the opportunity to “think outside the box” for my customers by sourcing panel and lamination materials that they may not have considered. There are so many innovative panel and lamination materials out there, the challenge – and the opportunity – for me is finding customers who are willing to explore sometimes unconventional applications – like container conversion. However, I never budge on safety and coding requirements, no matter how “out there” a customer’s idea may be. I’m curious to know what your experience has been with an unconventional use for a material? And, the big question is, would you think outside the box and ever live inside a shipping container? :)