Shipping containers and the aid industry

by Jon Thompson on October 13, 2008

No that I have purged most of the vitriol from my system I thought I should start talking about what I see as a solution and stop focusing on what I consider to be the problems.  Recently, I have become fascinated by the advancements coming out of the world of shipping containers specifically the ability to convert standard ISO containers into temporary housing, power, and medical facilities.  For me this is the next frontier in technological advancement for the aid industry.

There is an incredible amount of info out there but it is best to start with this video which shows construction of a container based house start to finish and the use of an incredible ceramic insulative paint called SuperTherm.  SuperTherm can add an R20 rating to any surface with the spray on application of only a few millimeters of product. Click the image to be taken to the video page:

By combining SuperTherm with closed cell polyurethane spray insulation a shipping container can easily be converted into a comfortable lab or medical center for use in extreme climates.  One of my first jobs was building a tuberculosis clinic in the Afar region of Ethiopia, one of the hottest places on earth.  It probably would have been more economical and efficient to purchase a pre-fab lab (had we had this technology back then), ship it to Djibouti, one of the largest ports in East Africa, and truck it a few hours up the road to our location.  Outfitted with solar panels we could have been running samples within a few hours rather than spending months building the clinic.  Construction slowed dramatically between 11 and 3pm when temperatures reached over 110F.

Given that just about everything we do involves the use of shipping containers there is no lack of opportunity to work pre-fab units into our system.  When you compare such an option as an alternative to the sometimes incredibly frustrating task of building a standard structure on site shipping container clinics and labs might prove preferbale in a number of instances.  One non-profit, Global Peace Containers, already runs programs in Jamaica utilizing containers for schools, health clinics and housing.

I’ll stop here and leave you with a few links to check out:

ISBU News –

Container Bay –

Shipping Container Homes –

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

rosie cubbin October 13, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Australia and New Zealand seem to be ahead of the game as far as using shipping containers for emergency housing is concerned.

The Australian Army in particular uses shipping containers as medical clinics and operating theatres which they take with them on operations.

I couldn’t agree with you more about utilising shipping containers as a versatile, transportable medical resource in other areas.

We as a company in the UK already supply shipping container classrooms to schools and as operation rooms for the police and fire forces.

Shipping containers as a viable, easily available resource are beginning to be looked at in different ways. Long may this continue.

Shipping Container Homes June 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Like you I became enamored with shipping container based construction a few years ago for fast affordable deployment in the my part of the World – The Golden Triangle – Northern Thailand, Burma, Laos.

After building and deploying several prototypes we found an equal amount of both benefits and challenges.

One of the biggest challenges was cost compared to local masonry based construction ( 2 -3 x ) and circumventing local “builders” and material supply.

We found that a locally built small structure using local skills and material supply was actually faster than a correctly done container building, if you start from the day you order it.

The real advantage was relocation potential of course.

I would also agree with the previous commenter that countries like Australia are a long way ahead of the US when it comes to innovative relocatable buildings – this is contributed to by the demand created by remote location mining camps.

I have a series of videos that discuss container based construction starting here.

Container Homes December 3, 2011 at 8:42 am

I was always taught that the three necessities of life are food, clothing, and shelter. As I’ve learned more about shipping container homes, I’ve been impressed with their usefulness for all types of shelter. Simple, one-container shelters can be very appropriate for those with less income, and can provide homes for those who have been hit with natural disasters. I have provided a lot of information about cargo and storage container homes at

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