The majority of firefighters today associate used shipping containers with Live Fire training.

1403 Live Fire class @ Greencastle FD

1403 Live Fire class @ Greencastle FD


However many designers, builders and eco organizations have another idea for the use of these used containers.

Why not turn one of the world strongest mobile structures into your next home or office?

After all these container were built to withstand built to withstand typhoons, tornados,hurricanes and even earthquakes. One or more of these incredible steel modules are the safest superstructure for a home, school, office, apartment, dormitory, storage unit, emergency shelter. …where would you rather be in a storm, hurricane or earthquake? I think in a room made of strong Corten steel

Shipping Containers that survived the recent earthquake in Japan. Shows the strength of Corten steel.

ISBU Construction Modules

Now we have a perfect box that is strong and virtually won’t rust – what else can we do with it? For many years the shipping container has been used for storage units beginning with the military and also construction companies.

But when the Shipping Container is no longer used for shipping, the name changes. When it used for any other purpose, other than transportation, the name for the ISO Shipping Container becomes ISBU. When you build with a shipping container it is an ISBU; short for Intermodal Steel Building Unit. …yes, in fact they are so popular now, they are often purchased directly from the factory simply for the purpose of construction, not shipping. The construction module is known as an ISBU to most people in the building construction trade.

Availability of shipping containers:

It is well known that the rapid growth of manufacturing in China and the global thrist by virtually every country for lower priced, high technology products from China has given to happier consumers and lower prices globally, but the side effect has been the one-way shipping of all the containers bringing the products from China.

So What Can We Do With Theses Containers?

The ISBU shipping container has been popular in Europe, UK, Australia, China, and the US since 2005 or even before.

In Amsterdam and the UK, the ISBU shipping container units have been popular for Student Housing and apartments since 2005. At about the same time in the US, people like Adam Kalkin, Peter De Maria, and the Lo-tek company in New York began using the shipping container in contemporary art type homes. The homes looked like shipping containers, but were designed in a very trendy way that was appealing to many.

ISBU’s are now be more easily adapted to conventional housing and office structures, both onsite and with the growth of new ISBU shipping container Prefab and Modular companies in the US and even more so globally.

Modern green home built with used shipping container:

Other uses of shipping containers:

Containers are in many ways an ideal building material because they are strong, durable, stackable, cuttable, movable, modular, plentiful and relatively cheap. Architects as well as laypeople have used them to build many types of buildings.

Shipping containers have also been used as:

  • Press Boxes
  • Concession Stands
  • Fire Training Facility
  • Military Training Facility
  • Emergency shelters
  • School buildings
  • Apartment and office buildings
  • Artists’ studios
  • Stores
  • Bank vaults
  • Medical clinics
  • Radar stations
  • Shopping malls
  • Sleeping rooms
  • Recording Studios
  • Transportable factories
  • Data centers
  • Experimental labs
  • Intermodal sealed storage on ships, trucks, and trains
  • Hotels


Firefighting Concerns:

  • Size

The common ISO Shipping container is 20′ or 40′ long; 8′ wide; and 8’6″ tall. So with the walls only being 8′ wide and ceiling 8’6 tall that will make the thermal radiation feedback happen much faster creating Flashover much sooner than the average 12′ ceiling. Most firefighters have fought many fires in these types of containers in training, however keep in mind the fuel load used in training is OSB and straw,paper and pallets. These homes have all the modern fuel loading (plastics) but in a very close space.

  • Ventilation

Since the containers are built of steel they are strong enough to support the added weight of a green roofs, also because they are flat they are well suited for solar panels installation. These two options add challenging obstacles toopen the roof,not to mention the steel roof.

  • Access

Many of these containers are being used in green construction and are trying to achieve The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings. Heat island mitigation is a big issue in achieving LEED points. LEED requires at least 50% of the hardscape of a development be either shaded or permeable materials.

Shading is usually accomplished by planting many trees and in some instances they are placed close to the structure which could hamper ladder placement.

Permeable materials are used to achieve LEED points these materials such as permeable pavers.Some of these permeable surfaces are made out of new exotic materials other than the common asphalt andconcrete most fire departments are used to staging there apparatus on. The weight of your apparatus may be a concern?

Many LEED communities are becoming walkable communites with limited amount of open parking spaces.these spaces are often away from the homes this could cause fire department access issues with staging and aerial ladder placement.

These are just a few that came to mind please reply in the comment section of your thoughts concerns.

Additional info at links below:,8599,2047072,00.html

Stay Safe

Lt. John Shafer


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John Shafer

An 18 year veteran of  the fire service, and currently a Lieutenant and the Training Officer for the Greencastle Fire Department.  An Indiana regionally recognized instructor on building construction, fireground search and command management, he has traveled throughout the State of Indiana delivering specialized training programs on building construction, fireground search and firefighter safety.

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