Floating Container Homes: The Answer to Rocketing House Prices?
According to the laws of physics, anything that is less dense than fluid will float on top of it. This is why oil floats on water, but is also the reason that 500,000 tonne oil tankers don’t sink!
You can have any number of shipping containers attached together to create a home or office complex as long as the combined density is no greater than the water on which it sits. Essentially as long as you don’t fill them with concrete you can build a floating container complex.
A number of people around the world have realised their dreams of a shipping container home by working within this principle. This blog post will look at two shipping container homes in the UK that have been built to beat the property market in and around London, which has some of the highest house prices in the world. We’ll also consider what you need to do to ensure that your shipping container building floats and is stable – two essential things to consider in a floating home!
Rule 1. Displacement
As pointed out in the introduction almost anything will float as long as it is less dense than the fluid on which it sits.
There is another rule you need to bear in mind – the water must be deep enough to ensure that the construction floats. This is founded on Archimedes’ Law of Displacement. If it is too heavy and the water too shallow it will sit on the bottom until there is enough water to lift it. This is s concept that could be used to construct homes that will float when there is a flood (as opposed to sinking and the owner losing everything they own), and is a very good idea for flood prone areas or for emergency housing after an area is inundated.
The weight of the construction will also determine where your waterline will be, so in building a new container home you must think about this in order to ensure water doesn’t pour through your doors when you launch it. The designers of the first home we will look at calculated this perfectly so the pontoon on which the container home sat is right at the waterline and the construction appears to be a house sitting exactly on the water!
Airbnb Floating Home
In summer 2015 new laws were enacted that allow residents of London homes to rent their spare rooms for up to 90 days without being considered a hotel or bed and breakfast. As a publicity stunt the international bed and breakfast website Airbnb launched a new floating container home.
The construction involves six containers on a pontoon raft, and comprises a two bedroomed apartment with a garden and a doghouse. It also has a large living room, kitchen and bathroom so people staying can live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
The designers of the construction deliberately built it so that the weight of the building sank the pontoon on which it sits to below the water, using the laws of buoyancy for aesthetic effect. This is so the home has the appearance of sitting on the surface of the water and is not just a construction sitting on a pontoon as so many other projects have been.
In order to get around the problem of the pontoon being below the waterline, the construction is watertight around the garden and home itself. The garden itself actually sits below the level of the water outside so this is very like a bulk carrier ship with its hatches open.
As a concept the building looks quirky but in order to achieve the aims of the project it took a lot of careful calculations in order to get the perfect appearance. It can get choppy on the Thames with waves getting as high as 1.4 metres even as far upriver as London. The building had to float under the bridges of the river too, and this limited the overall height of the building. It is no joke if you hit a bridge in London – boats that do are subject to an AUD $3.7 million fine!
Since this is a ‘houseboat’ under local regulations, no one is allowed to be aboard the vessel when it is being moved. Sadly that means that you can’t do your gardening while being towed under Tower Bridge! Built as a publicity stunt, a group of friends won a prize to stay the night aboard last summer but it was a one trick pony and has been put into storage after its one time use.
Rule 2. Stability
Another thing to consider is stability. You need to make sure that the centre of gravity is quite low in order to prevent the construction from tipping over and capsizing. This can be dealt with by ballasting the home and keeping the heaviest things such as the water tank close to the waterline.
When the next home was built, initially the builder tried to put the container right on the side of the pontoon but because the weight was too far from the centre of buoyancy it nearly capsized. We will discuss how Max McMurdo got around this in the next section.
Cheap Container Housing Development in Bedford, England
Bedford Marina is in a country park around an hour by train north of central London. Known to locals as a place where children play by day and adults have illicit trysts by night, it could soon become home to 20, 40ft ultra low cost container homes.
The first home in the marina was developed by a friend of British TV presenter George Clark, who hosts the Channel 4 programme George Clark’s Amazing Spaces. According to the local newspaper Bedfordshire News, Max McMurdo decided to develop the idea into reality when his friend told him he was nuts! He told the paper, “So we started talking about it and George said ‘don’t be stupid that’s nuts’ and so I said ‘alright I’ll do it’. I was paying £1,000 a month for a mortgage on a house I was never in because I was always at work and it was never really my dream home. I thought if I don’t do it now I will never do it.”
The full cost of the floating container home came to just over AUD $90,000 including the pontoon, container, windows, as well as the various elements that make the home what it is.
A large bi-fold window opens from the container onto the pontoon’s deck, allowing the residents to effectively double their floor space in the summer months. Placing the container on the pontoon required another element of waterborne physics – stability. The force of the home must sit evenly over the centre of the buoyant force so it doesn’t tilt or fall over. This is like balancing a weight on scales – if there is too much weight on one side that side will sink and the other will rise, meaning that on the water the vessel could capsize! This isn’t to say that the home must be on the centre of the pontoon – you can always ballast the pontoon itself on the empty space in front of the container to equal the weight of the container so it doesn’t tilt backwards and sink.
Other than obeying the laws of physics, the container home used a number of innovations that are similar to what people do to fit their lives into a 40ft container home ashore. McMurdo managed to fit a double bedroom, fully fitted kitchen, living room and bathroom into the space. Where in a straight line this would be just about possible, if cramped, the owner chose to use space saving innovations to reduce the space required. Under his bed is his wardrobe that you can step down into, while the bathtub is under a false floor and sits under the shower. He even managed to use one tap to fill his kitchen sink and bathroom sink!
McMurdo is an innovator and it comes as no surprise that he has asked the local authority for permission to develop his idea even further into a full scale housing development on the marina. If given permission, up to 20 low cost one bedroomed container homes will float on pontoons near the original that was on TV.
Bedford is very close to London, being only an hour’s commute from the banking and finance houses of the City. As such, house prices are very high in this trendy county town, and the idea of a low cost, comfortable home on the water is something that many people dream of but just can’t afford. This development could well be the answer to many a single person or young couple’s ability to get their feet on the first rung on the housing ladder.
For a floating container home you will need to consider a number of elements in addition to the cost of the container and how it will look. The first thing to consider is how will it float? Zego Marine in the UK has developed a modular pontoon system that is designed to meet the needs of the family or business that seek to convert a container into a floating home or commercial premises.
People haven’t only built houseboats as floating container conversions – one company in the UK has developed a cafe that floats. Using a 20ft container they have built a small cafe with a roof terrace and outside area that will be a drawcard to customers who wish to enjoy their refreshment in the sun. Most UK rivers are prone to flooding during the winter months and this has the added practical benefit of rising and falling with the tides and river spates that that blight waterfront living. Rather than lose everything when the water level rises, this system just stays on top of it all. The company used Matrix Pontoons from Zego Marine.
The pontoons can be bolted together and for a safe working load you need around 26 for a 20ft container with deck space in front and behind the container. For a home like Mr McMurdo’s above, you need around 42 for one 40ft container that has outside deck space in front and behind the container.
In theory the possibilities are endless! Using such a modular system you can adjust the configuration of the floating container construction accordingly – you just need to bolt on more pontoons to meet your needs. A marine architect will be able to tell you the maximum weight of the final construction and this will inform you in turn how many pontoons you will require.
Thinking of Constructing a Home or Business That Floats?
Now you’ve seen a novel way to live in a compact yet comfortable floating space, talk the team at Gateway Container Sales about getting a specially modified container to sit on a barge or pontoon! We’re in contact with a network of designers and tradesman who can help you turn your project into reality. Get in touch with us or request a free quote and find out what you need to do to develop the concept into a real, floating space that you and your family can enjoy together.