Container Home Roof Design Ideas

Shipping Container Home Roof

If you need container home roof design ideas, you are at the right place! Lets start with some general info:

Container Home Roofs

Cargo Shipping Containers are designed and built in accordance with ISO requirements which in the case of 1TEU (20ft container) implies a maximum gross weight of 52,910 lbs (24,000 kg) and the ability to withstand the load of 8 similar containers loaded to their maximum gross weight, piled on top of each other. By all accounts, they are built for truly herculean tasks. However, these undoubtedly impressive characteristics do not hold that well in applications out of the scope of their original designation. It’s because piled containers transfer the load through corner fittings. In container-based homes, however the compressive load will be rather distributed over the whole structure of the roof and walls.

Shipping Container Structure

Structure of the ISO-certified Cargo Shipping Container. Source: Residential Shipping Container Primer

When it comes to a container’s strength in housing applications, the two most important departures from the cargo shipping environment are caused by:

Modifications of walls

Installing windows, and doors, replacing sections of steel walls with glass or even completely removing them to create open spaces drastically changes the container’s integrity and so the limit of load it can withstand. Note that the structural strength of the roof is not determined by top rails but by welded to the corrugated walls. Once openings are cut in the walls, the roof will eventually deflect under compressive load. To preserve (or even exceed if necessary) the original strength of the container’s roof, adequate for a task steel reinforcement must be installed.

Roof’s changing objectives

The container’s roof does not really play an important role in the overall strength of the structure, it rather adds rigidity and resistance to lateral forces. Made from sheets of corrugated CorTen steel continuously welded around the container’s periphery, roofs are designed to provide protection from weather elements (including the weight of accumulated snow), to allow for walking over (for repairs), channel rainwater, etc…

In contrast to the cargo shipping business, in housing applications container roofs face various new challenges, sometimes beyond their original design goals. While the roof of a standard ISO container should be able to withstand reasonable loads, the mentioned above factors sharply change the situation. On one side, the container’s structural strength is weakened, on the other side, expected loads are increased.

Roofs in Shipping Container Houses

Traditional protection from weather elements

Unlike in traditional residential housing, a container roof is an integral part of the structure. This has positive implications – for example, the roof cannot be “uplifted” by strong winds (the whole container will rather fly if not properly attached to the ground). Frankly, an “integrated” roof is a great solution for most single-module (either 20ft or 40ft) houses, offices, storages etc… Acting as a robust, hermetic “umbrella”, such a roof serves its purpose of offering protection from weather elements at very low maintenance cost.

In arctic zones, snow may accumulate on the quasi-flat roof. As a result, the roof may slightly bend downward preventing the evacuation of water from the melting snow. Both effects – mechanical stress as well as standing water can have an impact on the durability of the roof if adequate maintenance is not provided (rust, structural deformation, possible loss of hermicity (infiltration of moisture), etc…

Left: Corrugated sheet of steel for the roof of the cargo shipping container. Source: ContainerHomeRight: An example of a single 20-foot-module container house with its original roof. Source: Homebloxx

Unfortunately, such a design has also negative effects. Being an integral part of just one module, the roof cannot offer efficient weather protection for multi-modular (horizontally attached) container houses. The most important problem will be caused by rainwater flowing between adjacent walls (corrugated roof channels rainwater towards edges along long sides of containers). Note that it does not matter in cargo shipping applications because each module is a separate (hermetic) entity stacked together for a limited amount of time. In contrast, multi-modular container houses are rather permanent structures so they will require extra protection, most likely in the form of more traditional roofs.

Aligned shipping containers (note that nothing prevents water from infiltrating the space between adjacent walls). Source: ContainerHome

Summarizing Container Home Roof Design Ideas

– flat roofs have their advantages, and container ones come for free as a “package”. In many cases however container-based houses will need more traditional roofs.


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