Terminology of Container Housing

Terminology of Customized Container Housing Structures

What are ISBU Structures? 

So far, there are no common agreements regarding the name of Shipping Container Houses. In an attempt to distinguish traditional ISO Containers used for the transport of cargo from those solely used for building construction, the Container Home Association proposed the name ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit). Back in 70. the US military adopted such terminology! . However, the class of ISBU containers includes not only new Customized Containers manufactured exclusively for building construction, but also traditional Cargo Containers adapted for the purpose of the construction industry. The name ISBU reflects their common structures (steel) and modular designs, however, it does not correctly reveal their original purpose (industrial for Cargo Containers and commercial/residential for Customized Containers).  We may use this terminology when talking about the general concept of Shipping Container Houses (SCH), as both names seem to be equivalent.

What are Customized Container Houses?

When it comes to Customized Shipping Containers Houses, the right name could be something like “Prefabricated Foldable Shipping-type Container Houses” (PFSC Houses), however, for obvious reasons, it will be highly impractical. That’s why, throughout this website, we will rather use the name Customized Container Houses (CCH). This name conclusively implies their structure (steel-made, portable container-like box), but also clearly emphasizes their nature (Customized for use as Habitable Space).

Terminology of Container Housing:

Few important facts about ISBUs and CCHs

Both classes of shipping container houses (ISBUs and CCHs) will not meet relevant ISO as well as CSC requirements for cargo containers. The original strength of Cargo Containers decreases due to cutouts in sidings for windows, doors, skylights.  Removal of entire walls can also decrease its strength. Customized container houses will be unreasonably overdesigned (and pricier) if built to meet such requirements.  For example: Maximum Gross Weight of 30,480 kg (62,700 lbs) or Maximum Stackable Weight of 220,570 kg (499,720 lbs).

Instead of CSC (Convention for Safe Containers) and relevant ISO certifications, the Customized Container Houses must have certification of compliance. It comes with applicable building codes as well as other local requirements (note that these may vary between countries). It is strongly suggested to check these requirements with Local Authorities. You must carefully verify the manufacturer’s certifications before committing to the purchase of any shipping container house.

Typically, manufacturers of Customized Container Houses offer standard 20ft (1 TEU) or 40ft (2 TEU) modules as stand-alone units. They also offer several standard floorplans for 1(2) TEU offices, houses, utility rooms etc. as well as arrangements for more complex structures that customers can choose from. Many of them are also willing to further customize container houses to meet specific client requirements. This approach is especially helpful when you want to build a multi-modular and/or multi-level residential or commercial building.

What is the difference between ISBU and CCH definitions?

As you will find on this website, such differentiation has deep consequences. The name CCH clearly indicates such structures:

  1. Do Not have their cargo-related history (for most GP cargo containers unknown but often filthy and certainly toxic),
  2. Do NOT need big structural modifications (removing walls, cutting-out openings for windows, doors, putting thermal insulation…
  3. Come as “Out-of-the-box”, almost ready-to-use, and usually brand-new housing solutions.

Laws and Permits in the USA


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