I have been interested in the possibility of using shipping containers as component of our material palette, and have executed some preliminary research into the viability of that idea. There are some pros and cons to using shipping containers:
The US has a trade negative trade imbalance, so shipping containers are piling up here, as it isn’t cost effective to ship empty containers back to where they came from. They are designed to be subjected to heavy loads and harsh conditions, so they make for very robust structures. It’s easy and safe to stack them into multi-level housing. They can also be very fast to set up onsite.
They are steel boxes, and controlling the temperature is a big issue. They need to be very well insulated. They aren’t manufactured to be inhabited, so they may have toxic paints or other materials which need to be removed. At least the interior of the container will need to be sandblasted, and have its likely toxic chemical imbued plywood floor removed. There is quite a bit of work associated with prepping the containers for use. Transportation of the containers is a big issue, because they are so heavy. Onsite, they need to be placed with a crane. Also, because they are so robust, it is difficult to modify them (need an acetylene torch or fireman’s saw) and they are long and narrow with low ceilings.
Overall, in most places, a stick-built structure of the same dimensions would be either the same cost or cheaper to build. For us to decide to use them, I think we would need to uncover an opportunity where there are lots of them around and they are kind of unwanted. It’s also possible that we would want to use them (or something like them) as prefabricated bath/kitchen pods.