Shipping container homes are made from one or more shipping containers. The containers are often recycled after spending time transporting cargo.
As the containers need to withstand extreme conditions, they often include paint and wood treated with chemicals to protect against pests and corrosion. However, the paint and chemicals used to protect the container may pose health risks.
So, are shipping container homes toxic?
Shipping containers include paint and treated wood that are likely to contain toxins. Yet, when converting the container into a home, the wood floors are typically removed. The surfaces are also sandblasted to remove paint.
Building a shipping container home also involves cutting metal openings for windows and doors. Additional steel is also often welded to reinforce the frame. Cutting and welding metal produces toxic metal dust that needs to be thoroughly cleaned.
While used shipping containers tend to contain toxins, homebuilders can take steps to minimize or eliminate hazardous chemicals.
Shipping Containers Feature Treated Wood Floors
Shipping containers come in a variety of sizes, including 20-foot, 30-foot, and 40-foot models. However, all shipping containers need to comply with industry standards. No matter the size, the container is made from steel and has hinged doors. The walls on the top and sides are made from corrugated metal welded to rails and end frames.
A wood frame is built inside the frame and topped with wood flooring panels. The panels are typically made from plywood and are typically treated with chemicals to protect against pests and moisture.
Not all chemical treatments give off toxic fumes. Vapor pressure is needed for the chemicals to evaporate and release harmful fumes into the air. For example, wood treated with Radaleum FHP-60 is less likely to pose a threat, as it contains no vapor pressure.
How to Deal with Toxic Flooring in a Shipping Container
Now that we’ve answered the question ‘are shipping container homes toxic?’, let’s get on with dealing with toxic flooring. Ordering a new shipping container directly from a manufacturer is the best way to avoid toxic containers. Many manufacturers sell made-to-order shipping containers. The containers are built to your specifications, allowing you to obtain a container with no toxic paint or treated wood floor panels.
Buying a new shipping container increases the cost of building a container home. If you want to keep costs down and keep containers from going to the landfill, you can either remove the wood flooring or encapsulate it.
Removing the flooring requires appropriate safety equipment. You need to protect against the inhalation of toxic fumes, which may require masks and ventilation fans.
Marine plywood is typically used when replacing the wood flooring in a container home. Marine-grade plywood is made from pine or Douglas fir and is not treated with chemicals.
Removing the old flooring involves a lot of work and the risk of distributing harmful fumes into the air. Instead of removing the wood, you can cover it with new flooring. A common solution is to encapsulate the old wood flooring with a non-breathable underlayment.
The underlayment goes directly on top of the wood flooring and protects against the release of toxic fumes. The underlayment is then covered with tile or flooring of your choice.
Shipping Containers Are Coated with Paint
Shipping containers need to withstand severe weather and exposure to the salty sea air. Wet, humid environments promote corrosion, which can weaken the containers. To keep the containers sturdy, manufacturers coat the exterior surfaces with paint.
The marine paint used on shipping containers contains high levels of lead, chromates, and other toxic metals. Studies show that exposure to certain types of lead paint can cause sleep disorders, depression, and damage to the lungs and nervous system.
Exposure to paint may occur when welding, cutting or sandblasting a painted surface. However, not all paints contain dangerous levels of metal.
Shipping container manufacturers should provide a list of the materials used to create their containers, including the paints used to coat the surfaces. Before building a container home, homebuilders can review the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the paints used on the container.
The MSDS contains a list of ingredients. Paints that contain cadmium, chromium, and lead are more likely to pose health hazards.
How to Remove Toxic Paint From a Shipping Container
As with the flooring, you have two options for dealing with painted surfaces – removal or encapsulation. Removing paint typically requires sandblasting equipment. It is a labor-intensive process.
You also need to deal with the risk of exposure to dangerous fumes. The paint becomes more of a threat when removing it compared to leaving it in place. Sandblasting the exterior may release toxic dust.
Sandblasting equipment involves the use of abrasive media, such as silica pellets or sand. The abrasive material strips paint, debris, and rust from metal surfaces.
Instead of abrasive cleaning, toxic paint may be removed using chemicals or thermal techniques. The use of chemicals or heat increases the risk of damaging the metal, which reduces the structural strength of the container.
Encapsulation is a common solution for dealing with potentially toxic surfaces. For example, encapsulation is often used to cover lead-based paint and asbestos in residential and commercial properties.
Encapsulation involves covering the paint with a new coating. The coatings used to encapsulate surfaces are often called encapsulants. You can choose from several types of encapsulants:
Cement-like encapsulants are typically used on flooring, as these options form a thick coating. Polymers and epoxies are the preferred choices, as they are flexible and resilient. The coatings create a flexible membrane that prevents exposure to the original paint.
Conclusion: Are Shipping Container Homes Toxic?
Shipping container homes are made with potentially toxic materials. Paint containing toxic metals is often used to shield the exterior of the container from the elements. The floors are made from wood treated with chemicals to protect against rot and vermin.
Luckily, you can avoid exposure to toxic materials while building a shipping container home. You can either remove the toxins or encapsulate toxic surfaces. If you are still concerned about exposure to toxins, consider ordering a new container. Ordering a container without painted surfaces and treated wood gives you a clean slate for building your dream shipping container home.