A Green Solution to the Housing Crisis


Startup converts old shipping containers into homes.

South Carolina’s SG Block is retrofitting 40-feet steel boxes from cargo ships emblazoned with brand names like Maersk into building units for homes.

The company has already erected a few homes and is now working on a development of several homes in Oceanside, California. Because the frame is made of steel, the homes also should stand up well in earthquakes. Ultimately, SG wants to become a component supplier to the construction industry – i.e., it will supply brand-name blocks to builders, architects and developers who will then turn them into dwellings.


Modular homes are getting ready for their close-up. Building homes in factories and then transporting them to a building site has several economic and environmental benefits over traditional construction, say advocates. Factory-built homes can be built more rapidly than conventional homes.

Building in a factory eliminates exposure of wood and other materials to the weather, which reduces the odds of mold blooms or warping. You can also get very tight seals between walls, windows and ceilings, which increases energy efficiency.


Michelle Kaufmann Designs is probably the leader among the new wave of modular home companies but the number of competitors grows all the time. VCs are also dipping more into building materials and buildings: unlike solar, these companies don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars. There is even a VC firm, Navitas, that specializes in green building investments.

The prices on factory homes vary widely. Some high-end modular homes can go for $400 a square foot. SG will sell some for $150 a square foot. (The price doesn’t include the cost of a foundation, which the company says can run $5 a square foot, or the land.)

The idea for the company came to founder Dave Cross during his days in the merchant marines. When you pilot crates around the world and stare at them all the time, you start to think about other things you can do with them, he explained.

He initially built some small versions of the house. Bob Vila saw them and began promoting SG Block.

And where do they get the block? Cross has pals in the salvage business from his days at sea. When they get the block, they remove the sides, clean them of noxious chemicals and add any needed support.

Disclosure: Greentech Media is one of several media sponsors at the show, but it is a pretty cool show. In a singe day I learned about how to make artificial grass, learned about alcohol-burning portable fireplaces and saw a toilet with a sink attached. By all means go.

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