The rapidly rising U.S. trade deficit with China has caused some US entrepreneurial homebuilders to “think outside the box”. Or rather – think “using the box”.

The Facts

China exported $243 billion worth of goods to the US last year (2005). The US exported only $41.5 billion worth of goods to China, leaving a trade deficit of a staggering -$201.5 billion. (Source: US Census Bureau – Trade in Goods with China)

As a direct result of this disproportionate balance, tens-of-millions of empty cargo containers are amassing on US soil. It’s simply cheaper to stockpile these containers than return them empty to the Far East. The problem has become so rampant, that many residential communities have forced local legislators to relocate this logistical waste to designated container junkyards. But as the trade deficit widens, the problem only increases. Major port communities, particularly in the LA and Long Beach, CA area have also been victims of this “plague”.

Entrepreneurs to the Rescue

Savvy entrepreneurs have discovered a solution to contain this container dilemma.

By recycling the containers into building materials, homebuilders can buy materials to supply affordable housing at a cost of approximately $10 per container. According to home improvement guru Bob Vila, “architects, designers, planners, and homeowners are finding renewed interest in these inter-modal steel building units (ISBUs) as they look for affordable, sustainable housing options for the 21st century.”

Empty containers are useful for both single structures, or as building blocks for larger structures. The units come in 40’ x 8’ x 8’ and 20’ x 8’ x 8’. There are pretty slick ISBU designs, and even architectural competitions.

For more information on building with ISBU’s see