Shipping crates, or containers, are an excellent green building material. Rather than trashing old containers, companies and ambitious do-it-yourselfers are using reclaimed shipping containers to build single- and multiple-family homes. Because shipping crates offer a premade frame, container houses require fewer raw materials to build -- there's no need to spend money and resources on framing and siding.

From simple, DIY plans to elaborate construction projects, the shipping container is becoming one of the newest stars of green construction. One of the coolest things about building with shipping containers is their versatility. Whether you're looking to build a tiny eco-house, a multifamily dwelling or something in between, shipping crates can work as part of the design.

These containers are a great resource for do-it-yourselfers looking to jump in on the bourgeoning tiny-house movement. Once you've sorted through building codes to make sure you can legally build a shipping-container home in your area (more on that on the next page), tracking down the container itself can be one of the hardest parts of the process. Sea Box is a good resource for used containers. For the purist looking to build from scratch, they offer used shipping containers as is. They also sell modified containers that can range from those that need a few tweaks to full-on prefab shipping-container homes [source: Sea Box].

Those building larger, single-family homes can use multiple containers to create a more dynamic space. In Flagstaff, Ariz., Marvin Glotfelty and his wife Marie Jones own a 2,000-square-foot home constructed from six containers. The home is a great example of a container house that's environmentally focused. Not only is it made from reclaimed containers, but the $400,000 house also includes eco-amenities like a water-harvesting system, radiant floor heating and foam insulation to make it energy efficient [source: The Associated Press].

Even apartment dwellers can get in on the container action. Container City in London, which was built in 2001, used 20 containers to create 15 eco-friendly live-work spaces [source: Trinity Buoy Wharf].

Of course, any new building trend has its challenges. Next, we'll take a look at some of the common hang-ups that go along with a shipping-container project.