Surplus shipping containers are being converted into cost-efficient homes, restaurants and shopping centres in Manila While most surplus shipping containers in Hong Kong are being used as temporary mobile offices on building sites, Filipinos are making these steel boxes into homes, cafes and even shopping complexes. The cost of converting the shipping containers into homes and restaurants is low, so demand for surplus boxes is growing rapidly in Manila. 'It is not only more cost-efficient than traditional construction but also eye-catching,' said Ronald Yap, chairman of Philippine company Storage Providers, which won accreditation from the Philippines' Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council for innovative housing in 1996. Steel boxes were also fast to assemble, termite proof, rust proof, and typhoon and earthquake proof, he said. 'The beauty of using containers is they require no foundation and they are moveable,' said Mr Yap, who had enlarged his residence by adding containers on top of the original concrete structure. 'No one noticed that my home is a mixture of concrete and container boxes,' he said. Theoretically, it was safe to put 11 containers on top of each other to form an 11-storey block for residential and commercial purposes, he said. But so far, most refurbished containers that had been used to create restaurants, shopping complexes and houses were three-storeys high. The average cost to refurbish a container is 300 pesos ($42) to 500 pesos per square foot, including electrical fixtures, windows, doors, a bathroom, double walling, ceiling installation and enamel painting inside and out. Using containers to build on-site offices was more common than turning them into homes and restaurants, he said, adding that it usually took time for the market to adjust to new concepts. Pier One, a three-storey restaurant constructed from 16 containers on Roxas Boulevard, was one of the first examples of the container conversion concept. In Quezon Avenue, the owner of Design Depot, a shopping complex made out of 15 containers, has subdivided the refurbished steel boxes into small stores for leasing. With proper maintenance, the containers could last for more than 10 years, Mr Yap said. But rising steel prices had prompted most shipping firms to sell their surplus containers to scrap metal traders instead of recycling them for residential and commercial use. Because of tight supply, prices of surplus containers have more than doubled to US$1,500 each from US$700 since April last year. 'The soaring prices have significantly squeezed our profit margins,' Mr Yap said. Most firms were sourcing their containers from China, Japan and the United States.