What to Know About Shipping Container Homes (2024)

Whether as a tiny home or an ambitious multi-story project, shipping container homes offer an affordable, versatile way to build a durable residence.

Boxy, right-angle-filled shipping container homes are still something of a novelty in most places. But expect to be seeing a lot more of them. A 2019 report on shipping container homes predicts that by 2025, container homes will be a $73 billion global industry.

Popular as a DIY projectfor small building lots, with tiny home enthusiasts, and as a public housing solution in overcrowded areas, shipping container homes can solve a lot of housing needs. Let’s take a closer look at shipping container homes, and whether one is right for you.

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What Is a Shipping Container Home?

Shipping container homes are single- or multi-family residences that use new or used shipping containers as their primary material. The containers, built for holding cargo on transoceanic crossings, are made of heavy-duty, corrosion-resistant steel. Because they’re designed to hold tons of cargo and be stacked one on top of another during long ocean voyages, shipping containers are extremely durable and weather- and water-resistant.

They offer homeowners the versatility to build a tiny home with a single container; connect several containers to form a larger one-story residence; or stack, often cantilever-style, multiple containers to create a unique and modern multi-story home. In low-income or densely populated areas, shipping container projects provide a way to create safe, affordable, high-density public housing.

Where Do Shipping Containers Come From and How Do You Buy One?

Most shipping containers are fabricated in China, filled with cargo and shipped around the world. New containers are often used only one time — on a one-way trip — because it’s more advantageous for the shipping company to sell the container than it is to return it empty to its point of origin. These are sold either as “one-trip” or new containers.

Used shipping containers that made more than one trip are less desirable for container homes. Why? Their water-tightness may have been compromised, and they are more likely to be damaged.

To build a container home, prospective owners must purchase new or used containers and have them delivered to their building site. Containers are available from resellers across the U.S.; simply Googling “shipping containers near me” should turn up a range of options. They mostly come in two sizes, 20 feet or 40 feet, although 45-foot models are also available. These containers have an internal width and height of seven feet, 10 inches.

Forty-foot containers are also available in what’s called “high-cube” models. These shipping containers have another foot of height and are popular for container homes. New, standard and high-cube 40-foot containers cost between $3,800 and $5,000 each. Buyers must pay for the delivery of the containers to their building site. Fees are based on distance, but figure on paying at least several hundred dollars per container.

How Much Do Container Homes Cost?

Costs for shipping container homes vary, depending on how many containers are used, how large the containers are, and how elaborate the design and finishes are.

A “keys-in-hand” container home from Texas-based Stackhouse Container Homes costs from $50,000 for a 20-footer. For $200,000 and up, the company will build on your lot a spacious two-story home composed of several containers, complete with a roof deck. If you buy your own containers and hire contractors to do all the work, figure on spending between $15,000 and $25,000 per container. This article from 24hPlans.com shows several finished container homes and what it cost to build them.

Future container homeowners with advanced DIY skills can save money by doing most of the work themselves. Jessica and Vaillant are the couple behind Pacific Pines Ranch, an ambitious container home on the Oregon coast comprised of seven containers. Jessica says the pair have done all the work themselves, including pouring foundations and digging their septic tank drainfield.

“Container projects usually require a lot of custom work and welding, which can make the overall cost astronomical,” she says. “We’ve also bought a lot of our materials second-hand or made them when needed, and this has allowed us to stay on track.”

Though she declined to say how much they’ve spent so far, Jessica says they stayed within budget and expect the two-year project to wind up in late 2021.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Building a Container Home?

Pros:

Versatility. Container homes can be stacked up to eight containers high, and, as Jessica says, “they’re modular units and can be arranged in almost any way with the right structural engineering.”

Durability. The shipping containers were built to withstand extreme conditions at sea and rough handling in transit, so they are safe and durable in every kind of weather and environment. According to container builder Falcon Structures, shipping containers go through a rigorous verification process that ensures they can withstand winds of 180 mph — stronger than most hurricane-force winds.

Cost-savings. Building a DIY container home can be cost-effective. But even buying a ready-made or custom-made model is usually significantly cheaper than the same-sized traditional “sticks and bricks” house.

Quick construction. Once permitting and site prep are done, pre-fab container homes can be built in as little as 10 weeks. Timing on DIY projects will vary depending on the complexity of the build. But having the basic structure ready at the outset is a time-saver in any case.

Cons:

Lots of work for a little space. Unfinished shipping containers require a lot of work to be livable. Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief of Family Handyman magazine, points out that all of the framing, plumbing, wiring and insulation take up space inside the container, and often derail the budget. “All you really save on is the cost and labor of siding,” he says. “And with framing inside, an already small space gets even smaller.”

NIMBY. Container homes are not permitted everywhere, and owners often have to purchase land in rural areas with looser zoning restrictions. Check your local zoning rules before you start planning that shipping container dream home.

Structural issues. Your shipping container could have invisible damage that compromises its structural soundness. And Wentz says cutting windows, doors and passageways into the sides of the container, aside from being difficult, means those areas will need to be reinforced and sealed.

Dubious eco-cred. When good-as-new shipping containers are taken out of circulation and turned into homes, that’s not exactly good for the environment. Containers contain at least 10 times the steel that would be used for a traditional home.

Ultimately, constructing and living in a shipping container home is a lifestyle choice for those who like the novelty, modern style and ability to use containers to custom-design a modular home.

What to Know About Shipping Container Homes (2024)

FAQs

What to Know About Shipping Container Homes? ›

Because they were built to safely transport goods over long distances and often-harsh conditions, shipping containers are extremely durable, making them an ideal choice for homes. With proper care and maintenance, these homes can last decades - an average lifespan of 25-30 years.

What is the lifespan of a container house? ›

It's remaining stationary so it won't accumulate the same levels of wear and tear as those containers. As long as you take the right precautions, your shipping container home should last for 25 years or more.

Is building a shipping container home a good idea? ›

Shipping container homes are durable but may lack the longevity that traditional houses have. A custom container home can last 25–30 years with proper maintenance, but a standard home generally lasts much longer than that, especially considering homes are passed down generations and still stand the test of time.

Do you need a slab for a container home? ›

Soil Types Make an Impact

Thus, containers placed directly on the ground tend to sink in the long term (think months to years). However, a container placed on a hard substrate like granite may never need a foundation or a gravel pad, while a container in a bayou may always require concrete pilings.

Is it cheaper to build a house or a container home? ›

According to HomeGuide, the average cost to build and install a container home is $25,000 to $250,000. While that's no small chunk of change, it's significantly less than you'd expect to pay for a traditional house in most parts of the country.

Do container homes get hot? ›

If you are fortunate enough to live in a warm climate then during the summer months you may find your shipping container home gets a little too warm, just like any other home.

Are container homes unhealthy? ›

Shipping container homes can be equally safe as traditional homes when proper construction and safety measures are implemented. Despite concerns about toxic chemicals and harmful paint coatings, there are ways to address these issues.

Are shipping container homes safe in lightning? ›

Shipping containers are essentially metal boxes. Because shipping containers are made of steel, they will become conductors if hit by lightning. However, if a container is grounded, the shell will act as a Faraday shield and the electricity will be conducted around the outside without affecting its contents.

Are container homes cold in winter? ›

Cold Climates. A thin metal box against temperatures dipping below zero doesn't sound like a great place to live, but once your shipping container is turned into a proper home, it can be as toasty warm as any traditional structure. Making sure the house has adequate insulation is the key.

Is a container house worth it? ›

Modular shipping container homes can be faster to build than a custom stick-built house. Smaller container homes may be less expensive than traditional building methods; a container tiny home can cost between $10,000 to $25,000. Reusing shipping containers can help the environment by keeping these containers in use.

How do you maintain a container home? ›

Regular maintenance and weatherproofing are essential to preserve the longevity and integrity of your container home. Inspect your containers periodically for signs of rust or damage, especially in areas prone to corrosion. Apply weatherproof coatings as needed to protect against moisture and the elements.

How much does it cost to build a container ship home? ›

How much does a shipping container home cost? For most homeowners, this eco-friendly, small-space living solution costs anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 or more, with luxury options reaching $10,000 . Overall, you can expect to spend $150 to $350 per square foot for a shipping container home.

How long does it take to build a shipping container home? ›

Since you already have the appropriate infrastructure in place, the building time won't take as long. Contractors can build a container home in less than a month. Larger dwellings can be finished in a few months, while the smaller ones can be fabricated off-site in a shorter period of time.

Is it safe to live in a container home? ›

Despite the challenges, container homes can be safe if built correctly. Professionals in architecture and engineering have developed ways to reinforce the containers' structure and make them habitable, targeting concerns such as extreme weather conditions and seismic activity.

Are container homes hard to build? ›

While the process of constructing a shipping container house may seem daunting, it doesn't have to be. In fact, with the right tools and a little bit of guidance, it is possible to build a shipping container house in just seven steps. Before beginning your project, it is important to do your research.

Can I build a container home by myself? ›

Sure, it's theoretically possible to build a container home by yourself. However, you'll either need enough skill to take care of all the plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and other finish work or plan a relatively primitive home without some of these systems.

What foundation for a container home? ›

The four main foundation types which can be used with container homes are pier, pile, slab and strip. There are other types of foundations but these are the most commonly used with container homes. Pier Foundation: Pier foundations are the most popular choice for shipping container homes for numerous reasons.

What are the pros and cons of living in a container home? ›

Keep reading so you can make an informed decision.
  • Pro: Speedy Construction. ...
  • Pro: Cost Effective. ...
  • Con: Not Quite Eco-Friendly. ...
  • Pro: Mobility. ...
  • Pro: Creative Freedom. ...
  • Cons: Permits and Codes. ...
  • Pro: Toughness and Durability. ...
  • Construct Your Shipping Container House.
May 7, 2019

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