Deciding to build or buy a shipping container home is exciting. It’s important to start with accurate information and a list of the options you can look for.
In this guide, we’ll show you the advantages of shipping container homes, steps to building one of your own, and where to buy a quality shipping container home that fits your needs and budget.
Why Choose a Shipping Container Home?
Shipping container homes have been rising in popularity for years. Why? There are several advantages to building or buying a unique home like this.
More House for Your Money
One of the biggest advantages of opting for a shipping container home is affordability. The average home costs about $320,000 in the United States.
Conversely, you can build a complete, fully-finished shipping container home with similar square footage for less than half that price.
A $150,000 home in your area might be small, older, or in need of repairs and renovations. A $150,000 shipping container home could be palatial by comparison.
The much lower cost of shipping container homes means you can afford a home with more space, added features, and better options and still spend less than you would on a similar traditional home.
We’ll talk more about shipping container home costs in the section Shipping Container Home Cost Breakdown.
Customizable and Attractive
Another reason shipping container homes are growing in popularity is the ease of customization inside and out. If you want a tiny house with a small footprint, a home built from a single, high cube shipping container is perfect.
If you’d prefer a larger home with a spacious, open layout, multiple containers side by side can be used with some walls removed on the interior.
And for multi-level houses with uniquely modern designs, shipping containers can be laid and stacked in any formation you like. Container home interiors are not limited by the boxy shape, either.
Removing walls, creating multiple windows and doorways, adding lofts or second stories, and staggering two shipping containers on top of each other or alongside each other are all ways to create additional living space inside.
With so many customization options for shipping container homes, you’ll create the home of your dreams affordably.
Energy Efficient and Eco-Friendly
Shipping container homes aren’t just affordable initially. With proper insulation and a smaller living area than many traditional homes, shipping container houses are energy efficient and cheaper to cool and heat.
Because the home structure is usually made from used shipping containers, these homes require less building materials. Building a sturdy home with recycled materials is a major draw for anyone who wants to ensure their home is eco-friendly.
Many people living in shipping container homes choose to use solar panels, wind power, or water recycling systems to increase energy efficiency and decrease the overall environmental impact.
Sturdy and Durable
Container houses are incredibly durable and strong because they’re made of galvanized steel. They’re also weatherproof and fire-resistant. Some are airtight and resistant to flooding.
These containers are designed and intended for long-distance shipment of goods and materials that must be kept protected from the elements. It makes sense that they are excellent “building blocks” for a home.
The strength of the metal used in shipping containers makes them a great candidate for DIY green roofs where grass or other plants are planted on top of the container to insulate it.
Because the roof of a metal shipping container can withstand loads about 330 pounds per square foot, they’re a great choice for areas that receive a lot of snow and ice.
These are just a few of the advantages of building or buying a shipping container home. Now, let’s look at the process of actually building a container home.
Building a Shipping Container Home
Building a shipping container home involves a lot more work than buying one, but it gives you so many more customization and design options.
If you’ve got the land and want to build a shipping container home, these are the steps you’ll take to make it happen.
1. Do Your Research
Before you find the right shipping containers and start this project in earnest, do a little research. Some areas require that you obtain special permits before building a shipping container home. Some don’t.
You’ll need to find out if a shipping container home will meet the building codes and zoning standards established in your area. To research this information accurately, you’ll need to have a site picked out where you plan to build the home.
Some municipalities consider shipping containers and tiny homes “non-traditional structures,” and may or may not allow them in the area you’ve picked. That’s why research is such an important first step to take.
2. Find Your Containers
There are many different types of shipping containers, and choosing the right kind is integral to the build. What sizes do you want? What type of shipping containers will you need?
Are you looking for new or used containers? Here’s what you need to know about the different shipping container options.
Shipping Container Sizes
In general, you’ll find two lengths of shipping containers: 20 feet by 8 feet (about 160 square feet) and 40 feet by 8 feet (about 320 square feet). You’ll also see two heights of shipping containers.
These include regular (8 1/2 feet high) and high cube (9 1/2 feet high). You can base your size selections on the layout you’re planning for the home and the amount of square footage you will need inside.
Many people using more than one shipping container for their build will choose a combination of sizes to offer plenty of space with a visually interesting exterior shape.
Shipping Container Types
- General-purpose containers – These are the most common type, also called dry containers. They are very popular to use in shipping container homes.
- Double door containers – These containers open on both ends with double doors, also called tunnel containers. They can be used in shipping container homes. But many people replace at least one set of heavy metal doors with something more aesthetically pleasing.
- High cube containers – These containers are about 1’ taller than others; usually available in 40’ or 45’ lengths. Use these containers for homes with higher ceilings and to create additional room for ceiling insulation.
- Open side containers – The entire side of these containers (20’ and 40’ lengths available) opens with two bifold doors and the openings on the ends. These are highly recommended for shipping container houses. They are sometimes called side loaders.
- Open top containers – These containers have removable tops and are sometimes used for multi-level shipping container homes. Without the expense of cutting the top off, they are easier to use as the lower level and allow for an interior staircase.
New or Used Shipping Containers
You’ll need to decide if you’re looking to buy shipping containers new or used. New containers have benefits (perfect condition, no past hazardous materials or chemicals, easier to find).
But they are also more expensive. Used shipping containers are less expensive. But they’re harder to find, may contain (or previously contained) toxic substances.
Or they have damage that interferes with the overall integrity of the structure. If you choose a used container, inspect it carefully. Weigh the pros and cons to decide if you’ll opt for new or used containers to build your home.
Your shipping containers will be at least 20 feet long and very heavy, so they will likely need to be delivered to you after purchase if you don’t have a truck and trailer large enough to accommodate it.
Shipping Container Cost
Here are the average costs for different types and sizes of shipping containers.
- New 20’ container: $3,000
- New 20’ high cube container: $3,200
- New 40’ container: $5,600
- New 40’ high cube container: $5,800
- Used 20’ container: $2,100
- Used 20’ high cube container: $2,200
- Used 40’ container: $2,850
- Used 40’ high cube container: $2,950
Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to pay for delivery, too. The larger 40’ containers require a large crane to be moved, and that increases the cost as well.
3. Prepare the Building Site
Once you’ve found your shipping containers, you’ll need to prepare the building site before they’re brought in. If you can have your foundation ready before they arrive, they’ll only need to be moved once.
That’s cheaper and less hassle all around. Remove any rocks, small trees, or debris in the way of where you want to place your container house and make sure it’s a level spot.
Arrange to have supply lines for any utilities you’ll need, like septic, sewer, gas, water, and electricity, installed with the foundation. For the foundation, concrete is recommended.
You can either have a concrete slab poured that spans the entire length and width of the container(s) or use 3×3 premade concrete slabs at least 3” thick as the foundation.
Read about concrete slab cost in our guide. Once your foundation is in place and fully cured, you can have the container(s) placed. Make sure any openings are facing the direction you want.
4. Modify the Containers
If you’re comfortable using power tools and making modifications to the shipping containers yourself, you may handle this step. If not, hire a professional to make any needed cuts or welds.
Even if you’re comfortable making the modifications yourself, it’s important to have a structural engineer approve the concept first. Any cuts or changes you make to the walls could decrease the integrity of the structure.
Any cut or opening will need to be framed and reinforced with steel to ensure the container stays strong. Depending on the blueprint you’ve planned out for your home, you may have a few different cuts and modifications to make.
If you’re stacking containers to create multiple levels, you’ll need openings for stairs. If you’re placing containers side by side, you may need a wall or portions of a wall removed for easier access.
At this stage, the cuts and frames for the doors, windows, ventilation, and any additional openings should be made. You can then install the doors and windows. Make sure every exterior opening is properly weatherproofed.
5. Insulation, Drywall, and More
Once the containers are properly in place and any modifications to the containers are made, you can start to bring in some of the comforts of home – wiring, plumbing, insulation, and drywall.
Insulation is so important in shipping container homes. Metal can heat up or get cold quickly and affect the temperature inside. You need plenty of insulation.
This keeps the temperature inside comfortable and hold heat or cool air. Spray foam insulation is the best choice for these containers because it’s more effective, sticks to the metal walls, and won’t slide down.
The electrical wiring can now be run throughout along with pipes for plumbing and gas supply lines. Next, hang drywall to cover the insulation.
You will make cuts in the drywall for electrical and plumbing fixtures. After plastering the drywall seams, you can paint the walls the color of your choice.
6. Install Flooring, Appliances, and Fixtures
Your shipping container floor may be in good condition, but many people decide to lay a more attractive flooring option. Vinyl, wood, carpet, rile, or laminate flooring can be installed to give the interior a more finished look.
With flooring in place, you can install plumbing and electrical outlets and fixtures along with your appliances. Make sure to follow local building and electrical codes.
Or hire a professional to do these steps. Install any counters and cabinets or built-in furniture for additional storage space.
7. Decor and Finishing Touches
With all the basics in place, you can add decor and finishing touches to your home. Bring in your furniture, add hardware to your cabinets and drawers, finish up any trim or molding, and install window treatments for style and privacy.
You might do some landscaping outside to add a finished look to the property. Your shipping container looks like a home now!
Where to Buy a Shipping Container Home
If the steps above seem overwhelming and you’d rather buy a shipping container home, you have many options. You can find inexpensive shipping container homes and lavish homes that rival the cost of a traditional house.
1. Kubed Living
Kubed Living offers five different prefabricated shipping container home models to choose from. The units start at $61,000 for the 160 square foot Kubed 160 model.
This includes a fully outfitted kitchen, a large closet, air conditioning and heat, and bathroom.
2. Alternative Living Spaces
Starting at $69,500 for a 1-bedroom economy model, Alternative Living Spaces shipping container homes give you plenty of say in the layout and look of the finished product.
Add air conditioning and heat, upgraded walls and doors, Murphy beds, skylights, and more.
3. Rhino Cubed
Rhino Cubed offers lots of basic shipping container home models. The smallest, 160 square feet, starts at $33,600. You can choose to add expansion cubes to add square footage to the home.
Fully equipped models include plumbing, electrical, appliances, and more.
4. Backcountry Containers
Backcountry Containers have a wide range of sizes and styles of homes. One, called the Rustic Retreat, is 160 square feet and starts at $32,999.
We like this model because it comes with a rooftop deck, kitchenette, bathroom, and sliding glass door.
5. Custom Container Living
For a slightly more pricey option, Custom Container Living offers a larger 312 square foot model for $56,400. It uses a 40-foot shipping container.
And it has extras like stained pine and shiplap, two lofts, full bathroom, washer/dryer, dishwasher, and covered porch. You can also design a custom home with your specifications.
Make Your Own
If you don’t feel like buying a pre-built container, you can make your own. Just buy the container for the outside shell, and the rest is completely up to you!
But finding a good container to buy can be hard. For that reason, we recommend turning to the experts at Container One. They’ll make it easy to find the right container for your new home.
Is a Shipping Container Home Right for You?
Whether you’re thinking about building one or buying one, your interest in a shipping container home shows that you’re looking for a unique home that is:
- Fully customizable
- And durable
This unique solution could be the perfect choice. We’ve covered the advantages of container homes, the steps involved in building one, and the best places to start shopping for a prefabricated or custom build.
Shipping container homes don’t have to look like big metal boxes. With siding, flooring, deck, roof, and interior modifications, the options for your shipping container home are endless!
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