Tiny houses and metal homes are both huge trends right now in residential home designs. At the intersection between the two are shipping container homes.
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If you’ve seen some photos of old shipping containers, the idea of living in a container fully converted for comfortable and stylish living may appeal to you. On the other hand, you may find them totally inappropriate for architectural use.
Either way, you probably have a lot of questions about how realistic it is to live in a shipping container home.
What are their pros and cons? How large are they? How much do they cost to build? How do you go about getting a shipping container home?
In our guide, we will answer all these questions and more. Let’s get started with the basics.
What is a Container Home?
Defining a container home is easy. It is simply a home which is made out of a converted shipping container.
What are the Main Benefits of A Shipping Container Home?
Shipping container homes offer numerous advantages.
Here are some of the most important ones:
- These homes allow for fast, cheap and easy installation. A shipping container home is a prefabricated structure which was built for another purpose originally, but is amenable to a new one. As such, it is fast and easy to install one or more shipping containers at a location of your choice.
- Save time, money and effort on the build. If you are building your own tiny house, a shipping container home offers you a shortcut since you are getting the completed shell of the home. Even if you decide to do all the finishing work yourself, the initial steps will already be finished.
- Container homes are stackable, configurable, and scalable. It is hard to get more versatile than shipping containers. It is easy to stack these configurable units in just about any fashion you can imagine, rather like Lego bricks. Whether you want to live in just one shipping container, or you are constructing an apartment building with dozens of units for tenants, shipping containers make it easy to build what you need.
- These homes are made of metal, and include all the benefits of a metal building.
- Resistant to fire
- Hold up to harsh weather
- Durable and long-lasting
- Don’t get eaten by pests
- Not susceptible to wood rot and mold
- Shipping container homes are stylish and modern. If you enjoy modern and industrial styles, it is hard to beat the shipping container look. It is especially suited to minimalist design.
- These homes can be eco-friendly. You are upcycling a shipping container when you turn it into a container home, which is good for the environment. As a metal structure, your home can also be recycled later if necessary. Let’s dig a little deeper at this point to look at the real-world value of upcycling your home materials.
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How Much Do Shipping Container Homes Cost?
Next, you probably are wondering, “how much is a shipping container home?”
This is a complex question, because there are so many different factors to consider.
Here are some basic numbers to know:
- A shipping container can cost anywhere from around $1,400 at the lower end to around $6,000 at the upper end.
- A small shipping container home can cost anywhere from around $10,000-$40,000.
- Large shipping container homes can easily exceed $100,000.
What can cause wide differences in cost even for the same sized shipping container home?
Here are some of the factors which can impact the price for a container home:
- Buying a used container to be more environmentally friendly? A fair amount of cleaning might be required, or even repair work in some cases.
- The quality of the shipping container itself as well as its size.
- How many shipping containers you will be joining together, and in what configuration. Depending on the specifics, the welding and fabrication necessary to complete the house could result in significant added costs.
- You will need to incorporate plumbing and electricity along with sewage. You might also be installing cable. All of these utilities will add to the cost.
- If you are building on your own vacant lot, you may need to do additional work to prepare the land for utilities. This could be more expensive than installing these utilities in the actual house.
- You will need to calculating the cost for the exterior and interior finishing on a shipping container.
- The number and size of doors and windows you want to install can influence how much a finished container home costs.
- The type of insulation you choose will impact the cost of a shipping container home as well.
- Also impacting the price of a shipping container home is how much of the work you decide to do yourself versus leaving to a contractor. You can save a great deal of money by doing as much work on your own as possible. Of course, this will require a significant investment of time as well as expertise.
But the bottom line is that a shipping container home can be very affordable.
How many other options are there for moving into a liveable home for around $10,000 minimum?
Not a whole lot.
How Eco-Friendly are Container Homes?
Although we just stated that shipping container homes are eco-friendly, you will find that there are different schools of thought here and some degree of contention.
Let’s look at both sides of the issue.
Alas, even though a shipping container home is recycled and recyclable, it is common for lightly-used containers to be upcycled for housing. Since these containers did not fulfill their potential service life, one could argue there is waste there.
Plus, shipping containers are built to be extremely durable to the point where their material use is arguably excessive for a residential structure. A robust home can be constructed with far less steel. However, one the key areas we have seen an increase in use for this type of construction is on the coast lines where hurricanes frequently damage homes.
All that being said, the matter is a bit more complex than it might appear on first glance.
It would certainly be better for the environment if shipping containers were used to their fullest. But the reality is that moving shipping containers back from their ports of destination to their ports of origin can carry an unwieldy cost that a lot of companies do not want to pay.
To get around those costs, many companies will simply abandon the containers altogether and invest in replacing them instead. So, if they just sit there, they are cluttering up the landscape and going to waste anyway. It’s much more eco-friendly to upcycle them into container homes than to just leave them there.
Verdict: While there are arguments to be made that shipping container homes are wasteful, companies are going to waste shipping containers anyway. In light of that fact, turning them into homes is an eco-friendly decision.
How Large is a Shipping Container Home?
What you are really asking is, “How large is a shipping container?” The majority of them feature either of these dimensions:
- 20’ x 8’
- 40’ x 8’
So, depending on which you opt for, you would get either 160 square feet of living space or 320 square feet of living space.
The height of a standard shipping container is 8.5 feet, but there are taller ones available. Most of the builds that jump out to us have increased ceiling heights. This may or may not be important to you.
But there are two ways you can expand on your living space with a shipping container home.
One option is to incorporate outdoor living spaces by adding a patio, for example. There is also a neat trick where you can stagger two or more stories of shipping containers in such a way that you can utilize the top of one or more of them as deck space.
And that leads us to the other way you can expand your living space, which is simply by connecting multiple shipping containers together, scaling up to the square footage you want.
So, while shipping containers are traditionally used for tiny houses, you can actually make a larger home by joining on additional units.
Cambará Container House by Saymon Dall Alba Arquiteto
Images courtesy of © Guilherme Jordani
How To Build Your Home From Shipping Containers
The exact steps involved with building a shipping container home depend on your resources and goals. But following is a basic set of steps to provide you with some general guidance on the process and what you can expect.
- Figure out where you will locate your home.
The first thing you will need to do is figure out where you will locate your shipping container home.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Will the home be located in one place indefinitely, or do you want to be able to relocate it on a regular basis?
- Have you checked to make sure that the state and county where you will locate the home permit shipping container homes?
- Will you be placing the shipping container home on somebody else’s land, or on your own action?
- Will you be able to install an appropriate foundation for your shipping container home in the location you have selected?
Once you have selected a suitable location for your container home, you can move onto the next phase of your planning.
- Come up with a set of plans or purchase a set of plans.
You will need to decide on a layout for your shipping container home. To do this, you can either come up with your own floor plan, or you can select an existing plan which you purchase or locate for free online.
- Get approval for your plans.
Before you proceed any further with the process, you will need to get official approval and permits for your building plans from your local authority.
If you are seeking financing, this is also the stage where you would need to try to secure a loan. Having detailed building plans and a timeframe for completion should assist you with loan approval. Container homes can be tricky to get financed, similar to barndo’s, so the sooner you try to get financing in place the better.
- Prepare your land (if applicable).
If you are going to place the home on your own vacant land, you will need to make sure that you have utilities in place as is necessary.
If there are already utilities set up, this will save you considerable time, money and effort. Otherwise, you will need to take care of it.
- Put in a foundation.
Once your land is ready, you can install a foundation for your container home.
The reason the foundation is essential is because your home needs to remain level. You can decide on the type of foundation you want based on location, cost, and other factors.
Some options to consider include slab, strip, pier and pile foundations.
- Purchase your shipping container and/or prefab shipping container home.
After you have finished putting in the foundation, you can purchase the shipping container home and/or the container and additional materials you will need to convert it into a home.
If you scroll to the bottom of the steps, you will see some recommendations for where you can purchase a prefab shipping container home.
- Await delivery and installation.
Now, it is time for the exciting part—getting your new home!
The exact steps and work involved here will hinge entirely upon the approach that you have decided to take.
If you have purchased a prefab container home, it should be just a matter of waiting for a contractor to deliver and install it on the site, and then connecting the utilities.
If you have decided to build your own container home, you may have to do a significant amount of work in terms of repairs, reinforcements, modifications, finishing, and so forth.
If you decide to go the DIY route, your expertise, resources and schedule will determine how long it takes you to complete the work. It could be days, or it could be months.
It will probably take you weeks or more unless you have people helping you.
If, on the other hand, you have a prefab container home delivered to your site, installation within days is more likely to be an option
In fact, it might only take a few weeks to deliver the house. So, if you were to place an order for a prefab container home today, you could be just weeks away from moving into your new home.
- Enjoy your new home!
Once your container home is finished, all you need to do is move in your furnishings and possessions, and enjoy living in simplicity and style. Send us some pictures of your build process if you would like to us to feature your build. You can reach us here.
Shipping Container Homes Builders to Consider
Now that we have talked about the steps to build a shipping container home, let’s check out some options for beautiful prefab container homes on the market.
Honomobo is a container home company with a focus on minimalism, sustainability, and a connection between the indoor and outdoor worlds. If you enjoy elegant modern architecture, natural light, and expansive views, you will probably love the look of Honomobo homes. We love all of their builds and helped one client work with them directly.
The company writes, “Honomobo is a home. It can be used as an ADU, a carriage/laneway home, garage suite, lake front getaway, tiny house, or stacked on a garage and is built to meet the local building code. Order a Honomobo and it’ll be ready for you, whatever your purpose, in just 12 weeks from production start date.”
Honomobo takes pride in the speed of its delivery and installation, stating that by going with them, you can reduce project schedules by up to 50%.
Let’s check out some examples of their homes.
Honomobo Models to Consider
This model is a container home featuring two bedrooms and one bathroom with 640 ft.² of space. It features an engineered commercial grade steel frame.
There is a combined living room and kitchen, laundry, and the option to add a wood or gas burning fireplace.
You can opt for floor to ceiling windows on one side of the house or on both.
Included in the price of your purchase is an air source heat pump to keep your house temperate in all weather as well as solar panels for eco-friendly, affordable electricity.
You can choose from a variety of finishing options so that the appearance of the interior matches your tastes.
If you need more space than the HO2 provides, you can consider the HO3 instead. This is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home measuring 960 ft.².
In all other respects, it is similar to the HO2. Once again, you have options with the placement of the windows, can choose to add a fireplace, and you receive an air source heat pump and solar functionality built-in.
This model includes two bedrooms and one bathroom for 704 ft.² of space. It is similar to the two models of in terms of features.
In terms of pricing, Honomobo provides individual estimates. While there are a number of factors which can modify the price, conforming to different local building codes is a primary reason for needing to offer individual quotes.
For more information visit them online at https://www.honomobo.com/us/.
Custom Container Living
Another company worth considering for your container home is Custom Container Living.
Since 2015, this company has been building a wide range of floor plans- and not just limited to shipping containers. They build custom container modules as well and have extensive experience making custom tiny houses.
The majority of them are Certified Manufactured Homes, which should help you to comply with building codes in your area. Let’s take a look at a couple of their models.
Prices for Custom Container Living homes start as low as $29,000. So, if you are looking to save on a container home which is prefabricated and move-in ready, this company may suit your needs.
This layout measures 320 ft.², and includes a combined living room and dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom on the ground floor (not a loft).
Family Matters 3 Bedroom
While the Empty Nester would be ideal for just one or two people, for a family, the Family Matters 3 Bedroom layout might be a better choice.
Along with three bedrooms, it features two bathrooms and a total of 960 ft.².
With these and other floor plans available from Custom Container Living, there are numerous options to personalize the interior and exterior of your home.
As the company explains, “Custom Container Living is passionate about making your dreams come true by creating a totally unique container home that fits your lifestyle. Simply choose from any of the container home floor plans and then select the custom options you’d like: siding type and color, flooring, cabinets, countertops, lofts, kitchens, bathrooms and more!”
For more information visit them online at https://www.customcontainerliving.com/.
Potential Drawbacks To Consider
Reinforcing and Insulating a Container Home Can Be Expensive and Challenging
In terms of potential drawbacks, you will probably need to reinforce the roof of a shipping container before living in it, and you will need to reinforce the walls around the doors and windows.
Additionally, there can be some challenges with insulating shipping containers. It is also important to buy containers which have not been exposed to harmful substances in transit or finished with unsafe industrial paints.
So, those are a couple disadvantages. But all told, you can see that the benefits of container homes can greatly outweigh their drawbacks. Considering other alternative housing options? Read this Q&A from Porch.com that we are featured in.
Are Shipping Container Homes Legal?
Whether or not you can legally build and live in a shipping container home depends on your location.
Some states which currently permit shipping container homes include California, Louisiana, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alaska.
Ready to build your own now?
Just kidding, we know there is a ton of research to get your mind to the point of committing to building a shipping container home. We hope that our guide helps answer many of your questions about the process and decision process.