The Complete Guide To Shipping Container Homes & Everything That’s Involved

As home prices soar to astronomical heights and the economy lags behind the current cost of living, people are looking towards alternative housing.

One of the most established types of alternative home is the fabled shipping container home.

At first, shipping container homes were crude and basic. One of the first shipping container homes on record was built in the early 2000’s and people were shocked at first.

“How could someone live inside a box?” was a question that often came up.

That seems like a long time ago now. That’s because shipping container homes have not only come a long way since the early 2000’s; they have emerged as a legitimate disruption to the traditional housing market.

With creative architects and homeowners working wonders with the vessels that used to ship goods around the world, more people than ever are intrigued by the thought of a shipping container home. If you are one of those people you likely have some questions.

In the following article we will be going over some of the most important aspects of setting up, owning and living in a shipping container home.


Shipping Container Homes in the Modern World

Today, shipping container homes fill a very important role in society. They offer an affordable and eco-friendly solution to housing.

When did this trend begin though? As far as we know, the first shipping container house was built in 2007 by a man named Peter DeMaria.

DeMaria lost his home in a flood and decided to rebuild out of shipping container. He was an architect so that certainly helped.

Nevertheless, he had the vision to repurpose unused and unwanted shipping containers to fill a basic human need.

This spark of ingenuity set off a trend around the world. The home he built was not just a shipping container home; it was a shipping container mansion.

It was built out of 31 individual shipping containers and he called the final result the Graceville Container House.

Since then the role of shipping container homes in modern society has been more clearly defined. From what seemed at first to be just a quirky project for a trained architect, a viable alternative to traditional housing has emerged.


What Exactly Is A Shipping Container Home?

A shipping container home is a house built out of old shipping containers. You have surely seen shipping containers before.

They are those huge steel rectangle boxes that are sometimes on the backs of big rig trucks or stacked to impossible heights on top of impossibly large shipping barges.

You may have also seen them being transported on trains. The containers themselves measure 20 by 8 feet or 40 by 8 feet. They can be altered so that more than one can be combined to create a larger home or you can use a single shipping container to make a simple, smaller home.

A shipping container homes serve the same purpose as any house, apartment, townhouse or condo: to provide a private living space for the residents inside.


What Are The Main Things To Consider About Living In A Shipping Container Home?

There is a lot to consider before you up and invest in a shipping container home:

Where To Build?

The first thing you need to consider is the state you live in.

Different states will require different types of permits for you to build your shipping container home.

What Land?

Then there is the matter of the land.

You can’t just build your shipping container home anywhere you want. You will need a parcel of land to build it on.


Appliances & Amenities

The next thing you have to think about is appliances and amenities.

For most modern appliances and amenities, you will need special electrical and plumbing work to fit them with a new shipping container house.


Costs & Customization

Many people like the idea of a shipping container house because it presents an affordable alternative to traditional housing.

While basic shipping container homes may be affordable customizing them is another matter.

For instance, shipping containers are made out of steel and when it rains, the rainfall on the steel container can get annoyingly loud.

You can certainly add a custom covering or roof to the container to dampen the noise but that’s going to cost more money.

Another thing to consider is that a shipping container doesn’t have any windows. If you like to let the sun in or gaze out at nature you will have to fork over extra cash to have windows installed.


How It Can Meet Your Basic Needs?

Before you get too bogged down in the hitches of living in a shipping container home, you should know that they can meet your basic housing needs.

For the most part, shipping container homes fill the need of having a safe home.

They are sturdy and can be built to provide a lasting and secure home for yourself and your family.

Shipping containers can also meet your need of having a comfortable place to live. They can be insulated to keep out the cold and the heat and they can be combined to provide more living space.


What Type Of People Live In Shipping Container Homes?

The short answer: all kinds. The more involved answer is the people who live in states that make it easy.

Not every state in the US has welcomed alternative housing with open arms. Teh states that tend to be more in favor of shipping container homes are progressive states and ones with a lot of rural land.

For example, Louisiana and Tennessee are known to be the most lenient states when it comes to zoning laws for shipping container homes.

That may be because both of those states have a whole lot of rural land to go around. In fact, 93% of Tennessee is regarded as rural land.

However, less rural states like Oregon and California have also embraced shipping container homes and made it relatively easy for their residents to live in them.

Still, the shipping container home lifestyle appeals to all kinds of people no matter where they live.

Some are attracted to the prospect of living off the grid while others simply feel they don’t need much room so they set up camp in a single container home.


Is It Possible To Build Your Own Shipping Container Home DIY Style?

While it’s certainly possible to build your own shipping container house, it’s going to take a lot of work and trade know-how.

One of the advantages to building your own shipping container home is that they can often be built without a lot of site work.

You can even prefab them somewhere that’s convenient and then ship it to where it will rest permanently.

Building a home from a single shipping container will certainly be easier to do DIY style than if you were to combine multiple containers.

Combining multiple containers will require experience with architecture, engineering and general construction.

While it has been done by particularly enterprising individuals, it’s rare that a shipipng container home could be called a DIY project.


How Much Do They Cost To Build?

There is no universal answer to this question. Simple shipping container homes can be as cheap as $10,000 while more complex structures can be upwards of $250,000. The bottom line is that there are a lot of factors that will play into the price of your shipping container home.

The containers themselves can cost up to $6,000 if you buy them new. However, even if you buy cheaper new ones (around 3 to 4 thousand each) you may have to pay to have them professionally cleaned – remember that some shipping containers have been used to transport potentially dangerous industrial materials.

Then you have to purchase the land for the structure to sit on. Granted, shipping container homes can be placed on pieces of land that traditional homes can’t which, lowers the cost of the land. But depending on the state you live in, any parcel of land could be expensive.

If you are not handling the project yourself, you will also have to pay for professional labor. Then you have to think about the cost of customizations like:

  • Plumbing work
  • Electrical work
  • Flooring
  • Insulation
  • Window insulation
  • Structuring for multi-level homes


Can You Order Them Already Made Up?

Yes! There are plenty of companies that are getting in on the ground floor of prefabricated shipping container homes.

What’s more is that prefab shipping container homes will be less expensive than building a custom home yourself or with a builder.


10 Pros of Shipping Container Homes

#1 – Fast Construction

We will get into how long it typically takes to build a shipping container home but for now, you should know that they take a lot less time to build than a traditional stick built home – even if you choose to work with a custom builder.


#2 – Quicker Permits

In most states it will be easier for you to get all the necessary zoning and building permits needed to build a shipping container home.

Most of the inspections can be done wherever it’s being built or prefabbed too.


#3 – Easier to Find a Site

In addition to easier zoning and building permits, by and large it will be easier for you to find suitable land for your shipping container home than it would be for a traditional house.

That’s because homes with traditional foundations require a lot more accommodations from the land.

Shipping container homes can be outfitted with much simpler stabilizing structures which means that they can be placed on a wide variety of plots.

This can be very advantageous when you are trying to secure a plot of land and gives you more options overall.


#4 – Easy Transportation

The infrastructure and methods for transporting shipping containers has been in place for a long time already so transporting your home to it’s permanent site will be easy.

In fact, many owners of shipping container homes enjoy the freedom of being able to transport their home to a new site relatively easily.


#5 – They’re Eco-Friendly

 Many people love the idea of shipping container homes because they can be built out of used containers that are simply going to waste.

Even shipping containers that have seen a lot of use can be shored up to be perfectly safe for home construction.


#6 – They Are Affordable

While some large, custom jobs can be comparable in price to traditional homes you will likely pay less for a shipping container house than a stick built home.

In fact, many of the most lavish and customized shipping container homes cost several thousands of dollars less than traditional stick built homes with comparable square footage and features.


#7 – Knowing the Cost

In addition to being cheaper than traditional housing, it’s also a lot easier to predict the cost of building a new shipping container home.

In fact, for prefab homes, you will know the cost right away. The only variable are the cost of the land, the fees for the permits required and cost to run utilities to the home.


#8 – Durability

Shipping containers are typically made from Corten steel which is a type of steel alloy that is designed for outdoor construction and to stand up to the elements.

Many shipping containers are even outfitted with weatherproof features to protect the goods they are being used to ship.


#9 – Mobility

Once your shipping container home has been placed on your lot you can still move it around as needed. These types of homes are mobile.


#10 – Highly Customizeable

Shipping container homes can be customized to a high degree.

They can be made into multi-story homes, fitted with siding and even used for attached garages.

Many people are attracted to shipping container homes because they can often be made into unique, one-of-a-kind structures.


5 Cons of Shipping Container Homes


#1 – They Can Be Damaged

Some of the more affordable used shipping containers have a lower price tag because they have been damaged or used to the point that they can easily become damaged.


#2 – Cleaning

If you do buy a used container you will most likely have to have it professionally cleaned.

That’s because some containers are used to transport potentially hazardous materials.

#3 – Required Reinforcements

Cutting into a shipping container to install an HVAC system, window or door can compromise the structural integrity.

In cases like these, some manner of structural reinforcement is required for stability.

#4 – Loud

Unless you install a roof, your shipping container home can get quite loud in rain, wind and hail storms.

#5 – Appliances

One of the things that drives up the cost of building a shipping container home is outfitting it with appliances since they are not designed for electrical panels or plumbing infrastructure.


Shipping Container Home FAQ

How Long do Container Homes Last?

Their lifespan can vary on many factors. The most important being whether you built yours out of new or used containers.

On average, homes built out of new containers last about 25 years while homes built of old containers last 15.

Another factor is how well the containers are maintained. As you can imagine, rust is a major factor for steel containers.

If siding and roofing has been installed you can negate most rust damage and extend the life of the home.


Is It Safe To Live In A Container Home?

The main safety factors to consider are the paint and what was shipped in them.

As mentioned earlier, some containers have been used to ship hazardous materials.

This risk can be negated with a professional cleaning. However, some containers are painted with toxins that help them brave the salty sea but can be hazardous for habitation.


Is It Legal To Buy Land And Live In A Container Home?

That depends on the area you live in. Some states make it very easy for you to build alternative housing structures on a piece of land you buy. Other states require permits that are very difficult to get. In most cases though, it is legal.


How much does a 40 foot container cost?

The price varies based on who you’re buying the containers from and where you are in the country. In general though, you can expect to pay about $6,000 for a brand new 40 foot by 8 foot shipping container. Of course smaller, used containers will be more affordable but may present space and durability issues.


Is It Possible To Use More Than One Container?

Absolutely. Many people across the country have constructed beautiful and unique homes using multiple shipping containers. While using more than one container to up the size of your home will certainly be more expensive and require more work/planning it has been done many times. Many prefab shipping container home builders offer multi-container house options as well.


How much does it cost to convert a shipping container into a home?

The cost can vary depending on a lot of factors. If you are building your own shipping container home you have to consider how large you want it to be, what amenities you want it to have, how much the land will cost, how much the professional labor will cost and cost of permits just to name a few factors.


Which states allow shipping container homes?

This is a very good question. Unfortunately the answer is a bit murky. We’ll start with the good news and what we know for sure.

The good news is that Florida, California, Georgia, Alaska, Louisiana, Washington DC, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania are all states in which shipping container homes are outright legal.

The bad news is that while other states may allow you to build a shipping container home, some of them may make it very hard. Also, since these types of houses are relatively new, some states have not settled on legislation regarding them.


Are Shipping Containers Waterproof?

For the most part, yes. Most shipping containers are made from a type of alloy that can withstand wet weather. Also, many of them are outfitted with rubber seals so that the goods inside are well-protected. This translates to good waterproofing for your home. Not all shipping containers will be fully waterproof though.


Is A Container Home Considered A Modular Home?

Yes. Because of how easy they are to transport and how you can add multiple containers to one structure, they can be considered modular type housing.


Are Shipping Container Homes Energy Efficient?

On their own, not really. The best thing that shipping containers have going for them in terms of energy efficiency is that many of them were built so that anything inside will be protected from water and the sun.

However, this does not account for thermal retention. Shipping container homes can be outfitted with high-performance insulation to address this problem. They can also utilize solar panels to help offset electrical costs.


Is It Possible To Put A Basement Under A Shipping Container Home?

Yes. Many people opt to build a basement under their shipping container homes for extra storage.

While you will need to dig deeper to lay the foundation for a shipping container home with a basement as opposed to a traditional home, depending on the lot, having a basement is a viable option.


Is A Shipping Container Home Right for you?

In the above article we have gone over some of the main pros and cons of shipping container homes.

We have also discussed cost, legality and options. We provided all this information because you should be as informed as possible.

Only you can decide whether a shipping container home is right for you. Shipping container homes offer a unique and affordable alternative to housing.

However, it can also be a hassle to build one in your state. In any case, we hope we have provided you with insight on this most intriguing subject.