If you're looking for a way to build an eco-friendly, affordable, yet unique modern home, then you may not need to look much further than a container home. Made from used shipping containers, these buildings are becoming all the rage in modern architecture. They're being incorporated into some inspiring design concepts and providing hope that we can make home construction more sustainable.
It might look like buying, renovating, and living in a container home is difficult, something you can only do if you have lots of cash, but this really isn't true. Yes, you can spend millions on an award-winning design that will be featured in architecture magazines, but you can also do a lot of other things so that you can enjoy a container home without spending a fortune.
To help show you how accessible container homes are, we've put together this guide. In it, you will learn:
We hope this information will help you decide if you want a container home and clarify the process of acquiring or building one.
Quite simply, a container home is a house built out of used shipping containers. You know, those big metal things that are stacked on top of one another and moved around the globe on big ships.
Around the world, millions of these containers are left unused. This is because it is often cheaper for shipping companies to purchase a new container than sending used ones back to their point of origin for reuse. As a result, there are oceans of these things just sitting around collecting dust, or worse, taking up space in landfills.
Some container homes consist of just the container itself. All you need to do is make a few minor modifications, and voila! – you now have a home that looks pretty much like a studio apartment.
However, those looking to build something bigger can stack containers on top of one another or line them up adjacent. This takes a bit more work as you will need to seriously alter the containers to get them to fit together, which will raise the project's overall cost. However, for those with the cash and the patience, this can be a great way to maximize what you can build with shipping containers.
If you're new to the concept of container homes, you may be thinking, "OK, this is cool. But why would people do this?"
Well, it turns out there are a lot of good reasons to want to buy a shipping container and turn it into a house, such as:
There are many reasons why a container home is a great idea, but as with anything, there are also some downsides:
If you are ready to give it a try after seeing the positives and negatives of owning and living in a container home, then it's time to talk specifics.
Considering their durability and versatility, shipping containers are actually quite inexpensive.
Used shipping containers can cost as little as $800-$2,000, but the definition of "used" can vary widely. Some used containers will have little to no damage, but others will be rusted out, dented, or may even have had their seals broken. In some cases, they may have transported toxic chemicals.
Buying a used shipping container can save you a lot of cash, but it can also provoke some big headaches if you're not careful. The best thing to do is arrange to see the container in person before making a purchase, or, if possible, work out some sort of return policy if the container is not up to your standards.
New containers usually cost between $1,500-$3,000. Given that the price isn't all that different between new and used, it's probably best to go with a new one, especially if you're planning to turn your container into a home. However, this somewhat detracts from the eco-friendliness of container homes, so don't completely write off used containers. Just make sure to do your homework.
Next to condition, the size will have the most significant impact on your container's cost. Most containers are either 8, 10, 12, 20, or 40 feet long, with the 20' model being the most popular and the size you likely recognize the most. It is possible to custom order larger sizes, but this will significantly cut into whatever savings you made by buying a container.
For most, standard 20' containers will be the ideal choice as they present the best mix between size and price.
The type of container you buy will also impact the cost. Even if the prices are similar, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different varieties so you can pick the one that is best for you. There are countless different types of containers, but here are some of the ones that are the easiest to convert into a living space:
If you come across a container that does not fit into one of these categories (which is very likely considering how many there are), simply take some time to read into what makes it different. You don't want to spend thousands to find out that what you bought isn't going to work for your design or property.
While it's easy enough to see why a container home might be a cool idea, those new to the concept might be wondering where in the heck you find these things to buy. They're not exactly on display at Home Depot. Thankfully, the internet has made it easier than ever to acquire a shipping container.
In general, there are two ways to get your hands on a shipping container:
1. Ports and Depots – Shipping containers wind up at ports around the world, and if they're not going to be filled up again and sent out, then they just sit on the docks, sometimes for years. Ports try to sell these to free up space on their property, so give the nearest one to you a call first to see if there are any for sale. If you go this route, you'll likely need to go to the port and pick it up yourself, requiring you to either have the right equipment or have hired the right help.
2. Dealers and wholesalers – There are dedicated shipping container dealerships that typically work in the freight industry and will also deal with private buyers. The advantage to working with a dealer is that you can usually see the container before you buy it, and you can also go through the dealer to coordinate moving the container, saving you a big hassle. Just remember, this may lead to slightly higher prices. To find a dealer near you, simply do a Google search for shipping container dealers in your area.
3. Private sellers – Shipping containers can be found for sale on sites such as eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and any other online marketplace. You can find some real deals here, but the disadvantage is that it's harder to verify the container's condition before purchase. You will also likely need to figure out how to ship the container to your home on your own, which can be a timely and costly process.
We recommend exploring all channels, as there's no guarantee that one will produce more results than the other. With dealers, just be careful of hidden fees and do your homework to ensure you're not overpaying. With private sellers, make sure you only buy locally so that you can see the container before handing over any money.
Perhaps the biggest logistical challenge involved in container home life is moving the shipping container from where you bought it to where you plan to set it up. If you work with a container dealership, you should set this up through them. If you're on your own, then you'll have to coordinate this whole process yourself. Here are some things you should know about shipping a shipping container:
Unless you have experience moving things of this size and the equipment, your best bet will be to work with a professional moving company. You'll just need to factor these costs into your overall construction budget.
OK, now that you know what containers are out there, how much they cost, how to ship them, and why they do and don't make good homes, it's time to embark on the process of actually repurposing your container into a home.
Firstly, you need to come up with a design for your home. This could be something very straightforward or extremely elaborate, depending on your needs and your budget.
For example, all you may want to do is cut a few holes in the containers' sides to make doors and windows and construct a few surfaces inside to make it more livable, and that's it. In this case, you can probably do this by yourself, though don't be afraid to reach out for help when cutting into the container (this will require special tools that many of us are not qualified to use).
No matter what you do, you should check with a professional before altering the structure of the container to make sure you're not making modifications that will compromise its integrity.
Designing the home yourself will be the cheapest option, but you may want to hire a designer or architecture firm if you want something more elaborate. This will cost you more money, but it will allow you to create something truly unique.
Building your shipping container home on your own could be an enjoyable and rewarding project, especially if you're on a budget. However, it's only practical to do this if you have the skills and expertise.
Of course, this depends slightly on your design. If you're doing something simple and don't need to worry about electricity, plumbing, and framing, it's much easier to DIY this project. However, the moment you start venturing into these areas, it's essential you know what you're doing so that you can build it safely and following local codes.
If you decide to work with a professional, we recommend finding a contractor that can handle the entire project. Fitting your container with floors, wires, pipes, windows, counters, doors, etc., will require many different tradespeople, and coordinating this all on your own will be difficult and time-consuming also potentially more expensive.
Reducing your point of contact to just one person will make it easier for you to keep your finger on the pulse of the project while also reducing the amount of planning you need to do, which will make it easier for you to make your design concept a reality.
Some other things to consider as you plan and build your container home include:
Buying a standard container and outfitting it yourself will be the cheapest way to get yourself into a container home, but it's far from the easiest. If you're interested in a container home but don't want the hassle, consider a prefabricated (aka 'prefab') container home.
These are shipping containers that have already been remodeled and turned into a living space. You purchase it online, and it's delivered to your property intact. All you need to do is hook up to water, electricity, gas, etc. Your container home is then all ready to go.
Prefab container homes usually cost between $20,000-$40,000, which is considerably cheaper than what it would cost to build a traditional home.
There are some real benefits to doing this, but also some downsides. The main advantages include:
Container homes are not only interesting and exciting design concepts; they are practical solutions to our current waste and housing challenges. As expected, building or buying a container home requires you to consider things you would not usually care about with a more traditional construction. This is all part of what makes this idea so exciting. Hopefully, you now have all the information you might need about container homes to decide for yourself if this is the right move and then design the perfect container home for you.