The Guide to Shipping Container Homes
Are you considering a shipping container home? Shipping container homes are one of the latest trends in housing choices. Shipping containers are used to transport goods worldwide, and they are strong enough to withstand being moved on ships and trucks. But do they also make good homes?
With a lot of used shipping containers available, they present an opportunity to create eco-friendly homes. A home can be created out of a single container, or multiple shipping containers can form larger buildings with several floors.
Shipping container houses are also referred to as storage container homes. When most people think about storage containers, it is usually of the moving and storage variety such as PODS.
Container homes are rapidly increasing in popularity, and you’ll undoubtedly be hearing more about them in the future. Shipping containers are being used to make homes, cabins, dormitories, apartments, and offices.
Can you imagine using a used shipping container to build an apartment building, backyard offices, or even large buildings? Well, it is happening!
Shipping container homes present an opportunity for those who may have a limited budget. A container home could, in fact, become a household word.
Let’s look at what you can do with a shipping container to create a perfect home for you and its costs. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have everything you need to know about shipping container housing.
What Do Shipping Container Homes Offer?
Lots of folks ask what is a shipping container home? There are two standard sizes of shipping containers: 40 feet by 8 feet, providing 320 square feet, and 20 feet by 8 feet, giving you 160 square feet of space.
These containers are normally 8 and 1/2 feet high, though there is a slightly taller version available.
The taller version is known as High Cube Containers. If you can get one, high cubes are the preferred choice for shipping container homes. They are an additional foot taller, which makes insulating them much easier.
A High Cube container is about fifty percent more expensive but well worth it. The extra foot in ceiling height really makes a big difference!
Shipping container homes can be made up of just one of these structures. It could be the ideal size for an office or a small home. However, often they are combined to produce a much larger living space.
When multiple shipping containers are put together, sometimes the walls are removed between them. This creates a large open space that is more suitable for modern living. These shipping container homes are then finished using traditional construction methods to create interior walls.
Shipping containers are designed to be stackable, so multiple units can be used to create a multi-level residence. Some architects have embraced the shipping container construction to create a very different home that doesn’t hide its made from metal boxes.
Building materials used in traditional homes are then combined to enhance the overall appeal of the container architecture.
What About Prefab Container Homes?
Prefab container homes are built in a factory setting. They are built to conform to local building codes wherever they end up being placed. The local building code can differ from state to state and even some nuances from one city or town to the next. By building shipping container homes in a factory, they are not open to the environment during construction.
New shipping containers are typically used in prefab construction vs. used containers. You can customize your container architecture to include all the bells and whistles you’re looking for, including large windows to flood the home with natural light, a spacious living room, a lavish master suite, and maybe a roof deck.
The possibilities are endless on how you can customize your home with a modular design. If you are looking for a new home, this might be the perfect option. Affordable shipping container homes are available and compare nicely with tiny houses.
Affordable custom container living is possible with this housing choice, with construction costs being lower than a traditional home.
What is The History With This Housing Choice?
You may be wondering how container homes came about? Phillip Clark filed a patent in November of 1987 called the method of converting steel shipping containers into a habitable building.
In his patent, Clark cited how shipping containers could be put on weight-bearing foundations to create housing. The patent took two years to be granted. In August of 1989, he was granted patent #US4854094A.
It was not until the mid 200o’s that shipping container homes became more commonplace, with architects drawing up designs for a more economical housing choice. Since that time, they have continued to grow in popularity.
How to Buy a Shipping Container Home?
It is possible to buy a brand new shipping container to create a home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most containers are manufactured in China, where many steel manufacturers produce the required metal. However, there are national and local sellers of used shipping containers in the United States.
You need to be aware, however, that not all shipping containers are the same. The containers are certified for different uses, with some offering protection from wind and water.
Others are only constructed for single transportation use and will be available for sale from used dealers. These single-trip or one-trip containers often offer better value and are normally in good condition.
As you might expect, new containers are in good shape and are preferred over old containers. Containers can be bought in an “as is” condition, which could mean that the container has some damage.
There could be rust, doors that don’t close properly, or even holes in the container. There is also a risk of contamination from chemical spills within the container. Buying an “as is” shipping container is not advisable if you want to use them to construct a shipping container home.
A national container company will supply most locations, but you may find that a local supplier offers better value for money. It would help if you also remembered that the smaller 40-ft containers could be moved more easily. They can often be towed, whereas the larger 40-foot containers will need to be brought by semi-truck and craned into position.
The small containers can normally be positioned by forklifts, reducing the overall cost of your shipping container. There are actually container dealers you can purchase from online.
A quick Google search for a container dealer will lead you to them. Make sure you check the point of origin and know exactly what you’re getting.
Examples of These Homes
You can even buy an already created shipping container home. Many companies provide this service, allowing you a greater choice for what you want from your home.
Curbed has some great examples of shipping container homes that will be worth a look at. You can order these shipping container homes online. From the Curbed website, they offer some excellent photos of shipping container houses, along with their specifications.
Believe it or not, you can even order a shipping container home from Amazon. Their container home costs $36,000. Frankly, it is not that attractive looking. It is as basic as it gets for the exterior look of a container home.
There are truly some amazing container home designs. If you want to be blown away, take a look at some of the incredible offerings of shipping container homes from around the world at House Beautiful. They showcase 23 different examples of container houses. You will see a beautiful gallery of shipping container housing in this resource. If you think of getting a container home yourself, the site will give you some great ideas.
You will even see luxury container home designs which are just incredible.
Are Shipping Container Homes a Cheaper Option?
Shipping container houses can be cheaper than a regular home, but it isn’t always the case. Many things can affect the cost of your shipping container property. The size of the build, your design choices, and the finish quality are factors along with a location that can increase the cost.
You need to own the lot for your new container home, though you can save money preparing the ground. Container homes don’t need the same foundations’ normal homes would, allowing them to be constructed on more difficult terrain. They can be built on a rocky or steep site without excavating the land. Piling could be used to support the home, saving on expensive site preparation.
This could allow you to save money on purchasing a plot of land. While other people will have been put off because of the cost of excavation, this won’t be such a problem with a shipping container. You just have to make sure that local zoning allows for that type of build.
If you have your heart set on shipping container housing, it will make sense to have a contingency for it in your land purchase contract before moving forward. Once you have completed your due diligence on the zoning, you’ll be able to remove the contingency.
What Does an Individual Shipping Container Cost?
Smaller containers can cost as little as $1,500. A brand new 40-ft container could cost you over $6,000, however. You have to remember that there are additional costs to this, including transportation and positioning the container, including crane hire.
Shipping container housing can have a wide range of pricing depending on what you do with the container. The final product will be quite a bit more than the initial cost of buying the container itself.
How Much Do Shipping Container Homes Cost?
One of the more popular questions people research is how much do shipping container homes cost. For a small basic container home you can expect to pay anywhere between $15,000 to $50,000. Larger shipping container houses with multiple adjoining containers and amenities can easily approach over $100,000 and head over $200,000 for something more luxurious.
When compared to traditional housing, shipping container homes can easily come in for half the price, which makes this housing choice very attractive. Many factors can contribute to the cost rising with container houses.
Some of the factors that can influence the final cost of a shipping container home include the following:
- Size, design, and layout of the home.
- Cleaning costs when buying a used container.
- Welding requirements of the project.
- Plumbing and electrical requirements.
- Flooring used.
- How it is insulated
- Siding choices
- The type of kitchen and baths installed
- The type of windows and doors used.
How Quickly Are Shipping Container Homes Built?
Since you are starting with a structure, this normally saves some time over traditional home construction. It can take just a few weeks to make a small shipping container habitable. Though your specifications for the property, and the project’s complexity, can lead to a construction of this sort, taking a few months.
You can still face contractor delays as you would with a regular home. You can cut down on the possible delays and speed up the project greatly by buying your container from a company that does a lot of the work for you.
These prefab shipping containers will cost you more to initially purchase but will save you time during construction. They can sell you a shipping container that is ready to move into, just leaving you to add the finishing touches in your own time.
The situation would be similar to a modular home with a significant portion of the construction done in a factory setting and then shipping elsewhere for the finishing touches. Container homes share these characteristics.
With this type of construction, you could hire separate contractors to add special touches at your leisure. With innovative architects and the right contractor, you can have exactly what you’re looking for. Simple designs, of course, bring lower costs, while more elaborate designs bring higher prices. As mentioned, the container home cost will depend on all the goodies you add to it.
Check Your Local Laws With This Housing Choice
Before you begin ordering your container home, you need to know the rules for your location. Will a shipping container home meet the zoning requirements and building code.
The building code in your area might state that shipping container homes are allowed to be constructed. A shipping container will often be considered a non-traditional structure, and you will have to follow the rules for those types of buildings.
Generally, if you are in a more remote area, you will have fewer problems with restrictions. Make sure you check with the relevant authorities so that you don’t fall foul of the rules. It will also be highly advisable to see the containers you plan on buying.
Many folks who have bought shipping container homes recommend finding a contractor who can complete the whole process, including modifying the containers and finishing the interior.
What States Allow Shipping Container Homes?
Are there states where shipping container homes are looked at more favorably? There sure are! As already mentioned, rural and suburban areas tend to be more open to allowing container homes. There are some states in particular that are more alternate housing friendly than others.
You will find that Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, California, Alaska, Tennessee, and Oregon are among the states who have been more receptive to having shipping container homes. There is already an abundance of container housing in Texas. Louisiana and Tennessee are well-known for having some of the laxest zoning regulations in the US. Surprisingly, California has been receptive to the container home concept.
As more affordable housing options continue to expand, you will likely see other states becoming more receptive to shipping container houses in certain areas. The key will be checking on getting a building permit, as mentioned.
Is Building a Shipping Container Home Eco-Friendly?
Since it is frequently cheaper to buy a new shipping container than return it to be used again, many only get used once. There are many discarded shipping containers globally, so recycling these into container homes must be a good thing, right?
Using a steel container does reduce the number of other materials you need to build a home. Often owners of such a home also add other Eco-friendly measures, like solar panels or wind power. But the case for shipping containers being sustainable homes isn’t quite as clear-cut.
It is argued that lots of resources and energy are needed to turn the container into a home. Hazardous waste can be produced when converting the structure, and some containers are worse than others.
If the shipping container had been used to carry toxic chemicals, a residue might remain that needs to be dealt with. The container may also have been treated for corrosion at some point, which can be another problem. You need to make sure you buy the right container in the first place to avoid these issues.
Can Shipping Container Houses Have Roofs Added?
Many shipping container builders will choose to add a roof constructed of another material rather than keeping the container intact. The reason this is often done is for architectural flair and increased visible desirability. There are a few different types of roof structures you will find with container homes, including:
- Traditional pitched roofs – the most common roof in traditional housing is a pitched roof. This roof type tends to be the most visually appealing to the majority of people. You can see pitched roofs occasionally being added to shipping container homes.
- Green roofs – one of the more pleasing types of roofs is the living roof that is filled with plants and other greenery. This type of roofing allows for natural insulation properties.
- Flat roofs – a flat roofing structure is the most cost-effective and easiest to build but also the least visually appealing. There will be a slight pitch added so that the roof drains properly.
Some cool container housing will also be constructed to have a roof deck.
Are There any Downsides to Owning a Shipping Container Home?
Do you know the cons of shipping container housing? One of the advantages of shipping containers is that they are easy to move, but this is also a downside. With the internal dimensions only just over 7 feet wide, this is quite a restriction that could put off many people.
There are ways around this problem, like putting two together and removing the walls, or using some to enclose an area and then building a roof between them.
Though whatever alterations you make, the home will continue to look like a shipping container most of the time. For many, this won’t be a problem, however, as they like the industrial look of the property.
You can do a lot to improve the design of the outside of the home, with cladding and upgrades to increase space. It will, though, almost inevitably, put off some buyers when you come to sell the home.
With shipping containers, it is more of a challenge to install insulation. The corrugated steel walls differ from normal walls with room for cavity insulation.
If you intend to use many shipping containers with multiple floors, there needs to be significant reinforcement to the structure. Such engineering challenges will add significantly to the cost of a project like this. Shipping container houses do hold a place in the housing market. They are certainly a cheaper housing choice when you already own a piece of land.
Shipping container houses could be compared to the tiny home phenomena that have become more popular in recent years. For comparison’s sake, you can see some of the popular tiny house designs at Country living.
Container homes vs. tiny homes actually have become a debate where the pros and cons of each will be explored.
Where Can You Get Floor Plans?
Do you want to look at shipping container floor plans? If you are interested in building a custom storage container to live in, you’ll probably be interested in looking at various available floor plans. Since the actually flooring space will be more limited than in a traditional home, most people will opt for having a well-thought-out floor plan that maximizes the space.
How to Locate Shipping Container Builders?
If you are truly interested in building a shipping container house, you’ll want to know who builds them. Dwell has an excellent resource of 16 prefab shipping container home companies in the US.
What you will notice, however, is that some of the companies on their list have gone out of business. None the less it is still a helpful resource worth looking over.
You could also try searching online for shipping container home builders near me. If you are lucky, you’ll probably see a few more options. Finding shipping container builders is not easy due to how few have gotten into this specialty housing.
How to Find Container Homes For Sale?
Finding container homes for sale will be more challenging than traditional housing as there is a minuscule amount available. You can always check with a local real estate agent to see if there are any available. You could also do an online search for shipping container homes for sale, container homes for sale, or container homes near me.
Some may also look for container homes to rent, which will be equally as difficult.
Frequently Asked Questions About Shipping Container Housing
Here are 15 FAQs about shipping container homes worth knowing the answers to. Get a more in-depth understanding of this housing choice.
1. How much do shipping container houses cost?
As previously mentioned, you can pick up shipping containers for a few thousand dollars. The major expense comes when you turn the container into a finished product. It is possible to outfit a container house for around $30,000.
More significant shipping container housing with multiple containers and amenities can range from $100,000 to $200,000. However, the cost savings are real, as the price per square foot of traditional stick-built housing can be much higher.
Shipping container homes are much cheaper to build than normal houses.
2. Do I need to see the shipping container before purchasing it?
It is highly advisable to do so. Older shipping containers could have denting, rusting, or other structural issues. One trip containers are more costly, but the expense is usually worth it as they are almost always in terrific shape.
One-trip containers are exactly like they sound – they have made a trip from point A to point B, so they don’t have significant wear and tear.
3. Is shipping container homes a good housing choice?
Shipping container houses aren’t going to be for everyone. They are a much lower-cost housing alternative. The naysayers say they have little structural strength, are hard to cut and insulate, and offer nothing more than cramped living quarters.
Some say they are a fad that will go out of style quickly.
4. How long does it take to construct a shipping container home?
It really depends on the complexity of what you are doing with it. Some containers are already completely done, while others could take months to put together. The increase in time to build will really depend on if you have multiple units combined and the level of finishes you are planning on for the interior.
5. Will you need permission to have a container house?
Most of the time, no, but you will need to check with local zoning officials. Typically, a container home is movable and not on a foundation, making it nothing more than a glorified shed in terms of zoning laws in many locations.
Zoning, however, is nothing ever to take for granted. There could be ordinances in your city or town requiring building permits to have a container house.
So, living in a shipping container house is legal as long as you have all the required permits and meet local zoning requirements. If you live in a neighborhood where an HOA exists, you would need to check whether there are any restrictions for having one placed on your lot.
6. Can you get a mortgage for a shipping container home?
It depends. In order to get a mortgage for the purchase of a shipping container home, you will generally need to have a piece of land the home will reside permanently. This would include having a foundation and working utilities.
Without these things, a bank will not finance the purchase of shipping container homes. If the container home meets the guidelines, you would probably want a construction loan to finance the project.
7. Do container homes hold their value?
So far, they have. You can expect appreciation with your container. The option for transporting them to other locations makes them an appealing housing choice. If you are wondering if shipping container houses are a good investment, they should be.
8. How are container houses insulated?
You can build an interior studded wall like in traditional construction. Doing so works better when you are combining shipping containers for a more expansive living area. Otherwise, the cavity wall will take up additional space.
It is also possible to insulate the container with spray foam insulation, although this will not give the same insulating R-value as you would get with Batt insulation. Quite often, container builders will use insulation panels in construction.
9. Are shipping container homes toxic to live in?
It is a good idea to understand what you’re buying when purchasing a container home. You will need to find out what, if anything, the container was previously used for. Some containers have housed volatile or toxic materials. Residuals could be leftover from these containers that pose health hazards.
Some containers could have been treated with paint which contains harmful chemicals like chromate and phosphorus. Another consideration is radon gas seeping into the container from the ground on which it sits.
Since container houses are a much more confined space with no basements, radon levels could be more concentrated. It will be worth checking to make sure you’re not living under hazardous conditions.
Like any other house, if a well services it, it would be advisable to check if radon in water exists. If so, it would make sense to remediate it.
10. Are container homes safe?
Yes. As long as they do not contain hazardous material as described above. Some people also ask if shipping containers are safe in lightning. They are if the container has been grounded properly. A lightning rod should be added just like other homes have to help ensure your safety.
11. Are shipping containers waterproof?
For the most part, yes. Shipping containers are manufactured to withstand the elements. They are built to be exposed to the weather while on ships transported across the United States and even worldwide.
12. How much wind can a shipping container handle?
According to the rigidity test standards, a shipping container can withstand winds up to 180 miles per hour without wavering. Shipping containers are therefore well constructed enough to withstand a hurricane. You should not have too many worries when it comes to structural integrity from strong winds.Shipping container houses can handle winds up to 100 miles an hour when they are on a foundation and 175 miles per hour when anchored with pylons.Click To Tweet
13. Does container housing rust?
It is possible. Most container houses are made of Corten steel which is rust-resistant for the most part. If you are located in an area with harsh weather conditions, the container could be more susceptible to the environment. It is a steel shipping container, after all.
Terrible weather conditions could lead to some rust. Container homes that have an additional layer of siding will be much more prone not to rusting.
14. How long will a container home last?
Container homes can last decades if maintained properly. Rust is typically the issue that could take years of life out of the container.
15. Can shipping containers be used for storage instead of housing?
Yes. Storage containers do not have to be used just for housing. The containers have multiple uses. One such use is for storage whether you are moving or not.
Instead of renting from a self-storage facility or renting a moving pod from one of the top storage companies, some folks opt to purchase a storage container instead. They can use it for their move and then have it for other uses once they are at their next destination.
16. Have shipping containers been used for other types of housing besides homes?
Yes. Shipping containers have been used as college dormitory housing. Two dorm buildings made out of decommissioned shipping containers are in use at the College of Idaho for students on the Caldwell campus.
Choosing to use shipping containers to build your next home offers many advantages. It can save time and money in the construction process, and there are prefab options to make things even easier. You are also recycling a steel container, saving on the materials to build your home.
Choosing to use shipping containers isn’t without a few downsides, though. The container restricts you in a few ways, and there can be zoning issues over the placement of your home. You need to weigh up the issues carefully before you choose this type of house construction.
Hopefully, you have found this guide to shipping container homes to help and put it to good use. By now, you should know exactly what a container home is as well as the pros and cons.
The above Real Estate information about what to know about shipping container homes was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 34+ years.
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