Shipping Container Houses Explained (2024)

Shipping container architecture is a fast growing method of architecture using steel intermodal shipping containers as the main structural element of the intended design. Nearly, all shipping or cargo containers are made of high quality steel and have closed-top with hinged doors. They have corrugated surrounding walls on the top and bottom sides and are welded to the rails and end frames.

The steel used in the construction of containers is not only strong, but meant to withstand heavy loads and tough weather conditions. Currently, the world has over 60 million shipping containers in use, making them widely accessible for alternative uses and a reasonably cheap and sustainable building material.

Shipping Container Houses Explained (1)

Re-using any item or product decreases the potential negative impact on the environment and, so is a green choice. The 3 Rs of sustainability are Reuse, Reduce and, Recycle. Thus shipping containers made of steel or aluminum have been re-used in thousands of construction projects around the world as the building blocks for a wide variety of buildings which include but are not limited to:

  • Houses
  • Offices/On-site Offices
  • Apartment Complexes
  • Labs & Medical ICUs
  • Small Schools
  • Offshore Living
  • Coffee Shops
  • Retails

The more we use shipping containers for alternative purposes, such as house design, the more we will reduce the number of idle shipping containers and thus contribute to save the environment from pollution, and create an exceptionally designed project.

Shipping Containers House Design

Shipping Container Houses Explained (2)

Shipping container are used for different purposes, for instance, recently engineers converted shipping containers into mobile ICUs in Turin, Italy to combat COVID-19 pandemic. The trend of ‘shipping container architecture’ is on rise in the recent years. Houses of all shapes and sizes are made from the giant LEGOlike blocks of shipping containers.

The smallest container makes a tiny box of a house at about 10 sq. meters of floor area. Eight larger containers arranged together can make a two-story house at about 130 sq. meters of area. Hundreds of container micro-apartments arranged together can make an enormous apartment building.

But you are probably thinking, why are shipping containers being used to make such houses, apartments, studios, cabins, and offices? Well, there are millions ‘out-of-service’ containers available in the world, and it would be fantastic to play with these giant blocks to make fantastic structures and not let them go unused!

Besides trendiness, interest in container house design is also portion of a wider interest in saving money with pre-fabricated and modular homes. Many homeowners prefer to save money on both construction and maintenance of new house design. Could a container home be a good and worthy choice for you? Let’s check the pros and cons of container homes!

Pros of Shipping Container Houses

Shipping Container Houses Explained (3)

Construction Cost: An abundant amount of used containers are available at a price that is low compared to a house built with expensive foundation and built entirely out of bricks and mortar. Construction of house using containers involves very little labor work and used containers require only minor modifications and can be purchased from major transport companies for as little as $1,200 USD each and less than $6,000 USD for a brand new one.

Strength and durability: Shipping containers are made of high quality steel and thus they are an ideal building structural material. They are designed to bear heavy loads and to be stacked in high columns. They are also designed to resist harsh weather conditions and environments, such as on ocean-going vessels or sprayed with road salt while transported on roads. Due to their high strength, containers are valuable for safe storage.

Pre-fabricated and Modular Units: All shipping containers are made with standards in mind, they come in standard dimensions and measurements and as such they provide modular elements that can be combined to make a larger structure. This simplifies the design, planning and transport processes. As they are already designed to interlink for ease of mobility during transportation, structural construction is completed by simply installing them. Due to the containers’ modular design, additional construction is as easy as stacking more containers.

Labor Work: The welding and cutting of steel is considered to be specialized labor and can increase construction costs, yet overall it is still lower than conventional (brick and mortar) construction. Unlike wood frame construction, attachments must be welded or drilled to the outer skin, which is more time consuming and needs different job site equipment.

Transport: Pre-fabricated modules can also be simply transported by cargo ship, truck or rail, because they already conform to standard shipping sizes.

Availability: Plenty used containers are available around the world.

Cons of Shipping Container Houses

Shipping Container Houses Explained (4)

Temperature: Steel is a good conductor of heat; containers used for human occupancy in an environment with extreme temperature variations will normally have to be well insulated than most traditional brick, block or wood structures. If container facilities are not well insulated they will be very warm in summer and too cold in winter.

Humidity: As mentioned above, the forming material of a container (steel) is a good heat conductor. In temperate climates, moist interior air condenses against the steel, becoming clammy and unpleasant. Rust will form unless the steel is well sealed and insulated.

Construction Site: The size and weight of the containers will, in most cases, require them to be placed by a crane or forklift as compared to traditional brick, block and lumber construction materials which can often be moved by hand or hand trucks, even to upper stories.

Building Permits: The use of steel for construction, while widespread in industrial construction, is not widely used for residential structures. Obtaining building permits may be troublesome in some regions due to municipalities not having seen this application before or local laws and regulations.

Cargo Spillages: A container can carry a wide variety of cargo during its usage period. Spillages or chemical contamination may have occurred on the inside surfaces and will have to be cleaned for human habitation. Ideally all internal surfaces should be abrasive blasted to bare metal, and re-painted with a nontoxic paint system.

Damage: While in service, containers are damaged by friction, handling collisions, and force of heavy loads overhead during ship transits. The companies will inspect containers and condemn them if cracked welds, twisted frames or pin holes are found, among other faults.

Solvents: Solvents released from paint and sealants used in manufacture might be harmful.

Container House Design Costs and Expenses

Shipping Container Houses Explained (5)

Smaller, more basic container houses cost can range between $10,000 USD to $35,000 USD. Large homes built with multiple shipping containers stacked together and facilities can range in price from $100,000 USD to $175,000 USD. Shipping container homes, in some cases, can even cost half as much per sq. meter than traditional building. However, it’s not easy to compare the prices, as there are many factors in addition to the land costs and proper climate requirements, that should be taken into consideration:

  • Size, Layout Plan, Design, and the Number of Shipping Containers
  • Welding and Fabrication Requirements
  • Plumbing and Electrical Installation
  • Cleaning cost (used containers)
  • Kitchen and Bathroom Finishes
  • Structural Reinforcement
  • Insulation
  • Windows
  • Flooring
  • Doors
  • Siding
  • Lofts….

So whether you’re an individual looking for a creative new project, a business owner in need of supplementary storage, or an engineer searching for new structures that can be converted into homes for people, shipping containers might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’ve already built a container house or facility, feel free to share your work with us.

Shipping Container Houses Explained (2024)


Shipping Container Houses Explained? ›

A shipping container home is exactly what it sounds like: a living space constructed from a standard shipping container or containers, sometimes involving the welding together of more than one container to make a structure wider or taller, that is modified to have most of the things you'd find in a traditional house.

What is the downside of container homes? ›

Shipping container homes can be more expensive to insure than traditional homes. This is because they are made out of steel, which is a more volatile material than wood or bricks. Limited supply. Shipping containers can be difficult to find, because there is only a limited supply of them available.

How do shipping container homes work? ›

A shipping container home is a type of alternative housing that is constructed from metal shipping containers. Containers are usually only 160 or 320 square feet, so their small size, durability and modular design make them easier to work with than traditional house building materials.

Is it really cheaper to build a container home? ›

Yes, shipping containers. According to HomeGuide, the average cost to build and install a container home is $25,000 to $250,000. While that's no small chunk of change, it's significantly less than you'd expect to pay for a traditional house in most parts of the country.

What is the life expectancy of a container home? ›

Because they were built to safely transport goods over long distances and often-harsh conditions, shipping containers are extremely durable, making them an ideal choice for homes. With proper care and maintenance, these homes can last decades - an average lifespan of 25-30 years.

Why do container homes only last 25 years? ›

When maintained properly, a shipping container can last upwards of 25 years or longer. The lifespan depends on the condition of the container and the environment in which it is kept. Although they are built to resist harsh climates, its' lifespan can be cut short by wetter, saltier climates.

Why are shipping containers bad for homes? ›

Shipping Container Homes Can Be Just as Safe as Regular Homes. Shipping container homes can be equally safe as traditional homes when proper construction and safety measures are implemented. Despite concerns about toxic chemicals and harmful paint coatings, there are ways to address these issues.

Do container houses get hot? ›

Hot Climates

Shipping containers are typically made from steel which conducts heat very well, but in a hot climate, keeping a container cool is easy with a few smart design choices. Choose a larger-than-necessary roof to extend over the home, shading windows from direct sunlight.

Is it hard to get a loan on a container home? ›

Financing options can be limited for shipping container homes. Most banks choose not to lend funds for a property that is not fixed to a permanent location. Personal loans can be one of the best options for financing a shipping container home.

Do you need concrete slab for shipping container home? ›

Concrete slab foundations make the best foundation for container homes. This is the most expensive option, but if you are looking to keep your home in the same location long-term it is a viable option.

Are shipping container homes safe in lightning? ›

Shipping containers are essentially metal boxes. Because shipping containers are made of steel, they will become conductors if hit by lightning. However, if a container is grounded, the shell will act as a Faraday shield and the electricity will be conducted around the outside without affecting its contents.

Are container homes safe? ›

Durability and Strength

Shipping containers are made to protect belongings from the elements when being shipped by sea, rail and land. As such, building a home inside of a shipping container (or containers) would provide the same structural and security benefits.

How many square feet is a 40ft shipping container? ›

40-foot container dimensions

It has 285 sq ft (26.47m2) of floor space and 2,120 cubic ft (60m3) of volume.

Do container homes age well? ›

The lifespan for shipping containers that are used to build houses are even longer because these containers are not only in a friendlier environment but have also been treated and clad as part of the building process. Container homes can easily last well over 50 years with no problem.

Can shipping container home last 100 years? ›

Shipping container homes are durable but may lack the longevity that traditional houses have. A custom container home can last 25–30 years with proper maintenance, but a standard home generally lasts much longer than that, especially considering homes are passed down generations and still stand the test of time.

Are container homes good for winter? ›

This means that the interior of the container stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter, without the need for extensive heating and cooling systems. In addition to the natural insulation provided by the steel construction, container homes can also be outfitted with additional insulation.

Are container homes a bad investment? ›

Prefab container homes are low-risk investments because they can be considerably cheaper to build and maintain, and may hold their value more so than a traditionally built home.

Do container homes get hot? ›

Hot Climates

Shipping containers are typically made from steel which conducts heat very well, but in a hot climate, keeping a container cool is easy with a few smart design choices. Choose a larger-than-necessary roof to extend over the home, shading windows from direct sunlight.

Are container homes safe to live in? ›

Despite the challenges, container homes can be safe if built correctly. Professionals in architecture and engineering have developed ways to reinforce the containers' structure and make them habitable, targeting concerns such as extreme weather conditions and seismic activity.

Is it bad to live in a shipping container? ›

Second-hand containers could possibly have coatings with chemical components that are toxic to humans in certain quantities. These coatings are used to protect the container from extreme elements, like years of direct sun and saltwater exposure while they are in transit across the ocean.


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