The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Container Homes

The Ultimate Guide to Shipping Container Homes

9 min read

A few weeks ago, I was looking through the houses for sale in my neighborhood.

I was SHOCKEDwhen did everything get sooo expensive?

You could be dreaming of owning a home, but after checking the listings for homes on sale, you may be met with a similar response. How will I ever afford my dream home if I can’t even afford a one-bedroom?

That’s a perfectly natural response, but don’t let that discourage you from ever owning a home.

Here’s a more affordable option that has been gaining popularity recently: shipping container homes.

Shipping container homes, as the name suggests, are shipping containers that have been refurbishing and outfitted to function as a living space. They’re a great, affordable alternative for building offices and beautiful homes.

Before embarking on one for your homeownership journey, learn everything you can about the costs involved, drawbacks, durability, portability, and financing options:

 

About Shipping Containers

Let’s focus on the basics of a shipping container home by answering these four questions:

 

What is a Container Home?

A container home is made from steel shipping containers used as intermodal storage containers for transporting large, bulky, and heavy goods overseas. They are commonly available in two sizes, offering either 160 square feet or 320 square feet of living space. The exact dimensions of such containers are 20 feet by 8 feet, while the latter measures 40 feet by 8 feet.

 

How Long Will a Shipping Container Home Last?

The main reason people choose to build homes using shipping containers is that they are virtually indestructible. If they can survive the rough seas or be stacked over one another without denting, they make for a very durable home.

They may not be bullet-proof, but breaking into them requires dynamite or a blowtorch.

When subjected to the sea’s harsh conditions, a shipping container can only last for about 10 years. When reused as a home, they last for at least 25 years without maintenance. If well maintained, they can last for much longer.

 

Are Container Homes Portable?

Transporting a container home from one place to another is not easy because they are quite heavy. Besides, if you want yours to be considered a mobile home, it must comply with the HUD standards. That means they must have permanent chassis and be transported to the site in their own running gear.

 

Where Can You Put a Shipping Container Home?

You should know that some states do not allow shipping container homes, so even before buying one, ensure that the state you are living in does. There are no restrictions to putting up a container home on your property, provided you have adequate space. However, if you find yourself outside of your city’s zoning laws, you must get planning permission.

 

Financing a Container Home

Now that you know you have enough space to put up the container home and that the state you live in allows for such construction, what happens if you do not have enough money to buy one?

 

Will a Bank Finance a Container Home?

Banks need to know that if you are unable to pay up, they can repossess your home because they know where to find you. Therefore, if your container home is considered a mobile home, banks will be concerned and avoid risking their money on someone who can up and leave anytime.

However, if your container home is built on a permanent foundation and is connected to utility hookups, the chances of landing a mortgage are high. The main options for financing a container home are a personal loan and a mortgage, and if it is built in compliance with single-family home building codes, no bank should fear granting you a loan.

Also, note that shipping container homes are not considered real estate. Therefore, without title deeds, banks do not know what the home’s value will be in the future; hence even accepting a shipping container home as collateral for a loan is rare.

 

Do Shipping Container Homes Make Good Investments?

If you are thinking about constructing a container home to sell or rent it out, you may be on the right path to creating some good returns.

Now that people are looking to enjoy life and taking more vacations listing your container home on Airbnb will have you raking in at least $11,000 per year for only a single room. For a person who rents out a container home consistently throughout the year, the income he makes is at least $33,000.

However, it is best, to begin with, the 20-foot container as a beginner landlord because it can be rented out faster or sold easily. They are attractive because of their high resale value that is estimated at over 100%.

You can also make your income projections by calculating daily Airbnb rates and subtracting any deduction such as property taxes, taxes, insurance, and other maintenance fees. Regardless of how much you project to earn, the container home’s location is what will determine the amount you will make.

 

Container Home Legal Information

Do You Need a Permit to Build a Shipping Container Home?

You should know the building codes – a set of rules that every building must meet before being granted an occupancy permit. In the United States, there is no straightforward rule towards building container homes, and the codes may vary from state to state.

In Canada, Ontario Building Code, any container measuring between 160-square feet and 320-square feet is regarded as a structure is placed inland. Considering that any structure measuring at least 108-square feet needs a building permit, then even the shipping container home will require a building permit.

You can get a building permit by talking to the local authorities about your designs and other container homes within the area. It is easier approaching the authorities with proof and benefits of the container homes and research areas that are more accepting of the nontraditional type of housing.

 

Are Container Homes Safe?

You should be concerned about how safe you will be. Some containers contain hazardous chemicals such as toxic chemicals used to treat the containers’ floors, chemicals in the paints on the containers, or chemical spillage from substances the container carried.

Such chemicals can pose a risk to your health; therefore, it is best to use a container whose history you are well aware of or those that are not treated or coated with toxic paints.

Still, even treated wooden floors can be made safe by removing them entirely or placing a non-breathable flooring material then tiling the floor.

Safety could also be concerning how penetrable the container homes are to pests, hurricanes, and burglars. Due to their steel construction, container homes are highly impenetrable to pests and insects, and even if you introduce the wooden floors which attract termites, they cannot go past the steel structure, making your home safe.

Besides, even if you live in a hurricane-prone area and are afraid of your home being destroyed by such harsh weather conditions, the chances are that you will be safe. If they can withstand the rough seas, they certainly can also resist hurricanes.

As for intruders, the more you cut the container to make room for doors and windows, the more you compromise the security. You can enhance your container home’s security as you would with any other home by installing alarms, security lights, and cameras.

 

Are Shipping Container Homes Legal?

The legality of a container home falls under municipal, county, state, and federal government regulations.

Among the many states in the United States that permit container homes is California. Others include Oregon, Alaska, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee.

In states that allow container homes, you can build yours so long as it follows the zoning laws and building codes.

You should note that some states may have more coding and zoning laws than others, so it is crucial to do your research and seek the favorable one for your prospective container home.

 

Buying a Container Home

You can choose to buy a container home if it meets your needs, and the two most important questions you have to ask yourself are:

 

How Much is a Shipping Container Home?

A smaller container home will have you forking out between $10,000 and $35,000, while a larger home with more amenities will cost you between $100,000 and $175,000.

Apart from the size and amenities that determine the container home’s cost, the other factors that will come to play are the design, doors, windows, plumbing, finishes, and insulation, among others.

The more you compare a pre-manufactured container home with a regular home, the more you will find barely any difference in cost.

 

Where Can I Buy a Container Home?

With every company adopting technology, even container home manufacturers have decided to sell them online. You can find a variety of shipping container homes on Amazon.

For instance, one company based in Wisconsin, MODS International, has a fully-furnished container home you can move into right away, and it costs only $36,000.

Others offer a pre-fabricated container house that can be assembled to suit the occupant’s tastes. Depending on your budget, you can still find a house that costs as low as $15,000.

 

Building Your Own Container Home

If you feel that buying a home is not right for you, perhaps because all those you check out do not have the amenities or design you seek, the best option is to build your own. The bottom line is affordability so let’s answer a few questions.

 

How Much Does it Cost To Build a Container Home?

The first thing you need is the shipping container, whose cost depends on size; large containers cost $6,000. The container’s age will also determine the price, with an older container going for $4,000 if it is also large and $2,000 for a much smaller one.

If you want a small home, one container is enough, but if you want bigger, you will need 4 to 6 containers, bringing the cost to around $20,000 for the containers alone.

Next is the cost of finishing, plumbing, doors, windows, insulation, roofing, and any other needed to make the container habitable. You should also take into account the foundation that can go for about $13,000. Land should also be accounted for, and in the long run, you might find that the average cost of building a container home is $184,000.

 

Are Container Homes Cheaper to Build Than Traditional Homes?

In 2017, it was estimated that a single-family house would cost around $428,000, assuming that it measures 2,800-square feet, with each square foot costing $153 to build. The estimate has since risen, and in 2020, the amount rose to $560,000.

The more luxurious it is, the more the cost, with each square foot costing $500 to build. In the United States, the cost of designing and building a 1,000-square foot house averages between $125,000 and $225,000.

If you go by the upper average, that would mean a container home measuring 2,800-square feet would cost $630,000, while on the lower end, it would go for $350,000.

The amount will be determined by the size of shipping containers used, finishing, and the container’s age. Therefore sometimes, building a traditional home is cheaper than building a container home.

 

What are the Benefits of Building Your Own Container Home?

1. Flexibility

Unlike buying a container home, building your own affords you the luxury of modifying it to suit your needs. You can combine them to make whichever design you please. Besides, since they are modular structures, you can stack them on top of each other without the need for additional reinforcement.

 

2. Cost-Effective

You do not need more reinforcing when building as many stories as you want implies that you do not need to buy whatever supplies you would need to make the structure stronger. Additionally, since you do not need more materials for walling, roofing, and flooring, your construction budget is significantly reduced.

Moreover, because the construction period is also reduced, the casual wages needed to pay for each day’s construction are eliminated.

 

3. Quick to Construct

If you find the right professionals to help with the construction, your house can be ready to move into within a month. Shipping containers already have roofs, floors, and walls, meaning you do not have to do with walling and flooring, which would otherwise increase the amount of time spent on building significantly.

 

4. Readily Available Materials

You do not have to break a sweat wondering where to get a shipping container for your project because shipping containers are readily available. Containers are designed to be used for a particular period after which they remain unused unless put to good use, such as building container houses.

 

How Do You Pick The Right Container?

1. Budget

You cannot buy what you cannot afford, and it’s best to minimize costs where possible. Therefore, you should note that even if you are trying to get as much space as possible, two 40-foot containers will cost less than a 53-foot container. Also, note that any standard container, such as the 30-foot container, will be more expensive to buy.

 

2. Size

Consider the number of rooms you want, the storage space you need, and if you prefer a single-story to a multi-story building. A multi-story house will demand that you get equal-sized containers, unlike a single-story. Standard containers measure 8 feet 6 inches high, while high cube containers are 9 feet 6 inches high. That extra foot is important if you are looking to insulate your container.

 

3. Condition

Unless you are lucky to come by a one-trip container that is no longer needed, you will most likely get a container that has been used for a while. That usually means that it has been exposed to different conditions that result in rust, dents, and other wear and tear.

With most containers being sold online, it is easy to be duped into buying a container in bad shape; therefore, assess the condition in person. Remember that if it is so beat up that it requires some welding, that will eat into your budget, build time, and affect your home’s resale value.

 

What are the Drawbacks of Building with Shipping Containers?

1. May Not Be Cost-Effective

A container that has been used for a long time is likely to be damaged and have rust. It will therefore need to be refurbished, and paintwork should be done after every few years. Such costs may mean that buying a container is not cheap as it originally assumed.

 

2. Certain Parts of the Building Process are Not Eco-Friendly

If the container has to be welded or blowtorched, there are carbon emissions released into the air. If some parts are done away with, you will have to ensure that the contractor disposes of them directly since filing up the landfill is not environmentally-sound.

 

Do Shipping Containers Need a Foundation?

For your safety, you will need a foundation for your shipping container home (if it is going to be stationary). You may not notice it, but gradually, if not on a foundation, your home may start leaning on one side or sink because the ground moves; it can rise, shift or sink.

The best foundation you can pick is a pier foundation because it is affordable, fast to construct, and you can do it on your own without engaging experts.

If you plan to build your container home on wheels, you will need a sturdy trailer that can handle the weight of a container home.

 

Do Shipping Containers Need Insulation?

Insulation of container homes will be relevant to a house located in an area with extreme weather conditions. The best way to insulate such a home is with spray form, which can be sprayed directly into the container’s interior and exterior.

 

Final Thoughts

A shipping container home can be a great option for many. If you found this post helpful, be sure to check out my other posts on container homes!

Victoria Miller

I'm the founder of NTT. I live in Miami, Florida, and enjoy learning everything there is to know about tiny spaces.