What to Know About Shipping Container Homes (2024)

Whether as a tiny home or an ambitious multi-story project, shipping container homes offer an affordable, versatile way to build a durable residence.

Boxy, right-angle-filled shipping container homes are still something of a novelty in most places. But expect to be seeing a lot more of them. A 2019 report on shipping container homes predicts that by 2025, container homes will be a $73 billion global industry.

Popular as a DIY projectfor small building lots, with tiny home enthusiasts, and as a public housing solution in overcrowded areas, shipping container homes can solve a lot of housing needs. Let’s take a closer look at shipping container homes, and whether one is right for you.

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What Is a Shipping Container Home?

Shipping container homes are single- or multi-family residences that use new or used shipping containers as their primary material. The containers, built for holding cargo on transoceanic crossings, are made of heavy-duty, corrosion-resistant steel. Because they’re designed to hold tons of cargo and be stacked one on top of another during long ocean voyages, shipping containers are extremely durable and weather- and water-resistant.

They offer homeowners the versatility to build a tiny home with a single container; connect several containers to form a larger one-story residence; or stack, often cantilever-style, multiple containers to create a unique and modern multi-story home. In low-income or densely populated areas, shipping container projects provide a way to create safe, affordable, high-density public housing.

Where Do Shipping Containers Come From and How Do You Buy One?

Most shipping containers are fabricated in China, filled with cargo and shipped around the world. New containers are often used only one time — on a one-way trip — because it’s more advantageous for the shipping company to sell the container than it is to return it empty to its point of origin. These are sold either as “one-trip” or new containers.

Used shipping containers that made more than one trip are less desirable for container homes. Why? Their water-tightness may have been compromised, and they are more likely to be damaged.

To build a container home, prospective owners must purchase new or used containers and have them delivered to their building site. Containers are available from resellers across the U.S.; simply Googling “shipping containers near me” should turn up a range of options. They mostly come in two sizes, 20 feet or 40 feet, although 45-foot models are also available. These containers have an internal width and height of seven feet, 10 inches.

Forty-foot containers are also available in what’s called “high-cube” models. These shipping containers have another foot of height and are popular for container homes. New, standard and high-cube 40-foot containers cost between $3,800 and $5,000 each. Buyers must pay for the delivery of the containers to their building site. Fees are based on distance, but figure on paying at least several hundred dollars per container.

How Much Do Container Homes Cost?

Costs for shipping container homes vary, depending on how many containers are used, how large the containers are, and how elaborate the design and finishes are.

A “keys-in-hand” container home from Texas-based Stackhouse Container Homes costs from $50,000 for a 20-footer. For $200,000 and up, the company will build on your lot a spacious two-story home composed of several containers, complete with a roof deck. If you buy your own containers and hire contractors to do all the work, figure on spending between $15,000 and $25,000 per container. This article from 24hPlans.com shows several finished container homes and what it cost to build them.

Future container homeowners with advanced DIY skills can save money by doing most of the work themselves. Jessica and Vaillant are the couple behind Pacific Pines Ranch, an ambitious container home on the Oregon coast comprised of seven containers. Jessica says the pair have done all the work themselves, including pouring foundations and digging their septic tank drainfield.

“Container projects usually require a lot of custom work and welding, which can make the overall cost astronomical,” she says. “We’ve also bought a lot of our materials second-hand or made them when needed, and this has allowed us to stay on track.”

Though she declined to say how much they’ve spent so far, Jessica says they stayed within budget and expect the two-year project to wind up in late 2021.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Building a Container Home?


Versatility. Container homes can be stacked up to eight containers high, and, as Jessica says, “they’re modular units and can be arranged in almost any way with the right structural engineering.”

Durability. The shipping containers were built to withstand extreme conditions at sea and rough handling in transit, so they are safe and durable in every kind of weather and environment. According to container builder Falcon Structures, shipping containers go through a rigorous verification process that ensures they can withstand winds of 180 mph — stronger than most hurricane-force winds.

Cost-savings. Building a DIY container home can be cost-effective. But even buying a ready-made or custom-made model is usually significantly cheaper than the same-sized traditional “sticks and bricks” house.

Quick construction. Once permitting and site prep are done, pre-fab container homes can be built in as little as 10 weeks. Timing on DIY projects will vary depending on the complexity of the build. But having the basic structure ready at the outset is a time-saver in any case.


Lots of work for a little space. Unfinished shipping containers require a lot of work to be livable. Gary Wentz, Editor-in-Chief of Family Handyman magazine, points out that all of the framing, plumbing, wiring and insulation take up space inside the container, and often derail the budget. “All you really save on is the cost and labor of siding,” he says. “And with framing inside, an already small space gets even smaller.”

NIMBY. Container homes are not permitted everywhere, and owners often have to purchase land in rural areas with looser zoning restrictions. Check your local zoning rules before you start planning that shipping container dream home.

Structural issues. Your shipping container could have invisible damage that compromises its structural soundness. And Wentz says cutting windows, doors and passageways into the sides of the container, aside from being difficult, means those areas will need to be reinforced and sealed.

Dubious eco-cred. When good-as-new shipping containers are taken out of circulation and turned into homes, that’s not exactly good for the environment. Containers contain at least 10 times the steel that would be used for a traditional home.

Ultimately, constructing and living in a shipping container home is a lifestyle choice for those who like the novelty, modern style and ability to use containers to custom-design a modular home.

What to Know About Shipping Container Homes (2024)


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.

Is it worth it to build a shipping container home? ›

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.

Why do container homes only last 25 years? ›

Shipping container homes should last at least 25 years but will last much longer if they are well maintained or if you use siding to protect the exterior. Rust is the single most common issue that can reduce the lifespan of a shipping container home.

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.

How much does it cost to build a container ship home? ›

How much does a shipping container home cost? For most homeowners, this eco-friendly, small-space living solution costs anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 or more, with luxury options reaching $10,000 . Overall, you can expect to spend $150 to $350 per square foot for a shipping container home.

Do you need concrete slab for shipping container home? ›

Container homes can very well be dropped on level ground that's not raised, but a foundation of some sort is highly recommended. Building a foundation for your container home is the best way to keep unwanted pests and elements out. Container home foundation options we recommend: Concrete slab foundations.

Do you need a concrete slab for a shipping container? ›

Thus, containers placed directly on the ground tend to sink in the long term (think months to years). However, a container placed on a hard substrate like granite may never need a foundation or a gravel pad, while a container in a bayou may always require concrete pilings.

Are container homes unhealthy? ›

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 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 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 a bad investment? ›

Container homes are cost efficient, eco friendly investments. The initial costs of container homes can be lower than traditional homes. Container homes are durable and can withstand harsh weather conditions.


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