What Is a Container Home? 16 Things (2024) You Must Know

When you hear the term “container home,” you may think of a container that goes on the back of a train to transport goods all over the world…and you’d be right!

After all these years, there is now an excess of these containers, and they’re being repurposed into housing.

Who would’ve thought?!

If you’re interested in how a shipping container can become a home, keep reading!

It’s an economical, sustainable, and livable option if it’s done the right way.

Here’s what you should know about container homes.

Let’s get started.

1. What is a container home?

A container home is any dwelling made from a shipping container.

These structures can be quite diverse depending on who builds them.

Shipping containers come in two sizes (detailed below), but while they start out small, many builders or owners combine multiple containers to create larger homes.

No two container homes are alike!

 2. Where do containers come from?

If you’re looking to purchase a brand-new shipping container, it will likely come from a manufacturer in China.

However, in many ways, this defeats the purpose of a container home entirely.

Container homes often seek to be both an eco-friendly and inexpensive option.

Purchasing one new isn’t either of these things.

Used containers are typically available from either national dealers or local sellers.

National dealers will have large inventories and deliver to almost any location.

Local sellers, on the other hand, will offer better prices but no delivery.

This puts buyers in a difficult position because a smaller container requires a forklift while a larger one requires a crane.

Because most ordinary people aren’t authorized to use either of these vehicles, it can be difficult to acquire a container on their own.

The other complication of buying a used container is ensuring that it’s in decent condition.

Many sellers will put up containers for sale “as is.”

This puts the burden of ensuring whether the container is safe on buyers.

“As is” containers may have been used to transport something dangerous (ex: chemicals), or they may have rust, doors that don’t seal, or other holes.

All of these things can make the container inadvisable for home construction.

One solution to all of these problems is to connect with a company that is providing shipping container homes ready for purchase.

These “tiny homes” will range in size, style, and price, but it also alleviates the issue of ensuring that the container home is “safe.”

Bonus: you don’t have to build it yourself!

3. Are container homes safe?

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to know what a shipping container has been used for in the past.

It could have been used for harmless consumer goods, or it may have been used for hazardous industrial materials.

On top of this, because paints and other chemicals on the outside of the container are intended for industrial use (not residential homes), it is very possible that they contain lead or other toxic pesticides.

This is something to be wary of and to keep in mind as you consider a container home.

4. What is the standard size of a shipping container house?

A container home was originally designed to fit on a train.

They usually come in two sizes — either 20 feet by 8 feet (160 sq ft) or 40 feet by 8 feet (320 sq ft) — and about 8 feet 6 inches in height.

It doesn’t leave much headroom after insulation and wiring are installed.

This limited size can be quickly consumed by plumbing, HVAC, insulation, and other systems.

It can also be incredibly difficult to fit ordinary furniture inside.

Therefore, you need to be creative with your floor plan and design.

It’s also a good idea to buy a high cube container in order to give yourself another 1′ of height.

5. What kind of permit do you need?

Because shipping containers are still relatively new, it’s important that you research and follow all local laws and regulations.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind…

bulletThat your container home will fit on the land

bulletThat your container home will meet existing building codes and zoning restrictions

Building codes are important because they set standards for what structures must have in order to receive an occupancy permit.

Zoning regulations dictate where a home can be built.

Some jurisdictions may prohibit container homes along with other “non-traditional” structures.

These structures are more likely to be allowed in areas that are more remote or less trafficked, but it’s worth checking with your city or country planners to ensure you’re following all rules in place.

6. Does my state allow shipping container homes?

Are you interested in alternative living?

Are you wondering if your state allows shipping container homes?

Well, all 50 states do allow container homes.

The key is to make sure that the city or county where you plan to build allows them (see section 5 above).

Rules and regulations are constantly changing so always check with your local building and planning department.

Keep in mind that some local jurisdictions are more open to alternative living, and those with more remote and less trafficked areas are more likely to allow container homes.

7. What are the pros of a container home?

bulletThey’re more cost-effective than traditional homes.

If you’re looking to save money, then there’s no better way than with a container home.

Container homes can be purchased for as low as $25,000 because they require fewer building materials and less labor to construct.

You can also reduce costs even further by using your own DIY skills to renovate the space.

bulletThey’re quick to construct.

Contractors can build container homes in less than a month.

However, it can be a bit pricey to have a professional work on your container home.

You can avoid these construction costs by purchasing a prefabricated home from a growing list of companies that specialize in building prefab homes off-site.

Once they’re done building, they’ll then move your home to where you want it.

bulletThey’re modular homes.

Because shipping container homes are modular, you can build a single home with a mix of 20 to 40-foot containers and create a larger space.

It may include a living room, dining room, extra bedrooms, second floor, or even a guesthouse.

The sky is the limit!

bulletThey’re durable.

Container homes are originally used as containers to protect cargo during transport across bodies of water.

They’re used to weathering inclement weather conditions better than traditional housing.

8. What are the cons of a container home?

Shipping container homes aren’t always perfect.

Here are some reasons you may be deterred…

bulletBuilding permits can be notoriously difficult:

Did you know it can be difficult to obtain the necessary building permits to build your shipping containers in some regions?

Make sure you’re informed about whether you’re allowed to do what you’re planning to do.

Ask your local city planning office for information regarding building codes, zoning restrictions, and required permits.

bulletThey’re not the most eco-friendly option:

We cover this more below, but you shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re saving the environment with a container home.

Yes, sometimes people use old containers and recycle them into a home.

However, just as often home buyers will convert new containers into housing.

Used shipping containers are eco-friendly, depending on the history of use.

However, they can also incur damage while transporting goods and have a history of transporting dangerous chemicals.

Understanding this is essential to making sustainable options as you move and repurpose a shipping container.

bulletUsing modern appliances in your container may be difficult:

Some people plan to live off-grid with their container home.

A lot of people plan to live on-grid, however, and need a reliable licensed electrician to come and hook their house up.

If this is you, make sure you hire an architecture firm or someone who is familiar with container living and design.

They’ll be able to design and install custom electrical setups for your house.

If you find that your home doesn’t have access to electricity, then a contractor may need to install solar panels on the roof.

Furthermore, you should hire a plumber to install any necessary plumbing work.

bulletThey often need reinforcements.

Because storage containers are constructed out of steel, the assumption is that they are automatically structurally sound.

However, cutting holes for a door or large windows can compromise their integrity.

Make sure that you hire a contractor to reinforce any load-bearing walls.

You can also install a sloped rooftop.

9. Are container homes more sustainable than traditional homes?

Reusing a safe shipping container is one way to have a smaller footprint and make use of something that already exists rather than buying additional building materials.

Owners who opt for a container home are often invested in eco-friendly alternatives as well — solar panels, wind power, water recycling systems, and rainwater harvesting systems.

With millions of shipping containers in the world, it only makes sense to use them for something else.

Give them a new life and a new purpose!

10. Are container homes more affordable than traditional homes?

Surprisingly, container homes are not always cheaper to build than traditional stick-built homes.

However, they can be depending on the location, size, design, and interior finishes.

Buying a shipping container itself can cost anywhere from $2,800 (smaller container) to $8,300 (larger/newer container).

As you probably guessed, a new container costs more than older containers.

A shipping container has a flat metal roof, exterior walls, and a metal frame that can double as a foundation.

This in itself can save you money.

But you’ll still need to spend money on transporting the container to your site, insulating your home, and finishing off the exterior.

You’ll also need to buy your land.

If you’re looking for the most convenient and affordable option, a basic, already-built container home is a great option.

The smallest units start at around $35,900.

11. Are container homes faster to build?

Compared to traditional stick-built homes, container homes are often faster to build.

If you’re looking for a relatively small and simple container home, then it can be built in a matter of days or weeks.

It all depends on how complex the design is.

Homes that have a more complex design will take at least a few months, and it’s worth remembering that container homes can still have normal construction delays.

The fastest way to construct a container home is to do it offsite and then transport them to your land.

Companies will often pre-build most of the container home elsewhere and then move it to where you want it right before you move in.

12. How do you insulate a shipping container home?

Because the shipping container is so narrow, it can be difficult to insulate the interior.

To avoid using up interior space, there is often a relatively thin layer of insulation with a high R-value per inch (i.e. polyurethane spray foam).

This spray foam is often an effective and airtight insulator.

Unfortunately, the blowing agents are often powerful greenhouse gases that are awful for the environment.

13. Can you add a roof?

Shipping containers do come with a “roof” of sorts, but it’s not the type of roof you likely want long-term.

It often lacks structural integrity (despite being reinforced at the corners).

To make these homes capable of supporting weight — something you’ll want in any type of weather — you should consider building a roof that’s right for them.

As an added bonus, a roof will give your container home some aesthetic and architectural flair.

In other words, you’ll make sure your container home keeps up its appearance among all other traditional homes in your neighborhood.

So, what type of roofs are the most typical?

Flat roofs, pitched roofs, roof terraces, and living roofs are what you’ll want to investigate.

Below, we’ll talk a little bit about each.

bulletFlat roofs:

Simplest, fastest, and least expensive to construct.

Can be very costly to maintain.

Essential to create a slight pitch for the drainage of rainfall.

bulletPitched roofs:

Roofs that slope downward.

The most common types are found in areas with heavy rainfall and snow.

Popular examples include gables, hip, mansard, gambrel, and skillion.

bulletRoof terraces:

Creative flat spaces built on top of roofs to expand occupiable/usable space.

Many roof terraces are used for small outdoor gardens, eating, or lounging areas.

bulletLiving roofs:

Also called green roofs.

These are roofs with introduced plants and greenery.

These roof types are both aesthetically and naturally pleasing and provide natural insulation and cooling.

14. Do container homes rust?

As container homes are made out of metal, you may be wondering if your whole home will rust in a matter of months.

And trust us…it is possible you will begin to see some rust.

Some containers are manufactured with alloys, and this process can help to form a surface level of rust that mitigates further corrosion.

However, the climate where the container is located can play a big part in how your home will ultimately appear.

15. Do container homes hold value?

Good news!

Much like a traditional home, a well-maintained container home can retain its resale value.

Furthermore, container homes can be easy to resell because they’re movable.

You can load them onto a truck and ship them anywhere you please.

If you’re interested in purchasing a container home, you may want to double-check whether it was manufactured for your climate.

If it wasn’t, ask what modifications may need to be made before you can move it.

16. What are common home designs?

One of the main appeals of a shipping container home is just how many things you can do with it.

You’re not just living in a boxcar — you can live in a combination of 8 containers and make it a 3-bedroom, 3 bathrooms, 2-story home if you’d like!

Here are some ways you can get creative with container living.

The sky is the limit!

bulletCreate a guesthouse

bulletMake a “boathouse” – believe it or not, there are container homes on the water!

bulletHouses made of 8 shipping containers – this amounts to over 2,200 sq. ft

bulletStacked container homes

bulletCross-shaped container home

bulletTwo-story shipping container home

bulletTiny container home

These are just a few of the many container home ideas out there.

Don’t be afraid to research and browse before you decide what you want to do!

Final thoughts

Container homes are an interesting and efficient way to build a tiny house.

Especially if you purchase a used container, it can be an inexpensive and eco-friendly way to create your dream house.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.



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