Shipping Container Homes: The Complete Guide To Affordable and Sustainable Life
Pros and Cons of Shipping Container Homes
Greener building – after companies ship products in shipping containers, it typically costs more to ship back the empty containers than to discard them and buy new ones. Tons of containers are left unused and are often melted down, which pollutes our planet and uses a vast amount of energy. Repurposing the containers can make a big impact.
Affordability – because of the abundance of these containers, container homes are very affordable. The containers themselves provide the main structure for the housing. While there are a lot of other costs involved (discussed below), container homes still represent huge savings as compared to typical housing. Even those with limited architectural experience have a good chance of building a container home because of the lack of structural work. The potential mortgage-free living is also nothing to be scoffed.
Sustainability – if you build small and insulate well, a container home can be a very sustainable way of living. A properly built container home can save energy and lots of money down the line. Because of the tough exterior, these homes may also last much longer.
Transportability – One of the benefits of container homes is their mobility. Depending on how the home is built it can be transported during its lifetime to another location.
Structural Strength – containers are built to last. They are made to withstand enormous weight loads, harsh ocean winds and being handled by cranes. They can be easily stacked to create multi-story homes. Due to their structure, containers can be earthquake and hurricane proof, which could benefit those living in natural disaster-prone areas.
Quick Construction and Building – building the structural part of the house is very time-consuming. Since container homes don’t require it, the construction can be completed much more quickly. Also, container homes tend to be smaller in size, which also helps efficient home building.
Heat and Insulation Control – a plain shipping container is essentially a large steel box. A steel box that absorbs and transmits heat and cold very well. Temperature control becomes imperative when building a shipping container home. This is usually solved by using the appropriate insulation and paint. However, if not done correctly, this could result in the energy-hogging heating systems and reduced home space.
Health Hazards – One of the less discussed cons of the shipping containers is that since they were not built for humans to live it, necessary precautions may not have been taken to build a safe environment. Paints, insulation materials and solvents to control the temperature within the container may have been used that may be hazardous to human health long-term. Some of these include phosphorus, chromate, and lead-based paints on walls. Arsenic and chromium may also be used to deter pest infestation on the wooden floors of a container. Finally, prior shipping contents may also be a concern if toxic or radioactive cargo was previously present. However, all this could be avoided with proper research or talking to the manufacturers of the container.
Deterioration – Scratched, dented, or containers made out of Corten steel may rust quickly. Some of the containers may have a lot of mileage and wear in them making them much closer to their end of their lifespan. Worn containers may be sold to you as ones with a more “industrial look”, however, this could lead to rust in the very same areas. Proper inspection is important when buying a used container.
Ecological Footprint – Let’s face it, a container home is not a home until it is built. That means, the container must first be completely sandblasted bare, the flooring needs to be replaced completely and the openings for windows need to be cut. Transportation and assembly will produce carbon emissions as well. A multi-container home can produce a good amount of carbon emissions and hazardous waste before it becomes habitable. Efficiency when building, transporting and assembling a container home is crucial to its impact on our planet.
Permit Obtainment – Using shipping containers for homes is not new. However, for those issuing building permits in your area, it may very well be. The process of obtaining the proper permits in your area can take a long time so you should research and factor in that cost and wait time for your building.
Proper planning and research can help avoid most of the issues associated with building a container home.
Building a Shipping Container Home Cost
Shipping container homes can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $350,000. It’s a wide range because of numerous variables that make up the cost. Location of the home, size, construction costs, material costs, and other factors play into the final cost of a container home. But to understand how much a container home could cost you, take a look these examples below.
Buying a Custom Made Shipping Container Home
One option is to order a custom-made shipping container that will be built according to your exact needs and budget. This is the most expensive and less effort intensive way to get your hands on a shipping container home. There are two options when buying a custom made home. You can buy one that has an existing base model to pick from (which you then customize) or you order a completely custom made home. The price range for this can be pretty wide but you can still save a ton of money when comparing to a typical home and you can also avoid some of the pitfalls of building a home if you don’t have the experience. Some mistakes made by those building the homes themselves without proper research can offset the initial savings of doing it themselves. However, if cost is your primary concern, read on.
Buying an Existing Shipping Container Home
The second way to get a container home is to buy something that already exists. This is typically a lot less than a custom ordered home and more than one that you can build yourself. It is also the least effort intensive way because you know exactly what you are getting in advance. You won’t be disappointed when your container home is not built the way you ordered it. This also provided less flexibility to make it your own. However, if you can find a sustainable shipping container home that you love within your budget, this may be your best bet.
Here are some examples of what your money could buy:
$63,999 via Rhino Cubed
$62,000 via Tiny House Listings
$68,900 via Tiny House Listings
$80,000 via BoxedHaus
Building Your Own Shipping Container Home
There are plenty of people who have the experience of building or simply the desire to learn in order to build their own container home. This is the most effort intensive way but it can also save you the most money. By building the home yourself you control every single thing that comprises it and allows yourself to build your perfect dream home. It means that you know how everything functions, if safe and energy materials are used during building, and no more dealing with shady contractors. It can be one of the most stressful yet rewarding experiences in your life.
An Average Cost of A Container Home: The Breakdown
Base price for six shipping containers
Site preparation (excavation, laying foundation, etc.),
Heating and cooling system
Shelves and closets
Doors and hardware
Wall finishes and painting
Note: Does not include the cost of the land, permits, and shipping of containers. Many of the costs listed above can also vary drastically depending on the work you can do yourself and your negotiating + research skills.
Other Price Factors
The other factors that were not included are the land, building permits and shipping of the containers themselves.
Shipping Container Cost
Obviously, the most important part of building a container home is the container itself. Typically, more than one container comprises a container home. A typical commercial shipping container is about 40 feet in length, about 8’6″ in height and 8 feet in width. So it’s about 176 square feet of potential home space. You can use this as am an approximate estimate of how many shipping containers you would need to fit your home space needs.
So how much does a commercial shipping container cost for a container home? You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,200 – $2,000 for each container, depending on their condition and the quantity you buy. Make sure you address any potential health hazards before committing to the structure for your home. The container has to be modified for the human living during production (prevention of hazardous materials used in its built) or has to be stripped down of any hazardous substances during building. Also, when buying a used container, remember, it’s the buyer’s market. Discarding containers or shipping them back actually cost companies money. They are eager to get rid of them, so getting one for free (or close to it) is not entirely unrealistic.
In addition, you should consider the transportation and set up costs for the containers as well. For a 20 foot container, you can expect to pay around $400 ($1.33/mi) and for a 40 foot about $780 ($2.60/mi) in shipping costs for a trip of around 300 miles. The final piece to the container cost is having it removed from the truck and set up correctly for the building. A crane will be required for this job, which can run to about $700 per day.
Prices for land can vary wildly depending on the location. The location is by far the biggest factor in determining the price of the home, often surpassing even the quality of the home itself. The prices can range anywhere from $196,000 per acre in New Jersey to $1,558 per acre in Wyoming. And even within each state, these ranges can be quite broad. So while bargains are certainly available in each state, a potential container home owner, should consider the land cost as part of their budget.
Building Permits & Zoning
Another often overlooked aspects of the home building are permits & zoning. For those who wish to build a container home, building permits are a necessity in order to comply with state and local authority’s building codes. An average homeowner spends between $398 – $1561 in building permits, at an average of $979. Make sure to contact your local zoning board to see what’s permitted and what’s not. Certain areas in the US fall outside of city zoning, meaning you don’t need a permit to build your container home.
Shipping Container Home Plans
Unless you are an architect or have previous building knowledge, you will most likely need a building plan. This includes exact specifications, designs and guide to build your home. As with all the costs, you can either outsource this to an architect, buy plans online or do it yourself. Detailed plans online can cost about $60-$200. Here’s a sample container home plan in PDF format to give you an idea of what to expect. You can find similar free plans by doing a google search. Hiring an architect can run up to about $3,000.
5 Common Mistakes When Building a Shipping Container Homes
1.Buying The Incorrect Container for Your Needs
Most people are unaware that there are more options than just the most commonly found containers. Consider a “high cube” container which offers 1′ more in height than the regular containers. They tend to cost more, but in the long run you may thank yourself for that extra foot of room.
2. Buying Without Inspecting
Those who want to save the most money, often opt out for a used container. However, it’s crucial to inspect the container in person to make sure that there are no dents or any other kind of damage that may cause rust and potential health problems down the road. Materials used to make the container or even cargo that traveled in the container can be a major concern down the road. Know what you are buying before hand or it will cost you more later.
3. Not Researching Local Regulations
Make sure to contact local public works building division to find out everything you need to build your new home. Architectural drawings, foundation plans and permits all should be part of your planning process. These can take many weeks to be approved and can add several thousand in costs to your building. Do this research before you start building or expect major delays and possible disappointment later on.
4. Building a Home Without Proper Insulation
As mentioned before, insulation is crucial to the container home. There’s no one insulation fits all for your container. The insulation should depend on your climate, home style, container condition and budget. Commonly used insulation for these types of homes include spray foam, insulation panels, blanket insulation, and for the eco-friendly – newspaper insulation. When it comes to insulation, summer heat and winter cold represent big problems, but your biggest is not either. It’s condensation and dampness within the container. These can cause your container to rust and may lead to expensive repairs.
5. Changing the Structure of Containers Too Much
Customizing your container for your needs is great. However, customizing it too much and cutting out too much steel could mean that you are impacting the strong structure of the container. If you remove entire walls you may need to add support beams which will add further costs.
6. Choosing a Wrong Contractor
When it comes to contractors be very, very, very careful. You’ve probably seen a lot of TV shows with sketchy contractors that leave you with more problems than solutions. Well it’s not too far off. Make sure you find someone trusted and ask them the right questions before hand. A great way to find a contractor for your home is to find someone who specializes in container home building. They may sell container homes and you may be able to ask for help in building yours. A lot of contractors may claim to be knowledgeable in container home building, but most likely it’s only to get your business. Ask them to show you homes that they’ve built or even contact information of those home owners. They most likely won’t mind you asking a question or two. Another good way would be to find existing container homes around in your area and ask those home owners for recommendations for contractors and other knowledge. You’ll be surprised how helpful people can be!
Other free shipping container home building plans & guides:
Don’t be discouraged. While all of these items seem like a lot of work and money, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Every person who builds their home has to go through a similar process. Financial freedom isn’t free. If your goal is to live a more affordable and sustainable life, you can certainly do it. It’s essential to find the right balance between savings and hard work. The more things you negotiate and do yourself, the more savings you will enjoy. You will also gain an intricate knowledge of every aspect of your new home in the process. Formulate a plan, calculate if it’s worth it for you and go for it!