Living In A Shipping Container

Okay, this post isn’t nearly as crazy as the title would indicate. Really, I promise.

We’re all a bunch of hippies here, right? I mean, I am writing on Sustainable Personal Finance, which I’m pretty sure is some sort of code that really means ‘crazy hippie love hour. Also, granola.’ We all love recycling and cloth diapers and all sorts of other crazy stuff, and we all drive the best hybrid vehicles.

No? Just me, huh?

No, I kid. There are some pretty neat ideas coming from people who are attempting to be innovative with the environment in mind. The new electric powered cars look downright cool. Solar power is just a few years away from being economically feasible. Companies everywhere are starting to make changes that will both improve the bottom line and reduce their environmental impact. We’ve begun to realize that we only have a finite amount of resources on this planet, so maybe we should be a little more careful in using them.

If you’re an enterprising recycler, it’s actually quite possible to never buy anything new again. I don’t care what you want, you can find a used item somewhere. If you want to take it even farther, you can only buy food that’s locally grown and produced, organically of course. So, why not take recycling a little farther, and incorporate it into your house? All you need to do is buy a shipping container or 3 and consider living in a shipping container.

After their life is over making trips across the ocean, shipping containers are often auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sometimes these high bidders are businesses looking for cheap storage options, or even to continue shipping with. Or, if you want to get really crazy, you can build a house with them.

Before you poo-poo the idea, check out some houses built from storage containers.

living in a shipping container
Containers House © by Gustav´s



living in a shipping container

How cool are some of those houses? There are all sorts of reasons why old storage containers make an ideal base for a house. They’re strong, and are designed to both carry weight and be stacked on top of each other, meaning they’re ideal for holding both us and our stuff. They’re also designed to interlock, meaning building more interesting shapes becomes simple.

Logistics of Living in a Shipping Container

Because auctions are happening all the time, getting your hands on a few is easy. Arranging transport to wherever is a cinch too, since these things end up on trains and on the back of trucks all the time. A container can often be purchased for just a little over $1000, and can be transported to almost anywhere you’d want for another $1000. Living in a shipping container and buying a home in Canada made easy.

Sizes of containers vary from only 20 feet long to 53 feet long, with 48 foot and 53 foot containers being the most common, since that size is about as big as you’ll get on a truck or train. Typically containers are 8 feet wide as well as 9.5 feet high. Since nobody wants to live in only a 8 foot wide house, you’ll need several. Let’s assume, for simplicity, you buy 4 containers that are 40 feet long and 8 feet wide. Set up all side by side, you’d get a building that’s 40×32 feet, a perfectly livable 1280 square feet.

Next, you’ll have to renovate the inside, unless you’re into never inviting anyone over to your house again. You’re going to have to cut doors, windows, put in drywall, plumbing and heating, and that’s just getting started. If you’re handy enough to do this yourself then you’ve got yourself a fun summer project. The rest of us will have to hire professionals. Look to pay anywhere from $100-$200 per square foot, depending on how much you do yourself and the level of finishing. Our hypothetical house from above would set us back $192,000, including the costs of the containers and assuming $150 per square foot in construction costs.

Thanks to the large amount of consumer goods imported from China, there are all sorts of containers around. This idea is starting to gain traction. The are several American home builders who are starting to exclusively build using storage containers. There are small pockets of these types of homes all over Europe. With an estimated 300,000 empty shipping containers just sitting empty, I’m not sure why this idea isn’t much more popular.

Before you go buy a bunch of shipping containers for your next house, keep in mind a few warnings. Municipalities are generally not so friendly to strange new ideas of new building materials or strange looking houses. Your dream to own one of these homes may be squashed by an overzealous municipal planner who doesn’t like interesting new things. Maybe you should get some sort of approval before you buy the land and have 6 containers waiting there.

Living in a Shipping Container: Upgrades

Another thing is that the cost of these homes goes up significantly if you’re looking to put siding or stucco on the side of it, in an attempt to make it look more normal. Embrace the look of the container and you can save all sorts of cash. Paint should be fine for the outside of it- after all, it is made of steel. The same concept applies to the inside of the house, where you can get away with it.

Because steel is a really bad insulator, you’ll have to shell out the extra cost to insulate the crap out of the thing. You will want to consider an ecoEnergy retrofit to say the least. Also, it’s a lot more difficult to cut holes in steel than it is through drywall, meaning you’ll have to get a welder in to make your doors or windows. A crane will be needed during construction, and those things aren’t cheap. And, you’ll want to make sure no industrial waste was spilled inside your container, or else cleanup will set you back almost as much as the value of the thing.

Storage container houses are an interesting way to recycle. Look for them to become more and more popular. And if you ever move into one, I’m totally inviting myself to the housewarming party.

 Would you consider living in a shipping container house?

68 thoughts on “Living In A Shipping Container

  1. I might actually be willing to try that. I bet it would be pretty easy to add on a room when you family grew or you picked up a new hobby. It’s definitely hippy dippy, but that’s not always a bad thing.

  2. This would also be a great way for city dwellers to establish an economical getaway place in a more remote area. I may have to look into this!

  3. My son has kidded me for years about putting us in a shipping container. These are quite nice and I think he may like you himself. It may make more sense in earthquake areas such as where I live anyway.

    1. There are tons of cool pictures of storage container homes out there. I spent like 15 minutes looking at them while researching this post.

  4. I have seen many of these and have thought they are really neat. I would totally live in one of these but I would need to buy rural property first. I actually think there may be a law to living in one in the city. I also need to look up insulation for these things. It gets quite cold where I live in winter.

    1. Assuming you stud and drywall the interior, I would think that a product like airKrete in the walls (soy based mixed w/ concrete – a foam) which has mugh higher r-value than cellulose would work. I personally would also think about adding siding to the exterior which gives you the opportunity to add foam board insulation on the outside of the wall. Should be quite cozy.

  5. I actually had a client who was going to open a gym in a shipping container. It was supposed to be a portable gym. First I was pretty skeptical of the idea until I saw what can be actually done to a shipping container to make it work.

    1. Good point. I’m sure in a lot of places, your chances of getting a shipping container approved by the city are slim to none.

  6. Not so much, but my husband would! I’d worry about the insulation being enough. Even conventional mobile homes/trailers that come already insulated can be expensive to heat in colder winters.

    Square Pennies recently posted “We Need a Little Christmas.”

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  8. I have been thinking about shipping containers all day. I like the second house but it is not going to work in the UK – too cold for this kind of look. Too harsh. Here everything is soft and cushioned.

    Have to move to a warm place!

  9. In a previous life, I worked for a company that built exploration camps for mining and oil companies. Containers were sometimes an option for “fly” camps, the smaller camps that were deployed in advance while building the larger, more permanent camp. I’ve stayed in them a few times. Snug as a bug in a rug, if only a little closed in. Definitely qualifies as a “tiny” house.

        1. How did you keep the container cool? Or is that what you meant by “snug as a bug”? Sleeping must have been REALLY hot? But then, deserts do cool considerably at night …

          1. The living units were cooled by 18,000 btu window (or wall) A/C units. Most had a false wall set within 4 feet of the front of the container for the A/C unit (and entry door). The 4′ space created a sort of vestibule for muddy boots, etc. One 1-1/2 ton unit was sufficient to cool the entire 7×40′ (or 36′) interior space. Kitchen units were cooled with 2-ton (24,000 btu) A/C units.. The interior wall and roof insulation was 2″ of rock-wool batts, set inside 2″ furring strips, and paneled over with interior-grade decor paneling. Not the most attractive, but functional.

  10. Considering they are made from containers, they look pretty good. I won’t mind living in it as well. Maybe people will consider this option for retirement. We all have to be extra frugal when we retire anyway.

      1. Let me know once you build it. Being that I’d be fully responsible, I at least deserve to harass you guys a little.

  11. Its so great to see continued interest in Shipping Container based construction.

    If you liked these two examples and would like to see more please feel free to download a copy of our new 120 page full color digital book showcasing the 30 most influential shipping container homes ever built.



  12. It is a great concept and really good way to recycle too. I’ve seen it done pretty well in the past, but you most certainly do want to insulate well. I used to load boxes into these tin cans at a previous job and they get really hot really quickly!

  13. Yes, they are inspiring pictures. I would love to build my first home with shipping containers. I haven’t seen a house built by shipping containers in my neighbourhood yet. Being the first would be cool.

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  16. Don’t know how I missed this one – those pictures look amazing! I’m sure it would take a lot of work to get a few of those liveable but still would probably cost a lot less than building from scratch.

    Definitely an innovative post :)

    1. We’re looking at some property north of us (on a lake) where we would like to potentially build a shipping container recreational property. Take our time, enjoy camping and get a nice place for a decent price. The cottages for sale near us are expensive but land is still available and containers may be a good cheap option.

  17. I’d definitely consider it – the architecture that’s involved and how it can be converted today, it just makes sense (and saves a lot more than cents). Does anyone compare it to earthship housing?

  18. The first step is you should be sure about your design before customizing. Choose the design which can full fill your need, and then tell us about your containers size. Once you have decided your design, we will provide you an over view of customize container, after this we will start work for customization. It is not going to be very time taking.

  19. Overpopulation and mobility changed our life style and living today. Natural disaster frequently makes thousands of people houses less; to overcome from all these types of situations containers homes can be the best option. Containers homes are so much easy to build in short period of time and this is also a safe way for living.

  20. It is a great concept and really good way to recycle too. I’ve seen it done pretty well in the past, but you most certainly do want to insulate well. I used to load boxes into these tin cans at a previous job and they get really hot really quickly!

  21. Sea freight is calculated on the space your vehicle takes up within the container. As a general rule the larger the car the higher the shipping costs.

  22. i lived in a 40 ft container while working in IRAQ that had been converted into a 2 bedroom with shared bath living unit. since then i have wanted to convert and live in one her in the US. it was all the room i needed and i think a couple can live in one comfortable.

  23. I would consider living in just about anything. I will say that your $196K figure threw me off when you started with the $1000 cost of the container. But, I’m guessing there are alternative ways to get it done cheaper, especially if you DIY.

    I worked at a business once with shipping containers as storage and it seemed to be a pretty sweet setup.

  24. trying to work with a company that will build and finance my up coming project in new jersey approx;s six containers or more thanks

  25. we are building a shipping container home & need help on structural
    our Engineer is making it to complicated & costly. Building a bungalow.

  26. you guys might also check hay bales or earth bags stack with rebar and cemented over as insulation. its very cheap super strong and can shape windos doors etc. very super high insulation rating. cool in summer and hot in winter.

  27. Does anyone have any information on where to look for financing for a new home build using shipping containers? We are running into a bunch of dead ends!

  28. Why not invest in this great building opportunity, Do what everyone else isn’t Be yourself Be Different. Only you can be your own motivator for your building will never ever be hail damaged ever for your building will be nearly indestructible.

  29. I am a Eco friendly minded students who Through that building a Eco village in low income communitys accross the country would help all the articles how don’t have any real money Begin,One keeping their dollars in the prospective community two,misuse Is what I see as a plus because slum spot base options are not being use…

  30. The only reason why city’s don’t want to give zoning permit’s in residential areas because the value of homes are way beyond True value So, think out side the city basically in areas that aren’t suitable for redevelopment negotiate with planning, city council, and community Rep’s

  31. Shipping home containers are in my husband and I future , just not sure on the financing aspect and who will give us a loan because my husband is a welder and has lots of trades he and his friends would be doing the majority of the work,do you have any suggestions?

    1. Ha, me and my wife are about to try buying Land from buy owner a small amount down around two hundred dollars and two a month at this point over twenty thousand, key to this is buying the use containers since your husband and friends are doing the work because container’s are all over the place there’s enough to wrap around the world two times over.

  32. Thanks for pointing out that we should ask the authorities first before building a house out of containers because there are municipalities that have certain rules about this. I will tell that because he’s the one who badly wants to have a container house. He wants to buy a container and make it as a small house in our backyard where we can hold activities with our kids or even with our friends.

  33. That’s cool that you could get a shipping container to live in for about a thousand dollars. You could get several of them and then you could make them really nice to live in for a lot cheaper to live in than a house. That might be a good way to have a nice place to live in while you are saving up for a house.

  34. I love what you said about renovating the inside of your shipping container. Investing in a shipping container is a great idea if you plan on using it to ship large amounts of product. If I needed a shipping container, I would make sure to find a business that sold large ones for a fair rate.

  35. Thanks for your tips about how the sizes of containers vary and are measured by feet. My aunt is thinking about doing a project like this with ocean containers. It would be really nice for her to get a professional to get her the containers.

  36. I’ve heard that you can make homes out of storage containers, and I want to see if that’s something that I can do. It makes sense that I would want to start by finding a good container to use. That seems like a good way to ensure that it will work well as a home.

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