Building A Shipping Container Home

Thinking of Building A Shipping Container Home? Many years of experience & plans can help you to avoid costly mistakes and changes.

These homes are made from the steel shipping containers that you see carrying goods everywhere on trains, trucks, and ships and sometimes called sea-cans. That's where they see the most use - for shipping goods around the world on big ships.

They are usually available in 10, 20 and 40 foot lengths. You can build a tiny house out of a couple units or use a few shipping containers to build a regular size home.

There are presently many surplus containers and so they are easy to purchase.

One of the reasons people consider building a DIY shipping container home is the thought of lower building and maintenance costs. 

This can be true but there are factors to consider. Shipping container homes can be expensive if you don't plan carefully. For example, people who have purchased without seeing a unit can end up with a dented, rusted old metal shell that needs serious repair. 

Also, if you don't have easy to follow plans and good instructions to follow, you can end up doing some things more than once.

Below is an example of a shipping container home. Built to last - metal roof and metal sides. Maintaining a good coating on the outside, a shipping container home will easily last a lifetime.


Shipping containers are reinforced at their corners, but the existing roof may need more structural integrity to withstand snowfall. A roof can also provide aesthetic and architectural flair to your home. While there are multiple styles of roofs that can be used for a shipping container home, flat roofs, pitched roofs, roof terraces, and living roofs are the most common.

Living roofs are roofs built with a layer of soil on top to support plant growth, such as grass. A roof like this needs no maintenance if done correctly but it needs strong support with combined earth and snow or ice.

Building a shipping container home relies on zoning regulations and building codes set forth by your local government. It's essential to research and  understand zoning and building codes for your area, and contact the proper housing authorities if anything is unclear.

What is The Cost of Building
A Shipping Container Home?

What will a shipping container home cost? Smaller, basic container homes can cost from $10,000 to $35,000. Larger homes built with multiple shipping containers and and modern features can range in price from $100,000 to $175,000.

And if you do an earth-sheltered shipping container home, the cost can be a lot lower too. Other than the basic structure being metal, the advantages of an earth-sheltered home can be very appealing. 

An earth-sheltered home can be much lower cost to heat, cool in hot summer weather, very quiet and almost no interior dust. Even if you heat with electricity, gas, oil or hot water, the cost to heat will be very low.

Heating with a system like this can take your heating cost down to a couple hundred dollars per year. Lower cost than any other method of heating.

Below are some of the common costs you will encounter in building your container home.

  • Size, house design, and the number of containers used
  • Welding and Fabrication requirements
  • Cleaning cost if the container is used
  • Plumbing and electrical installations
  • Siding (waterproofing if earth-sheltered)
  • Type of heating installation
  • Flooring
  • Kitchen and bathroom fixtures
  • Windows
  • Walls (construction and finish)
  • Doors
  • Insulation
  • Foundation or basement
  • Roof

Another thing to consider is maintenance cost. An earth-sheltered home can be much lower maintenance when finished, compared to other types of building methods.

Maintaining A Shipping Container Home


Here's an example of a small container home with a deck on the roof.

The options are only limited by your imagination. DIY shipping container homes can save you a lot of money.

The biggest enemy of shipping container homes is rust. Coating the metal well and making sure it is sealed all over can give you a structure that eill last a lifetime.

If you don't do this, your home will not last nearly as long and you could run into major costs and hassle if you have to do a repair.

On the other hand, since the containers are already built square, they can be fast and easy to finish since your basic frame is already in place.

If you want to build an attractive, completely modern style house, a container home can cost you well over $150,000 but that's still a lot cheaper than the traditional style of home.

The first thing to do is to sit down and decide the floor area and the basic layout style you want. Then add the other necessities as listed above and any other items you consider necessary.

The exterior can be finished to look like a traditional house and you'll never know that the framework of the house is containers.

One of the downsides of containers homes is that it is hard to create wide open spaces since the walls of the containers are an essential part of their structural integrity. You aren't able to cut too much material away without significantly reinforcing the container.

But reinforcing isn't complicated either. Steel or wood supports are easy to install but you may need an engineer to approve it, depending where you live.

The containers themselves are relatively inexpensive so it's mostly about how you plan on customizing the interior and exterior which comes down to whether you want a simple, livable home, a show home or something in-between. 

But whatever you choose, building a shipping container home can cost significantly less than a traditional method especially when you do it yourself.


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