Everything You Need To Know About Container Homes

shipping container home

Are you planning to build an eco-friendly and affordable house made from shipping containers? It might seem like buying, renovating, and living in a container home is difficult, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, you can spend a small fortune on a sophisticated design worthy of a full page spread in an architectural magazine but you can also build a basic liveable unit without breaking the bank. 

In this guide, we’ll provide realistic, no nonsense information from industry experts to help you decide if building or purchasing a container home is right for you. We’ll help answer some of the most common questions people have about container homes such as:

What Are Shipping Containers?

Shipping Containers (a.k.a intermodal containers, storage containers, dry vans, and cargo containers) are large storage units made from COR-TEN Steel for the purpose of  transporting and storing goods overseas. These containers are secure, durable, and built to last to withstand harsh environments. Some containers, such as the refrigerated units, are insulated and are able to maintain a stable internal temperature.

What Is A Shipping Container Home?​

A Shipping Container Home is a dwelling that has been converted from a steel shipping container. These container homes, affectionately referred to as ‘Tiny Homes’ have gained popularity in recent years mostly due to the idea that the average cost of a ‘Tiny Container Home’ is less than that of a regular home. Also, the trend of downsizing and minimalist lifestyle may have played a part in their sudden allure. Container homes can range from a basic single unit home to elaborate homes made with multiple containers with all the bells and whistles.

The configuration of your shipping container home depends on the number of containers you  use as well as the sizes of the containers. Below are examples of the most common types and sizes of shipping containers used to build these tiny homes.

20-Foot Shipping Container– A 20-Foot cargo container has enough room to store furniture and items for a two-bedroom apartment. It is roomy enough to do as an office container, an event space, or even a trendy mobile cafe shop.

40-Foot Shipping Container– It has enough room to store furniture and items from a 3-4 bedroom home and keeps your belongings safe and dry. 

40-Foot Hi-Cube Shipping Container – This is the most popular container for container homes since it has a higher ceiling, allowing ample space for walking around comfortably even after installing insulation and wiring.

Most container homes consist of the container itself and require few minor modifications. If you’re looking to build a more spacious home, you can stack containers on top of one another or line them up. This might take a bit more work as you will need to seriously alter the containers to get them fit together, which raises the project’s overall cost. 

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Shipping Container Homes?​

If you’re new to the concept of container homes, you might want to consider the pros and cons of the project.


  • Cost-Effective: The cost of shipping containers fluctuates based on supply and demand. Click here for quotes in your area. New shipping containers are typically expensive compared to the cost of used containers. Even at peak prices this is still more cost-effective than framing a house especially if you need to hire professional framers to do the work. Yes, renovating it might cost you a little, but using intermodal containers is going to be far less than constructing a home with traditional materials.

  • They’re quick to construct: Some contractors can build a shipping container home in a month or less. However, hiring a professional to build your container dream home can be pricey and defeat the purpose of saving money. To avoid hefty construction costs, you can purchase a pre-built container home from a growing list of companies.

  • Durable: These containers can withstand harsh environments, so you don’t have to worry about wind, rain, and sunlight eroding your home.

  • Versatile: Shipping container homes are easy to modify. You can build a home with a mix of 20 and 40-foot containers. You can also combine multiple containers to create a larger home with a living room, dining room, extra bedrooms, a second floor, or even a container guesthouse. Keep in mind these homes are also mobile and can be moved from one location to another if necessary.


  • Condition of Containers: When shopping for containers, there are a few different grades and conditions of shipping containers. However, these can be inconsistent, and you won’t honestly know what shape it is in until it’s delivered to your door. Rust and dents are common in used containers. Depending on how much work you are planning to do to your home it may be best to consider a new container for your project.

  • Maintaining a Livable Temperature: Standard containers do not come insulated and would require the builder to add insulation in order for the home to be liveable, especially in extreme climates. Adding insulation can take up much of the overall space in already tight quarters. 

  • Shipping Costs: Relocating a container you purchase can become quite expensive and can use up much of your budget even before you start to build. This is especially true when you need to move the container into large distances. Because of this, it’s best to try and shop locally.  You may check On-Site Storage Solutions since they have one of the largest networks of shipping container depots and can help you find shipping containers near you.

  • Small Space: A ‘Tiny House’ has much less living space than a regular home or apartment. A minimalist lifestyle is necessary for anyone embarking on a journey of building a home from containers.

  • Financing: Due to the fact that container homes are a relatively new trend there aren’t many financing options available for people looking to purchase or build their own ‘Tiny Home’.  It’s best to build your budget to ensure you have the funds to complete the project.

  • Building Codes: Construction involving shipping containers is still a new phenomenon. It means that some towns, cities, and municipalities don’t have clear rules and regulations on building shipping container homes. However, several places in the United States (such as Texas, California, Colorado, and Oregon) and abroad (including China, New Zealand, Costa Rica) host shipping containers homes and have regulations in place. If you plan to build one, ask your local city planning office for more information about building codes, zoning restrictions, and permitting requirements for container housing.

How Much Does a Shipping Container Cost?

If you’re ready to give it a try after seeing the positives and negatives of owning and living in a container home, then it’s time to talk about the specifics. Considering the shipping container’s durability and versatility, they are quite inexpensive. Keep in mind that the cost varies in size, conditions of the shipping container, location and stocks mostly due to supply and demand.

Used shipping containers can vary in cost depending on location. However, the condition of a used container can vary widely. Some used containers will have little to no damage while others will have major rust and dents and significant damage to the floors that may not be suitable for a container home. If you decide to save money on a container and purchase a used wind and water tight container it may be in your best interest to get the container surveyed. A surveyed container means that it has been inspected to ensure there are no holes and that the floors are sturdy. The container will still have some minor dents and rust. If you are putting siding on your home then these minor dents and rusts may not be an issue for you. A survey will cost you about $150 to $250 and you will receive a certificate and pictures of your container before it is delivered to you which will be a great advantage to you. New one-trip containers are about double the cost of a used container however they are much newer, cleaner and in better condition than used and are much more suitable for a container home. 

Different Types Of Containers​

The type of container you will buy also impacts the cost. Even if the prices are similar, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different varieties so you can pick the one that is best for you.

  • Dry Van Shipping Containers These steel shipping containers are also called standard storage containers, cargo containers, general-purpose containers, conex boxes, and intermodal shipping containers.  These standard containers provide secure and durable storage for dry goods and equipment. They are constructed of 14 gauge Corten steel, which is a high carbon rust-inhibiting steel, and 1 1/8″ marine-grade plywood flooring.

  • Refrigerated Shipping Containers These temperature-controlled shipping containers are also known as reefers. They have a stainless steel interior and exterior with an aluminum T floor and R30 insulation. They are used to transport and store perishable goods that require temperature control. Each reefer has its own refrigeration equipment that is integrated into the bulkhead end of the container opposite the double doors. Refrigerated shipping containers have a temperature range of -15°F to 65°F. You also have an option to purchase a working and non working reefer.

  • Open Top Containers As the name implies, open tops have an open-top that allows large cargo, such as generators, to be more easily loaded and unloaded. Open tops are very similar to normal dry van containers, except they have no roof, and there is additional structural support.

  • Side-Opening Containers  Depending on the exact model, one or both of the container’s long sides have doors that open up wide to expose the interior of the container for easy access. These containers will also have at least one set of double doors at one end and sometimes both ends.  

If you come across a container that does not fit into one of these categories (which is very likely to happen) simply take some time to read into what makes it different. 

Where to Buy a Container Home?​

In general, there are three ways to get your hands on a shipping container:

  • Ports and Depots – Shipping containers wind up at ports around the world, and if they’re not going to be filled up again and sent out, then they just sit on the docks until they’re sold. Ports try to sell these to free up space on their property, so give the nearest one to you a call first to see if there are any for sale.

  • Dealers and Wholesalers – The advantage to working with a dealer is that you can usually see the container before you buy it, and you can also go through the dealer to coordinate delivering the container to your property. 

  • Private Sellers – Shipping containers can also be found for sale on sites like onsitestorage.com. You can find some real deals here but it can also be hard to verify the container’s condition before purchase.

Container Delivery to Your Location​

The biggest obstacle you will face in a container home life is moving the shipping container from where you bought it to your property. If you work with a wholesaler, they will help you set things up. If you’re on your own, then you’ll have to coordinate this whole process on your own. Here are some guidelines that you should know about shipping a container:

  • Delivery requires a straight 120′ for unloading.

  • Height clearance requirement is 14′ high and increases to 21′ when unloading.

  • The truck requires 13′ wide clearance.

  • The trucks weigh more than 30,000 lbs and require dry hard ground capable of supporting this weight.

  • Ensure the street leading into your property is wide enough to accommodate the truck radius while turning onto your property.

  • Ensure space is clear of fence posts, underground utilities, grass, planters, and concrete not able to withstand the weight.

  • We require the customer to be onsite at the time of the delivery to direct the placement of the container.

  • The driver(s) will do their best to place the container in the desired location. It is the driver’s right to refuse to place a container in a location where they feel it may cause harm to themselves or their property.

Designing Your Container Home​

There are few things to consider when you plan and build your container home:

  • Insulation: If you want to live in your container, insulation is a must. Yes, doing this can be such a pain since there is no natural gap in the wall where insulation could easily go. So make sure you have a plan for how you’re going to create space for insulation to efficiently regulate your container’s temperature.

  • Windows and Doors: Windows and doors will need to be precisely cut into the container, so it doesn’t damage the container and make it structurally unstable.

  • Sound: If you want to sleep soundly at night, I suggest you consider investing in materials to make your container home sound-proof.

  • Container Condition: Before launching a construction, make sure to deal with the large rust spots in your container.

  • Building Codes: If you’re not familiar with local building codes and regulations, your contractor should be. It’s empirical not to skip this step since it might cost you lots of money in the future.

Yes, building your own home is a rewarding experience, especially if you’re on a tight budget. However, having the skills and expertise in designing will surely lessen the payables! But we highly suggest you hire a designer or architecture firm if you want it to be perfect. To give you some ideas on designing your container home, this guide might help you out!

Prefabricated Container Homes​

If you’re interested in living in a container home that will save you all the headache and hassle in the process, we recommend you consider buying a prefabricated container home. These shipping containers are already remodeled and turned into a living space. You can purchase it online, and it’s delivered to your property as easy as 1-2-3. All you need to do is hoop up to water, electricity, gas, etc. Prefab homes usually cost between $20,000-$50,000, which is cheaper than what it would cost to build a traditional home.

These are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a prefabricated container home:

  • Fixed Price: With a prefab home, the price is fixed. Going this route eliminates the possibility of having unexpected expenses.

  • Convenience: You don’t need to worry about any of the things we’ve discussed above. All you need to do is pick the design you like.

  • No Anxiety: Designing a home on your own can be a fun-filled experience but it can be challenging and a bit stressful.

  • No Originality: Since they’re prefabricated, these containers are not UNIQUE.

  • Limited Options: You won’t have all that much choice to pick about the design you want.

Designing and building your own container home might be one of the most exciting and unique experiences but, there are a lot of things to consider that will require time and effort to think about. Hopefully, this guide will help you decide on a shipping container that is best for your needs. If you have questions regarding container homes or shipping containers in general, feel free to reach us at info@onsitestorage.com. Sample quotations are given as well as we want to give the best for you! May you find a comfortable shipping container home that will give you a relaxing life every day! 

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