shipping container house exterior

Everything You Need To Know About Shipping Container Homes

Carla Ayers7-Minute Read
UPDATED: December 06, 2022

Shipping containers – those corrugated metal boxes – are used for moving freight on cargo ships, trains and trucks. Once they reach the end of their lifecycle, they’re relegated to landfills or junkyards. But now, shipping containers are finding second lives as homes!

Let’s look at what they are, who they’re suited for and what to take into consideration if you’re thinking about a shipping container home.

What Is A Shipping Container Home?

These homes use shipping containers themselves to create the bulk of a home. Containers are usually 160 or 320 square feet, so their small size, durability and modular design make them easier to work with than traditional house building materials. This makes them an excellent addition to the tiny home movement. Those looking for an eco-friendly type of home appreciate the recycling aspect, too.

Who Are Shipping Container Houses Good For?

If you’re looking for an affordable, small-scale home, a shipping container home might be the right choice. While it might not be ideal if you have a large family or enjoy entertaining friends at home, it could be perfect for a smaller family unit or person who embraces the smaller home lifestyle.

Who could benefit from a shipping container home?

  • Homeowners: These are very affordable compared to more traditional homes, which can make them great starter homes. The smaller size also makes them a wonderful opportunity for downsizing for people who want to pivot from a larger house to a more modest one.
  • Investors: The affordability is an excellent way for established or potential investors to test the waters of investing in real estate. If you don’t want to buy an entire property, consider adding a shipping container house to your own property as an accessory dwelling unit.
  • Entrepreneurs: The increasing popularity has helped create space for entrepreneurs to jump in and take advantage! There’s a huge market for the containers themselves and prefabricated units. Entrepreneurs who customize features and components to make these units even more stylish can take part in this shipping container home trend.
  • Those in need of temporary housing: The affordability and simplicity of shipping container homes are a great solution for those who need temporary accommodation due to natural disasters or being unhoused. There are several communities around the country utilizing shipping container homes for people experiencing homelessness.

Shipping Container Home Costs

If you’re wondering if it’s cheaper to build or buy a house, the answer may be surprising when it comes to shipping container houses. While these homes are attractive from a sustainability standpoint, they’re also excellent to consider from a price standpoint.

Here are some cost-related factors to think about:

For DIYers

At its most basic level, building a shipping container home is one of the cheapest ways to build a house. Expect to pay about $2,000 – $8,000 for a single container. This cost fluctuates depending on several factors, such as the quality of the container and supply and demand. If you want a high cube container, which adds a foot of height, expect to pay more. If you live near a port, your costs might skew lower.

While the prices are lower for DIYers, it’s essential to remember that you’re buying just the container itself. You’ll have other costs associated with making your container into a livable home.

For Prefabricated Units 

If DIY isn’t your thing, a prefabricated shipping container home might be more on your level. You’ll pay more than you would for an empty container, but you won’t have to incur all the expenses (and time spent) of building your home from scratch.

As with any kind of home, prices vary, depending on the level of customization you desire. Buying a prebuilt shipping container home can start around $33,000 for a basic container and increase as you add more features. While it’s more expensive than buying an empty container, it’s still lower than a standard home.

For All Shipping Container Homeowners

Regardless of whether your new home is a DIY project or a prefab unit, you’ll need to consider the costs associated with your home’s placement. Will you be adding it to a property you already own, or do you need to buy or rent land? Land costs vary wildly from area to area, so it’s something to keep in mind.

You’ll also have to make sure that the area you’re building your home on has a well-suited foundation. Otherwise, you’ll need to add excavation services to your budget.

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    Pros Of Buying Or Building A Shipping Container Home

    Shipping container homes have become increasingly popular, and it’s easy to see why. Here are some common benefits of building a shipping container home.


    Even on the higher end of prefabricated units, these still cost less than many standard homes and even tiny homes. Homebuilding costs tend to be lower because the footprint of a container home is smaller, and not built from scratch. As always, total costs will depend on the finishes and features you choose.


    Shipping containers are built to be sturdy and durable. Their steel and metal structures can withstand harsh elements on the land and the sea, and even though the exterior can rust over time, they’re strong and solid.

    Short Construction Time

    Shipping containers are built for mobility, making their delivery time faster. Though it takes additional time to add doors, windows, a roof, and all the interior materials, the construction time tends to be much shorter than building a standard home. Some prefab shipping container homes are move-in ready and take only a few weeks to finish.


    One of the most convenient features is their modular design. Whether you choose to live in a single container or use several to construct a bigger home, you can configure the structure of your home. The same goes for inside – you have the ability to make the home as simple, stylish or luxurious as your imagination and budget can handle!

    Environmentally Friendly

    One of the most attractive benefits is the sustainability of the lifestyle. These homes are environmentally friendly, due to their smaller footprint and the fact that they’re recycled. Giving a shipping container a second life as a home is great for living off the grid. You can even customize your eco-friendly home even further by installing energy efficient features.

    Cons Of Buying Or Building A Shipping Container Home

    While there are many good features to consider when thinking about a shipping container home, there are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind.

    Legal Issues

    Because these homes are a newer trend, states and counties often don’t have regulations. You’ll need to look into zoning and land permitting issues to ensure your shipping container home is legal.

    Limited Insulation

    Because shipping container homes don’t include much insulation, you’ll need to insulate the home. However, keep in mind that bulkier insulation takes up valuable interior space.

    Possibility Of Structural Issues

    Because you’re adding doors and windows, you’ll be cutting the shipping container. It’s important to ensure your home is stable and that you’re not compromising the integrity of the structure.

    Difficult To Eliminate Toxins

    Unless you’re buying a brand-new container, you might encounter hazardous chemicals or materials that may have been used in a shipping container previously. Because they’re built to be sturdy and non-corrosive, the materials used to build the container may contain toxins, including lead.

    Not Always Effective Recycling

    In a perfect world, all containers would be recycled. But in reality, shipping containers need to be in good condition to be used for housing. Rusted and dented ones can’t be used easily. Keep in mind that you’ll also be adding plenty of unrecycled materials to finish your home.

    Popular Shipping Container Home Designs

    Let’s look at some of the most popular designs and configurations.

    Single Container

    The single container is a one of the most popular designs. It’s a single-story rectangular home, and its interior is reminiscent of a shotgun house, where one room leads to the next.

    Wood paneled shipping container house with railing on roof.


    A stacked container layout adds a second story. The interior layout retains that long layout of the single container home, just with double the space!

    Two story stacked shipping container house with window walls.


    Two or more containers snugly together add more space and more interior separation.

    Gray shipping container house with modules placed side by side.

    Crisscross Stack

    Perhaps the most exciting popular design, two or more units are placed perpendicularly on top of each other. The interior layout is more unique with this design.

    Slate colored shipping container homes stacked perpendicularly.

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    Shipping Container Home FAQs

    Here are some common questions you might have about shipping container homes. 

    What is the standard size of a shipping container home? 

    The two general sizes are 160 or 320 square feet. A 160-square-foot shipping container is 20 by 8 feet, and a 320-square-foot container is 40 by 8 feet. Both are 8.5 feet tall, and high cube containers are 9.5 feet tall.

    Are shipping container houses mobile? 

    They can be mobile, but generally, these homes rest on permanent foundations. Many loans and permits require this.

    How do you insulate a shipping container home?

    There are many types of insulation to choose from, but you’ll have to consider that bulkier insulation can take up interior space.

    Do shipping container homes hold value? 

    It’s too early in the trend to be able to tell for sure, but signs point to them becoming a staple in home choices. Their affordability and eco-friendliness make them an attractive, achievable option for many.

    Where can I place my shipping container home? 

    Because zoning laws vary and this is an emerging trend, you’ll want to check with your local city hall to ensure you’re allowed to have one on your property.

    Can I get a mortgage on a shipping container home? 

    It depends. Many lenders won’t offer mortgages unless the home is on a permanent foundation. Keep in mind that you may encounter appraisal problems, since these homes are rather unique and without comparables. You may have to take out a personal loan to finance your place.

    The Bottom Line: Shipping Container Homes Can Be A Worthwhile Alternative Living Space

    If you’re up for the smaller footprint and lifestyle that alternative housing options offer, you can explore ways to make your shipping container home a reality! Contact a Verified Partner Agent today to get a loan started.   

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    Carla Ayers

    Carla is Section Editor for Rocket Homes and is a Realtor® with a background in commercial and residential property management, leasing and arts management. She has a Bachelors in Arts Marketing and Masters in Integrated Marketing & Communications from Eastern Michigan University.