The increasing popularity of Airbnb, HomeAway, and other sharing-economy businesses that facilitate short term rentals is a trend that many in the world of shipping container homes have taken interest in. While some people choose to rent out rooms in their existing homes, others are choosing to build separate residences just for this purpose. The trends have also enabled everyday people to offer up cabin and bed & breakfast experiences on properties they own in more rural settings.
Whether used as a full-time business or just a way to generate extra money when your own family isn’t using a space, these new short term rental platforms have really opened up some unique possibilities for people around the world. Shipping container homes are of special interest in these use-cases, as their small size, ease of transport, and other strengths work nicely with the needs of short term rental hosts.
We reached out to a number of successful container home rental hosts and asked them what they wish they wish they knew about building and renting their container home, and what advice they would pass on to someone thinking about following in their footsteps. Whether you’re planning to use your existing container home as a rental while you’re traveling or just considering the idea of building a container home behind your main house as a way to earn some extra money, you’re going to find some useful information in the responses below.
Adele built two container homes in her backyard just 2-3 miles east of Downtown Atlanta. Her project is unique because each unit is made with smaller 20-foot containers, both units share a common outdoor living area separate from the main house, and Adele hired a builder to bring her project to life.
We definitely regret not having gone with gone with high cube (extra tall) containers to create more high window / design options. A single door would help, too, in lieu of French Doors, which would have offered greater design capabilities. Although our kitchenettes are great, they’re limited. We’d love a full kitchen — especially for longer stays.
To hear more about Adele’s project including links to her rental units, check out our interview.
Nick’s hillside container home in the majestic Smoky Mountains of North Carolina has some of the best views you’ll find. He and his wife ending up building it mostly themselves due to issues they had with contractors, but the effort was clearly worth it. Their plan was to have a place to build memories with their family, share with their friends, and one-day pass down to their children. However, when the home isn’t being used, they rent it out to others to generate some additional income. It’s a great model of shared-use that we think many others would be interested in!
Don’t be afraid of building a container home. When you start talking to permitting offices and builders, some of them may recommend against it or even try to talk you out of it. This is just because you’re proposing something unique and different that they probably haven’t seen before. However, once you understand container construction, it’s really not that different from traditional construction, you’re just doing everything inside a metal shell. Having gone through the process myself, I can say that it’s easier than people would have you think it is.
As far as using a container cabin as a rental, you need to focus on experience. Simply being a container house helps, but it’s probably not enough. Think about why people would come to your rental in the first place if it was a different type of construction. Usually, the physical structure is only part of what draws them in. For instance, do you have an interesting property, or can you make the one you have more interesting? Give people a reason to visit that’s enhanced by, but offers more than, the novelty of being in a container home.
To check out Nick’s beautiful container rental, click here.
Ryann had short term rentals in mind from day one when she started her container home build. She formed a legal business entity, secured financing from a local bank, and has treated her rental as a money-making enterprise with intention. Her hard work and planning allowed her to monetize an unused parcel of land in her family and allow others to enjoy the beautiful scenery while she enjoys the additional revenue.
When building, consider your local climate and build accordingly. We live in Ohio, which has large seasonal temperature variations including cold winters. We mistakenly used fiberglass batt insulation on the interior of our container, which quickly led to condensation damage during the winter months. We eventually had to replace the ceiling and the insulation with closed-cell polyurethane spray foam.
As far as managing the container as a short term rental, you should consider ALL your local activities and provide guests with information about and access to them. Also, stay the night in your own rental at least once.
To hear more from Ryann including links to her website and rental unit, read our interview.
Lacy and her husband have turned their 45-acre Missouri farm into quite a destination. In addition to the garden and animals, they have a wedding/event venue and, you guessed it, a container home for rent. While a container home on its own is great, offering an experience and a unique environment with the container home can really make a unique stay for visitors. Their rental also showcases how more of a no-frills “glamping” experience can still be meaningful for guests and profitable for hosts (their container home doesn’t have a shower and the restroom is an outside port-a-potty).
Understand how the building process (and cost) is affected by climate. We are in southwest Missouri which is a humid climate. So getting the insulation just right to avoid condensation on the steel was a concern and took some extra planning, calculating, and a bigger budget than what we allowed. But in the long run it was so worth the extra effort to get it right.
Be very descriptive when listing the rental. Even if it operates and has all of the amenities of a traditional rental unit, just because it is built from something the client isn’t familiar with leads to more questions and clients might make assumptions that you do or do not have certain features just because it is made from a shipping container.
Read more about Lacy’s farm, event venue, and container rental at her website.
When Rick first saw a shipping container home, he was hooked. But he didn’t jump in blindly. Armed with years of experience managing rental properties and building a restaurant in scenic Florida, he had a good idea of what it would take to build a unique space and offer something that would attract visitors. He already had some amazing riverfront property, and now his amazing container home allows him to share this breathtaking corner of Florida with more people while offering a fun source of additional income.
Figure out what’s driving your decision to use shipping containers for your project. If it’s just to try to save money, that’s probably not enough reason to do it.
Make sure that your idea is doable. With a shipping container building, you’re probably going to be a pioneer, as the first (or one of the first) in your area to use containers in this way. Pioneers are blazing a new trail, and often end up with some arrows in their back from people who are content with the status quo. You need to have the endurance to push through any road blocks these people put up.
Another important thing to understand is if there is a market for short term rentals in your area. Meaning, is the location you’re choosing appealing to short term guests, and are there experiences nearby for them? Having founded a real estate company that specialized in short term vacation rentals and property management for this area, I knew if I built something unique it would generate attention and demand.
Hear more about how Rick built his container home rental and incorporated it into an outdoor experience by reading our interview.
Ever wanted to move to a tropical island in the Carribean Sea? Mel wanted to, and so she did, by moving to Roatán off the coast of Honduras! Not only that, but she started running a hostel made with traditional construction for other island visitors. She was initially turned off by the idea of shipping container homes, but quickly changed her mind when she had the opportunity to add one to her collection of rentals.
Give some thought to where the container will be positioned and the logistics of getting it into place- that was probably the most difficult part of our project, as we had existing buildings to work around. Spend enough time thinking through your placement of windows and doors, as once you cut the metal, you’re committed!
We recommend reading our in-depth interview with Mel to find out more about her fun container rentals on an island paradise.
David’s story is unique for a variety of reasons. He’s a seasoned Airbnb host who actually started his own successful company that offers noise detection equipment for short term rental hosts. He patiently waited until he found an amazing used container home for sale, then bought it and moved it to his property less than a mile south of Downtown Dallas. And he now has a container home with a beautiful interior that’s putting money in his pocket without much work.
Make sure you are clear on all the rules and regulations concerning container homes and short term rentals in your area. Some rules are black and white while others have a lot more gray that is open to interpretation by the person enforcing the rule or inspecting compliance with it.
Focus on being a good neighbor and don’t give anyone a reason to probe deeper into your project than is necessary. Understand that in many areas, the laws concerning both short term rentals and shipping container homes are still emerging. For the best answers, go directly to the regulating authority and say exactly what you want to do.
You should definitely read our interview with David to learn more details about buying a used container home and renting it out, as well as some additional lessons he’s picked up from managing several other short term rentals over the years.
Asher and her husband built themselves an amazing hybrid container home in Uganda, where they’ve lived while working for the non-profit they started. Life circumstances have changed their plans, and they now spend part of their time in Uganda, and part of their time back in the United States. Their container home has offered them the flexibility to provide a relaxing space to other travelers and volunteers when they are away and earn a bit of income in the process.
Building our container home was tons of hard work and gave us obstacles that we had to work around creatively. It was more than building just a house to us, it was a fun experience that drew our family closer together.
Read our interview with Asher to hear more of the fascinating story of her journey to Africa and of building her container home.
Saffy and Dom are inspirational people. Despite being pregnant, they designed and built their own container home outside Adelaide, Australia. They used plywood interior paneling with a unique relief effect made possible through their use of darker colored studs and intentional panel gaps. It’s a creative, modern, livable space despite being made with only one container. By focusing on creating a really high-quality rental inside and out, they’ve been able to keep occupancy rates and rental fees high enough that Saffy is able to stay home with their two children.
Plan your layout carefully bearing in mind the amount/type of guests who will be staying. I chalked ours out on the ground and walked around it to make sure we were allowing enough space or using it wisely. A 40 foot container is a long skinny space, allow maximum light from the right aspects to make it feel airy and open.
For more information on this great container home, read our interview with Saffy.
We hope you’ve gathered some great recommendations and ideas from these container home rentals hosts. We really appreciate their willingness to share their experience with our readers. As you know, there is no substitute for hearing from people who have actually been down the road ahead of you. For additional thoughts from people who built container homes that weren’t intended as rentals, check our other great article featuring quick interviews from 23 container homeowners. And if you’re interested in finding a container home rental near you to try, make sure to check out the Visit section of our website.
Let us know what you think about these valuable thoughts and lessons learned in the comments below!
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