Graceville Container House Case Study

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Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

Todd and Di Miller purchased a house and plot of land in 2011 with the idea of renovating the existing house. During the 2011 Queensland floods, the house was destroyed. This left them financially ruined as their insurance didn’t come close to covering the total cost of the damage.

They repaired their home as best they could during the following months but still dreamed of renovating the house. This was when Todd came up with the idea of building a new house out of shipping containers instead of traditional building material. He knew this was the only way they could afford to build the home they wanted. Todd said they also chose to use containers because of the timeframe they can be built with and because they are environmentally friendly.


Todd and Di planned to use thirty-one shipping containers to build their four bedroom, 6,000 square foot home. Yes, you read that right: thirty-one. The new house was designed to be flood proof. The ground floor would be comprised of ten shipping containers and contain a double garage, gym, home office, pool room, and art studio. The second layer would be stacked with eleven containers and feature a colossal open plan living room with a kitchen, bathroom, three bedrooms, and a study. The third floor was built using ten more containers and houses the master bedroom, walk-in closet, en-suite, and a deck/terrace area.

The final product features a swimming pool, art studio, gym and four bedrooms with a total cost of US $310,000.


Their first task was to purchase the containers. Todd and Di decided to purchase brand new containers from China for US $2,900. each. The containers came fully finished with eight layers of paint on the inside and outside, careful welding, and 28 mm marine plywood flooring.


They cleared the site by demolishing their old home and laid the foundations for their new one. For the foundation, Todd drilled Micropiles, nine meters deep into the ground and cement grout was used to ‘glue’ the piles to the surrounding soil. Foundations like this will make their home cyclone proof. Concrete piers were then placed on top of the piles as a block on which to place the steel containers. In total it took one month to clear the site and complete the foundation.

Laying the Containers

Soon after, Todd took the first delivery of ten containers. Each container was lifted into place and laid down on top of the concrete piers. Within four hours the ground floor was complete and all that was left was to weld the containers together. Two weeks later they took delivery of another eleven containers which would be used to create the first floor of their home. This time, the containers were placed on top of the ground floor and welded together. A further two weeks later, the last ten shipping containers were delivered to the site. They were laid on top of the top floor using a crane.

Sculpting the Containers

The next step was to cut away at the steel containers and shape them into a home. To maintain the containers’ integrity, thick universal steel beams were used in the opening. For the windows, tinted Low-E glass was used to allow the hot air to escape to during the summer. It took eight weeks from the first container being placed until the building was watertight.


Once the home was watertight, they began to install the insulation and internal cladding. The second and third story external walls are all insulated with Rock wool insulation sheets and held in place using wooden frames. Once the insulating was finished, plasterboard was placed on the walls and then a concrete colored render was plastered over them. Di decided to keep the ceilings exposed to show off the steel!

The house was then painted. Inside, three layers of white Dulux wash and wear paint was used. Externally eight layers of Dulux infracool was used. Not only does the paint keep the color scheme consistent throughout the house, the infracool paint used helps block UV rays and reflects some of the heat away.

After the paint had dried, Todd installed bamboo flooring throughout the house. In keeping with their Eco conscious design, Di and Todd up-cycled timber, railway sleepers, glass, Tasmanian oak and many other materials throughout the build. They even installed a grey water collector on their roof which is used to flush their toilets.

All that was left now was for their kitchen to be installed and then they would be ready to decorate.

Finishing their Home

In July 2013, their home was finished and ready for them. The house is incredibly sturdy and comes with a lifetime guarantee from its engineers. The Millers say it is also cyclone proof and built to Queensland’s latest building regulations for flood-prone areas. It was the largest container house in Australian when it was built.

In total, after everything was finished their home cost US $450,000 and took 24 weeks to build. Todd explains that it cost more than expected because they made several design changes during the construction phase. They added things that were not in the original plan or budget including adding a swimming pool, spending $40,000 on landscaping and building an additional bathroom. This additional expense proved worthwhile when they sold it at the end of 2014 in excess of US $1,090,000.

Di and Todd’s shipping container home was featured on Grand Designs Australia.  

You can check out the suppliers Todd and Di used here.  And, find even more pictures here.

  1. Nicolas

    Hi Tom,
    (what is your relation with Todd?)
    the construction used 31 containers with an original cost of 310.000.
    Lets say that (wild guess) that 10 up to 15% is fix cost (US $30.000/45.000), wherever you use 1 or 31 containers. So could I say that the cost per container is around US $8.500?
    So for 10 containers will add about US $130.000?

    • Discover Containers

      Nicolas, it’s difficult to back out cost estimates like you’re doing, unless you’re planning to build a home with a similar level of finish in a similar geographic location. Are you trying to estimate just the cost of ten empty containers? If so, this post provides some guidance, but know that there is quite a bit of variability based on your location and the condition of the containers.

  2. Patrick

    Is there a price breakdown for how much they paid total for this? I’d like to be able to put together an educated guess based on their numbers.

  3. Paul

    I noticed the estimated cost to build and the final cost to build, what would you estimate the cost to build without some of the interior features (bamboo floors, Tasmanian oak walls, etc)? Also, would having the containers fitted in a factory as opposed to onsite bring the cost down?

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Paul,

      The gap between the estimated cost and the final cost was because they changed the design during the build.

      There can sometimes be cost savings by building them in a factory, but to see significant savings you would have to build quite a few containers.

      For a typical container conversion, the cost reduction probably isn’t significant.

      • Paul

        Thanks! Do you think this house (or something very similar) could be built today for less than $310,000 without a pool or some of the expensive interior features? Thanks!


        • Discover Containers

          Hi Paul,

          Absolutely it could. If we remember correctly, the home was going to be built for much less; however, halfway through the build they decided to borrow more money and ‘up’ the budget