In this article, we are going to discuss the pros (advantages) and cons (disadvantages) of owning a shipping container home, independent of whether you build it yourself or buy it from a company.
Container homes have a lot of great qualities, but they certainly aren’t for every person and every situation. In fact, there are scenarios where we generally recommend you do not build your home with shipping containers. So, let’s talk about some of the specific reasons why you may (or may not) find shipping containers to be a good fit.
It comes as no surprise that a lot of the attraction to and buzz around shipping container homes is related to price. Some of it is fair, some of it is not. In many cases, shipping containers can be built quite cheaply, perhaps even cheaper than an equivalent home of traditional construction techniques.
While there are a huge number of variables that influence cost (geography, size, design, interior finish-out, etc), we generally say that container homes do offer a small cost savings for most owners. And, if you’re interested in doing some of the work yourself while being resourceful with some of the other expenses, the savings can be significant.
We previously shared an article on The Cheapest 5 Shipping Container Homes Ever Built. Let’s focus on one of those homes for a minute as quick case study.
Courtesy of Larry Wade
The Taj Malodge was built using two 40-foot shipping containers. This provides more than 600 square feet of living space and with a cost of around $35,000. This amount includes the cost to purchase the containers and the cost to convert and decorate them.
Another advantage of building a shipping container home is that it can be environmentally friendly.
There are millions of shipping containers in the world, but only a fraction of them are in service and used actively. Many of the remaining containers are wasting away in ports and storage yards across the world. Using one of these already existing containers as the basis for a home is a great example of adaptive reuse.
For each 40 ft shipping container, you are reusing more than 8,000 pounds of steel. You are also reducing the amount of other traditional building materials you’ll need, like masonry and wood.
While you could argue that melting down the shipping container and turning the steel into something else is more environmentally friendly, that’s not usually the case. Melting steel requires an incredible amount of energy, you’ll need to remove and dispose of the wooden floor beforehand and then deal with transportation to the steel recycling plant. These and other concerns lead to the surplus of empty shipping containers in the world.
Another great advantage of a shipping container home is that it can be built off site and then delivered to your land ready to move in.
We have discussed this before in the article Where Should I Convert My Shipping Container Home?
Sometimes a plot of land isn’t suitable to build on. There can be many reasons for this. For instance, it might not have any electricity, so you couldn’t power your tools there.
You can convert the shipping container at a local workshop and then deliver the finished shipping container home to your plot of land. This is particularly common when people want to live off grid.
Another great advantage of modifying your shipping container at a local workshop is that you don’t need to make your container watertight immediately. If you were converting the container outside, you’d want it watertight so no rain gets inside the container during construction. However converting the container inside means you don’t need to worry about making the container watertight instantly.
Shipping container homes can be built incredibly fast. One of the best examples of this can be found in Diemen, a city in Holland. The local college wanted to build additional accommodation for its students quickly.
They decided to build a block of shipping container homes out of 250 containers.
The shipping containers were modified in China and then shipped to Amsterdam. In total around five shipping containers were stacked each day. In less than twelve weeks they had successfully built 250 shipping container homes!
The main reason constructing with shipping containers can go so quickly is that when purchased they already have the walls, floor and ceiling. They only need to apply insulation, finish the insides, and decorate them!
When you’re building a home you are typically subjected to your local zoning and construction regulations. While the severity of these regulations depends on your location, you can generally expect some amount of paperwork or approvals. While traditionally constructed houses face these same issues, they are much more common and thus more easily approved in many cases.
This certainly can be one of the most frustrating parts of constructing a shipping container home. You may be the first, or one of the first, shipping container homes in your area, so some work may be required to convince officials that everything is okay.
It’s important that you’re aware of when a building permit is required. Permits can take time and documentation to be approved. Plan accordingly.
If you happen to live in a rural area or a country with more lax regulations, you may not have to deal with building permits.
Always check with your local zoning departments and inspection departments before you begin construction!
Many people want to build their shipping container homes themselves or at least in part. Sometimes this just isn’t possible either because they don’t have enough time or they don’t have previous DIY experience.
Instead, these people will employ a contractor to build the home for them. You want a contractor with experience to advise you and guide you throughout the process. This can be an exasperating and tedious task.
Research your local area and find out if anyone has already built a shipping container home there. If they have, great! Speak with the owner of the container home and see if they can recommend a contractor to you. Just as valuable may be any information they have on who NOT to use.
If no shipping container homes have been built in your local area, don’t worry, you can still find a contractor. It just takes a little bit more legwork.
Look for the nearest shipping container home and speak with the owners to see if they know anybody in your local area. If they don’t, start by calling local contractors and directly inquire whether they have built shipping container homes before.
Even if no one located has container home experience, that’s ok. Look for contractors who seem genuinely interested in your project. People that are mentally invested in your container home will usually avoid cutting corners, and do any research needed on their end to ensure they do things the right now. Our “How to Build a Shipping Container Home” eBook can also be a big help in ensuring you don’t get taken advantage of by an inexperienced or dishonest contractor.
Building a shipping container home can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, but only if it makes sense for your individual situation. The various pros and cons affect people differently, so it’s best to have a good understanding of them all so you can evaluate if it’s right for you.
Any pros or cons we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Is a Container Home right for you?