You’ve seen countless examples of shipping container homes and projects throughout our website. And even within the category of homes, there are quite a few different possibilities.
With the base unit of a shipping container, you can go in many different directions with regards to size, shape, and architectural design. The creativity afforded by steel containers allows for almost endless ideas.
More and more people are moving beyond logs and lumber toward a sturdy cabin solution based on containers. We love the idea of shipping container living in general as well as container home cabins specifically. Read on to find out why!
While the word ‘cabin’ is often visualized as a log cabin, the term is actually much more generic. To make matters more confusing, there are quite a few building types that are very similar to cabins. Let’s start with a definition.
Depending on your dictionary of choice, the definition of a cabin is usually a small dwelling, house, or shelter that is made with simple construction and often situated in a wild or remote area. Some definitions further elaborate by saying that a cabin is usually made of wood. However, languages evolve over time and the term has become more inclusive.
While there are regional and cultural differences, we can generally say that a modern cabin meets most but not necessarily all of the following criteria:
As you can see, the criteria is less about specific construction materials or style and more about the size and planned usage. Hence, why building a cabin out of shipping containers is perfectly acceptable.
It’s important not to get too wrapped up in what qualifies as a cabin. For instance, while all cabins are houses, not all houses are cabins. The lines between categories can be gray and there is a lot of overlap. When in doubt, refer back to the bulleted list above.
Let’s talk about a few buildings that similar to cabins to make sure we’re not leaving anything out. While there are even more subtle cabin varieties that are specific to certain countries, like the Canadian Bunkie, the New Zealand Bach, the Russian Dacha, and the Swedish Stuga, we’re focusing on options that are most common in the US.
Regardless of what you specifically call it, where it is, or what exactly it looks like, a cabin is designed to solve a problem. The issue is this: How to come up with a structure that is secure and durable, efficiently uses a small amount of space while being cozy and livable, and is fairly straightforward for the average person to build themselves.
If you’ve read through our Fundamentals section, you’re probably now saying to yourself, “Hey, that sounds a lot like a container house!” And of course, you’d be right, which is why a container cabin makes so much sense!
While there are many great reasons why a container works well as a cabin, it wouldn’t be fair to just share the beneficial attributes. So below we’ll do our best to describe both the good and bad aspects of containers as they pertain to cabin homes.
Clearly, the positives outweigh the negatives, which is why so many people have decided to build shipping container cabins over the years. Below, we’ll share a few great examples.
This two-container cabin was built with security in mind. Designed by Yamamar Design, it incorporates sliding door panels made from the container wall cutouts. In addition, the existing container end-doors can be opened to reveal a huge window.
This off-grid container cabin excels at letting light and nature in while it is being used, but can also be completely locked down and secured when it’s time to head back to life in the big city.
A simple bed of gravel serves as the foundation, making this a quick, cheap, and low impact build for those wanting to get away to a beautiful property like this.
Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is a scenic area of canyons, forests, and waterfalls. A fitting location for two similar container cabins available for rent.
Both of the cabins are built from two 40 ft shipping containers, although the larger cabin (shown above) has the two containers separated to give more room in between.
The design seamlessly blends modern and rustic with features like wood-paneled walls, concrete countertops, and corrugated sheet metal ceilings. While both cabins have two bedrooms and one bathroom, the smaller cabin sacrifices some indoor space for a sprawling covered porch.
This charming cabin is built from a single 20 ft container. Set in Catskill Mountains of New York just a couple of hours north of the city that never sleeps, this cabin embodies relaxation.
Surrounded by forest and near to a waterfall, this cabin encourages you to really enjoy the outdoors. And with two huge sliding doors in addition to a large window, you feel like you’re outside even when you’re snuggled up on the couch.
This rustic looking cabin gives no visual indication that it’s built with a shipping container, and that’s the point. The team at Barnwood Living build this cabin as part of their TV show about salvaging wood from old barns.
Using a standard 20 ft container as the base, the team cut out two windows and a door, then got to work cladding the exterior with salvaged wood from a nearby barn. They also built a separate front porch to match the container’s design.
One unique feature is the ceiling. They cut out the entire roof of the container then used hand-hewn wooden beams to form a gable roof covered in sheet metal. When you look up inside, you see the exposed beams and lumber sheathing.
This container cabin is a great example to showcase that a container cabin doesn’t actually have to look like a container. If you want the advantages of a container like strength and portability, but desire a more rustic appearance, that is definitely possible.
While this cabin is out in nature, you definitely don’t have to rough it. Hideaway Litchfield consists of two luxury container cabins in Australia’s Litchfield National Park.
Each of the cabins are made with two containers that are cut at angles. In addition, the containers have corrugated metal as an exterior cladding. It is very difficult to tell these are container cabins…you almost have to see the under-construction photos to believe it!
With an incredible national park right outside, the location couldn’t be better. And the quality of the build means you’ll suffer for nothing when you come inside after a long day of exploring.
These modern container cabins aren’t nearly as rural as some of the others we’ve featured, but given their proximity to the beach, we’re making an exception! Each of the two cabins is made with a single 40 ft shipping container elevated above the ground on piers.
The design of these container cabins is accurately described as simple yet elegant. White walls and tiles mesh wonderfully with the rich brown of the coated container floor. And the bold, blue exteriors look right at home with the wooden decks and native landscaping. One of our favorite features of these cabins is the huge outdoor showers, perfect for washing off beach sand or sweat from a run.
Despite how great these cabins look, a DIYer could replicate them fairly inexpensively. There are no fancy materials or ornate designs, just a well thought out use of space and color.
The Hideout OTG Cabin was a concept created by architect Richard Springwater several years ago. It has some very interesting features for container cabin fans and borrows the idea of slideouts from the RV industry.
As you can see from the picture, this cabin is based on a 20 ft container that has a fold-down wall. When the wall is down, a lightweight extension full of windows moves out sideways. This effectively doubles the interior volume of the cabin.
If you need to move the cabin or just want to secure it when you are gone, you can retract the windowed extension and fold the steel wall back up. Packed up like this, the cabin looks just like a regular container with no window or door penetrations.
Many of you will rightly point out that all the windows will be horrible for privacy, insulation, and potential condensation. We prefer to think of this cabin as the start of an idea rather than a finished design.
For instance, in many geographic areas, you’d want to replace some of the windows with insulated panels. And it might be easier to use a open-sided container instead of fabricating a fold-down wall.
This cabin is a great example of what a DIYer can build with a little bit of work. Built with three 20 ft containers, this cabin reportedly only cost $20,000.
By placing all windows and doors in the open ends of the three containers, the cabin is very secure. When not in use, the three sets of steel container doors can be shut and the cabin has almost no external holes.
Even though the windows are all on one wall, using 20 ft containers means the home is fairly shallow and light fills the space without issue. External insulation on the roof and internal insulation in the walls helps keep the space at a comfortable temperature.
We’d prefer to see some siding placed on top of the OSB for aesthetic purposes, but otherwise, this container cabin is just about perfect for a budget build.
This container cabin takes the idea of log cabins and marries it with the strength of shipping containers. The picture above is while it was under construction just so we can prove there is a container underneath!
Made with only a single 20 ft container, this cabin isn’t especially spacious but it gets the job done. The fully laced log stack cladding helps keep the sun off of the container walls while also giving it that classic rustic appearance.
To get more information about this particular cabin, check out our interview with the owner.
This great shipping container cabin rental in Ohio was a family’s DIY project. Based on a single 40 ft container, it is placed on a scenic piece of property near a river that is full of color as you can see from the picture.
A four-season cabin like this is surprisingly easy to build, and thanks to its cozy size, easy to keep warm in the winter. We especially like the clear-coated plywood flooring which looks great while being quite economical.
For more information on this cabin build, read our interview with the owner.
We’ve really just scratched the surface of the multitude of possibilities that shipping containers can bring to cabins. Hopefully, some of the examples have sparked some ideas in your head to prove that almost anything is possible.
While shipping containers aren’t perfect for every situation, we think you’ll agree that we’ve made a great case for using them for a cabin project.
As you can probably imagine, many container cabins are created to use as short term rentals (either exclusively or when the owner isn’t using it). If you’re interested in seeing some container cabins and other types of container homes available for short rental stays, definitely check out our Visit tool. It’s a fun way to spend a weekend and find out if staying in a container is right for you and your family.
Let us know what you think about container cabins in the comments below.