We frequently mention the importance of thorough preparation and planning for your shipping container home. This essential step will help you avoid simple mistakes before you start construction.
But how are you able to adequately plan if you can’t estimate the cost?
Read examples of shipping container homes and how much each cost to build.
Below is a general cost breakdown of materials, so you can see where the bulk of the money gets spent. We will outline the most expensive aspects of constructing a shipping container home and show where you can potentially save money.
The price of the shipping container will vary depending on the type of containers, the condition of the containers chosen, and of course where you purchase your container. To give you a rough idea, we’ve included some prices recently found for the most commonly used containers.
Read in more depth about the cost of different types of containers in shipping container costs. An overview of this information follows.
We typically recommend high cube containers because they provide you with an extra foot of ceiling height.
Whether to purchase new or used containers is a personal choice. With new containers, you have the advantage of knowing they are in perfect condition. However, you do pay a premium for them.
With used containers, you save money but run the risk of buying a container that could potentially have issues which could be expensive to repair.
Make sure you read shipping container inspection tips to avoid buying problematic containers.
As you can see on the pricing list, used 40-foot high cube containers offer the best value for money and are the shipping containers we most often recommend. Unfortunately, though, these large high cube containers are not as readily available as the smaller standard shipping containers. It may take time and perseverance to locate them. But, the time it takes will be worth the trouble!
Don’t try to purchase containers that are very far from your build site, if possible, because the transportation costs will be outrageous.
It is tempting to cut corners with insulation to save money. We encourage you, though, not to try to reduce costs with the insulation. A mistake with insulation can result in a building that is not as comfortable as it could have been because it is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
When it comes to insulation, there are three options: spray foam, panel, or blanket. For greater detail about insulation, read the in-depth insulation article.
This is the most often suggested type of insulation. Spray foam insulation is the only type that provides a seamless vapor barrier, which helps prevent problems such as mold and dampness. It is also the thinnest option at around 2 inches thick.
Cost Estimate: $1.75 to $3 per square foot
Panel insulation is slightly thicker than spray foam insulation at around 3 inches thick.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using panel insulation. The main advantage of panel insulation is that it is the easiest insulation option to install. The drawback is that it requires a wooden frame to be attached to the container first and it somewhat reduces the amount of internal space in the container.
Cost Estimate: $0.75 to $1.45 per square foot
Blanket insulation is the least expensive type of insulation. Similar to panel insulation, you need some form of wooden studs or frame onto which the insulation will be attached.
The most popular blanket insulation is fiberglass. You need to make sure you are wearing gloves when working with this type of insulation.
Cost Estimate: $0.30 per square foot
There are three main choices for the foundation of your shipping container home: pier, strip (trench), and slab.
Our focus here is less on the construction techniques and more on the benefits and cost of each approach. This related article about foundation construction techniques may also be helpful.
A pier foundation is made up of multiple concrete blocks. It is by far the quickest and cheapest foundation type.
It is also very DIY friendly since it requires no special equipment or expertise.
Courtesy of Larry Wade
As shown in the photo, a concrete block is placed under each corner of the shipping container. These concrete blocks or piers generally measure 50 cm X 50 cm X 50 cm. This can vary though depending on the number of piers used.
Cost Estimate: $550 for a 40-foot container
A strip foundation involves laying a small strip of concrete around the perimeter of your container. The strip is typically 2 feet wide and 4 feet deep. However, the depth is heavily dependent on your local freeze depths. You would generally use a strip foundation when the ground is too soft for pier foundations.
As you can imagine, though, a strip foundation is more expensive than a pier foundation for two reasons. More excavation and more concrete are required.
For a 40-foot container, you would generally only need 6 pier foundations, and a total of 3 cubic yards of excavation.
With a strip foundation, you would need to excavate around the perimeter of the container, for a total of around 28.45 cubic yards.
The same formula applies for the concrete as well.
Cost Estimate: $5,400 for a 40-foot container
Slab foundations are the most expensive type of foundation discussed here.
It involves laying a concrete slab underneath the entire container. The slab is generally 10-24 inches deep.
While this doesn’t sound deep, it’s still a lot of work, because you need to excavate all the ground underneath the container. So, with a 40-foot container, this would be 31.11 cubic yards compared to 28.45 cubic yards for a strip foundation and 3 cubic yards in total for concrete piers.
A slab foundation is generally only used when the ground is too soft to support either a pier or strip foundation.
Cost Estimate: $5,900 for a 40-foot container
We will address external cladding since it may be mandated in certain locations. Some zoning restrictions require shipping container homes to be clad so that they will blend in better with the existing buildings.
However, we still prefer to leave the containers bare and without cladding because of the industrial look it creates. Of course, this is the least expensive option since the only cost would likely be for paint.
There are several options for cladding the exterior of the shipping container.
Stucco is a fine plaster that is used to coat external surfaces. It is a common material used in many traditional homes.
You can apply coarsely mixed stucco directly onto your shipping container.
The advantage of using stucco is that it provides your containers with weather protection. Instead of the rain and frost directly hitting your steel containers, it will instead hit the stucco.
Cost Estimate: $6-10 per square foot
Timber provides a more natural finish to the home. This can be done inexpensively if you use recycled timber.
First, you must attach vertical strips of wood to the outside of the container and then attach the cladding to these. To fit the strips of wood to the container you can use bolts. Use nails to attach the cladding to the wood strips.
Western Red Cedar is just one type of timber that makes a great cladding material.
Cost Estimate: $2-3 per square foot or more, depending on the type of wood
This article emphasizes how the choices that you make about your shipping containers, foundation, insulation, and cladding impact the total cost of your building.
If you have additional questions about costs and materials, let us know in the comments section below.