Building A Shipping Container Home Cost Breakdown Blog Cover

Cost Breakdown of Shipping Container Buildings

Posted in Guides

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

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.

Shipping Container Costs

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.

  • 20-foot Standard Shipping Container     New: $3,000
  • 20-foot Standard Shipping Container     Used: $2,100
  • 20-foot High Cube Shipping Container  New: $3,200
  • 20-foot High Cube Shipping Container  Used: $2,200
  • 40-foot Standard Shipping Container     New: $5,600
  • 40-foot Standard Shipping Container     Used: $2,850
  • 40-foot High Cube Shipping Container  New: $5,800
  • 40-foot High Cube Shipping Container  Used: $2,950

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.

Insulation Costs

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.

Spray Foam Insulation

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

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

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

Foundation Costs

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. These related articles about foundation construction techniques and foundation types may also be helpful.

Pier Foundation

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.

Concrete Piers Foundation

Courtsey 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

Strip (Trench) Foundation

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 in 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

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

External Cladding Cost

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

Stucco is fine plaster which is used to coat external surfaces. It is a common material used in many traditional  homes.

Example Of Stucco 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

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

Summary

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.

Comments
  1. Alice

    Interested in buying your book but don’t see a link. Is it possible to buy a hard copy?

  2. Tom Harrison

    As far as insulated basements using concrete, look up ICF or Insulated Concrete Forms.
    They’re diy friendly in smaller crawl space heights and very well insulated and strong. Most concrete crawl spaces aren’t as diy friendly. Look up on utube for how they’re built.

    • Discover Containers

      Yes, ICF’s are an interesting material, whether for building an entire house, or just a crawl space/basement. They provide some foam insulation built in while saving you the time and effort of building wooden forms. But they can be a bit pricey!

  3. Richard Freitas

    Hi Tom, A cost spreadsheet would be much appreciated. That would allow input of the number of containers used and the various costs of optional methods of construction. That would allow input and cost comparisons of various methods of construction where allowable choices could be made.

    • Discover Containers

      It’s something we’re actively looking into!

  4. jose

    i would love a full break down.

  5. Steven

    Hi,
    How deep should a pile foundation be is you want to put a 20ft container upright?

    • Discover Containers

      That’s not really a question we can answer. Factors like soil type, planned use and internal loading, wind loads in your area, etc. all play into it. The most correct answer would be having an engineer design a pile based on a soil sample. You could also ask a contractor in your area with familiarity with your soil and geography, who might be able to give you a less-professional but educated guess.

  6. Andrea

    Can’t wait for a full break down!! If there is an email list for notification when it is out, I’d love to be on it.

    • Discover Containers

      About midway down our homepage is a place to add your email address. In addition to receiving two free chapters of our book, you’ll also be included in our future newsletters where among other things, we mention the latest article postings!

  7. Jimm Grimm

    Hi Tom,
    Than for lots of information! My wife and I are in the process of building a container home in Richmond, Indiana. So far, we have bought the land and drilled a well. Septic will come in the spring. County officials are eager to work with us… and we seem to be the second inquiry they have had re zoning, engineering, etc. However, it is too soon to know if we will be successful. County officials tell me that Indiana has been proactive in developing standards for container housing. We are about to find out how real those assertions are over the next couple of months. Obtaining a permit to develop a plot was easy. Soil testing for load bearing and septic is next. Then the trick will be to find a certified engineer to review my drawings and approve them. If that happens, I have been assured that the inspectors will work with me.

    • Discover Containers

      Sounds like you’re on the right track, Jim. Best of luck and keep us informed on your progress!

  8. Samuel Gadegbeku

    Thank you for the information. You answered most of my questions. I am about to buy land and would like to build my dream home out of containers but wanted to get an idea of the full cost breakdown. I would love to know about framing, flooring, AC ducts, etc… Thanks again.

    • Discover Containers

      Glad it was helpful Samuel. We plan to continue to add additional content in 2018 that addressed common concerns such as these. Best of luck with your build, and let us know how it goes!

  9. David

    Would be good to know other kinds of insulation, specially burying or covering with natural soil/grass.
    Thank you

  10. Ritesh Raj

    Thanks for the article. i would love to know the cost breakdown and complete cost of any standard size container house.

  11. Joelle

    Hi Tom
    Which is the best option for a foundation to keep the container warm. We will be building in a cold climate which may get to minus 4 degrees Celsius in winter and only 25 degrees Celsius maximum in summer. I read somewhere that a concrete slab transfers the cold from the ground through to the interior of the container. On the other hand, wouldn’t pillars allow the freezing cold air to pass underneath the container also making it really cold inside? Please advise which foundation would be best to keep it warm inside. Thanks

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Joelle,

      Generally, this is correct yes. If you were to use piers, you could use spray foam insulation externally underneath the containers to prevent temperature transfer underneath the containers.

  12. Leilani

    Aloha! Mahalo for this lovely information. I am wondering your thoughts on how necessary insulation may be in Hawaii? We are in the jungle and it rarely gets over 84 and in the evenings/early mornings the lowest may be 59/60 in the very cold winters. Is it important enough to help keep the container cool during the hot days? Do you have any advice for the price of cutting windows/doors and installing simple windows and doors?
    Mahalo nui!
    na Leilani

  13. Martin

    Hi Tom,
    thanks for your advice. Just to clarify; All the amounts mentioned are in US$. Correct ?
    We live in Australia / NSW , ie near Sydney. All the quotes we got for new and used High Cube 20` containers were almost twice the price of standard 20` containers. More than we can afford and – in my opinion – too much for an additional 30cm in height. We prefer High Cubes. Any advice ?

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Martin,

      Yes, that’s correct, prices here are listed in USD. Have you contacted any local dealers to inquire about one-trip containers?

  14. Vickie Buckley

    Hi Tom..I would love to have a complete break down, please!!
    Wiring, plumbing,windows et al. THANKS

  15. Lynn

    I would love the cost spreadsheet. I agree with including the cost of running electricity( some states won’t allow completely off-grid), well and septic tank expenses and definitely engineers to help you get through the permitting process!

  16. Shanon

    I would really like a full cost breakdown! Thank you!

  17. Joshua

    Thank you for the insight! If there is more interest please do a more in depth breakdown! it would be very appreciated.

    Thanks!

  18. Zachary

    I would definitely like a complete cost breakdown. Planning on building 3 container homes in Idaho in a couple of years from now.

  19. Audrey

    Tom, thank you for your insights and dedication to helping and educating those of us that don’t have have any experiance ( me ) in container homes. I also would be interested in a total construction cost break down. I have land and I would also be interested in any / all nformation possible pertaining to building and cost of container apartment homes as rental apartments.
    Thanking you in advance, and looking forward to hearing from you.

    PS. THE LAND IS ALREADY ZONED FOR DEVELOPMENT.

  20. anthony

    will definately be in-touch soon all the blogs are excellent and very helpful. I’d like to see a breakdown of which states and areas are container permitable ; mainly north and south carolinas as well as the rest of the country.

  21. Josef Jonas Ashipala

    Hi Tom

    First i want to wish you a very happy new year .I enjoy your articles very much and i collect every info about the shipping containers homes.
    Thank you a lot and keep it up with the good job.

    Thanks J.J.Ashipala

    Namibia Africa

    • Discover Containers

      Happy to help Josef and happy new year to you too!

  22. Christine

    Hi Tom, am hoping to move one of these days and just love the idea, the practicality, and the act of recycling, for when I do build my home using shipping containers. Enjoy reading your blog especially articles on what to be aware of (the pit falls ) and looking at how some creative people have built wonderful homes from shipping containers. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Shelby

    I would love full cost breakdown.

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Shelby,

      Send us an email we’ll be happy to elaborate on any specifics.

  24. Carol

    I am in the process of building a container home. Unfortunately the contractors and the county are making it almost impossible to get it completed. The contractors can’t think outside the box on this build and aren’t applying the county codes. Any ideas on how to get this completed in a timely manner without killing the budget? I enjoy reading your blog.
    Carol

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Carol,

      What aspects of the build are you struggling with? Then we will do our best to advise you.

  25. hal tam

    with much appreciation i would like to read more on designing aspect. thank you

  26. robert

    i would love to know the complete cost of say an 80sqm total size house. I have a block in kawakawa new zealand

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Robert,

      Send us an email and we can discuss your particular situation.

  27. John

    It would be good to see a complete cost breakdown. For many, it would probably even be helpful just to see what all the costs would be:
    1. Land
    2. Plans
    3. Building Permit
    4. Utilities (Water, Sewer, Electric, Gas, Cable) construction and connection fees
    5. Foundation & Insulation
    6. Interior Finishes (Drywall, electric, plumbing – water and waste – pipes and fixtures, flooring)
    7. Windows and doors
    8. Appliances

    • Discover Containers

      Thank you for the ideas John. We’ll work towards providing a more detailed update to the article that includes these topics and others.

  28. Wayne

    Hi Tom,
    I think one of the important and costly items you have missed is engineering advice if you are going to, in any way, cut out walls or stack the containers in any manner apart from directly on top of each other as per normal shipping practice.

    cheers

    • Discover Containers

      Excellent point. We’ll work to include that in a future update.

  29. Ken

    Tom-
    Great article as always! May be their own topic here, but what about basements? Could you excavate 9 feet down, lay a slab, and effectively “bury” your first layer of containers (so they stick up above the soil line), or would it be better to construct a traditional basement and mount the containers at the first floor level? Or neither?

    Thanks,
    -Ken

    • Discover Containers

      Thank you Ken.

      We don’t recommend burying containers, as it necessitates a lot of extra work in the areas of structural reinforcements, drainage/waterproofing, etc. Feel free to email us with specifics of what you’re planning and we’ll try to help.

  30. Linda Daniel

    I would like complete cost breakdown. Thanks for your info

  31. Amanda Roberts

    If you are in an earthquake area is a particular foundation recommended?

    I would be interested in a complete cost breakdown

    Thanks

    • Discover Containers

      Hi Amanda,

      We cover this in our foundation articles on the blog. Feel free to browse around and take a look.

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