Shipping Container Homes (or “Why Would I Want to Live in a Metal Box?!”)

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 in Alt Energy, Tiny Homes, & Structures

Not just for resourceful squatters, container architecture is taking the world by storm. Recycled freight containers bring efficiency, flexibility and affordability to innovative green buildings, from small vacation cabins to movable cafes, schools and skyscrapers.

Invented more than five decades ago, the modern shipping container is the linchpin in our global distribution network of products. In the containers go toys from China, textiles from India, grain from America and cars from Germany. In go electronics, chocolate and cheese.

While a number of resourceful people have converted shipping containers to makeshift shelters at the margin of society for years, architects and green designers are also increasingly turning to the strong, cheap boxes as source building blocks. Shipping containers can be readily modified with a range of creature comforts, and can be connected and stacked to create modular, efficient spaces for a fraction of the cost, labor and resources of more conventional materials.

So what is this incredible box that faces wind, rain, salt, typhoons, and extreme weight for years?

The common ISO shipping container is either 20 feet or 40 feet long; 8′ wide; and 8’6″ tall.  A taller version, named High Cube (HQ), is the same dimension as a traditional container but 1 foot taller.  Just a few of the many benefits of shipping containers are;

 · Made from a special, stronger steel named Corten steel that won’t rust or corrode

 · Mold resistant

 · A 1.24″ plywood floor made of hardwood.   Teak, birch, or keruing laminates are used to withstand (literally) tons of internal weight

 · Extremely adaptive whether you plan to sheetrock the interior, use traditional insulation, or even stucco the exterior.

 · Can be stacked up to 8 containers in height with no modifications (each container being able to withstand up to 60 tons of weight on it’s corners).

As we can see, it’s one of the strongest mobile or stationary structures in the world built to withstand typhoons, tornados, fires, hurricanes, wind, saltwater, extreme pressures, and can even be sealed air tight.

Let’s explore a few of the companies and ideas from around the world that are currently using shipping containers for amazing, sleek, and cost effective housing.


With simplicity in mind, Lot-EK designs a humble yet interesting setup with this two container design.  With the top container shifted forward, it creates an overhang for the front porch area (which could even be closed in for a small ‘sun room’, and allows for a 2nd story rear deck or garden area.  This is by far one of the most efficient and low cost designs on the market which still provides plenty of room!

Need more room?  Just add another container or two!  A four-container design would yield approximately 1,280 sq. ft. of living space.  But at what cost?lotek_4cont  Container prices vary depending on the local market, how close to a major port you live, and the condition the container is in.  Most prices fall between $1,000 and $3,000 for decent to great condition 40 foot containers.  So, with a bit of math, we arrive at a maximum cost of $12,000 for 1,280 sq. feet of space that is already habitable to an extent.

As you can see, your imagination is the only limit.  Bury a container for a pond or swimming pool!  Need more space?  Add some containers!  With basic power tools, you can add windows, doorways, or ventilation systems with ease.

“I don’t want to live in a metal box, though!”

lotek_6cont_interiorDon’t worry.  With the right interior design and a bit of creativity, you would never even know that you’re in a metal container.  For those of you who do not plan to build a full-time residence with containers but are still fascinated with the idea, why not use them as a storage shed? 

They can easily be used for an add-on as a game room, home movie theater, office area, or even a vacation home or hunting cabin.

As you can see, shipping containers offer a very low cost solution for a solid structure, regardless of the use.  While some might like the idea of recycling containers for home use, others see the pure ingenuity in using an already existing and proven design for their building needs. 

Check out this college dormitory being built in London.  Average cost per dorm?  $4,000 total.


The cost allows students to lighten up their tuition fees while providing more square footage than a typical dorm room (as well as more private!).


 Check back here for more in-depth articles on shipping containers, alternative architecture, and new ideas!

Tiny URL for this post: