Tips and Ideas for Building a Low-Cost House

Updated on September 20, 2019
Alexander Okelo profile image

Alexander is a professional engineer who specializes in the construction of affordable houses and structures using recycled materials.

This article will break down some tips and tricks to building a low-cost home, such as the shipping container home pictured here.
This article will break down some tips and tricks to building a low-cost home, such as the shipping container home pictured here.

What Makes a House "Low-Cost"?

Before we take a look at how to build a low-cost house, let's define it. A low-cost house is a house built with the same structural integrity as any other home but built with lower fees and cost.

There are no changes as to how the house will be constructed. The foundation will be laid as mandated for every home, and proper construction will be done from the exterior to the interior effectively.

Certain elements make a low-cost house desirable:

  • Low cost of maintenance. Such homes will not be built with hard-to-install and hard-to-maintain materials that would cause maintenance headaches in the future.
  • Affordable pricing on the home. Nothing screams affordable more than the low-cost techniques used to build such homes.
  • Use of similar yet quality alternatives to building the home. Skills and technology will be used but on the minimal to reduce the overall cost of the home.

Low-cost houses are slowly becoming an alternative to owning homes by many individuals. Between high prices and an unwavering economy, low-cost homes are the solution.

Benefits of a Low-Cost House

-Low cost of maintenance

-Affordable pricing

-Use of similar, yet quality alternatives, to building the home

Building a Low-Cost House

Ever heard of prefab homes? These are modernized low-cost homes that come with subsidized rates of building. A good example is the shipping container homes.

They are less expensive to build, eco-friendly and have a great turnaround time when it comes to the actual project. Something relative to that can be a great place to start when building a low-cost house.

Below are some of the best ideas on how you can build a low-cost shipping container house with your limited budget.

Prepare the Budget Beforehand

It's never a good idea to jump the gun, but failing to plan means you are planning for failure. The budget could aid you to get ahead of many factors.

Statistics have shown that on average, 80 percent of shipping container homeowners spent their budget on buying the shipping container itself. There are two options available to the buyer—a new or used container.

While a used container may be cheap, factors like health hazards and structural problems could cost you more on repairs and replacements than buying a new one.

Depending on the budget, choose one that will best suit your needs. Besides, that is not the only expense to be realized. There are other fixture and fittings plus other interior finishes to be done, still under that budget.

It is also advisable to spare some few pennies on the side for emergencies. There are no certainties while building. And with many tools being used in the process, accidents may arise that may need you to step up and take charge of the situation.

To keep up with your budget, you can use a record keeper to take note of all the expenditures you will incur, otherwise, you run the risk of spending more money than you had planned for.

Simplify the Home Design and Structure

A cheap house plan is what you need to build a low-cost house. When working with a tight budget, certain areas can be improvised to save up on costs. But on the other hand, structure features may need close attention to ensure they are placed correctly regardless of the cost.

The design of the house has to deal with the number of rooms you wish to have. From a simple bedsitter to a guesthouse, one bedroom to even four bedrooms with a double story.

Complex designs that feature open layout plans with balconies for every room and other interior designs may be expensive. Settle for something more simple even though you desire a big house.

Take note to only improvise and second guess on any other house elements besides the structure. One amazing fact about the shipping containers is that it can withstand harsh environmental conditions. If you compromise the structure, it could cost you dearly.

Choose a Cost-Effective Shipping Container

As you have read above, this is where you shall be placing the highest percentage of your budget. For that reason, certain factors have to be addressed.

  • Choosing a used shipping container requires you to personally view the container and check for its structural integrity. Being out in the sea transporting cargo for a while could make the container less durable.
  • Pick containers from similar brands if you will be purchasing more than one. Like any other product, different brands have their own way of making things. Containers operate the same way. Rigidity could differ as well as chemical components and the general make of the container.
  • Check for hazardous chemicals regardless of being new or used. Transporting via the sea could mean they have been transporting hazardous chemicals. The chemicals used may be poisonous for human habitation.

Plan Adequately for the Build

90 percent of architectural goodness comes from planning. All costs can be tabulated and accounted for at once without hustle. Planning refers to coming up with a comprehensive checklist which you will use to ascertain that all the issues have been taken care of.

From the plan, you can decide on a few things necessary for the build.

  • Cheaper shipping containers.
  • High end but low-cost materials.
  • Affordable manpower.

In most cases, people may opt to involve a financial planner. One who will keep track of all the transactions. But then, who will pay the planner? Take this task upon yourself for the perfect result.

Ensure you plan for all things legal as well. Building permits may also cost you a considerable amount of money if not adequately planned for.

Choose the Building Materials Wisely

From the foundation up, the modification takes a lot of materials to make the perfect transformation from a container to a home. While the turnaround time is relatively fast, anything complex could mean more money as well as time to perfectly execute it.

Materials could include wood used for framing doors and windows for the fixtures, bathroom and toilet utilities, electric and water works, among other small appliances.

To be on the lower side of money, you can choose to use less wooden beams for framing or a less expensive door. A cheaper type of insulation besides the fiberglass, use a cell spray foam.

The interior could also be improvised by the use of cheaper doorknobs and water faucets. Probably don't install solar heaters or panels at the house as you can choose to upgrade the home later on.

As long as the work is well done and quality work is achieved. You can always work in the money sector.

Cut Out Some Building Processes

Mistakes are inevitable, but if you can prevent any mistakes from taking place, the better. More often than not, some sections of the container may be cut off in the process and when fitting arrives, the steel falls short. Meaning you will need to purchase the replacement.

With a small budget, these issues could strain the budget further than it already is. This also goes for changes in the design due to mistakes. Avoid such.

Welding should also be on the low side. The process is very expensive, probably due to the technique used. In this case, if you can avoid certain welding operations, do it.

Contract Professionals

There is no need to DIY your home and get awful results. There have been successful trials but others have fallen flat leading to damages that need repairs costing you more than you had budgeted for.

A professional can guide you through all the stages of building your home. Advising you on the proper routes to take to save your money.

From purchasing a container, depending on the already formulated plan, the contractor and engineer could guide you on the best pick to use. Buying a 40 feet container could be cheaper than buying two 20 feet containers.

This will not only be a waste of resources but of money as well. A contractor could help you choose and apply the best tools, materials, and techniques to get you the perfect finish.

To ascertain that you will be contracting the right professional for the job, count on word of mouth, references, and recommendations.

Tips for Buying Shipping Containers

-Buying a 40-foot container may be cheaper than buying two 20-foot containers

-Plan to buy containers from one manufacturer, as there are slight size variations from one manufacturer to the next

A low-cost house can provide the same comfort at a lower price.
A low-cost house can provide the same comfort at a lower price.


The cost of building a home could be as high or as low as you want. Without regards to how deep your pockets run, simple features like the design and structure of your home could render you bankrupt fast.

But a keen eye on the above tips could save you more money on your shipping container home than you can imagine.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Alexander Okelo


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