Pros and Cons of Building a Home Out of Shipping Containers

Updated on April 6, 2016

When most people think about building a house, they usually think of the usual materials and mediums. Wood, paneling, stone, bricks, stucco, etc. For many, the idea of building a house out of shipping containers is usually not the first thing that comes to mind, and others wouldn't even begin to conjure up such a thought! Even those who may have the idea cross their mind may not be won over by the images in their head of living in a literal shipping container. Unfortunately, not too many people know about the benefits of constructing their homes out of shipping containers instead of the usual materials, and the fact that they can be modified to look just like a normal house! This article will hopefully open up your eyes to the world and ideas of shipping container homes, and why it's a great alternative to the usual construction mediums.


What are Shipping Containers?

Shipping containers, also called cargo containers, are large metal boxes that are used to transport lots of products great distances. They're specifically transported by train or boat, and are what we usually use when sending large shipments to and from countries. There are hundreds of thousands of shipping containers in the world today, and a large number of them are unused, sitting and collecting dust (at a recent point, there was an over-abundance of containers). A lot of people may pass by them and not even notice them, paying absolutely no mind to the wonderful boxes of metal that can be used for so many purposes, one of it's greatest uses being to create livable habitual housing for people.

While some might scoff at the idea of these things actually providing shelter, you may want to hold your sighs and laughs. When it comes to habitual buildings, shipping containers are most widely used for temporary housing, especially when an emergency arises. Flood victims might find solace in the recently (and quickly) erected shipping container cabins provided for them, or you might even stumble across a medical station in nothing other than a shipping container.

A portable clinic in a shipping container
A portable clinic in a shipping container
This emergency shipping container shelter was built in Haiti
This emergency shipping container shelter was built in Haiti
A shipping container food stall
A shipping container food stall

Not only are these incredible and indisposable resources useful during emergencies, but they're also quite handy in everyday life. Less used than as emergency shelters, they can also be found as buildings for flea markets, vending stalls, and other commercial structures, although there are specific structures that for some reason are even more less created with shipping containers that this article is specifically about -- houses.


Shipping Container Houses and Why They're Great

I honestly am amazed at the small amount of shipping container homes there currently are in existent. They're pretty fantastic for quite a few reasons, the most notable being;

  • They're sturdy: Shipping containers are hurricane and fireproof.
  • They're affordable: Building a house out of shipping containers is estimated to cost around 20% or more less than building a house out of the usual materials.
  • They're easy to put together: Seriously, they're built to stack on top of each other. What more could you ask for?

There's even more great things about them, such as how cheap they are to purchase. A used shipping container (usually 40ft x 8ft x 8ft) often goes for around $1,500 to $3,000, with brand new ones usually sitting around $6,000. For an example of the size to human ratio of one of these containers for their price, here's a photo for an idea.

Yup, that's made from shipping containers!
Yup, that's made from shipping containers!

Among other things, they're eco-friendly -- you're recycling old used boxes of metal to be made into something useful instead of allowing them to end up in landfills or lost somewhere (granted you're purchasing used ones and not brand new ones). They're also great conversation pieces. Could you resist telling your guests that your house is made from shipping containers?

Perhaps with the sudden surge of interest in "going green" these types of houses will be seen more throughout the world. They're already used quite a bit as apartment buildings in countries other than the USA for some reason (though there are a couple here I'm sure) but we could do so much more!


The Downside of Using Shipping Containers to Build Houses

With so many good things about shipping containers, there's got to be at least a few pitfalls. While they might seem like the perfect new material to build a home with, it may not be for everyone, and here's why;

  • Living in places with extreme heat or extreme cold: These might not be too suitable for locations such as South Florida or Alaska. Not that they wouldn't be good, but fitting them so that they will be insulated enough might just not be worth the trouble, and may end up costing you more than you planned.
  • Not easy to find a shipping container house building specialist: The idea of having a house built from shipping containers is still quite new, so it's not exactly a cakewalk to find a contractor with experience. That doesn't mean any normal builder can't do it though! They're easy to work it!
  • Building codes can be a pain: Sometimes your town or city might not be too pleased with the idea of you building a house out of shipping containers.


Conclusion

Despite it's downfalls, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and shipping containers would certainly make a great alternative to the usual mediums and materials that we build houses out of right now. Perhaps there will be a great uprising of apartments and homes built all around the world with shipping containers soon! Who knows -- there's already lots of websites and articles dedicated to the topic, so it's certainly a thought.

Besides, even if the fad of having a home built out of shipping containers didn't pick up, it's still lots of fun and amusement whenever you come across that rare and amazing home that you could barely believe was made with the help of shipping containers.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Randy White Jr 

        4 months ago

        Information on the usefulness of shipping containers on the farm

      • loyddonald profile image

        loyddonald 

        5 years ago

        This is really neat! Shipping containers sure has a lot f uses, but a disadvantage for those living in extreme weathers.

      • profile image

        DigbyAdams 

        6 years ago

        I watched a show on HGTV about building homes from shipping containers. It seems they mostly use them for the frame and then use traditional materials. The result is a gorgeous home that is very strong. I enjoyed your article a great deal.

      • Smart insulation profile image

        Smart insulation 

        6 years ago

        Bravo on this one. I've seen few shipping container conversion's. I do know that you can purchase a shipping container at around $2000 $3000 of a reasonable quality. Please return the favour

      • Jonathan Janco profile image

        Jonathan Janco 

        6 years ago from Southport, CT

        Why stop at a house? Let's go conquer a tract of land and build our own town!

        Great idea and great hub

      • Ole Number One profile image

        Tim Hyde 

        6 years ago from Louisiana

        Sell this stuff in Alabama you'll be a brazillionaire.

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