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Pros and Cons of Building a Home Out of Shipping Containers

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Kay B is a college student and small business owner who doubles as a freelance writer.

This emergency shipping container shelter was built in Haiti.

This emergency shipping container shelter was built in Haiti.

When most people think about building a house, they think of the usual materials and mediums: wood, paneling, stone, brick, stucco, etc. For most, building a house out of shipping containers is not the first thing that comes to mind.

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.

Contrary to popular belief, shipping containers can make great homes.

Contrary to popular belief, shipping containers can make great homes.

What Are Shipping Containers?

Shipping containers, also called cargo containers, are large metal boxes that are used to transport lots of products over great distances. They're specifically transported by train or boat, and are what we usually use when sending large shipments to and from other countries.

There are hundreds of thousands of shipping containers in the world today, and a large number of them are unused 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, including being used to create livable housing for people.

While some might scoff at the idea of these things actually providing shelter, you may want to hold your scorn. When it comes to habitable 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.

A shipping container food stall.

A shipping container food stall.

Why Shipping Containers Make Great Houses

I honestly am amazed at the small amount of shipping container homes there currently are in existence. 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?

Another huge advantage of them is how cheap they are to purchase.

How much does a shipping container cost?

A used shipping container (usually 40 ft x 8 ft x 8 ft) often goes for around $1,500 to $3,000, with brand new ones usually selling for around $6,000.

Shipping containers are an economical building material.

Shipping containers are an economical building material.


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. Here's why:

  • Living in places with extreme heat or extreme cold: These might not be suitable for locations such as South Florida or Alaska. 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.
  • It's 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 with.
  • 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.
Imagine telling your friends that your house is made of shipping containers.

Imagine telling your friends that your house is made of shipping containers.


Despite those downfalls, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and shipping containers certainly make a great alternative to the usual mediums and materials that are used to build houses. 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 whenever you come across that rare and amazing home that you could barely believe was made with the help of shipping containers.

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.


Randy White Jr on February 27, 2018:

Information on the usefulness of shipping containers on the farm

loyddonald on August 13, 2012:

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

DigbyAdams on June 08, 2012:

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 on April 21, 2012:

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 from Southport, CT on April 11, 2012:

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 from Louisiana on November 24, 2011:

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