Building A Shipping Container Home Cost Breakdown Blog Cover

Building A Shipping Container Home: Cost Breakdown

Posted By: November 23, 2016 In Guides

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I’ve spoken a lot here at Container Home Plans about the importance of planning your shipping container home before you build.

This will help you avoid simple mistakes before you start building.

But how are you meant to plan if you can’t estimate the cost?

I’ve previously shared examples of shipping container homes and how much they cost to build.

But today, I wanted to share a cost breakdown so you can see exactly where the money gets spent on a container home build.

Instead of going down into minute detail, I want to share with you some of the most expensive aspects of building a container home and show where you can potentially save money.

Shipping Container Cost

The most sensible place to start is with the actual shipping containers.

Now, the price will vary a lot depending on the condition and type of containers that you want. Let me share with you the prices for some of the most commonly used containers.

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

I written about this in much more depth, but I’ll repeat it here. My personal preference is to use high cube containers because they provide you with an extra foot of ceiling height.

In terms of purchasing new or used containers this really is a personal choice. With new containers you have the advantage of knowing they are in perfect condition- however you pay a premium for them.

Whereas with used containers you save money, but run the risk of buying some banged up old containers meaning they could be expensive to repair.

Make sure you read my shipping container inspection checklist to avoid buying beat up containers.

As you can see on the pricing list, used 40′ high cube containers offer the best value for money.

I would try to buy these.

Unfortunately though, they can be quite hard to find so you might need to spend some time tracking them down.

Don’t try to purchase the containers if they are too far away because the transportation costs will be extortionate.

Insulation Costs

Whilst it’s tempting to try and cut corners with the insulation and save money, this is one of the few places I’d say don’t!

If you get the insulation stage wrong then your home just isn’t going to be comfortable to live in.

It will be too hot during the summer and too cold during the winter.

Not ideal.

When it comes to insulation there are three options: spray foam, panel or blanket. I will discuss them from a pricing perspective here, but be sure to read my in depth insulation article for more guidance.

Let’s first look at spray foam insulation.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you will know that I generally like to recommend this type of insulation.

Why?

Because it is the only one which provides a seamless vapor barrier. This helps prevent problems such as mold and damp.

Not only this, but it is also the thinnest option at around 2” thick.

Cost Est: $1.75 to $3 per sq. ft.

Next, let’s look at panel insulation.

Panel insulation is slightly thicker than spray foam insulation at around 3” thick.

However the main advantage of panel insulation is that it is the easiest insulation option to install.

The drawback is that it requires wooden battens to be fitted to the container first. This obviously reduces the amount of internal space in the containers.

Cost Est: $0.75 to $1.45 per sq. ft.

Finally, let’s look at blanket insulation.

Blanket insulation is the cheapest type of insulation. And, just like panel insulation you need some form of wooden battens to fit the blanket insulation to.

The most popular blanket insulation is fiberglass and mineral wool- you need to make sure you are wearing gloves when fitting it.

Cost Est: $0.30 per sq. ft.

Foundation Costs

Next we are going to look at the cost breakdown of laying the foundation for your shipping containers.

Again, like with the insulation, you have three main choices for the foundation: pier, strip (trench) and slab.

Our focus here is less on the construction techniques and more on the benefits and cost of each approach. You can find my article on foundation construction techniques here and here.

So first, a 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 as it requires no specialist equipment.

Concrete Piers Foundation

© Larry from Sea Cabin

As shown in the photo, a concrete pier is placed under each corner of the shipping container. These concrete piers generally measure 50cm X 50cm X 50cm. This can vary though depending on the number of piers used.

Cost Est: $550 (for a 40′ container).

Now onto the strip (trench) foundation.

A strip foundation involves laying a small strip of concrete around the perimeter of your containers. The strip is typically 2 foot wide and 4 foot deep.

Though, 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.

For a 40′ container you would generally only need 6 pier foundations, so that’s a total of 3yd³ in excavation.

Whereas with a strip foundation, you would need to excavate around the perimeter of the container, so around 28.45yd³.

The same formula applies for the concrete as well.

Cost Est: $5400 (for a 40′ container).

Finally, let’s look at slab (raft) 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” deep.

Whilst 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′ container this would be 31.11 yd³ compared to 28.45yd³ for a strip foundation and 3yd³ in total for concrete piers.

A slab foundation is generally only used when the ground type is too soft to support either a pier or strip foundation.

Cost Est: $5900 (for a 40′ container).

External Cladding Cost

The last aspect I want to discuss in this article is external cladding.

My preference for external cladding is to leave the containers bare. I love the industrial look this creates.

It also helps that this is the cheapest option for external cladding. It costs absolutely nothing- well you might want to spend a few hundred dollars giving the containers a new lick of paint.

However in certain areas, zoning restrictions mean you have to clad your containers so they ‘blend’ in with the other homes in the local area.

The first cladding material we will look at is stucco (render).

Stucco is fine plaster which is used to coat external surfaces- you’ve probably seen many ‘stuccoed’ 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 hitting your steel containers it will instead hit the stucco.

Cost Est: $6-10 per square foot.

Your other choice for external cladding is to use timber.

This helps to provide a more ‘natural’ finish to your home and can be done extremely cheaply if you use recycled timber.

You would first need to fit vertical battens to the outside of your container and then fix the cladding to these battens. To fit the battens to the container you can use bolts. You can then use nails to fix the cladding to the battens.

Western Red Cedar makes a great cladding material, but obviously you have a large variety to choose from.

Cost Est: $2-3 per square foot.

Summary

I hope this shipping container home price break down has helped you.

I think most importantly it shows how the choices you make about the containers, foundation, insulation and cladding can hugely impact the price to build your home.

Again, to reiterate, I’ve only covered the most important factors which influence the cost of a shipping container home.

If enough people are interested I can do a complete price breakdown, let me know in the comments section below!


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Comments
  1. Amanda Roberts

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

    I would be interested in a complete cost breakdown

    Thanks

    • Tom

      Hi Amanda,

      We cover this in our foundation articles on the blog 🙂

      Tom

  2. Linda Daniel

    I would like complete cost breakdown. Thanks for your info

  3. 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

  4. 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

    • Tom

      Thank you for the advice Wayne.

      As mentioned in my previous comment- I’m writing up a complete cost breakdown so I will be sure to include this in that article.

      Many Thanks,

      Tom

  5. 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

    • Tom

      Thank you for the heads up John.

      I will get to work on this now 🙂

      Hope to have something published on this in the new year!

      Tom

  6. robert

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

    • Tom

      Hi Robert,

      As mentioned in my earlier comment, this is in the works and should be available soon 🙂

      Tom

  7. hal tam

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

  8. 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

    • Tom

      Hi Carol,

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

      Tom

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