Graceville Container House: Case Study- Brisbane, Australia

Posted By: January 30, 2015 In Case Studies

Want to build your own shipping container home? Start Here.

Todd and Di Miller purchased a plot of land in 2011 with the expectation to renovate the current house that was there. However during the 2011 Queensland floods the house was destroyed and this left them financially ruined as their insurance didn’t come close to covering the total cost of the damage.

They repaired their home as best they could during 2012 however they still dreamed of renovating the house. This was when Todd dreamt up the idea of building a new house out of shipping containers instead of traditional building material; he knew this was the only way they could afford to build the home they wanted. Todd said they also chose to use containers because of the speed they can be built with and because they are environmentally friendly.


Todd and Di planned to use 31 shipping containers to build their four bedroomed, 6000 square foot home. The ground floor would be comprised of 10 shipping containers and will contain a double garage, gym, home office, pool room and art studio; it will also be flood proof. The second layer would be stacked with 11 containers and feature a colossal open plan living room/kitchen, bathroom, three bedrooms and a study. The third floor will be built using 10 more containers and houses the master bedroom, walk in wardrobe, en-suite and a deck/terrace.

So the final product will feature a swimming pool, art studio, gym and four bedrooms. The total expected cost for all this… US$310,000 | AUD$400,000 | GBP£205,000 !! Di expects that the house will be built within 16 weeks.

At the end of 2012 Todd and Di applied for approval to build their home and the council accepted their proposal within six weeks. The council stipulated that under the new Queensland building regulations the ground floor needed to be flood proof; this is why using shipping containers was such a great choice because they are flood proof and require no additional modifications.


Their first task was to purchase the containers. Todd and Di decided to purchase brand new containers from china for US$2,900 | AUD$3,700 | GBP£2,000 each. The containers came fully finished with eight layers of paint on the inside and outside, careful welding and 28mm Marine Plywood flooring. So in January 2013 the construction began!


Their first task was to clear the site by demolishing their old home and lay the foundations for their new one. For the foundations Todd drilled Micropiles, 9 meters deep into the ground and cement grout was used to ‘glue’ the piles to the surrounding soil. Foundations like this will make their home cyclone proof. Concrete piers were then laid on-top of the piles as a foundation block to place the steel containers on. In total it took one month to clear the site and complete the foundations.

Laying the Containers

In February Todd took the first delivery of 10 containers. Each container was lifted into place and laid down on-top of the concrete piers. Within four hours the ground floor was complete and all that was left was to weld the containers together. Two weeks later they took delivery of another 11 containers which would be used to create the first floor of their home. This time however the containers were placed on-top of the ground floor and welded together. A further two weeks later and the last 10 shipping containers were delivered to the site. They were laid on-top of the first floor using a crane and the Millers home was really starting to take shape!

Sculpting the Containers

The next step was to cut away at the steel containers and shape them into a home. To maintain the containers’ integrity, thick universal steel beams were used in the opening. For the windows, tinted low-e glass was used to allow the hot air escape to during the summer.

It took eight weeks from the first container being placed until the building was water tight.


Once the home was watertight the next step was to install the insulation and internal cladding. The second and third story external walls are all insulated with Rockwool insulation sheets and held in place using wooden battens. Once the insulation was finished plasterboard was placed on the walls and then a concrete coloured render was plastered over them. Di decided to keep the ceilings exposed to show off the steel!

The house was then painted. Internally three layers of white Dulux wash and wear were used and externally eight layers of Dulux infracool were used. Not only does the paint keep the colour scheme consistent throughout the house, the infracool paint used helps block UV rays and reflects some of the heat away.

After the paint had dried Todd fitted bamboo flooring throughout the house. In keeping with their eco conscious design Di and Todd upcycled timber, railway sleepers, glass, Tasmanian oak and many other materials throughout the build. They even installed a grey water collector on their roof which is used to flush their toilettes with.

All that was left now was for their kitchen to be fitted and to move in the interior decorations.

Finishing their Home

In July 2013 their home was finished and ready for them to move in. The house is incredibly sturdy and comes with a lifetime guarantee from its engineers. The Millers say it is also cyclone proof and built to Queensland’s latest building regulations for flood prone areas. It was the largest container house in Australian when it was built.

In total their home cost US$450,000 | AUD$575,000 | GBP£300,000 and took 24 weeks to build. Todd explains that it cost slightly more than expected because they made several design changes during the construction phase including adding a swimming pool, spending $40,000 on landscaping and building an additional bathroom. However this additional expense proved worthwhile when they sold it at the end of 2014 in excess of US$1,090,000 | AUD$1,400,000 | GBP£700,000.

Di and Todd’s shipping container home has been featured on Grand Designs Australia and I’ve included the video from their YouTube channel.

You can check out the suppliers Todd and Di used here

  1. Nicolas

    Hi Tom,
    (what is your relation with Todd?)
    the construction used 31 containers with an original cost of 310.000.
    Lets say that (wild guess) that 10 up to 15% is fix cost (US $30.000/45.000), wherever you use 1 or 31 containers. So could I say that the cost per container is around US $8.500?
    So for 10 containers will add about US $130.000?

    • Tom

      Nicolas, it’s difficult to back out cost estimates like you’re doing, unless you’re planning to build a home with a similar level of finish in a similar geographic location. Are you trying to estimate just the cost of ten empty containers? If so, this post provides some guidance, but know that there is quite a bit of variability based on your location and the condition of the containers.

  2. Patrick

    Is there a price breakdown for how much they paid total for this? I’d like to be able to put together an educated guess based on their numbers.

  3. Paul

    I noticed the estimated cost to build and the final cost to build, what would you estimate the cost to build without some of the interior features (bamboo floors, Tasmanian oak walls, etc)? Also, would having the containers fitted in a factory as opposed to onsite bring the cost down?

    • Tom

      Hi Paul,

      The gap between the estimated cost and the final cost was because they changed the design during the build.

      I definitely think there can sometimes be cost savings through fitting them out in a factory. But to see a significant saving you would have to covert a lot of containers.

      For a typical container conversion I don’t think the cost reduction would be significant.


      • Paul

        Thanks! Do you think this house (or something very similar) could be built today for less than $310,000 without a pool or some of the expensive interior features? Thanks!


        • Tom

          Hi Paul,

          Absolutely it could.

          If I remember rightly the home was going to be built for much less, however halfway through the build they decided to borrow more money and ‘up’ the budget!