How Long Will My Shipping Container Home Last For?

Posted By: January 20, 2015 In Guides

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

Today the ContainerHomePlans team want to address a very logical and common question that we receive through email multiple times each week. Once people start to seriously consider building a home out of shipping containers, the logical next step is to try and work out the cost of doing such as opposed to building a traditional brick house or a wooden house. In order to work this cost out we need to take into account how long our house will last for; because if our cheap home is only habitable for five years, then over several decades rebuilding our home countless times is going to cost a lot more than investing in more expensive materials at the very start and building the home once (dramatic, but you get the idea!).

So this article will address how long shipping container homes last and compare this to two other viable options; traditional brick homes and wooden houses.

Shipping Container Homes

Now, the first question to address is: are you going to be using new or used containers for your home? ‘Used once’ containers are a very popular choice because they’ve only been used to ship products once, so you get them a lot cheaper than new containers and you don’t end up with a beat-up container that’s seen years of service!

We’ve been in touch with various suppliers to enquire about the length of time containers last for. The consensus seems to be that a new shipping container will last for over 25 years without any form of maintenance. Obviously this figure will vary depending on the climate the shipping container in also; however a minimum of 25 years seems like a fair representation.

What if my container is used, how long will it last?

Heavily used containers tend to be around 10 years old when they come out of service, so assuming you’ve purchased one of these containers you should have at least 15 good years from the containers before you need to perform any maintenance repairs on it. With used containers others factors apply such as whether they have any heavy dents or rust when they were purchased.

Extending the Lifespan

You can take simple but effective measures to extend the length of your shipping container home dramatically. If you use a form of external cladding for your containers it can add decades onto the lifespan of your home. A good cladding won’t be damaged by rot and termites and can last over 50 years! Another effective measure that can be used is undertaking restoration action as soon as you notice either rust or corrosion. The longer you leave the rust un-treated the more damage it can do so; treating it early will limit this damage.

To conclude, it’s very tricky to place a figure on this because we haven’t been building with shipping containers long enough yet to have examples. However we know that storage facilities made from steel have already lasted decades so there’s no reason why shipping container homes can’t.

Traditional Brick Homes

Let’s now turn our attention to a traditional brick home, which are very popular in countries such as England and Germany. In England you can find examples of brick homes that date back to the 1500’s (Apethorpe Hall) and use durable materials such as slate, brick and hardwood. Such examples are now the envy of countries throughout the world as these building provide incredible heritage and culture.

Like with shipping containers, the average length of time a traditional brick house will last varies depending on numerous factors, however for the sake of comparison we will attempt to single a digit out for you!

Factors Affecting the Lifespan

There are countless factors that affect the lifespan of a brick house but we will draw upon some of the more important ones. Firstly, what type of brick was used, and what strength mortar has been used to bond the bricks together?  Secondly, is the brick used as a structural component of the building and if it isn’t what is being used instead? Thirdly, was flashing used around structural openings to keep the building water-tight? Finally, what are the weather conditions where the house was built and is the local area prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters (this will really reduce the expected lifespan!).

Traditional House Lifespan

So there are a lot of factors hey!? However a well-built brick home, situation in the west, should be expected to last at least one hundred years, barring any sort of accident or natural disaster. I could show you examples of brick houses that have collapsed in less than fifty years and likewise I could show you examples that have last over centuries; however a good rule of thumb should be at least one century if not more.

Wooden Homes

Let’s now look at wooden houses and address how long they will last. Wooden houses are definitely the hardest to put a figure next to because the starting material is naturally grown which produces its own variables opposed to brick or steel which are man-made substances and can be produced identically. The main advantage that wood has over both steel and brick is that it is such a flexible material and it can literally be sculpted into anything imaginable.

Factors Affecting Wooden House’s Lifespan

Like with a brick house there are a few key factors that can reduce the lifespan of a wooden home severely. Firstly, what type of wood has been used to build the home? The two main types of wood you will come across are hardwood (Oak, Walnut etc) and softwood (Pine, Cedar etc). Hardwood is far more durable however it’s more expensive and takes much longer to grow. Secondly, what are the local weather conditions? If the environment is a harsh one, notorious for heavy rainfall and wind then a wooden house won’t last too long at all! Finally, how exposed is the home? If it’s well enclosed with either a wall or trees then they will take majority of the onslaught from the weather instead of your home, however it is exposed to the elements then your wooden home’s lifespan has just shrunk … considerably.

Wooden House Lifespan

We should expect a typical wooden home to last in excess of fifty years providing it isn’t exposed to harsh weather conditions for a considerable length of time. Providing the house is kept free of termites and is well maintained (i.e. rusty nails replaced, painting stripped and renewed regularly) it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the house to last another fifty years on-top of this.

I hope this particular post has shown you it’s not possible to give exact figures and there are almost countless factors that can affect the lifespan of your home… whatever material is being used to built it. All three types of houses have notable advantages and disadvantages and its crucial to ensure you choose the material based on the location and environment you will be building your home in.