We receive lots of emails from people asking us how to get started constructing a building out of shipping containers.
So to answer this question, we asked 23 shipping container building owners to reveal to us what you really need to know.
Top 3 Things You Need to Know:
- how to purchase the correct shipping containers
- the importance of building regulations and planning
- finding a contractor with previous experience
1. PV14 House
Matt Mooney, a principal at Corgan, based in Texas, decided to use shipping containers for his next home. More than fourteen containers were used in total to construct this Goliath 3,700 square foot home.
It has three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and an outdoor swimming pool to name but a few of the features!
© Wade Griffith
What do you wish you’d known before you built?
As far as what I wish I would have known, it is very hard to say. I have wanted to build one for almost 25 years. I have been thinking about and studying it for a long time. We (thankfully) had very few surprises. If I had to pick something, I would say that the actual process of buying and shipping one trip containers from Dolphin Containers in Shanghai was an interesting experience. We had to learn how to navigate the used container market here in the region before we decided to go with one trip containers. Other than that, I enjoyed every minute of the experience of building this thing.
2. Tiny 20-foot Off Grid Shipping Container Home
Brenda Kelly from iqcontainerhomes has been dreaming of living in a shipping container home since she was 13. She has been modelling and creating designs for shipping container homes for as long as she can remember!
Her new home was made from a single 20-foot shipping container.
In answer to your question, I thoroughly researched prior to embarking on my first container home so I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I knew that I didn’t. However, this was a non-consented model that, due to its size, didn’t require council permission.
Building a larger home that requires council consent I would wish to know more about the application process for a building permit!
Hope that helps!
3. Nomad Living Guesthouse
The Nomad Living Guesthouse was designed and built in 2013 by Arnold Aarssen from Studio ArTe. It is based in the Algarve region of Portugal. Only one 40-foot shipping container was used, which provides over 300 square feet of living space.
© Luis da Cruz
I wish I knew how to insulate the shipping container. We ended up soldering elements on the walls and then sprayed them with a foam anti-fire insulation.
Also I wanted to know how to keep the sun off the roof; in the end, we did this by double ventilating the roof.
Finally, how could we utilize passive solar energy for the container. We did this by placing large windows in the container facing south west.
4. Taj Malodge
Larry Wade built his shipping container home for a cost of around $35,000. Larry used two 40-foot shipping containers to make his new home. It features solar panels on the roof which are used to provide electric and to heat water.
© Larry Wade
Everything about building with a container was new to me and there wasn’t any useful info that I could find. For me I really can’t think of anything that stands out from the rest. I can say that the one thing that I wished I had not done was buy my containers without seeing them. I took the company’s word that they would be in good shape. They were beat all to heck.
The good thing was that most of the really dented places would end up being cut out of the containers anyway. I do wish I had known that it doesn’t cost that much more for a one trip container and they are like brand new.
5. North Branch Container House
Robyn Volker, from New York, wanted a small country house. She got in touch with Tim Steele from timsteeledesign.com who designed a small but spacious shipping container home.
The home is built into the hillside to take advantage of the natural terrain. Two 40-foot containers are spread 4 feet apart to create around 800 square feet of open plan living!
The two larger containers are propped up using a 20-foot container which is used for storage.
Remember that my house was started way ahead of the curve in 2009, so there was a lot that was unknown. What I wish I had known is that building a house from shipping containers cost me a similar amount as a stick built house.
6. Manifesto House
The Manifesto House is by far one of the most famous shipping container homes to date. It was made using 85% recycled/eco-friendly materials and was designed by James & Mau.
We decided to speak with Raquel Izurzu, an architect from James & Mau, and ask her what they wished they had known before designing the Manifesto House.
© Antonio Corcuera
James & Mau’s Response:
We wish we’d known that in cold climates, you need to ensure you have proper insulation to protect against condensation.
With Manifesto House in Chile we had good results. The climate is not really cold or hot there. We only needed to put some pallets on the external walls to control the sun and some insulation.
7. Containers of Hope
Perhaps just as famous as the Manifesto House is Containers of Hope designed by Benjamin Garcia Saxe for the Peralta family. The home cost a staggering $40,000 USD to build and provides over 600 square feet of living space. We sent a message to the Peralta family and here is what they had to say.
© Andres Garcia Lachner
The Peralta family’s response:
We did not expect so much wind in the site and are now having to screen off the wind with vegetation as the container makes a bit of noise when there are large gusts of wind.
8. The DeWitt and Kasravi Sea Container Home
Kam Kasravi and Connie Dewitt own this particularly impressive shipping container home. The home was designed by Modulus using four high cube shipping containers.
The containers were prefabricated offsite, then delivered to California before they were reassembled. The very top floor has nine skylights installed in the roof, which provides huge amounts of natural light.
© Norcal Construction
Kam and Connie’s Response:
The one thing we would have done differently would have been to find one contractor to help the whole process versus having one for getting and modifying the containers, and another to finish out the interior.
This wasn’t really an option given local familiarity with containers as a structure, but that’s what we would have wished. It would have likely made certain things a bit easier.
9. The Beach Box
The beach box is built in the Hamptons, one of New York’s most expensive areas. The home was built by Andrew Anderson using shipping containers purchased from SG Blocks.
The containers on the ground level are used to create four bedrooms. The second floor contains the kitchen, dining room and living room. Just in case this isn’t enough, the home also features a 1,300 square foot exterior deck and a pool!
© The Beach Box
Don’t unnecessarily cut the boxes. Also make sure your contractor understands modular or container finishing. This will impact the price and quality of your shipping container home.
10. New Orleans Shipping Container Home
You might have seen in the news recently this shipping container home which was built for Seth Rodewald-Bateshome cost around $200,000 to build.
Seth and a team of friends and family spent two years building the home, working in the evenings and weekends. The completed container home contains one bedroom, a bathroom, kitchen, office and living area.
The main thing would be that in this example there wasn’t any significant cost savings. That being said, I enjoyed upcycling the containers. It was less about the price for me. The largest ticket item was actually the pool.
11. Casa Incubo
Casa Incubo is another great example of a shipping container home which was built in Costa Rica. As shown in the picture below, the home has been built around the existing cedar tree and it was designed by architect Maria José Trejos.
The home was built using eight 40 foot high cube containers and using containers helped reduce the construction time by around 20%.
© Sergio Pucci
Since this house is in Costa Rica with tropical weather, I wish I had been extra careful to paint it with the strongest paint to protect against the rain.
12. The Campo Cinco Retreat
Roger Black is the proud owner of the Cinco Camp which is over 200 miles from the nearest airport and based off an unpaved road, unreachable to all without a 4 wheel drive car.
Mark Wellen, from Rhotenberry Wellen Architects, designed the retreat and said the entire thing cost around $200,000 USD. He said that it would have been around $100,000 if the camp was built in a more accessible area!
© Hester + Hardaway
1. I wish I had known there were containers available for very little more money that were virtually new… that are in almost pristine condition.
2. I wish I had known that there were containers that are taller than 8 feet.
13. WFH House
This shipping container home is one of the first in China and was built by Mads Møller from Aarcgency. You can see in the photo that the home has a huge sloped roof which is topped with a living-garden. This filters rainwater and also provides the home with additional insulation.
The external walls of the containers are lined in bamboo which protects the containers from the natural elements and also provides the containers with insulation.
© Jens Markus Lindhe
Just one thing: Building code! What is allowed?
Every country has its own sets of rules and standards. This means a container house in the US does not look like a container house in Denmark.
That is something most people do not think about. The container is a generic product, but climate, fire regulations, etc. are not standard across all countries.
14. Nederland Colorado Shipping Container Home
Here we have a beautiful ,500 square foot home based in Colorado. The home was designed by Brad Tomecek, from Tomecek Studio, as an experiment to try and reduce the size of the average American home and to also be as environmentally conscious and friendly as possible.
The containers are bolted down into the existing rock and this provides the owners with a gorgeous view overlooking Nederland.
© Braden Gunem
Welding takes a long time and is expensive, so try to keep it to a minimum.
These container projects have been for clients who really like containers or have some tangible need that containers provide such as durability. Certainly the projects that we have been involved in have always been unique.
15. Kuziel Residence
Way back in 2008 Marek Kuziel had the idea to build a shipping container home. It wasn’t until 2009 when things got serious and Marek purchased a plot of land just outside of Christchurch, New Zealand.
The home was built using three 40-foot and one 20-foot container and even has enough room for Marek’s office when he works from home!
To be honest I don’t really have one thing I wish I knew about shipping containers before I started. I did lot of research before I was convinced I wanted to do this.
My advice would be to do as much research as possible before the start of the project. It’s all about preparation.
There isn’t a silver bullet approach to research. I guess the more you know and learn about shipping container homes before you start making decisions will help you to fail less. But again, there isn’t a silver bullet approach to this. Failures along the way are inevitable.
16. Broadmeadow Shipping Container Home
While this isn’t exactly a single home, the construction process is similar and there are still many lessons which we can learn from Broadmeadow!
Broadmeadow is designed and owned by Christian Salvati from Marengo Structures. This megastructure was built with 27 containers, is four stories high, and contains 6 apartments.
There is no one liner that I can answer with. The key word in your shipping container home question is HOME/HOUSE.
Building with shipping containers can be challenging and the aggravation is still the same as traditional construction, though the costs are reduced.
17. G-pod’s Dwell
G-Pod has recently launched their brand new prototype named Dwell. This prototype is an environmentally sustainable home, made to be easy to relocate. It is built using a single shipping container and has various pull-out and fold-down sections to enhance the homes overall size.
Their director Dan Sparks was asked what he wished he knew…
A good question. I did a lot of research up front so it wasn’t as though I jumped in and discovered something that complicated the build. However, I think understanding how the structural integrity works is very important, i.e. the two long walls are both load bearing and bracing so if you were to cut a hole in one it needs to be compensated.
Insulation is also something you need to spend time researching.
18. Tiny Home Prototype
Like the G-Pod Dwell above, this Tiny Home is also a prototype. The home was built by Steve Sawyer.
The home was made using a 20-foot shipping container and contains a full kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom!
That’s a tough question, and one that I don’t have an answer for. I began modifying shipping containers 10+ years ago. I have made so many mistakes I can’t remember them all. I tend to forget most of the bad decisions and remember the good ones. The neat thing about this business is we are always learning. The advice I give every new person is to speak with their local building department before purchasing the land.
19. Cargotecture C192 Nomad
Like a couple of other homes mentioned, the C192 Nomad is a prototype. The Nomad is made by Cargotecture and sleeps comfortably a family of four.
Joel Egan, Cargotecture’s owner, says the Nomad is designed as a self-contained backyard cottage or remote retreat.
I wish I had known how important it is to have a design expert involved at the front end.
It’s not a good idea to go it alone if you have a custom home you are interested in. It’s best approached with professional drawing services and competent structural engineering.
20. The Box Office
The box office is the creation of Truth Box.
Peter Gill Case, owner of Truth Box, said the windows have been strategically placed to provide maximum daylight while using the smallest windows possible. In addition the studios are fitted with energy recovery ventilators which helps to conserve energy and supply the block with fresh air.
© Nat Rea
Finding a balance between good building design and total construction expense is the key to utilizing containers in buildings.
21. SeaUA Building
These apartments are the first residential shipping container homes in the Washington D.C. area. They were designed by Travis Price and Kelly Davies from Travis Price Architects.
The building was built using second hand shipping containers meaning they could keep the cost of construction down!
© Travis Price Architects
There are countless things that I wish we had known prior to doing our project, but I would say the ONE thing that would have made a big difference would have been to have all of the plumbing chases cut out of the container floors and ceilings to easily run pipe once they were stacked.
Also, the containers sit very tight next to each other and in the design phase we added an additional inch to the width of the foundation just in case they didn’t butt up tight. In hindsight, we should have designed it an inch less for a better drip edge connection.
22. Cordell House
Cordell house is the brain child of Katie Nichols from Numen Development. Christopher Robertson, a local architect helped design the home and the results are just stunning!
The home spans some 1,500 square feet and contains two bedrooms, an office, playroom, kitchen, and laundry room. There is also a 40-foot container located at the rear of the home which contains the guesthouse!
© Jack Thompson
There are many things I could say, but I think the biggest thing I have learned over nearly a decade of container construction is this: Shipping containers are like my favorite people. Overall, they are very simple, but they have intense bits of complexity. Knowing and understanding those complexities is truly key to being successful with a container build.
It is definitely worth it to work with someone who has expertise with container structures.
23. The SurfShack
We now reach out to Hartman Kable from Kable Design Build. He built this beach retreat using recycled shipping containers. Hartman wanted a holiday home on the beach which he could enjoy over the weekend!
Thanks for asking. I guess the one thing I wish I’d known was:
The walls of the container are rough and need framing so that your internal walls are flat and smooth.
Have you built your own shipping container home? Why not tell us the one thing you wish you’d known before you began building your shipping container home?
Blog Cover Image Modified From Angel Schatz