What I Wish I’d Known Before Building My Shipping Container Home Blog Cover

23 Shipping Container Home Owners Speak Out: “What I Wish I’d Known Before Building My Shipping Container Home”

Posted By: April 14, 2015 In Featured

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

We receive lots of emails from people asking us- how do I go about building my own shipping container home?

So to answer this question, here at containerhomeplans.org we’ve asked 23 shipping container home owners to reveal to us what you really need to know by asking this question:

“What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you built your shipping container home?”

The responses are in and it’s time to learn the most important things you need to know before you build your shipping container home…

Why make the same mistakes twice?

Top 3 Most Important Things You Need to Know:

  1. How to purchase the correct shipping containers (5 votes)
  2. The importance of building regulations and planning: (5 votes)
  3. Finding a contractor with previous experience: (4 votes)

1. PV14 House

Matt Mooney, a principal at Corgan based in Texas, decided for his next home he wanted to use shipping containers. More than 14 containers were used in total to build 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!

PV14 Shipping Container House

© Wade Griffith

Matt’s Response:

As far as what I wish I would have known…it is very hard to say since 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 & shipping One-Trip containers from Dolphin Containers in Shanghai was an interesting experience…and navigating the used container market here in the region before we decided to go with One-Trips. 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, and 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 and due to its size it doesn’t require any building permission or council consent.

Shipping Container Home Taking Shape
Brenda’s Response:

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.

If I was building a larger home that requires council consent and I wish I knew 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 and uses only one 40 foot shipping container which provides over 300 square foot of living space.
Nomad Living Guesthouse

© Luis da Cruz

Arnold’s Response:

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 utilise passive solar energy for the container. We did this by placing large windows in the container facing south west.

4. Taj Malodge

Larry Wade from seacontainercabin, built his shipping container home back in 2010 and in total the home cost around $35,000 USD to build. Larry used two 40 foot shipping containers to make his new home and it features solar panels on the roof which are used to provide electric and heat water.

Taj Malodge Shipping Container House

© Larry Wade

Larry’s Response:

Everything about building out a container was new to me and there wasn’t any useful info that I could find, so 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 dinted places would end up being cut out of the containers anyway. And I wished 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 foot apart to create around 800 square foot of open plan living!

The two larger containers are propped up using a 20 foot container which is used for storage.

Robyn Volker Shipping Container Home

Robyn’s Response:

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.

Manifesto House

© Antonio Corcuera

James & Mau’s Response:

We wish we’d known in cold countries above all, 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 foot of living space. We sent a message to the Peralta family and here is what they had to say.

Containers of Hope

© 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 pre-fabricated off-site then delivered to California before they were re-assembled. The very top floor has nine skylights fitted into the roof which provides huge amounts of natural light.

The DeWitt and Kasravi Sea Container Home

© 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 that 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 1300 square foot exterior decking and a pool!

The Beach Container House

© The Beach Box

Andrew’s Response:

Don’t unnecessarily cut the boxes. Also make sure your contractor understands modular or container finishing. This will impact on 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-Bates? The home cost around $200,000 USD to build and was completed back in 2012.

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.

Seth’s Response:

The main thing would be that in this example there wasn’t any significant cost savings.

That being said, I enjoyed up-cycling the containers, it was less about the price for me.

The largest ticket item was actually the pool ($25k).

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%.

Casa Incubo Container House

© Sergio Pucci

Sergio’s Response:

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 4×4 drive car.

Mark Wellen, from Rhotenberry Wellen Architects, designed the retreat and said the entire thing cost around $200,000 USD and it would have been around $100,000 if the camp was built in a more accessible area!

The Campo Cinco Retreat

© Hester + Hardaway

Mark’s Response:

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 knew that there were containers that are taller than 8 foot.

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.

WFH Shipping Container House

© Jens Markus Lindhe

Mad’s Response:

Just one thing: Building code! What is allowed?

Every country has its own sets of rules and standards. This means a container house in 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…

14. Nederland Colorado Shipping Container Home

Here we have a beautiful 1500 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.

Nederland Colorado Shipping Container Home

© Braden Gunem

Their Response:

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!

Kuziel Residence

Marek’s Response:

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 want 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

Whilst 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.

Broadmeadow Shipping Container Home

Christian’s Response:

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, however the costs are reduced.

17. G-pod’s Dwell

G-Pod have 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.

So we decided to speak with their director Dan Sparks and ask him what he wished he knew…

G-pod's Dwell

Dan’s Response:

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 of them 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, Owner of New Generation Builders.

The home was made using a 20 foot shipping container and contains a full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom!

Tiny Shipping Container Home

Steve’s Response:

That’s a tough question, Tom, 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 within this blog post, 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.

Cargotecture C192 Nomad

Joel’s Response:

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 whilst 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.

The Box Office

© Nat Rea

Peter’s Response:

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 Washington D.C. 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!

Washington DC Container Apartment

© Travis Price Architects

Kelly’s Response:

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, and 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 1500 square foot 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 guest-house!

Cordell Shipping Container House

© Jack Thompson

Katie’s Response:

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 favourite 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 last ‘what I wish I’d Known’. Hartman Kable from, Kable Design Build, built this beach retreat using recycled shipping containers.

Hartman wanted a holiday home on the beach which he could turn up to on Friday night and enjoy it over the weekend!

Hartman’s Response:

Thanks for asking. I guess the one thing I wish I knew was:

The walls of the container are rough and need framing so that your internal walls are flat and smooth.

Well there you go- 23 shipping container home owners have now spoken out! 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?” in the comments below!

Blog Cover Image Modified From Angel Schatz

  1. William Dobson

    Why is it no one has used the smooth sided insulated containers (reefers) ? They are a few thousand $$$ more but you have smooth interior and exterior walls and insulated sides, roof, and floor!!!

    • Tom

      Hi William,

      That’s a good idea- I can only presume that they aren’t as popular because they have less internal space than other styles of containers.

      Thanks for getting in touch,


      • Mark

        don’t the reefer containers have pretty much the same size interior once insulation is placed in the conventional containers? It actually saves a money in the long run as its already insulated and you can see your initial interior dimensions.

        • Tom

          Hi Mark,

          Normally reefer containers are much more expensive than regular containers which are then insulated. Also, I’m not entirely sure whether the insulation used in reefer containers if safe for humans to be exposed to…


    • Stephen Barnes

      hey i would love to live in something like this when i move out next year

    • Charlie

      Probably because the wiring and plumbing would be way harder and more expensive to add to a reefer unit. And if local building codes require inspections then you’d have to open up the insulated walls anyway.

  2. RTC Container Sales

    Hi Tom,You have represented people from different areas and they seems happy with shipping containers. I am fond to learn something new about it. Your portfolio is really great. In modern time shipping containers are the language of living. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Rachel

    This is good info and provides great links to design firms but I don’t see anything on how to finance a container build and info is limited online! Can anyone point me in the direction of financiers in the USA who are willing to provide new construction loans for container builds? Thank you!

    • Tom

      Hi Rachel,

      You’re right there isn’t much information out there on financing a container build, but keep your eyes peeled because we are currently writing a blog post on this and it should be out shortly…

      • Stephanie


        Any further info on financing. I am so ready to build my container home here in Arizona but am having trouble finding financing. Could this be classed as a factory built or manufactured home and get a FHA one time close loan for the land and then the build?

        Any info would be greatly appreciated.



        • Tom

          Hi Stephanie,

          Thank you for getting in touch.

          We are currently researching financing options and will write a blog post as soon as we have enough helpful information.

          Speak soon,


    • Tyler

      I would go after local REIT’s (real estate investment trusts). There’s one in Seattle that does local funding for builder projects of all sorts.

      • Alfred S Ra'oof

        Hello Tyler, I live in Seattle and want to build here as well. Do you know of quality container builders local to me? I also need financing. Have you made your blog on financing? If so please send me a link. Thank you so much…

  4. john

    In about a year I’ll be building my own version of container home which will survive cat 5 tornados ,hurricanes,floods,tsunami’s fires etc undamaged.

    • Tom

      That sounds amazing John! Be sure to keep us updated and maybe we can feature the home on the site.


  5. Renea Greene

    Thanks for sharing. My husband and I are interested in building a container home on an island near Mobile Al. Being that Mobile is a port city and and we have a train station, we should have easy access to purchasing containers inexpensively. I would love to build a 1600 sq ft. beach house on pilings with 4 containers. I have to do tons more reading. 🙂

    • Tom

      Sounds fantastic Renea! Keep us updated 🙂

    • Elizabeth Morgan

      Renea – Hello There! I’m interested in building a similar structure in NW Florida (not too far from you) as a modern more cost effective home for a family member. Would you please share your findings with me? Likewise, I would be happy to share my findings. There is a restaurant called, “The Gulf” located in Gulf Shores Alabama that is made out of shipping containers, has polished concrete floors, and surrounded by light wood for stairs, balconies, and porches. You may wish to check in that direction to see how and who built their structure. I look forward to hearing from you.

      E. Morgan – srm010396@yahoo.com

  6. Jerrica

    I’m planning to build a shipping container home. However I would like to be mobile on a trailer. Do you have any advice? Is this idea even possible?

    • Tom

      Hi Jerrica,

      Yes it’s definitely possible, are you thinking about using a 20 foot shipping container?

      Drop me an email and we can talk about it!


  7. Melanie Nardiello

    Hi Tom,

    I have a dog business and purchased two 40′ containers to use for indoor dog play area. I plan on putting the two containers next to each other and cut a large door framed out. I live in New York where the weather is a challenge. Do you have any suggestion in regards to making my project successful?


    • Tom

      Hi Melanie,

      Thank you for getting in touch!

      Yes definitely- if you don’t do anything else, make sure you properly insulate the containers!

      I haven’t seen any dog play areas made from shipping containers so this should be really interesting.

      Keep in touch during your build!


  8. Dani

    Dear Tom,

    I am planning a 20×10 container farm house and your thread really has extensive information and appreciate your effort. Now my worry is all about the tropical weather conditions in my country, Malaysia where day temperatures are high and it rains almost every week….my plan obviously includes giving the container a half meter high roof to protect from rain and tropical sun…..but do you think i would need to invest in insulating the container inside out? I have no done projects around here to visit and see how it feels in a container home and from my readings insulating in a later stage start living is a big pain as you need to redo the electrical and sanitary jobs…please advise. thanks


    • Tom

      Hi Dani,

      I’m glad you liked the article!

      I think you would definitely need to invest in insulating the container, but this could be either internally or externally… Take a look at our article on insulation and let me know if you still have anymore questions.

      Also, you don’t want to re-do the insulation once you’ve finished the build as this is expensive.


      • iain

        Hi Tom, I’ve just taken delivery of my shipping container today and already have noticed that the insulation should be on the outside with a further weather proofing on top of that. If you put it on the inside and use the metal as the outside surface then in the tropics you are going to get condensation forming on the inside of the metal wall. This will effect any internal insulation, and will likely deteriorate the inner wall material.
        I hope this is helpful to Dani- Iain Australia

        • Tom

          Hi Iain,

          Thank you for sharing this and I hope it helps you Dani,


        • Tim

          Sorry, but that’s exactly backwards. It is what will happen in a cold climate, not a hot one. The key in a hot/humid climate is to provide sufficient AC/dehumidification so that walls will dry to the interior. In fact, if your container is air conditioned and is not adequately insulated, condensation will form on the outside of the wall, not the inside.

  9. gene

    I’d like to put a container home on my west va property as a weekend hunting lodge, as it would be ideal in terms of security when I lock it up. I’d need help with the whole process , as in design and contractor. Any suggestions ?

    • Tom

      Hi Gene,

      We are currently trying to compile a list of contractors to add to our resources section however at the moment this isn’t complete.

      The best thing I suggest you do is go through this blog post and within here we mention several major contractors.

      This should help get you started,


    • Michael

      Gene, will be starting such a venture this week. Would be glad to keep you updated if you’d like.

  10. Jon Johnson

    We are planning a 3200sq ft house in Sheffield, England, as far as I know the first of its kind in this country. Looking for a site at the moment, thanks for the info, would like to hear more from these developers as they seem very coy on the pitfalls! In particular I’m interested in bio-based insulation, green roof tech, solar panels and wind turbines, ground/air source heat pumps, cladding options, wood-fired boilers, waste disposal (reed bed sewage processing, septic tanks etc) and off-grid heating/ cooking such as propane gas. Just a few issues to consider!!
    Will keep an eye on your site so any new stuff welcome!!!

    • Tom

      Thank you for getting in touch Jon!

      Sounds great, we’d love to hear from you throughout your journey to let us know how you progress…

    • Chris

      Just wondering, how did you get on

    • Ben

      How is this going Jon? I’m quite near you In Goole,East Yorkshire. Did you find a piece of land yet?

  11. ContainerKid Chicago

    I am convinced my dream home will be made of shipping containers but can anyone comment on differences in financing the construction SCH?

  12. Dale

    I was ready with cash to build a two container home similar to the Savannah project in rural Florida.The county was OK with my idea.
    I already have electric, a well, septic and a small mobile home on the property.
    As the architect advised that the price would be over $40,000, I had to pull the plug.
    So much for saving the planet, I guess I’ll have to settle for a new mobile home. 🙁

    • Tom

      Hi Dale,

      Was the $40,000 just to purchase the containers? This seems very expensive. You will be able to purchase two 40ft containers for less than $8,000.


  13. ady

    i am planning to build a container home in a city where temp ranges from 50c in summer to 3c in winter.i need advise for insulation.

    • Tom

      Hi Ady,

      We have a full article on insulation, please read that and then let me know if you still have any questions,


      • Michael

        Definitely need an insulation that provides a radiant barrier. From what I’ve read, most don’t. And on a metal building, that is the most crucial. IMO of course.

        • Tom

          Absolutely Michael- I agree with you 🙂


  14. David

    Hi Tom
    I’m looking into building a container home in Australia the design I have in mind has 3 sections, each section is 6 40ft containers (3 side by side and 3 directly on top of them) so totaling 18 40ft containers.
    The problem I have is in a few of the section entire sides on both sides of some of the containers will be removed(creating a single room measuring 7.2m(23ft) x 12m(40ft) as the largest room, as the sides are structural are there any references you know of that I can draw on to help with what would be needed to appropriately brace the container to support the weight of the containers on top of it let alone its own weight.
    If you need any more details please let me know and i may be able to draw a quick sketch for you in what is envisioned.

    • Tom

      Hi David,

      Unfortunately I haven’t personally removed the walls inside a container home/then stacked on-top of it, so I wouldn’t be able to advise you what needs doing.

      The only thing I could recommend is to get in touch with a local structural engineer.

      Let me know how you get on,


  15. Steev C

    Here in the UK we have a community who live in what are called “Narrowboats”. These are usually of all steel construction and internally are about 6 feet wide by 6 feet tall and somewhere between 20 and 50 feet long internally. For those who want to live in the container as a relocatable solution, Narrowboat internal designs may well prove to be a rich source of ideas. It occurred to me that an alternative to windows might be to use energy efficient TV screens fed from a camera placed on the outside. Then your window could become at the push of a button, a painting, a light panel or (of course) a TV/Computer screen. When it’s bright outside a single 250 watt solar panel would easily power quite a large & bright “electronic window”. I appreciate that does not address ventilation/emergency-exit-in-the-case-of-fire issues, but if you have a door at both ends..

    • Tom

      Hi Steev,

      Thank you for the suggestion, I’ve just looked at some Narrowboats and they do offer a wonderful source of ideas!

      I Hope everyone else finds it helpful too,


  16. Amber


    We converted a 40 ft reefer into a library / man cave for hubby. We took out the reefer’s engine, sold it for scrap and put a window in the gap. We have double ranch slider doors in the middle and a ply T & G floor over the top of the grates. We used 2nd hand, double glazed, high wind windows and slider. The walls are stainless steel and smooth we left them like that. We had the outside of the container sprayed with container paint in a cool purplish shade. The total cost of the library was $11,500 NZD That included $1,000 worth of piles and $1,000 transport and a crane to land it.
    I couldn’t find much information on converting a reefer before we did it – only that people don’t use them for health reasons, but we took a risk and listened to the advice of the guy who converted ours. We chose a 2nd hand reefer that didn’t have any repair patches and very few dings. I think the issue with reefers comes when the walls are pierced, moisture gets in and mould can grow. It’s all metal on the inside and was washed thoroughly. It feels clean to me..you’d think that all the metal would feel cold and sterile but the wooden floor and all the books on the wall balances it. We are very happy we chose a reefer, it keeps the temperature perfect, even though there are extremes outside. I’m glad we didn;t have the hassle or cost of insulating and lining. The insulation on a reefer is thick and in the walls, floor and ceiling, whichever temperature you heat it up to, it holds. It’s been great in cold old Dunedin.
    If we were going to live in a reefer we would want to install air vents but for the use it has now there has been no problems with condensation etc. We didn’t put any power in but just run a cord from the house. We could easily add solar to provide lights etc down the track
    We are so happy with it we thought about doing another one – A self contained little guest house. I do find it strange no one else is using reefers ..I wonder if any one out there has new information on the supposed health hazard of using them in conversions

    • Mike

      Hi Amber
      I total agree with you, As long as they are vented they are good.
      Next time use a Swinglift transporter trailer made by Swinglift in Rotorua. There are a lot of transport companies that use them now, they can come to your site and put it right were you want.
      I am looking into getting a high cubic reefer, They are higher than the standard. We are looking at using it for a holiday home down South.
      I also like the idea that they can be total locked up .
      Good luck with the future containers.
      Cheers Mike (NZ)

  17. Nicole

    Hi Tom,

    I’m very delighted about that awesome idea. I live in a 120 years old, family heritage farm property home.

    It needs many repairs and extremely costly. We were advised to built from the ground up to minimize the costs.

    But now I see what can be done, I’ll definitely convince my husband… I really want a living basement as well.

    Waiting to hear from you,


    • Tom

      Hi Nicole,

      This sounds fantastic.

      How did your convincing go!?


  18. Sherri Sykora

    I really like the idea of a container home. I am in need of something very soon due to relocation. I live in South Georgia. I am moving to the north Georgia mountains. Where do I start? I know absolutely nothing about this process or who to contact!

  19. Joost

    Hey Tom,

    Maaaaan I was excited, but now I am on it! Thanks a lot..will be using the info gratefully 🙂

    • Tom

      Great to hear Joost!

      Best of luck,


  20. Nikki

    My boyfriend and I are looking into making this type of home due to the fact that it is cheaper in the long run than mortgaging a home in our area. However I have noticed that all the homes in this list seem to take place in warm-to-moderate environments. We, however, live in Northern Ontario. Any advice on heavy-duty insulation?
    Another question we have concerns the ability of the containers to support multiple floors. Our current design of our future home has one set of containers buried as a basement and three above ground floors above this. How can one maintain the structural integrity of the building while still having as much natural light as possible.

    • Tom

      Hi Nikki,

      We cover this in our insulation article and it is certainly possible. I’ve seen several container homes built in Ontario now.

      In terms of maintaining structural integrity- the best way is to reduce/minimise the amount of alterations you make to the containers.


    • Shane

      Nikki, wondering if you were able to get the house put up. I have been talking to others in Brantford area who have told me its hard to get permits to build with shipping containers.

  21. justin

    im new to this concept, but im going to build one. is it possible to build this with 32k (thats all of the capitol i have) i need a 3 bedroom 1 bath. are there plans for sale? where do i need to start? theres information on the web, but it mostly covers how they are off grid, the benifits, the cons, i need to know where to start.

  22. Lain Stanley

    I just purchased a 40 ft container but have not started doing anything to it yet. What would you say is the must important thing to do first? I am planning to make it a guest suite. I am in no hurry and want to spread projects out to spread cost out. I know it needs to be power washed but what next? What about the wood floors? I don’t want to remove them. Also are there any contractors in Oklahoma? Thank you in advance.

  23. August

    Good evening Tom I’m doing some research in regards to container homes. your website is one of the most accurate I’ve come across.
    I wanted to thank you for being so informative, as far as building necessary planning and precautions to take along the way. I have a one question. I live in New York City do you know of any container homes that were built in the city or any architects working on said project? Lastly, great article.

    • Tom

      Hi August,

      Thank you for your kind words!

      Certainly, there have been several built in the NY area. If you search the blog you will find the articles on them and the architects involved in the projects.

      Many Thanks,


  24. Carmen McPherson

    This is so interesting as I just recently heard about the use of shipping crates. I need all possible info available. Thank-you in advance….Carmen

  25. Carol

    Check out Grillagh Water house in Londonderry. A stylish container house that featured on Grand Designs.

  26. Ryan

    Hi Tom, (and who ever else reads this)

    Myself and my partner are looking at building a container home, we live in the UK and have started the process of applying for planning permission which is looking good at the moment.

    What I’m really interested in is how much other people have spent on completing their builds. We will be building a 2 story, 2160ft2 house and although we are lucky enough to have a pretty ‘open’ budget, I still am interested in how much others have spent in fully completing their builds and what I am expecting to pay.

    Hope somebody can give me some guidance. thanks.

  27. Simon

    Could you bury a few underground to make a burm house? Do you think this could work?

    • Tom

      Hi Simon,

      I think this can absolutely work. I’ve seen several ‘buried’ container homes…

      If you visit our blog we have some videos of them.


  28. Aryne W.

    This is all really great information. Thanks to all who shared. I was looking online to find information on building shipping container homes in Chicagoland, but didn’t find much. Has anyone heard of any success stories to building this type of structure in that area?

  29. Sharon

    I am so excited to find this blog!!
    I am getting ready to build a home, I have decided either pole barn or shipping containers will be my construction.
    I’m looking for the land (middle TN) have about $35,000 to work with so will be lapping up ALL the info/education available.
    This is exciting!!!!

    • Tom

      Happy to have you Sharon 🙂

      Best of luck,


  30. kam

    Hi guys,

    I’m from the UK. Can we build container houses on paddocks?


    • Tom

      Hi Kam,

      What do you mean by paddocks?


  31. Usep Sulaeman

    I am really interested in the ideas you are describing. A very interesting and informative blog