Building A Shipping Container Home Cost Breakdown Blog Cover

Building A Shipping Container Home: Cost Breakdown

Posted By: November 23, 2016 In Guides

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

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.


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.


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!

  1. Richard Freitas

    Hi Tom, A cost spreadsheet would be much appreciated. That would allow input of the number of containers used and the various costs of optional methods of construction. That would allow input and cost comparisons of various methods of construction where allowable choices could be made.

    • Tom

      It’s something we’re actively looking into!

  2. jose

    i would love a full break down.

  3. Steven

    How deep should a pile foundation be is you want to put a 20ft container upright?

    • Tom

      That’s not really a question we can answer. Factors like soil type, planned use and internal loading, wind loads in your area, etc. all play into it. The most correct answer would be having an engineer design a pile based on a soil sample. You could also ask a contractor in your area with familiarity with your soil and geography, who might be able to give you a less-professional but educated guess.

  4. Andrea

    Can’t wait for a full break down!! If there is an email list for notification when it is out, I’d love to be on it.

    • Tom

      About midway down our homepage is a place to add your email address. In addition to receiving two free chapters of our book, you’ll also be included in our future newsletters where among other things, we mention the latest article postings!

  5. Jimm Grimm

    Hi Tom,
    Than for lots of information! My wife and I are in the process of building a container home in Richmond, Indiana. So far, we have bought the land and drilled a well. Septic will come in the spring. County officials are eager to work with us… and we seem to be the second inquiry they have had re zoning, engineering, etc. However, it is too soon to know if we will be successful. County officials tell me that Indiana has been proactive in developing standards for container housing. We are about to find out how real those assertions are over the next couple of months. Obtaining a permit to develop a plot was easy. Soil testing for load bearing and septic is next. Then the trick will be to find a certified engineer to review my drawings and approve them. If that happens, I have been assured that the inspectors will work with me.

    • Tom

      Sounds like you’re on the right track, Jim. Best of luck and keep us informed on your progress!

  6. Samuel Gadegbeku

    Thank you for the information. You answered most of my questions. I am about to buy land and would like to build my dream home out of containers but wanted to get an idea of the full cost breakdown. I would love to know about framing, flooring, AC ducts, etc… Thanks again.

    • Tom

      Glad it was helpful Samuel. We plan to continue to add additional content in 2018 that addressed common concerns such as these. Best of luck with your build, and let us know how it goes!

  7. David

    Would be good to know other kinds of insulation, specially burying or covering with natural soil/grass.
    Thank you

  8. Ritesh Raj

    Thanks for the article. i would love to know the cost breakdown and complete cost of any standard size container house.

  9. Joelle

    Hi Tom
    Which is the best option for a foundation to keep the container warm. We will be building in a cold climate which may get to minus 4 degrees Celsius in winter and only 25 degrees Celsius maximum in summer. I read somewhere that a concrete slab transfers the cold from the ground through to the interior of the container. On the other hand, wouldn’t pillars allow the freezing cold air to pass underneath the container also making it really cold inside? Please advise which foundation would be best to keep it warm inside. Thanks

    • Tom

      Hi Joelle,

      Generally this is correct yes. If you were to use piers you could use spray foam insulation externally underneath the containers to prevent temperature transfer underneath the containers.


  10. Leilani

    Aloha! Mahalo for this lovely information. I am wondering your thoughts on how necessary insulation may be in Hawaii? We are in the jungle and it rarely gets over 84 and in the evenings/early mornings the lowest may be 59/60 in the very cold winters. Is it important enough to help keep the container cool during the hot days? Do you have any advice for the price of cutting windows/doors and installing simple windows and doors?
    Mahalo nui!
    na Leilani

  11. Martin

    Hi Tom,
    thanks for your advice. Just to clarify; All the amounts mentioned are in US$. Correct ?
    We live in Australia / NSW , ie near Sydney. All the quotes we got for new and used High Cube 20` containers were almost twice the price of standard 20` containers. More than we can afford and – in my opinion – too much for an additional 30cm in height. We prefer High Cubes. Any advice ?

    • Tom

      Hi Martin,

      Yes that’s correct, prices here are listed in USD. Have you contacted any local dealers to enquire about one-trip containers?


  12. Vickie Buckley

    Hi Tom..I would love to have a complete break down, please!!
    Wiring, plumbing,windows et al. THANKS

  13. Lynn

    I would love the cost spreadsheet. I agree with including the cost of running electricity( some states won’t allow completely off-grid), well and septic tank expenses and definitely engineers to help you get through the permitting process!

  14. Shanon

    I would really like a full cost breakdown! Thank you!

  15. Joshua

    Thank you for the insight! If there is more interest please do a more in depth breakdown! it would be very appreciated.


  16. Zachary

    I would definitely like a complete cost breakdown. Planning on building 3 container homes in Idaho in a couple of years from now.

  17. Audrey

    Tom, thank you for your insights and dedication to helping and educating those of us that don’t have have any experiance ( me ) in container homes. I also would be interested in a total construction cost break down. I have land and I would also be interested in any / all nformation possible pertaining to building and cost of container apartment homes as rental apartments.
    Thanking you in advance, and looking forward to hearing from you.


  18. anthony

    will definately be in-touch soon all the blogs are excellent and very helpful. I’d like to see a breakdown of which states and areas are container permitable ; mainly north and south carolinas as well as the rest of the country.

  19. Josef Jonas Ashipala

    Hi Tom

    First i want to wish you a very happy new year .I enjoy your articles very much and i collect every info about the shipping containers homes.
    Thank you a lot and keep it up with the good job.

    Thanks J.J.Ashipala

    Namibia Africa

    • Tom

      Happy to help Josef and happy new year to you too!


  20. Christine

    Hi Tom, am hoping to move one of these days and just love the idea, the practicality, and the act of recycling, for when I do build my home using shipping containers. Enjoy reading your blog especially articles on what to be aware of (the pit falls ) and looking at how some creative people have built wonderful homes from shipping containers. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Shelby

    I would love full cost breakdown.

    • Tom

      Hi Shelby,

      We’re working on it 🙂

      Should be ready in the spring,


  22. 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.

    • Tom

      Hi Carol,

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


  23. hal tam

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

  24. 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 🙂


  25. 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!


  26. 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.


    • 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,


  27. Ken

    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?


  28. Linda Daniel

    I would like complete cost breakdown. Thanks for your info

  29. Amanda Roberts

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

    I would be interested in a complete cost breakdown


    • Tom

      Hi Amanda,

      We cover this in our foundation articles on the blog 🙂