Shipping Container Home Contractors 8 Golden Rules To Save Money Blog Cover

Shipping Container Home Contractors: 8 Golden Rules To Save Money

Posted By: February 16, 2017 In Featured

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

According to the National Association of Home Builders, labor costs typically make up around 20-30% of the total construction budget.

With shipping container homes this figure is generally even higher at up to 40%, because with shipping container homes the actual material cost is less.

Whilst shipping container homes can be cheaper than traditional homes, labor fees can be higher due to the specialized contractors required.

This article will help you identify where money is typically spent on labor when building a shipping container home and where you can reduce these costs by doing the work yourself.

The Biggest Labor Costs

With traditional home construction some of the largest labor fees include: architects, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, laborers and construction foreman.

Whilst some of these labor fees are also applicable for shipping container home building, there are some that aren’t and some new types of labor are also required (for instance spray foam specialists).

When looking at the hourly rates below, it’s important to remember not just the hourly fee, but also the total amount of time you will need the labor for.

This point seems simplistic but it’s often neglected.

For instance whilst unskilled laborers have one of the lowest hourly fees, they generally end up overall being one of the most expensive fees overall because of the amount of hours they work.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the largest labor fees for shipping container home construction.

Blue Shipping Container Home

Insulation Specialists

One of the largest labor fees when building a shipping container home is insulation specialists (the person who installs the insulation).

If you’ve read this blog for a while you will know that I generally recommend people use spray foam insulation on their shipping containers to create a seamless vapor barrier.

Professional insulation specialists will generally charge around $40 an hour.

In my opinion installing insulation is certainly a task which you could do yourself and save a significant amount of money.

Also, in certain climates you won’t need to insulate your shipping container home, so you can avoid this fee entirely.

General Laborers

Whilst general laborers have a low hourly fee their total fee is generally very high because of the amount of hours worked.

Jobs they do typically involve: preparing sites, assisting specialized contractors, cleaning, digging and unloading building materials.

A general laborer is paid around $14 an hour.

You will notice though that practically all the work they do, you could do yourself with little/no training or experience.

I would definitely recommend you consider doing this sort of work yourself when building a shipping container home to reduce the overall cost of your container home.

Construction Foreman

As the title suggests a foreman is the person who is responsible for the overall project. They manage the budget, sub-contractors, quality, in addition to organizing and coordinating the build.

In essence they are the linchpin of the entire project.

Clearly if you’re planning on building your own shipping container home then by default you will be acting as the foreman.

Even if you’re subcontracting the majority of work, owner-builders still generally act as their own foreman.

This can save a significant sum of money as an experienced foreman will charge around $50 an hour.

Personally I still think there is a place for an experienced foreman especially with a complex build. However, if you do have previous experience and enough time, it’s a great way to reduce labor costs.

Red Shipping Container Home


Architects are required for nearly every construction project, not just shipping container homes. There are certain exceptions, and we will discuss this later, however it’s generally safe to assume that an architect will be required.

Whilst architects generally work on a percentage of the cost of construction, an hourly fee of around $150 can be expected.

If you are fortunate enough to have either pre-approved plans, or are building outside of a zoned area, than you won’t need an architect and can clearly save a considerable amount of money.

Structural Engineers

The next professional we will look at is the structural engineer.

Whether you need a structural engineer or not will depend on if you plan to heavily modify the containers and also, your local zoning requirements.

If you are planning to heavily modify the containers by cutting out large sections of steel, then you will almost certainly require the input from a structural engineer.

They will be able to advise you on the structural implications of you modifications.

The cost of hiring a structural engineer will vary a lot depending on their experience, but expect to pay around $150 per hour.

Unfortunately, this is one of the few costs which is unavoidable if you intend to heavily modify the containers.


Nearly all zoned areas throughout the world require a qualified electrician to certify the electrical work.

This means if you live in such an area then the electrician’s fees are unavoidable, as without them your electricity system won’t be certified.

You should expect to pay $50 per hour.

Again unless you are building in an un-zoned area this is an unavoidable cost and must be accounted for.


Similar to the section above on electricians, it can vary state to state if you legally need a plumbing license to carry out plumbing work – so check with your local town inspectors.

However, you are generally allowed to complete the plumbing work yourself and then get your town to sign off the plumbing work.

For an experienced plumber you should be expecting to pay somewhere in the region of $40 an hour.

If you are competent and have your local town’s permission, doing your own plumbing can be a great way to save large chunks of money.


If you’re planning to keep the containers unmodified or purchase them pre-modified then you won’t need to hire a welder/fabricator.

However nearly all of the time you will need to cut into your containers- even if it’s just to fit the doors and windows.

The price per hour is upwards of $20 for basic modifications. Expect to pay upwards of $80 an hour for a more experienced fabricator who is capable of intricate designs.

If you are capable this is definite one of those labor fees which you should remove by doing the work yourself.

Elevated Shipping Container Home

Which Labor Fees Are Unavoidable?

Even if you’re building you own shipping container home, some labor fees are pretty much unescapable.

After reading the section above, you should have a pretty good idea of labor fees and which ‘type’ of labor is going to cost you the most amount of money.

In this section I want to discuss which labor fees are unavoidable and which labor fees you can avoid by doing the work yourself.

Unavoidable Labor Fees

In my opinion there are four types of specialties that you need to have onboard when building a container home: Architect, Structural Engineer, Electrician, and a Plumber.

The architect and structural engineer will be able to provide the guidance on planning permits, design and structural integrity- all of which require extremely detailed prior-experience and knowledge.

Whilst you may have enough experience to fit your own electrics and plumbing, chances are you will be building in a zoned area which requires a certified professional to carry out this work. This is why the electrician and plumber make the list.

If you’re fortunate and don’t live in a zoned area then you could potentially not need any of the professionals on this list, and do all the work yourself to save a lot of money.

Avoidable Labor Fees

Fortunately though, there is still a significant amount of labor fees you can save when building a shipping container home in a zoned area.

In my opinion, Insulation Specialists, General Laborers, Welders and Foreman are all jobs that you can take on.

For each job/role you should examine:

  • Time Commitments
  • Knowledge/Experience Required
  • Tools Needed

If you feel that you can meet all three of these categories then absolutely, you should take the work on and save yourself some money.

One word of caution though, make sure to always overestimate the time required for a particular role/task- especially if you’re a beginner and haven’t done it before.

Time estimates found online for a job will likely be for professionals who do this every day. Therefore you will likely need more time than them to get the job done!


It’s important to know which type of labor is the most expensive to hire when building your shipping container home.

Knowing this, you can then decide if you should do the work yourself to save your money and reduce the overall cost.

Remember when any permits are required it’s very likely you will need to hire a professional to get your permit.

As always make sure to double check before you start your work!

Which labor costs will you remove for your shipping container home build? Let us know in the comments below!