Shipping Container Homes: All Your Questions Answered

Shipping Container Homes: All Your Questions Answered

Shipping container architecture hasn’t been around long, but it has already had a huge impact on the building industry. While first used by the military in the form of emergency housing, over the past few decades, it has become a popular choice for developing residential homes. From student housing in the Netherlands to tiny container homes in the United States, recycled shipping containers are being used to create various types of housing all over the world.

If you have ever thought about building or living in a home made from a recycled shipping container, you probably have a lot of questions. We’ve put together this guide to answer some of the most common questions and help you determine whether this type of home is right for you.

What Are Shipping Container Homes?

The term “shipping container home” can be used to describe any type of residence that was built using steel shipping containers. While used containers are typically the choice for this purpose, new ones can be used as well. These containers can be used individually to create tiny homes, or they can be welded together or stacked to build much larger spaces. Single-family homes as well as multi-tenant apartment buildings can be constructed using these modular steel boxes. As mentioned earlier, they can even be used to construct student housing.

What Are the Benefits of Building a Home from Shipping Containers?


Shipping containers provide an inherently affordable and secure structure for building a home. Because they were originally designed to safely transport goods around the world, they are built to be waterproof, fireproof and crush-resistant. Millions of these containers are abandoned each year, so they are abundantly available and can be purchased for as little as $2,000.

Shipping container homes are also eco-friendly when built using recycled containers. When a standard 40-foot container is repurposed to build a home, approximately 3,500 kilograms worth of steel are recycled. With millions of these steel boxes sitting unused, that means a lot of steel that can be recycled for use as building materials.

And these are just a few of the benefits of building with shipping containers. Those we’ve listed here are some of the most common reasons builders choose this method rather than sticking with traditional construction materials.

Do Shipping Container Homes Rust? How Long Do They Last?

Since they are made of steel, rust is a common concern. Many containers are manufactured using Cor-ten steel that is strong and resistant to corrosion. While this material slows rusting and corrosion, it doesn’t stop it completely. In areas with high rainfall, excessive humidity, persistent fog or salt-laden air, container homes tend to rust faster and may not be a suitable option. They tend to survive the longest in dry climates and in areas that have alternating wet and dry weather.

When designing a shipping container home, it’s important to take steps to minimize rust. Reducing exposure to the elements can make your container home last significantly longer. If rust does develop, it needs to be removed immediately to prevent it from spreading and getting worse.

The lifespan of a shipping container home varies depending largely on the environment in which it is located. Generally speaking, though, a home built from used shipping containers should last about 15 years without any major maintenance, and one built using new containers should last about 25 years. By using an effective form of external cladding, you can extend your home’s lifespan by several decades. Keeping up with maintenance and removing rust as soon as you notice it will also extend your home’s life.  

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Shipping Container Home?

Just like the cost of building a traditional home can vary dramatically, so can the cost of building one using shipping containers. If you build using recycled containers, you can pay as little as $2,000 per container. New ones, of course, cost more. You also have to take into consideration how many you will require and the cost of additional building supplies. From start to finish, the cheapest single-family homes built using this method cost between $20,000 and $60,000. The average shipping container home costs less than $80,000.


Where Can I Purchase Shipping Containers?

Unfortunately, buying a shipping container isn’t quite as easy as purchasing other shipping materials. Unlike corrugated boxes or steel drums, these massive containers aren’t generally sold online. Your best option is to contact the port that is located closest to you to find out whether they sell directly to the public. If they don’t, they should be able to put you in touch with reputable dealers in your area.

Are These Homes Safe?

When built using properly modified containers, these homes are just as safe as any other home. There are some concerns, though, especially when using recycled containers. When originally built, most have wooden floors that are treated with pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Some containers are also painted with paint that contains toxic substances like chromate and phosphorous. These issues must be properly addressed when converting a container into a safe home. You may need to completely remove the flooring or the paint coating to ensure your safety.

To determine whether any harmful chemicals were used when manufacturing your container(s), contact the manufacturer. They should be able to provide you with information regarding exactly what types of paints and chemical treatments were used. If you discover that it has been treated with harmful chemicals, using spray foam insulation to coat the interior seals in the harmful chemicals and creates a vapor barrier.

Final Thoughts

Using shipping containers to build homes has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. The containers are widely available and inexpensive, and they can be used to construct everything from tiny homes to massive apartment complexes that provide housing for hundreds of people. If you are looking for a unique and eco-friendly way to build a home, shipping containers may be the way to go.

This article was written by Cory Levins. He is the business development director for AirSea Containers.

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