Shipping Container Homes: The Costs and Benefits

The popularity of miniature homes has exploded, thanks in part to television series such as "Tiny House Nation," "Tiny House Builders" and "Tiny House, Big City" seen on home improvement channels including HGTV and FYI. The ingenious use of space that embraces the minimalist theme has spread to storage container homes. Shipping container homes have seen a resurgence in demand and mass appeal. Cutting-edge designs, creative architecture and high-profile publicity have fueled massive demand as the public continues to discover the benefits and low costs of these homes. Shipping containers are being used to construct everything from simple additions, studios and guest houses to elaborate, full-scale homes for a mere fraction of the cost. Here are the benefits and costs of building or purchasing shipping container homes.

Environmentally Friendly

These homes are considered even more green than log cabins, since they reuse containers rather than discarding them or melting the steel, which generates more pollution. Traditional homes built with conventional brick, mortar and wood materials can damage the surrounding environment during construction. Wood can suffer from mold, dry-rot and water leakage, while steel cannot. Steel containers have fewer parts and pieces than traditional homes, leading to fewer structural complications and repairs. Unlike wood-structured homes, shipping containers are also flood-proof.

Exceptionally Sturdy Structures

Shipping containers are exceptionally sturdy structures made from steel and built to last against the harshest weather conditions at sea. The International Organization for Standardization ISO 1496/1 shipping container building code requires that a standard 20-foot, 5,000-pound shipping container be able to accommodate a payload of up to 47,910 pounds, for a maximum weight of 52,910 pounds. The floor is designed to hold up to 16,000 pounds of weight over a 44-square-foot footprint. Shipping containers can be stacked seven high. They are also blast-proof, earthquake-proof and hurricane-proof, making them suitable as makeshift homes in environments prone to these conditions. The United States Army regularly uses them as shelters.


The low price of shipping containers is a top reason most people consider these homes. An estimated 300 million shipping containers are sitting dormant in seaports worldwide. This is because most containers are used to transport a large shipment of goods one way. Manufacturers opt to dump the containers with the shipments rather than pay for the cost and freight to return them. This surplus makes for very economical pricing. A used 40-foot shipping container can be purchased for as low as $1,500. However, delivery charges can cost more than the container. As they do with tiny houses, consumers can also buy design blueprints to start fashioning their own home.

Luxury Pre-Fabricated Homes

For consumers willing to pay, there are numerous independent firms that design, deliver and construct high-quality shipping container homes. Quik Build LLC builds luxury shipping container homes, or Quik Houses, for clients worldwide. These are two-story luxury designs that come with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a pantry, laundry room, mudroom and more. Six storage containers are used for a total of 2,000 square feet at a cost of $119,000 complete with stairs, walls, glass windows, plumbing systems and aluminum glazing frames, all of which are factory-installed.

Buyers still need to attain permits and install heating, air conditioning, plumbing, sewage and electrical systems. All told, the final cost for the storage container home averages around $184,000 plus shipping, which can run anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000 based on the delivery location. The land for the home needs to be procured ahead of time. Land cost is subjective to location and solely the responsibility of the homeowner. Consumers should shop around as new competitors continue to enter the market due to the growing demand.