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Shipping Container and Cargo Container Dream Homes

Jerilee Wei is a published freelance author and a former market research analyst.

Could these shipping containers be converted into housing?

Could these shipping containers be converted into housing?

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Growing up surrounded by more elderly relatives than the norm, one thing I picked up on was that in many ways, there is "nothing new" that someone hasn't really tried before—there are just new spins on old ideas. Later, as I grew up and travelled far beyond the borders of this country, there were things you just couldn't help but notice.

One of those things that stood out, was the creativity of the very poor in creating housing where there was none. Throughout the world, businesses and homes alike are often discarded, re-purposed shipping, or cargo containers.

With so many people losing their homes to foreclosures, perhaps it's time to take a new look at an older concept, and downscale our ideal dream homes. Shipping container custom built homes may be one of the answers.

Today, this old concept re-purposed and revived, has extended itself to not just being homes for the poor—but to also recycling old shipping containers into:

  • Bunk houses
  • Temporary offices
  • Military housing
  • Schools
  • Vacation homes
  • Youth centers
  • Music and art studios
  • Condos
  • Container cities
  • Permanent office space
  • Garages
  • Guest houses
  • Emergency shelters
  • Storage units

Documented to be in use for alternative buildings since 1982, it is only recently that they have be retrofitting international shipping containers into housing. One of the barriers for this type of housing has been getting around building codes that simply didn't consider "shipping containers" as viable housing options.

Some communities have been resistant to adopting new building codes that would allow them, while other's have been fearful of the entire concept. Still others have passed laws to prevent shipping containers being re-purposed into housing. Some of the bans may have more to do with local politics, and the hold or influence, some powerful building contractors and realtor investors have on certain communities.

Additionally, currently, there is a good deal of press revolving around ideas for making use of "no frills" style shipping container homes—for the many people living on the fringes, such those living outside and nearby our borders in places like Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The thoughts are that this would be an ideal replacement for communities of shanty homes in that region, housing those Mexican employees of the Fortune 1000 companies in the area. So, plans are in the making for "pilot" experimentation in housing the very poor in such affordable housing.

Advantages of a Shipping Container Home

  • Hurricane proof
  • Flood proof
  • Fireproof
  • Typhoon proof
  • Tornado proof
  • Earthquake resistant
  • Can be stacked a dozen high
  • Cheap (can be bought from $500 to $2,000)
  • Sometimes come with teak floors
  • Sometimes are already insulated
  • Highly portable
  • It's been reported that they keep you both warm and cool with very little insulation, even a wall unit air conditioner will very efficiently cool one
  • It only takes one day, a crane and a welder to have a home ready
  • Shipping container homes are 65% cheaper in build-out
  • Shipping container homes take one half the time to finish

For Sale! Dream Home for Only $8,000 or Less!

For the large part, it's all about affordability and portability. This most effective cost-saving home design concept makes use of cheap, strong and easily transportable steel structures out of containers that are polluting our world in sheer numbers alone.

These containers have often been the bane of many port communities due to the heavy import of goods from overseas. Once their cargo is unloaded, there are simply far too many of them to deal with. Moreover, it isn't cost-effective to send them back, so most ports sell them.

They are easily obtained through individuals and companies in the business of salvaging metal. They are abundant at auctions in some communities. They can be bought directly near ports. They are even auctioned off online by sites like eBay. Of course, they are also sold by middlemen who see an opportunity to sell them for the express purpose of affordable or less expensive home building.

A Shot at the American Dream

Currently, there are a number of articles in the news about a "new" concept of building homes for the poor, by repurposing shipping containers. Considering that shipping containers, rail cars, old trolley cars, etc. have been converted into housing for centuries—it's hard to think that this as a "new" form of new housing.

However, some of the new spins in shipping container architecture is that there are quite innovative and exciting newer designs in such housing. Some of those new innovations include:

  • White epoxy coating paint that reflects the sun's heat from penetrating the metal shipping container home
  • Hookups for air conditioning and ventilation
  • Electrical systems
  • Water systems
  • Skillful small condo design concepts
  • Lofts within the container
  • Galley-style kitchens
  • Bunk sleeping areas for children
  • Apartment size balconies
  • Corner stair-cases
  • Newer concepts in interior designs
  • Newer concepts in exterior designs
  • When they are finished it can be virtually impossible to tell that shipping containers were used in the construction

DIY Custom Shipping Container Home

  • "Do It Yourself (DIY)" custom shipping container homes, lend themselves exceptionally well to creating inexpensive, and quickly built second, vacation, or retirement homes.
  • For the DIY crowd, consider that cutouts should be done in a machine shop to keep costs modest.
  • The typical size of an international shipping container: 40 feet long x 8 feet wide x 8.5" high.
  • Some companies are selling "kits" that range in price from $20,000 and up.

Shipping Container Beach Home Plans

Going "Green" Shipping Container Style

Container housing is additionally seen as an additional way to "go green." This is accomplished by the facts that container homes:

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  • Offer a way to reuse existing shipping containers—an item that before was a huge non-green problem for disposal
  • Have nominal concrete foundation requirements
  • Do not corrupt the natural environment in excessive noise during off-site construction
  • Do not have need of air conditioning in some climates, as they have natural ventilation
  • Can be simply outfitted with photoelectric light-sensitive cells
  • Can be effortlessly outfitted with thermally effective insulation
  • Need minimum man-made light
  • Present independent light and heat controls in multi-units
  • Can be planned with green roofs
  • Can be designed with plant nurseries
  • Can be calculated with wind turbines
  • Can be planned to harvest rainwater

In terms of "going green" they make sense, in that a home can be built out of already existing material that once was a "problem" (thus solving one giant earth clutter issue), while simultaneously saving earth's precious trees from the chopping blocks to build houses. A staggering nearly twenty-five thousand of these containers are arriving just on our shores every single day here in America.

Exciting New Uses for Shipping Containers

Now popular in Europe, the UK, Australia, and China, shipping container housing (and other uses) are enjoying increasing acceptance as a fashionable imaginative building alternative. In some countries, this type of shelter is an accepted type of student housing and apartments.

Perhaps some of the most exciting new uses for shipping containers is the re-purposing of them for schools, health clinics, and community centers. There are some amazing pictures and details on such schools in the links I've provided below. Clearly this is a new twist on an old idea whose time has come, especially in third world countries.

Are They Safe in Terms of Health?

There are some concerns about electro-magnetic frequencies generation or propagation (EMF). Apparently, this bothers some people and doesn't affect most others. This is certainly something to be researched before purchase.

Then, there is the factor that many of these used shipping containers have either held hazardous materials, or that their interior wooden floors have been heavily treated with highly toxic pesticides. In the case of this later concern, anyone contemplating this type of housing construction should ensure that either the flooring wasn't treated with pesticides (before purchase), or that it is removed safely before further re-purposing of the shipping container.

In a World of Shaky Housing

Could it be, that in an uncertain American housing market, that has foreclosures occurring at a rate of over 10,000 a day, that out of all of this chaos—we could be giving birth to a modern-day renaissance?

Perhaps, hard times are the rebirth or revival of culture, skills, and determining new directions for forgotten or previously ignored life skills and ideas? Maybe shipping container housing popularity and trends, are a measure of more exciting solutions to come?

Only the Strong Survive

Shipping containers are obviously stronger than wooden or even metal based house framing. This is largely due to the fact that the steel in them is welded to even more steel.

This makes them hugely valuable in terms of being able to withstand the extremes in nature, such as hurricanes, winds, etc.

Furthermore, the roofs of these containers because of the lateral load factor in the standard stacking of them, is strong enough to support a huge amount of extra weight.

Read More About Container Homes


SpaceShanty from United Kingdom on January 02, 2014:

I really love this idea and have seen a few container homes popping up in my town recently.

LongTimeMother from Australia on May 04, 2013:

I wonder how many people have built container homes since this hub was written. I used containers for storage here in Australia a few years ago. They had wooden floors. We inserted small vents near ground level and large rotating weather-proof vents in the top to allow free air flow and keep the heat and condensation under control. It was an excellent space.

When I was building an underground fire bunker on our new off-grid property, I wished I had a container here. I don't believe a bare container would offer enough protection from a raging wild fire where I live surrounded by trees, but I would have happily hired someone with the equipment to dig me a hole big enough to bury it - at least partially, and build earth up the sides and over the top.

It would be easy enough to instal small windows and a door with the bulk of the container protected by earth. Could be useful for people living where shipping containers can be bought cheaply. :)

belly on February 29, 2012:

how to present your work in the department of contusion

I want to make shipping containers residences but I do not know how to get started.what you recommend. what type of land is necessary has to be residences.

Mary Craig from New York on February 07, 2012:

Wow, Wow, and Wow. This hub was written three years ago but is just as interesting now as it was then. It boggles the mind that in today's world with little or no housing in some areas and countries, shipping containers aren't used! It's almost a no brainer and I know the floors can be beautiful. Great, timeless hub. I hope my reading it brings it back into light and others read it too. Voted up and interesting. Thanks for SHARING.

poetvix from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country. on December 26, 2011:

This sounds like a great alternative for those looking to go off the grid and get back to a more simple lifestyle that is sustainable and affordable.

Naina on December 07, 2011:

This hub have given really some awesome knowledge like it.

what about

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 10, 2011:

Thanks Judi Burton, AnnaMeyer, wilrhoades, and BWD316! It's not a new idea but it is certainly taking hold.

Brian Dooling from Connecticut on August 29, 2011:

so cool! great article with lots of information! i was shocked when in the video they said one container in contianer city in London could be rented for $80-$140 a month!!! i had to rewind to listen again. Also really like the green aspect of the containers. voted up

wilrhoades on August 18, 2011:

Fascinating hub!

AnnaMeyer on August 01, 2011:

This one I found on youtube

Pics on their homepage

Judi Burton from Myrtle Beach on July 07, 2011:

Nice Hub. When I finally buy land I will be doing a container house. They are really awesome, because you can use them as a separate office, a guest house, a pool house, beach house, etc. There are so many uses for them. I have also heard of people insulating them with straw bails.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on April 27, 2011:

Thanks RTalloni! Good hubs shouldn't ever die. No updates here, but am wondering why with an abundance of unwanted shipping containers, this isn't a solution for helping out in Japan's terrible situation for their displaced and homeless citizens.

RTalloni on March 20, 2011:

Well done, to say the least. Even though the hub is 2-y-o I learned more than I previously knew about shipping container homes. Any updates since it was written?

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on December 01, 2010:

Thanks chspublish! Me too.

chspublish from Ireland on November 30, 2010:

Great hub Jerilee. Very exciting. Wish I could build something from containers. I keep the dream alight. Thanks.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on September 04, 2010:

Thanks Shipping Container Home Design Software! Glad to hear about it.

Shipping Container Home Design Software on May 03, 2010:

Hi Jerilee,

I thought that some of your readers might be interested in our new Shipping Container Home Design Software, there is a free version for anyone that fancies to try their hand at Home Design using Shipping Containers. Maybe you could add us to your resource links above.


Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on November 20, 2009:

Thanks Mobile Homes Dealers! Glad you found it useful.

Mobile Homes Dealers on November 20, 2009:

Thank for your sharing, this is a great hub and it helpful for me.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on November 11, 2009:

Thanks LEEDap! They are certainly an alternative to consider.

LEEDap on November 11, 2009:

Great hub and the shipping container residence is cool.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 17, 2009:

Thanks Bail Up! It certainly has become popular in recent years.

Bail Up ! on October 17, 2009:

What an awesome hub. Never heard of shipping container residences before but what a fantastic idea.I appreciate you sharing this. Lets see if I can put this to use, wish me luck.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 28, 2008:

Thanks! I was aware of some of the uses, but it wasn't until I sat down to write the hub that I saw the real potential.

bitsdawg on October 27, 2008:

This is probably the most creative idea I have seen for weeks, if not years. Wow. I write a lot about frugal living, and I am really impressed by this fantastic idea. I agree. We really need to change our thinking. If we had our parents or grandparents mentality we would consider ourselves rich beyond our wildest dreams.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 27, 2008:

Thanks for your comments and compliment!

New Life from Chandler, Arizona on October 26, 2008:

Wow, this is the most interesting article about containers, I use to drive truck and dropped them in yards across the US - but never thought about living in them. But it's a great concept and I like it.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 24, 2008:

Thanks Melissa G!

Melissa G from Tempe, AZ on October 24, 2008:

Great hub, Jerilee Wei! I had seen concept houses built from recycled tires a few years ago and that struck me as a great idea, but shipping containers seem even more versatile and affordable. Thanks for this great info! I'll need to look into this some more.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 22, 2008:

Thanks! You and I both know that the zoning gods often are protecting "self interests" and seldom deviate from their personal comfort zones.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on October 22, 2008:

Absolutely awesome information. What creativity and what fantastic re-use and re-purposing!

I have to chuckle about what the zoning gods in my suburban Pennsylvania township would do to the first person who wanted to use a shipping container as a residence.

First, they would throw every existing ordinance at the developer / contractor / homeowner to deny a permit. Next, given responsible and considered response from the developer / contractor / homeowner, the zoning gods would put a delay on decision until they had the time to investigate. Three years later, the answer would be a *we need more information*.

Need I say that I live in a bastion of conservative politics and life-styles? When I go to vote a mere two weeks from now, I will be in the minority.

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 22, 2008:

Thanks! Those that aren't already well-insulated are very easily and inexpensively insulated both from heat and cold.

Elisabeth Sowerbutts from New Zealand on October 22, 2008:

Its a good idea: I imagine the refridgeratored ones are well-insulated too for warmer climates! Transportable homes are big in Australia for solving the housing shortage in remote areas and they are of often of similar basic dimensions: they fit on a truck that's why!

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 22, 2008:

Thanks! Many would have you believe that they are around $1800 and up. However, I've seen them at farm equipment auctions for as little as a couple hundred dollars, and bought a couple back in WV for $400 each delivered (for storage). Ebay bids on them seem to be around $1800, guess it largely depends on where you live.

I would think they'd be highly chimp-proof and ideal for your situation. Concrete blocks might be less desirable in terms of insulation, etc. Re-tooling depends on what you want for them. Also, consider that there is a half size shipping container that extends the possibilities of additional concepts in design.

Aya Katz from The Ozarks on October 22, 2008:

Jerilee, great hub. This can solve housing problems only for people who actually have land, but is still a very intriguing idea. How much does the average shipping container cost? How much re-tooling is usually involved?

I am hoping to make Bow a five acre island on my property when he is older, and I was thinking of building a shelter made of concrete blocks there. Would a shipping container structure cost less? (It has to be absolutely chimp-proof.)

Jerilee Wei (author) from United States on October 22, 2008:

SweetiePie -- I'd seen and heard of them outside of the U.S. and never really gave them too much thought until I recently read a newspaper article that focused on how "new" the concept was. Thanks!

Pam - Easy to get your hands on at local farm equipment auctions, etc. We bought them for our farm to use as storage but missed the big picture on all that we could do. Might use them on some Wyoming land. A workshop is a great idea. Thanks!

pgrundy on October 22, 2008:

What a fascinating hub. I'd heard about shipping containers used for housing but your is the first article I've read about it. Great job. Thank you for providing all this info. I'd love to get my hands on one of these and make a workshop on the back of our property. That would be awesome.

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on October 22, 2008:

This sounds like an interesting concept for housing and definitely something we should look into in the future. Thanks for the informative hub.

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