More People Are Considering Shipping Container Homes—Here’s How Much It Costs To Build One


Anyone who has ever been a fan of The Boxcar Children book series may have found the thought of living in a railroad car intriguing. In fact, that is probably more likely the case now than ever before. In the past several years, traditional housing costs have soared—it’s to a point where many, especially first-time home buyers, cannot afford a home of their own. Plus, with rental prices rising as well, it’s leading people to think more creatively.

One trend that is gaining in popularity is the shipping container home. Like the tiny home concept, shipping containers could be quite affordable depending on the size and customization. So, how much does a shipping container home cost, exactly? We’ll give you the run down along with some pros and cons to think about.

With a shipping container, you can create a small studio space with just one container or connect and stack several together to come up with a unique and workable floor plan for you. Most containers are 8 feet wide with varying lengths of 10, 20 or 40 feet and can be configured in a variety of ways. Before getting too grandiose with your ideas though, it’s important to think about the extra labor needed to connect or stack containers. You could easily rack up enough cost that it’s no longer a significant savings to go with a cargo container house.

Plus, there are other factors to consider. Things like zoning, new or used shipping containers, home size and type of finishes will all have an impact on what you decide. To give you a better idea of what you might expect to pay for a shipping container home, we’ll break down the cost of a one-container home which is not only the most affordable but is also the most popular size for mobility.

What Is a Shipping Container Home?

A shipping container home is a residence that uses a gently used or one-time-use shipping container as the exterior shell of a home. Instead of building a structure with lumber, siding and roofing, you get an immediate structure with a container. Some of the steel is cut out for windows and doors and the inside is finished like a regular home.

Because shipping containers are so versatile, you can stack them up high or weld them together side by side. There are so many different options for layouts and designs that it could be a very fun and rewarding project. (It’s even easy to make a rooftop deck!). The result is a very modern and hip-looking home that typically costs much less than a traditional house. Let’s take a little tour through one of these container homes.

Key Differences Between a Container Home and Traditional Home

Of course, there are pros and cons to everything and there are key differences of a shipping container home that you need to be aware of.

    A container home won’t last as long as a traditional home.  Because a shipping container is made of steel, it will have a tendency to rust over time. To keep the home lasting up to 50 years, you need to protect the steel with something like zinc paint. Meanwhile, a traditional home can last more than double that amount of time.

    You have to be more creative with space with a shipping container. With containers only being 8 feet wide, you may need several containers to fill all of your needs.

    Shipping container homes are usually more affordable. Unless you are designing a mega complex with high-end finishes, shipping container homes cost less.

    A container home built with just one container can be mobile. Like most tiny homes, a single container home can easily be moved.

    Some zones have restrictions on shipping container homes. It may be harder to find an area that accepts a container home versus a traditional home.

    You can build a shipping container home much quicker than a traditional home.

Related: The Home Edit’s Clea & Joanna Share the #1 Key To Getting Organized (And Staying That Way)

Cost To Build a Container Home

It’s worth noting that the average cost of one shipping container at a size of 8′ by 40′ starts at about $3,000 for a gently used container and closer to $6,000 for a brand new one. That gives you 320 square feet of space before any interior walls.

Even though you can build a container home for just a fraction of the cost of a stick-built home, any premium finishes that you choose can quickly make the cost skyrocket.

If there are just one or two of you, you may enjoy the simplicity of a smaller space with one bedroom and one bath. However, if you want something more comparable to a 1200-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two baths, you’ll need four containers instead of one. Once you start stacking or connecting containers, the labor cost goes up.

Here is an example of a tiny home used with an 8’x40′ shipping container. The total cost for the contractor was $42,320 in 2022. Material costs have gone up in 2023 by just under 3 percent, so with that amount of increase, you would pay a total closer to $43,590.

Obviously, on top of the cost of a built shipping container, you will have the land and foundation. The costs below are a breakdown of averages for each category of the actual container home. If you are handy and can DIY most of the work yourself, you can expect to pay much less. And, of course, if you go super luxurious your costs will be higher. This is a breakdown of averages for a 320-square-foot container home with some of the costs being variable depending on your location.

Breakdown of Costs

    40′ new shipping container – $6,500

    shipping of container – $500

    steel for window frames and roof drip edge – $750

    basic window glass – $2,500; high-impact glass – $13,500

    HVAC – $1,500

    insulation – $3,700

    metal framing – $625

    drywall – $700

    paint and supplies – $700

    plumbing – $3,600

    electrical – $1375

    vinyl flooring – $875

    doors-trim – $1,650

    cabinets – $3,445

    solid surface counters – $2,100

    miscellaneous – $800

In this scenario, the cost range is between $31,320 and $42,320 with the highest variable being the window glass. The lower range is with basic windows and the higher range is for the most expensive high-impact glass. Each category has its own variables and includes contractor labor. The more you can do yourself, the lower the cost is. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of your land as well.


Posted by on Oct 13 2023. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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