Grey shipping container home in the woods.DQPE8437 flickr photo by nicolas.boullosa shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How to Build a Shipping Container Home: Your Guide for 2024

grey metal shipping container turned into a home with timber siding
Grey shipping container home in the woods. DQPE8437 flickr photo by nicolas.boullosa shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Future homeowners are always on the lookout for new dwelling ideas. While traditional houses are still popular, we’ve seen the rise in popularity of alternative housing solutions like condominiums, barndominiums, townhouses, and the like. One of these new ideas is the use of shipping containers to make houses. 

This article will guide you on how to go about building a container home. It will tell you about container homes’ benefits, costs, and other critical information you need.

How Hard Is It to Build a Shipping Container Home?

If you plan on hiring a professional builder, you can have a shipping container home ready within six to nine months. However, this depends on the complexity of the design you want and the availability of the materials you need. 

It can be challenging to build a shipping container home if you plan to do it yourself and you don’t have the required building skills. You must have enough handyman skills to ensure your shipping container home gets built properly and safely. A DIY build can take longer than the standard time for one build by professional builders.  This also depends on your skills and the amount of time you can devote to your project.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Building a Shipping Container Home

Although shipping container homes look appealing, they have benefits and drawbacks. We aim to tell you about them, so you can come up with an informed decision on whether building this type of home is a worthwhile project for you. 


Cost Effective

Traditional houses keep getting more expensive every year, and a shipping container home is a great alternative if you want something cheaper. It requires fewer building materials than regular homes, and this can reduce construction expenses. 

If you plan on building your shipping container home yourself, you can reduce expenses further because you don’t need to factor in labor costs in your computation. However, this can extend your construction time, especially if you cannot work on it full-time. 

A shipping container home can also help you save money in the years to come due to lower property taxes. Depending on the assessed value of your property, tax assessors determine the amount of taxes you need to pay, and shipping container homes often have lower assessed value than conventional houses. 

Easy to Construct

A shipping container home is easier to build than a conventional house. The shipping container acts as the walls and roof of your house, so all you need to worry about are its interiors. It is easy enough to build by yourself or with the help of other family members or friends. 

They are easy to expand

It is easy to expand a container home by stacking, just like making your Lego creation bigger by adding more blocks. You can add another shipping container if you need additional room. You can add a shipping container workshop or a shipping container storage unit. This makes a shipping container home ideal if you want a starter home because you can expand it as your family or needs grow. 

It requires a smaller lot

A shipping container home doesn’t need as much lot area as a traditional house. If you have a small lot, this type of home can suffice your needs without forcing you to buy a larger lot or expand the one you own. 


Small Space and Size

One of the downsides to a shipping container home is the limited space it offers. While it can serve the needs of a small family, it might not be the best option if you are a family of 4 or more members. You can add more shipping containers but common family areas like the dining area or the living room can become crowded. 

Building Codes and permits

You might have difficulties satisfying building codes. A building code is a compilation of regulations created by local councils to ensure that the design, modification, or construction of buildings gets done properly. Adhering to a building code can help ensure that a structure is durable and can keep its occupants safe. You also need to secure a building permit for your construction, which means that you must satisfy your county’s minimum requirements when building a residence. 

Unfortunately, container homes are pretty much in their infancy, and some counties may not have dealt with them before. Without a clear precedent, there may be delays to the issuance of permits as local building officials try to identify which regulations will apply to container home construction. 

They can be prone to rust

Like a shipping container home, a metal building is prone to rust. This can be a problem and reduce your structure’s expected life cycle if you are building in a humid location or near the sea. However, there are ways to prevent rusting. The most common solution is to use an anti-rust protective coating on your structure. 

You can prevent rusting through proper maintenance. Repainting your container home every few years can add a protective layer to your structure. Another is periodically checking for leaks that allow moisture to enter your home. 

How Do You Build a Shipping Container Home?

Once you’ve determined that a shipping container home is the best type for your needs, the next step is to build your structure. If you haven’t built this type of home before, we will give you some tips on the steps you need to take to build your container home.

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Choosing Your Location

Choosing your location is one of the biggest factors in building your house. If you haven’t purchased a lot yet, there are several things you need to consider. Choose a lot that is affordable but near basic amenities like supermarkets, schools, police stations, medical facilities, transportation hubs, etc. These services can help improve your quality of life. 

If you already own a lot, prepare it for construction. If the lot is prone to flooding, you can install a sump pump to pump water away from the foundation of your structure. Keep in mind that a shipping container house is a metal structure and is prone to rust when exposed to water. Rusting can shorten the life of your building and put your investment in jeopardy. 

If you are building in an area prone to earthquakes, you should install a strong foundation. Your foundation can be made of concrete or wood. Concrete is a more stable foundation. Your contractor can embed steel plates in a poured concrete foundation and weld the containers. This might be a better option if you want a more stable container home. 

Planning and Permits

Before you can build a container home, you need to secure a building permit from your county. Whether you hire a contractor or work on the building yourself, a permit is required. Talking to your local building authorities is important because some counties have regulations prohibiting container homes. An example is Riverside County in California. The said county prohibits the use of metal shipping containers as permanent residences. Shipping containers are allowed in construction sites but only temporarily. The only exemption is if the containers will be used as storage facilities. 

Counties implement their own regulations, so don’t assume that counties in the same state have similar regulations. Get a complete list of regulations to avoid getting penalized or committing violations that might delay the completion of your project. 

Buying a Container

Once you are sure that you are allowed to build a container home on your lot, you need to source the shipping containers you will use. The number of shipping containers you will need depends on the size of the house you are planning to build. You should also consider the architecture of your planned building. Consult your contractor as to how many containers you need. 

It is important to choose the right supplier when buying your containers. Search online for a reputable provider near you. A local supplier may be better if you want to save money. If you source from a supplier out of state, you may need to shoulder considerable shipping charges.

Ask for quotes from several suppliers to get the best possible deal. Compare the quality of their products and the warranties they offer. Aside from considering the shipping container cost, look into the reputation of the suppliers you are considering. Check for online reviews and customer feedback. You can join our Facebook group and ask for recommendations from others who have built their container homes.

Build your container home

This is the main part of your construction project and will take the longest to complete. If you are working with a contractor, then all you have to do is wait for the contractor to complete the project. Monitor the project’s progress to ensure that your building will get completed within schedule. 

If you plan on building your shipping container home yourself, you have your work cut out. You need to plan the placement of containers, cut openings, and weld down the containers. You then need to install your doors, windows, and flooring materials. Unfortunately, you need subcontractors to install the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems. 

Finishing touches

Once you have the base structure of your shipping container home, work on finishing touches to make it more presentable. You might want to paint the exteriors and add trimmings. Your container home is just one aspect of your property; you also need to consider the lot it is built on. Work on the landscaping of your property to make it look great. Taking care of your yard will not only make it look more presentable but increase your property’s value too. Check our Pinterest or Instagram accounts for pictures of shipping container roof plans, layouts, and design ideas. 

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

A small container home can cost between $10,000 and $25,000, making it a more affordable alternative to building a traditional house. However, this estimate is for a basic container home, and the cost will increase depending on your structure’s size and complexity. This estimate is also solely for the cost of the container home and does not include the price of the lot where you’re building it. 

Things to Consider Before Building a Shipping Container House 

Before building your shipping container house, there are some things you need to consider. These factors are critical because they can affect your house and its occupants. 

Be Sure About the Containers That You’re Buying

The shipping containers will act as the primary building material of your structure, so make sure to use safe and durable containers. Containers are used to transport a wide variety of goods and often receive chemical treatments to protect their cargo.

Most shipping containers have their exteriors chemically treated to protect them from rain, saltwater, wind, etc. Cargo containers can come in contact with pesticides, especially if used to transport perishable goods like fruits and vegetables. Some even receive treatment to prevent rat infestation. 

Even if you use old shipping containers, it doesn’t mean they should be dilapidated. Make sure that your supplier sells containers that are old but in good condition. 

Look Up Your Local Rules and Standards

As mentioned earlier, building a shipping container home requires obtaining permits and adhering to local building regulations. Head down to your local building and zoning office to request a list of regulations and standards you need to follow. 

Your lot

Before designing your house and buying containers to use, consider the size and shape of your lot. Be sure to leave enough room in your lot for outdoor spaces like a gazebo or an outdoor kitchen if you plan to add one. This is an excellent way of ensuring that your lot won’t be too crowded. 

You also need to take into consideration the setback rules in your county. A setback is the minimum required distance between your house and the property line. For example, if you plan on building your shipping container home in Ballinger, Texas, you need a front yard that is not less than 25 feet deep.

Frequently Asked Questions

What permits do you need to build a shipping container home?

There are several permits you need to obtain to build your shipping container homes, like a building or construction permit. You also need to obtain plumbing and electrical permits. Fortunately, most contractors take care of these permits. If you are building on your own, you need to hire a subcontractor for the plumbing and electrical systems, and you can ask for help in obtaining the required permits. 

Are shipping container houses more affordable than other types of housing?

Yes, a shipping container house can be more affordable than building other types of houses like townhouses or duplexes. However, it will depend on the design you are going for and the number of features you want to include. For example, a basic townhouse will be cheaper than a container house with all the bells and whistles. 

Are shipping container homes quicker to build?

Houses that use pre-fabricated building materials like barndominiums and container homes are quicker to build than conventional houses. Pre-fabricated materials cut down on construction time, so you can build them faster. A shipping container house also has a simpler design than traditional houses, making it easier to build. With a reduced construction time, you can save money on labor expenses. 

The time you need to build your house also depends on your contractor. If your contractor manufactures most materials off-site, it will be faster to build your house. With most materials ready for installation upon delivery, your contractor just needs to assemble them on-site. 


A shipping container house is an excellent option if you want to build a unique home at reduced costs. Even a small lot will suffice for a modest house. It is also a more affordable option because it is cheaper to build. A shipping container house is also a great alternative if you want a home that doesn’t look like the other houses on your street. 

If you want to learn more about shipping container homes, barndominiums, shipping container garages, and other metal buildings make sure to browse around the website and follow our Facebook page for additional informative articles that will pop into your Facebook feed from time to time.


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