Building a Container House - Frequently Asked Questions

21/02/2020
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More and more people prefer using shipping containers to build houses, offices, gyms, hostels, and more. This is because shipping containers are affordable, energy-efficient, durable, and very flexible.

If you are thinking about building or purchasing a container home, it is important that you have the right information to avoid any serious problems during the process. You can learn about the basics, such as the costs and what you need to do in this guide for shipping container homes.

But, if you are looking for specific answers, then you can browse through our FAQs. We have compiled the most commonly asked questions regarding shipping container houses.

Contents

1. What is the difference between container houses and regular tiny houses?

Both container houses and tiny houses are growing in popularity today. These houses offer personalized living, affordability, and are ideal for those who follow a minimalist lifestyle. But, they also have their differences:

Space Comparison

While both the regular tiny house and container house can be designed according to your taste, a container house does not need to be tiny. It can be extended, such as connecting two shipping containers, to make them more spacious for those who will occupy it. Meanwhile, a tiny house can be designed in different ways but will still have limited space.

A standard tiny home is about 8.5’ x 24’ in size, although some are smaller or bigger depending on the number of occupants and the budget. A shipping container is typically 20 ft. to 40 ft. long, but can become bigger and longer by joining another container to build a home with a size ideal for the occupants.

Cost Comparison

For both container and tiny house, the starting cost is about $40,000 USD. The price will go up if there are additional specifications, bedrooms, and spaces.

If you are planning to build you a house of your own design, the costs will depend on various factors. These include the materials you will use and the design of your home. A single shipping container costs around $2,500 USD. You should consider the consents, design, materials, engineering, and labor costs on top of the estimated cost.

Container house with three joined shipping containers
Source: Pinterest
Two-storey shipping container home
Source: Pinterest
Shipping container home with solar panels
Source: Pinterest
Living room of tiny house
Source: Pinterest

Sustainability and Energy Efficiency

Using a shipping container for your home is a great way to live sustainably. The level of sustainability of both a container home and a tiny home will depend on the materials used to build them. A smaller space will require fewer materials and will have lesser energy costs. Both of these homes can be assembled on-site, which decreases the travel time required and ultimately, reduces your carbon footprints.

Renovation

When it comes to renovation, both types of homes have their own advantages and disadvantages. A container home can be extended due to its modularity. This means you can definitely achieve the ideal space for you and the other occupants of the home. However, roofing work, specialized building process, and insulation can be complicated.

Also, in container homes, recycling can be hard work, such as removing toxins and rust. However, after all the work is done, it will definitely be worth it. A container home is durable, can withstand severe weather conditions, and can last for a very long time.

In comparison, a tiny home cannot be expanded but still has a lot of benefits. You can choose a wide selection for the materials and the design. According to your budget, you can design your home in a way that makes it more spacious.

2. How long do container homes last?

You can expect a container home to last at least 25 years without any issues. If you maintain it properly and keep watch of rust attentively, you can expect it to last even longer. Also, if you cover it with an external layer, i.e., wood, then it can last for a really long time.

3. How much does it cost to build a container house?

The exact cost needed to build a container house will vary. In general, a house made from a shipping container costs between $1,400 USD to $4,000 USD and will depend on the age, condition, and size of the container. To give you some idea, here are some of the prices for the most used shipping containers when building a home:

  • 20-ft. Standard new shipping container – $3,000 USD
  • 20-ft. Standard used shipping container – $2,100 USD
  • 20-ft. High cube new shipping container – $3,200 USD
  • 20-ft. High cube used shipping container – $2,200 USD
  • 40-ft. Standard new shipping container – $5,600 USD
  • 40-ft. Standard used shipping container – $2,850 USD
  • 40-ft. High cube new shipping container – $5,800 USD
Shipping container guest house
Source: Pinterest

In addition, the more customization you add to your house project, the more money is going to be involved. Features such as plumbing, electricity, floors, and windows will cost around $50 USD to $150 USD hourly in contractor fees.

Other factors that also affect the cost are:

A large house made from shipping containers can cost from $150,000 USD to $175,000 USD. Whereas, if you have experience in construction and plan to build it yourself, it will cost you as low as $10,000 USD.

  • Availability – Most shipping containers are shipped directly from China, so the availability of stock will impact the price.
  • Permits – The cost will also depend on your area and the types of permits needed to build your home.
  • Site Rep – A foundation that is uneven, rocky, or susceptible to flooding will cost more.
  • Delivery – The delivery costs will vary on the distance traveled and the number of containers to be transported.

To learn more about the costs involved in shipping container houses, you can check this post that gives in-depth information about shipping container home costs.

4. Are shipping containers waterproof?

No, shipping containers are not waterproof. However, they are water-resistant, which means they can resist water to some degree. They can keep precipitation, rain, and snow out of the home.

5. Are shipping container houses safe?

If you are buying a new shipping container house directly from a manufacturer, you can be assured that it is safe. You simply have to inform the manufacturing company to not coat and treat the floors with hazardous paint.

However, if you purchase a second-hand shipping home, there is a chance that it might have been treated with chemicals. If that is the case, there are two ways to address this situation. First, you can put a non-breathable flooring underlayment over the flooring directly. Second, you can remove the original flooring entirely and replace it with a new one, like marine plywood for example.

Tiny container home
Source: Pinterest

6. Are shipping container houses hurricane-proof?

Shipping container houses are built to be strong and durable so they can endure storms and high winds up to 100 mph. They can even be safer and more secure if they are attached to a solid foundation, which allows them to endure winds up to 175 mph.

If you are thinking about getting a shipping container home but live in a place with extreme weather conditions, such as tornadoes or hurricanes, you can be assured that your container house is completely safe.

Two-storey shipping container cafe
Source: Pinterest

7. Do shipping container homes need a foundation?

Yes, shipping container homes need a foundation so they will have a stable and solid platform. Even though it usually goes unnoticed, the ground moves to a certain degree. This movement can be slow and irregular but can cause the ground to slide, sink, or, rise. Having a solid foundation can prevent your container home from separating or splitting.

Detachable 10mx2.2mx2.3m Container House
Source: Pinterest

8. How much does a 2-story prefab home cost?

The overall cost of building a 2-story prefab home will depend on several factors, including the materials to be used, where you are building it, and the customizations you want to add. But, to give you an estimate, the starting cost of an average 2-story prefab home is about $145,000. It will cover 1,500 to 4,000 square feet and will take an average of 14 to 24 weeks to make.

9. Can I build a house under 50K?

Yes, it is possible to build a tiny home within a 50k budget, but it will require you to do most of the work, particularly finding materials and building the house itself. Also, the materials you are going to use must be at discounted prices directly purchased from building supply companies.

10. How can I get started?

The first thing you need to do is to check whether your area allows the construction of container homes. Building permits are required so you can comply with the building codes of both local and state authorities. On average, a person spends about $398 to $1561 for building permits. Before anything else, make sure to contact your local zoning board to learn what is allowed and what’s not.

When it’s confirmed that you can build a container home in your area, it’s time to look and purchase the container itself. When doing this, make sure to consider your needs and resources so you can pick the right type and size of the shipping container. Also, it’s imperative that you inspect the container firsthand before buying. Remember, know everything about what you are buying to avoid unnecessary problems and costs in the future.

11. How to design a container house?

It takes careful planning and brainstorming when designing a container house. The most important things to consider are your needs and who will live in the house. There are a lot of container home designs that you can choose from. Think about what you like and need and find the best design that suits them.

Stylish container house
Source: Pinterest
Shipping container home with deck
Source: Pinterest

12. What are great container house designs?

When designing your container home, it’s best that you consider the style that is most practical. For example, if you are living in an area that is prone to floods, then it’s an excellent idea to build your home on Asian-style stilts. Meanwhile, if your area is consistently hot, then it’s good to have a subterranean home.

Here are some great designs to inspire you:

  • Container Home With Modern Design

A shipping container home with a modern design is defined as modern, sleek, and perfect for minimalists. It features ceiling-to-floor windows and the upper levels are made from extended metal sheets. Modern design container homes typically have sizes from 200 sq. ft. to more than 1,520 sq. ft.

Shipping container home with modern design
Source: Pinterest
  • Container Beach House With Modern Design

This modern design beach house is made from joining two shipping containers together. It has a sophisticated and minimalistic design that allows light to go through in most parts of the house. It has a bright and relaxing effect, which is perfect for any beach house.

Shipping container home with modern design
Source: Pinterest
  • Stylish Container House

This container home comes with a small patio, ideal for those who love to spend time outdoors. It also has a variety of plants so the home blends well with nature. The home also has a modern and stylish design, which suits a lot of people.

Shipping container beach house
Source: Pinterest
  • Contemporary Shipping Container House

A contemporary shipping container home focuses more on maximizing space. It is considered as sleek and fresh as it is focused on the shape, color, and space to make the home more spacious and bright. A contemporary container home generally consists of bold colors and neutral elements.

Shipping container house with contemporary design
Source: Pinterest
  • Shipping Container Office

A tiny shipping container office is perfect for people who need to work at home. If you want to have an office that is both comfortable and private, then this is a really good choice. Since you cannot be disturbed, you will have peace of mind and can focus clearly on the things you need to do.

Tiny shipping container office
Source: Pinterest

13. How to connect shipping container houses?

A common way of joining two shipping containers is producing a seal using welded corner posts, thin metal sheets, and roofing cement. After setting the two containers on their foundation, you can start welding the units into their foundation and the adjacent corner posts. You need to install the rolled roof flashing outside and inside the opening first before putting the roofing cement. The junction of these three materials should achieve a perfect seal.

14. Where can I buy container houses?

You can purchase container houses directly from manufacturing companies that build and design homes from shipping containers. Some manufacturers only build container homes but offer a wide selection of container home models. Meanwhile, some manufacturers offer both construction and customization of shipping container homes and can build your home exactly the way you want it.

The great thing about purchasing directly from manufacturers is you can be assured that the container home you are purchasing is of great quality and in mint condition. It can be a bit more expensive, but your investment will truly be worth it.

Small office made from a shipping container
Source: Pinterest

Another way is through online third-party sellers such as those found on eBay or Amazon. The biggest advantage of purchasing from these sellers is you can negotiate the price. It is usually more affordable, but the downside is you can’t always know what you are getting.

15. How much does a shipping container weigh?

An empty 20-ft. shipping container usually weighs around 1.8 to 2.2 metric tonnes and an empty 40-ft. shipping container weighs about 3.8 to 4.2 tonnes. These figures generally apply to dry containers as these don’t include special containers, such as flat racks, open tops, and tanks.

Old shipping containers are usually heavier than the weights stated, but they are quite rare nowadays. Younger shipping containers are usually lighter due to current manufacturing methods improving the ways factories build shipping containers with less metal but with similar strength.

Business cargo containers
Source: Pixabay

16. How to move a shipping container?

A forklift or crane is typically used to lift the shipping container to a flatbed trailer, which will then be transported to its intended location. If the land is accessible, the driver can simply back up into the foundation and allow the container to slide through. However, if the land is hard to reach, a crane will be used to hoist the container and drop it into its proper place.

17. How to insulate a shipping container?

There are several factors you need to consider when insulating a shipping container. These include the performance, air leakage, eco-friendliness, cost, R-value, vapor permeability, and net interior space.

Taking these factors into consideration, here are five ways you can insulate a shipping container:

  • Non-traditional insulation – uses unconventional materials, such as hempcrete and straw bale;
  • Blanket insulation – uses cotton, fiberglass, sheep’s wool, and slag wool materials;
  • Loose-fill insulation –  uses perlite, cellulose, and loose-fill fiberglass;
  • Spray insulation – has two types – the ocSPF or open-cell spray polyurethane foam and the ccSPF or closed-cell spray polyurethane foam; and
  • Expanded foam insulation – has five types – the oc PU Foam or open-cell polyurethane foam, cc PU Foam or closed-cell polyurethane foam, Polyiso or polyisocyanurate, EPS or extruded polystyrene foam, and XPS or expanded polystyrene foam.
Container home insulation
Source: Pinterest

18. Which states allow shipping container homes to be built?

In the US, almost all states are already considering shipping container homes, if they have not allowed them already. These include Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Maryland, Minnesota, Maine, and even Michigan.

Nevertheless, you need to check first with your city and be sure that shipping container homes are allowed in your area.

19. How thick are shipping container walls?

The walls of shipping containers are generally corrugated. The corrugation depth is typically 1’ or 25 mm, which means that 2’ or 50 mm is taken from the outer width dimension, which is 1’ per side. The back side is corrugated as well and the doors are about 2’ or 50 mm thick, which means that around 3’ or 75 mm is taken from the length.

Shipping container home with garden
Source: Pinterest
Container home with large windows
Source: Pinterest

20. How many square feet is a shipping container?

Typical shipping containers usually come in two sizes, 20 ft. by 8 ft. and 40 ft. by 8 ft. A 20 ft. shipping container is equal to 160 square feet, while a 40 ft. shipping container is equal to 320 square feet.

21. How to put doors and windows in a shipping container?

A. Installing Doors

You can fit any door, whether original or customized, anywhere in a shipping container. Here are the steps when fitting a door to your container home:

  • Measure and mark the area where you want to put your door. Remember to put some space for the steel tubing.
  • Still using the angle grinder, cut the crevice for your door and allow some time for the steel to cool.
  • Still using the angle grinder, remove any sharp ends left from the cutting process.
  • Use three pieces of tubing to make your door frame. These pieces are for the top and each side of the door. Assemble the frame and secure it into its place.
  • Weld each corner of the frame.
  • Put the frame into the crevice you made earlier and make sure that it is balanced by leveling the header.
  • Weld the top and sides of the frame to make sure it is secured properly. Then, use the angle grinder again to remove any sharp ends from the welding process.
  • To make sure that your door is weather-proof, apply silicon to all gaps between the door frame and the container shell. For any excess silicon, you can simply remove it using your fingers.
  • Install your door. If you have a custom one, review and follow the instructions carefully to make sure you are installing it properly.

Here is a video on how to install doors on a metal shipping container.

Modern accent container house with large windows
Source: Pinterest

B. Installing Windows

When installing windows, you must take note of the limitations of the shipping container. One particular factor you have to consider is whether to get small or large windows. After choosing the windows you want to be installed in your container home, follow these steps for the installation process:

  • Take the measurements of the windows you have bought. Then, find the perfect area to install them.
  • Use a permanent marker and mark the measurements of the window on the wall.
  • Use a saw powerful enough to cut through the metal of container walls to cut out the outline of your window.
  • Create a strong framework to secure the windows. A good recommendation for the material is wood as it provides a foundation to the windows and insulation to the container home.
  • Place the windows and clamp them within the frame to put them in place securely. If your windows have wood frames, you can fasten the windows using nails.

Take a look at this video showing how to install large windows in a shipping container home.

Conclusion

Shipping container homes have grown in popularity for the past several years. They offer a lot of benefits and above all, they are comfortable and safe to live in. When planning to invest in a container house, it is imperative that you have the right and enough information so that everything will go smoothly once you buy or start building your container home. Hopefully, the answers mentioned here have given you a clearer picture of shipping container houses!

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