The Pros and Cons of a Shipping Container Home


Benefits of container homes

Saving money is actually an ecological principle. As much as you’re able to opt out of the capitalist exchange, the better, with the philosophy that the profit-motive leads to exploitation of resources and wasteful practices. Spend less, live with less, and whenever possible use sustainable or recycled products.

The tiny homes trend embodied the first idea: to live small, use less energy, or even go off grid. Container homes recycle used shipping containers into modern, durable, and cost-effective houses that can be personalized to match any aesthetic, often fitting in with the tiny-home movement.

And the part that’s maybe least remarked upon is that shipping container homes use that symbol of the pinnacle of capitalist expansion, the international shipping container, and turn it into something humble, a small sturdy home.

Benefits of Container Homes

While the idea of living in a container home may seem off-putting to some people, they actually offer a number of advantages over traditional houses. For example, a container home can cost you as little as $10,000, depending on the size you want. And if you want to upgrade down the road, it’s very simple to do. Because container homes are modular, it’s easy to add more space to your existing property. And because of their small size and modular design, you can easily move your container home should you wish to live somewhere else.

Last but certainly not least, container homes are designed with durability in mind. Many are constructed from steel, meaning they can withstand strong weather conditions, more than many traditional homes. It may take some getting used to at first, but you’ll soon discover that container houses have so much to offer homeowners.

The cost of a container home

The cost of building a container home depends on several factors, including the number of containers used, container size, delivery costs, and whether you DIY, hire contractors, or purchase a prefabricated container home. A container home turned DIY tiny home may cost as little as $10,000 to build. Larger custom builds cost up to $175,000.

Use online resources to explore financing options with sites like PennyMac.com, where you can find different loan types described or get pre-approved for a loan and lock in your rate right out of the gate.

Where to put your container home

This is the biggest question when building a container home. That’s because non-traditional structures like container homes and tiny houses aren’t permitted everywhere. Always check local code enforcement and zoning regulations before purchasing land.

How to buy land for a container home

Permitting is just the first challenge when buying land for your container home. Land loans have much stricter requirements than traditional mortgages—if you can get a loan at all. Most buyers pay cash for land as a result.

Remember the hidden costs of buying land. You’ll need to pay for a land survey, drill a well, install a septic tank, and pay for utility hookups if not living off-grid. Depending on the state of the land, clearing the land and establishing site access could cost anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands. Just removing a large tree can cost more than $1,500. Buy a property that’s relatively level and unobstructed if you’re not prepared to take on these costs.

What to look for when buying shipping containers

Once your land is purchased and prepped, you’re ready for the build phase. 40-foot high-cube containers are the recommended choice for shipping container homes. Each container is 40 feet by 8 feet and offers about 320 square feet of living space.

It’s possible to buy new shipping containers. However, because most homeowners are drawn to container homes for their affordability and the small footprint of recycled building materials, used shipping containers are the more common choice.

Shipping containers recycled for homebuilding should be free of major dents and rust. You should also learn about chemicals the manufacturer may have used to prevent corrosion and deter pests in shipping containers so you can take the appropriate steps to eliminate health hazards.

Top challenges of building a container home

There’s a lot to love about container homes, but it’s important to understand the drawbacks of container home living.

Insulation

Insulation is the biggest challenge when converting a shipping container. Because shipping containers are narrow, there’s not much square footage to spare for insulation. One way builders overcome this is by insulating the exterior of the container and installing siding.

Since metal conducts, the potential of the container getting too hot in the summer and too cool in winter is troubling. With solar panels to offset the energy costs of the air conditioning and heating, heating and cooling can at least be sustainable.

Building costs

Other homeowners use multiple shipping containers to create larger living spaces, but this brings problems of its own. The more a shipping container is modified, the more structural reinforcement it requires. Too much customization and you’ll eliminate the financial advantages of building a container home.

There’s no reason a shipping container home can’t project the philosophy of living humbly and upcycling durable artifacts while remaining stylish. Simplifying what the architect can work with encourages creativity, and while these homes may look a little too much like LEGO houses to some, but to the conscientious eye, they’re truly beautiful.

Finding experienced contractors

Finally, many homeowners struggle to find contractors who are experienced in shipping container conversions. Building with shipping containers isn’t your average construction project and you need a builder who understands the quirks of container homes.

For example, tackling electrical or plumbing projects on your own may not be wise, depending on your level of experience. Compare local plumbing companies and customer reviews.

Join a Community

The thing about tiny house living in general and container home living specifically, is that there’s an enthusiastic community that has grown up with the popularization of the lifestyle. Join a Reddit group to get a sense of the fun spirit of people who have turned away from the lure of consumerism and who want to live with less.

Yes, you can live in a shipping container all alone or with your small family, but you’ll really know you made a difference when you hear from others like you out there doing their part. It can feel lonely sometimes, doing difficult things.

Whether you want to save money, reduce your carbon footprint, or exercise your creativity, a container home isn’t going halfway, but it demonstrates a true commitment to sustainability and you’ll know you’re not the only one to take the plunge.

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