Oct 1, 2012

Homes Made From Shipping Containers

Many people are turning their attention toward shipping containers, cargo containers, or ISBUs (Inter-modal Steel Building Units) as they look for ways to create affordable housing.  Shipping container house plans or floor plans are readily available on the internet.  Standard shipping container sizes are roughly 8'-0" wide by either 20' or 40' long.  They come in standard height which provides about 7'-6" of interior height, or "high cube" containers which provide about 8'-6" of interior height.  As I see it, shipping containers have four primary virtues... 

A nice modern house, made from old shipping containers.

  • First, they are inexpensive.  I just looked on eBay, and found them going for between $1,000.00 and $4,000.00 each, depending on size and condition.  
  • Second, they are strong.  These things get fully loaded with heavy cargo, hoisted by cranes and stacked on top of one another, shipped across the rolling ocean, hoisted, unloaded, loaded again, etc.  They're tough.  
  • Third, they are readily available.  Just take a look on eBay, Craig's List, or do a Google search.  You will find them easily and chances are good that there are some close by.   In the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of them laying around, mostly due to the fact that we import so many more goods than we export, and we don't usually send the empty ones back.
  • And fourth, using them is a form of recycling, or up-cycling, which is always a good thing.
A simple shipping container home.

There are some drawbacks to using shipping containers too.  Working with metal is more challenging and less forgiving than working with wood.  Even if you already have a good tool collection and some carpentry skills, you might need new tools and skills to work on these.  Those tools might include a plasma cutter, fire extinguisher, angle grinder, galvanizing spray, and specialized protective gear.  I understand it can be done with a drill and sawzall (reciprocating saw), but it's quite a chore. 

I haven't ever tried cutting into a shipping container, but I have watched videos depicting all the methods.  Based on what I've seen, my first choice would be an angle grinder.  It's basically cutting with the edge of a sturdy spinning abrasive disc.  Images of the three cutting tools I mentioned appear below.
Sawzall (reciprocating saw)

Angle grinder
Plasma cutter
Also, when the sun shines on these giant metal cans, they get hot, inside and out, so you'll need to find a way to insulate them, even if you plan to use them in a mild environment.  Likewise when it's cold out, it will be very cold inside too, unless properly insulated.  One exception to that rule is the refrigerated containers used to ship food that must be kept cold.  Those are very well insulated, but more expensive and harder to find.

Cool home made of recycled shipping containers.

I should also mention that while some people find shipping containers to be beautiful, others may find them hideous.  You could always apply an attractive exterior siding to them if you so desire.

Another neat shipping container home idea

YouTube is loaded with shipping container home videos, and you can find lots of shipping container house plan ideas by Googling "shipping container house plans." 

Shipping container home with green roof.
I've included some sample plans below.  If you scroll down further, you'll find a good shipping container video.  I found the first plan on containerhome.biz. 
I found the remaining plans below on a site called: residentialshippingcontainerprimer.com.

Below is one short example of a shipping container video I found on YouTube.  This particular one features a prefabricated home made from two 8' x 20' shipping containers that, according to the video, sells for about $32,000.00.  It gives you an idea of how nice a small shipping container home can be inside.

Click here to see an entire post about the company that made the home in the video above.  It includes photos, prices, floor plans, and a direct link to the company's web site.  

Below is a video I made about one I designed myself.  To see my post about it  with lots more information, including how much it might cost,  click here.  

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  1. I could care less if the people find that my shipping container home is hideous. Its meant to digress their eyes, its a shipping container.

    -Panamerican Shipping

  2. I think they look cool, but if someone doesn't like the look it can be easily changed with pretty much any siding there is. You could also add a gable or shed roof if that appeals to you.

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