Updated: January 14, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions About Shipping Container Homes

Having written a comprehensive article on what to consider before building or purchasing a shipping container home, we compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions pertaining to shipping container homes. Detailed answers are included in this post, while a shorter list of questions and brief answers are included in this video for your convenience:

Let us know in the comments section if we missed anything important!

How can you buy a prefab shipping container home?

You can purchase a prebuilt or prefabricated shipping container home directly from manufacturers or by shopping on a prefab modular homes marketplace like Dwellito. Examples of established prefab container companies include: Honomobo, Logical Homes, Office of Mobile Design (OMD) and TAYNR.

What is the average cost per square foot for a shipping container home?

The average cost per square foot for a shipping container home is between $80 and $400. This range excludes the costs of: transportation; land; design; surveys & studies; and foundation. Costs vary depending on: size; type of build (DIY or Trade); quality of amenities; and exterior treatments.

Here are approximate price guidelines for a 40 FT X 8 FT shipping container home, with 256 SQFT of living space, which EXCLUDE the costs of: transportation; land; design; surveys & studies; and foundation:

$20,000/$78 SQFT:
Bare Minimum Finishes, built by an Expert Professional DIYer

$40,000/$156 SQFT:
Bare Minimum Finishes
, built by a hired General Contractor & Team

$100,000/$390 SQFT:
Quality Interior & Exterior Finishes
, built by a hired General Contractor & Team

Prefab shipping container homes are significantly more costly, as they tend to offer larger floorplans with a wider range of higher quality features and amenities. An approximate median price per square foot would be in the $270 range. For comparison, Realtor.com reported, in January 2020, that the median price per square foot paid for homes in the United States was $123, with a range from $42 to over $1,000.

For more details refer to Shipping Container Home Costs.

Which states allow shipping container homes?

The states that are most receptive towards shipping container homes are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Most states will allow shipping container homes, but restrictions and requirements will be determined by the city or county in which you wish to build. You need to do this research BEFORE purchasing land. Since the International Code Council (ICC) has updated building guidelines for shipping container homes, more jurisdictions are becoming receptive towards container homes.

Be sure to schedule ample project time, as the approval process for shipping container homes can be substantially longer than traditional builds. Additionally, check if your state provides any incentives for building a container structure, such as an ADU. This is true in California, for example, in their efforts to encourage more affordable housing into the market.

Do shipping container homes rust?

Shipping container homes will rust due to the nature of COR-TEN steel, which is the primary material used in shipping containers. Corrosion, caused by rust, is the single most significant risk criteria pertaining to the lifespan of containers.

Special paint, insulation, strong roofing, and exterior wall-cladding can help delay the inevitability of rust and corrosion. However, local climate and weather patterns will also make a significant impact of the lifespan of a container home.

Are shipping container homes safe?

Though shipping container homes are touted as being strong and durable, they present the following safety issues:

  • Fire Escape Routes
  • Water Leaks Due to Rust & Corrosion
  • Structural Integrity Issues
  • Gas Emissions
  • Toxicity of Original Paint, Floors & Cargo
  • Foundations for Earthquake Areas & Flood Zones

How do I get financing for a shipping container home?

Financing shipping container homes can be challenging, as lending institutions are reluctant to take on the risks of alternative homes. Seek the advice of established builders of shipping container homes to learn of viable options. You will likely need to seek a personal loan or a construction loan.

How long does a shipping container home last?

The average lifespan of a shipping container home is between 25 and 50 years. The lifespan can be longer if the container is: in good shape to start; well-treated; well-insulated; well-maintained; has exterior wall cladding; and is situated in an ideal climate.

A conservative estimate for your container home would be to subtract the years in service of your purchased used container from 25 years. A short life expectancy is a major concern pertaining to shipping container home. Consistent maintenance against rust and corrosion needs to be included in your design & build plans, so that you can both regularly detect wear-and-tear and adequately address issues. An optimistic, best case, lifespan would be to subtract years in service from 50 years, but this would necessitate consistent best-in-class materials, treatment, maintenance and being in an ideal climate.

Do shipping container homes hold value?

There is insufficient historical market data to estimate reliably the likely appreciation or depreciation of shipping container homes. To hedge the risk of a depreciating asset, you should purchase and place the container home on a desirable piece of land that will likely appreciate over time.

These types of homes involve significant risk due to: short lifespans, estimated between 25 and 50 years, a result of the inevitability of rust & corrosion; size and feature limitations; and competitive alternatives.

As your shipping container home ages, it may become less desirable to prospective buyers. We recommend speaking with a local real estate agent, especially if shipping container homes are prevalent in your area. You can also try Homelight to find an agent with experience selling shipping container homes.

Do you need a permit to build a shipping container home?

When building a shipping container home you will need permits for anything that normally requires a permit in traditional builds. However, before purchasing land, check with your city or county to determine if there are any additional restrictions or requirements for building a shipping container home.

Be sure to hire professionals with experience converting shipping containers that adhere to best-practices. Prior to a shipping container reaching a build site, the following tasks must be completed: land purchase; permits; and foundation preparation & construction.

Restrictive planning and zoning boards will likely require a site survey, architectural design review, and structural engineering reports, before any actual construction can commence. If your county has little experience with container homes, you should expect delays and repeats visits before receiving a green light.

Are shipping container homes sustainable?

Shipping container homes are not consider to be sustainable for 4 reasons:

  1. Premature Recycling
  2. Inefficient Recycling
  3. Remnant Toxins
  4. COR-TEN Steel

Four explanations on why shipping container homes are not considered to be sustainable:

1. Premature Recycling: used shipping containers are often recycled too soon, as many shipping container homes are built using single-use containers

2. Inefficient Recycling: a steel shipping container, if recycled as steel, will yield enough metal studs to build 14 framed houses of the same size as the original container home

3. Remnant Toxins: many used shipping containers have been treated with highly toxic paint and flooring for durability, and may have carried toxic cargo

4. COR-TEN Steel: many shipping containers are made of COR-TEN steel which has a myriad of environmental baggage, including rust & corrosion

Because most shipping container homes are built with used containers, many industry practitioners view this as a form of upcycling (the repurposing of existing materials and resources). However, this type of upcycling is inefficient given the reasons stated above.

Are shipping container homes toxic?

Shipping containers are constructed for the sole purpose of transporting goods for as many trips as possible. To increase their durability, containers must be treated with toxic materials (paint and flooring treatment). They are not manufactured to be inhabitable living spaces.

Additionally, these containers may have been used to transport toxic or mildly radioactive goods. The paint used on the exterior and interior is very tough and contains lots of chemical compounds that you would not want in your home, some which may be carcinogenic. It is advisable to sand – down to the raw steel – all remnants of original factory paint before assuming residence inside a shipping container. Many reputable builders of shipping container homes completely replace the flooring, as well.

Do shipping container homes need a foundation?

Shipping container homes need a foundation for two important reasons:

  1. The steel cannot touch the ground, as the moisture will cause the steel to rust and corrode prematurely; and
  2. The container needs to be on a stable, non-shifting surface that can manage the natural movement of the ground over time.

Are shipping container homes bad?

Shipping containers are consider bad investments for these reasons:

  • Short Lifespans
  • Minimal Cost-Savings
  • Small Living Spaces
  • Fewer Financing Options
  • Risk of Non-Insurability
  • Longer Permitting & Approval Processes
  • Reduced Structural Integrity
  • Limited Options for Future Modifications

Are there alternatives to shipping container homes?

Not all container homes are made from shipping containers. If you are captivated by the container architectural style, consider prefab container manufacturers such as: Connect Homes and Mighty Buildings. We also recommend using Dwellito, a marketplace for buying prefab modular homes.

What are the standard dimensions of shipping container homes?

Long Shipping Container:

External Dimensions:
40 FT Length X 8 FT Width X 8 FT or 9 FT Height = 320 SQFT

Finished Internal Dimensions:
39 FT Length X 6.6 FT Width X 7 FT or 8 FT Height = 256 SQFT

Short Shipping Container:

External Dimensions:
20 FT Length X 8 FT Width X 8 FT Height = 160 SQFT

Finished Internal Dimensions:
19 FT Length X 6.6 FT Width X 7 FT Height = 125 SQFT

Are shipping container homes a scam?

See our article What to Consider Before Purchasing a Shipping Container Home.

More Information on Shipping Container Homes

What to Consider Before Purchasing a Shipping Container Home
Family’s Arduous Quest to Create a Backyard Container Home
11 Tips You Need to Know Before Building a Shipping Container Home
Everything You Need to Know About Shipping Container Homes
Rust and Corrosion in Shipping Container Homes
Why Shipping Container Homes Make No Cents – Part 1
Are Shipping Container Houses Environmentally Friendly & Good or Bad to Live In
A Green Alternative to a Shipping Container House
What’s Wrong With Shipping Container Housing? One Architect Says “Everything”
Why Corten Steel Is An Environmental Nightmare
Tiny Home vs Mobile vs RV: What is the Best Deal for The Money?

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