Container homes vs traditional homes: which one is better? Are container homes more worth it than traditional homes? Let’s find out!
With the Covid-19 happening, a lot of families have been looking for cheaper housing alternatives to conventional, stick-built houses. One of the more affordable ways to build a house is through shipping container homes.
But are houses built with containers worth it? Does it stand against the engineering aspects, strength, integrity, safety and cost of traditional homes built with concrete and wood?
While the main contender is usually the cost being cheaper, there are a lot of other aspects you should consider in houses built out of containers. We’re here to answer those important questions.
PS. Are you planning to build a house in the Philippines? Plan ahead with ARCGO! We offer general construction services, as well as container house kits. Plus, if you want to plan ahead with your house fixtures or home improvement renovation, we have a plethora of selected products offered at a low cost. Get in touch.
- To start off, shipping container architecture has a distinct aesthetics from traditional homes. They have a corrugated steel exterior, with most designs having a simple, box-like form.
- Prefabricated container houses are similar in style with shipping container homes, but have a more modular look in it.
- Compared to traditional houses, shipping container homes and prefabricated homes are highly customizable and can be arranged in any architectural style you want.
Cost: 15% to 50% Savings for Container Homes
- Shipping container houses and prefabricated houses are generally more affordable options than stick built, conventional houses.
- Large-scale container office buildings or container apartments with multiple shipping containers may require extra steel reinforcement, which can add to its costs.
Construction and Strength: Corten Steel is Stronger than Wood
- Cargo storage container buildings made from corrugated corten steel, which are generally stronger than the lumber light-frame construction used in traditional homes.
Faster to Build: Container Houses are More Seamless
- Traditional homes made from wood and concrete are the slowest to construct and finish and are subject to construction delays.
- Shipping cargo container houses take a few weeks up to a month to finish. It depends on the complexity of your house plan and finishing work you want. They also follow the traditional construction timeline and might be subjected to delays.
- Prefab manufactured homes take only days to prepare. They are pre-built in factories and shipped to your site. They take way faster time to assemble and install and it usually has everything you need (electrical, insulation, windows, doors, etc).
Now that you have the short answers, let’s dive deeper into the more detailed discussion.
Shipping Container House vs Prefabricated Container House
There are two types of container houses. These are the shipping container house and a prefabricated container house. Confused between the two? Let us shed a light for you.
Shipping Container House
What Can You Build with Cargo Containers?
- Complex Storage Container Buildings
- High Rise Container Office Buildings
- Container Apartment Buildings
- Stunning Restaurants built from reused containers
- Malls and Hotels
Prefabricated Container House
What Can You Build with Prefab Containers?
- Modular Container Buildings
- Small Prefab budget houses
- Prefab Mobile Homes
- Prefab Townhouse
- 2-story Modular homes
- Luxury Prefab Homes
- Simple Office Building
Shipping container homes and prefab modular homes both usually save money, compared with conventional home construction. This is because they require less construction labor and cost for a general contractor than traditional houses.
But when we compare shipping container construction to prefab modular container homes, the former will usually generate more waste materials from construction and more time to finish.
Container Homes vs Traditional Homes
Cost: Construction & Installation
In short, container house construction can save you 15% to 50% on construction costs depending on the complexity of the project.
The ballpark figure for traditional houses range from 20,000 PHP/sqm to 60,000 PHP/sqm. A prefab container house, on the other hand, roughly costs a minimum of 15,000 PHP/sqm (based on 1-20ft unit cost divided by its area).
See the difference?
Traditional House Construction Costs in the Philippines 2023
Traditional House Type
Cost per SQM in the Philippines (2023)
Wall: plain cement finish
Floor: paint, plaster
Ceiling: Flat ceiling,
Roof: Corrugated metal roof
20,000 PHP/sqm (~$365)
Wall: ceramic tiles or wall paper, laminate, brick finish
Roof: aluminum sheets, concrete tiles, clay tiles
30,000 PHP/sqm (~$545)
Floor: granite tiles, wood flooring
Walls: Stone claddings, glass mosaics, wood stones, aluminum composite panels, leather, fabric, glass blocks
Ceiling: Spanish tile roof, clay tile roof, complicated framing
45,000 PHP/sqm (~$820)
Container House Construction Cost
Prefab Modular Container
Cost per 20-ft unit (18 SQM)(2023)
Reinforced with columns, girders and beams
Walls: 50 mm Rock wool/ Glass Wool Sandwich Panel
Roof: 50 mm Rock wool/ Glass Wool Sandwich Panel with Calcium Silicate Board/ PVC Ceiling
Door: Aluminum Alloy Security Door
Flooring: MGO Fireproof Board
Windows: PVC sliding window
With Thermal Insulation and Basic Electrical Components
Site preparation (Excavation, Laying Foundation, etc.)
4 workers to assemble (minimum 5 days work)*Worker salary = 750 PHP per day
Overhead, Contingencies and Miscellaneous
(16,670 PHP per SQM)
1-storey small apartment with 1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen and dining
Finish: Economic Finish
Total Area: 35.7 sqm *For a total area of 35.7 sqm, this can be covered by 2 units of 20ft container.
Traditional House Construction Cost = 20,000 PHP x 35.7 SQM = 714,000 PHP ($13,000)
Container House = 300,000 PHP (based on computation above) x 2 units = 600,000 PHP ($10,900)
Hence, you’ll save over 16% when you use prefab containers in this scenario.
However, note that the above example is just a rough estimate. Using container homes can result in half as much per square meter than traditional stick buildings. There are factors that can influence the price fluctuation, such as the type of finish you want. Other factors include:
- Size, design, layout
- Number of containers
- How much welding and fabrication needed
- Cleaning of containers
- Plumbing and electrical
- Kitchen and bathroom finish
- Doors and Windows
- Insulation etc.
How Long Container Houses Last?
The lifespan often varies from 15 to 50 years, depending on how well it’s built and how well you maintain it. A well-kept shipping container home can even have a resale value close to a traditional home.
For factory-built container homes, these units are made in the factory, and are not intended to be a cargo container on the ocean. Hence, they are constructed to fit the requirements of a traditional home which lasts long. They are made with different grades of steel and paint with customizable doors and window openings.
As prefabricated shipping container buildings are built according to building standards, they are intended to have a longer lifespan than the corten steel used in cargo containers.
Do Shipping Container Homes Depreciate?
Like traditional homes, shipping container homes do depreciate. Since they are made from steel, the ultimate problem can be rusting.
However, corten steel is actually using its rusted surface as a protective layer to inhibit further rusting. This way, Corten steel resists corrosion more than other types of steel.
The main reason why your shipping container house can depreciate is due to condensation. If you reuse watertight cargo containers for building your home, make sure you prevent placing them in a damp ground.
Painted and finished containers prevent condensation. Opening the windows and doors is also a good way of letting condensation out.
For longevity, the roof of a shipping container should be properly maintained, including its rain drainage. If you want access to the rooftop, you can ask your prefab container supplier or container house contractor to put reinforcement on the roof.
How Long to Build a Prefab Container House?
When it comes to rapid construction, prefabricated containers are usually associated with it.
Since these units are already pre-built in a factory, you will only need to contact a supplier to ship these units to your site. Assembly can only take days or a few months depending on the complexity.
Want an example? Take a look at the 2 hospital buildings built in Wuhan, Hubei, China in just 10 days! These are made with prefab modular houses transported from a factory and assembled on site.
How Long to Build a Traditional Container House?
It will take 5 to 9 months to build a house out of shipping containers, similar to a traditional house.
Once your cargo containers are transported to your site, it would need to be cleaned, cut, formed and welded according to your house design. A lot of reinforcements are needed especially if you’re cutting a lot of holes for windows and doors.
How Long to Build a Traditional House?
It usually takes 6 to 9 months to construct a house project in the Philippines. Again, this depends on the design complexity of your design.
So, have you decided which is better for you: container house or traditional house? If you’re as excited as us in building your first house, you can consult us for more detailed discussion. Whether its a container house or traditional brick and concrete house you want, Arcgo always offers low-cost house and building construction. Talk to us!