How to Plan & Design Your Container House in the Philippines in 2021

Container House may be your next low-cost housing solution with stylish and sustainable architecture. Interested and want to learn more? Read this guide for a full coverage of how to plan, design and build your dream container house!

At the end point of our career, we all want something to live for – or rather, a place to retire in. For most people, the ultimate end-goal is to own a house, which equates to having a stable dwelling.

 

But the cost of buying a property, finding a builder, and paying for the house construction is high. And it may take decades of your salary before you can completely earn for land and a housing construction.

 

The great thing is, there’s a solution! Just in the mid-2000, some Architects, Engineers and Builders have found an innovative way to repurpose storage containers to make cheaper priced homes and modular buildings. These are called Shipping Container Houses or Prefabricated Houses.

how to plan and design your container house in the philippines
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Glimpses in the Container House Market in 2021 and Beyond

According to Wise Guy Reports, Shipping Container Houses have grown to approximately 47.76 billion in 2018. From 2019 to 2025, it is expected to have a healthy growth rate of 6.7%.

 

Container homes used to have single-unit bedrooms with narrow footprints, but today, designers’ imaginations have grown wild. There are lots of container homes built with 5-bedroom and with many storeys of durable units.

What’s more, some designs are even movable, which means you can detach and transport your house to wherever you want it to be. There are many offices, schools, houses, dormitories, etc that have been built with stackable shipping containers around the world.

A Shipping Container Retreat House by Chris Hanley, a film producer Photo Credit: Whitaker Studio

What is a Shipping Container House?

A Shipping Container House is an architectural structure, built with repurposed storage containers or newly-manufactured cargo containers. In recent years, shipping homes have become popular, because of their sustainability, inherent strength and affordability than traditional homes.

What’s more, some designs are even movable, which means you can detach and transport your house to wherever you want it to be. There are many offices, schools, houses, dormitories, etc that have been built with stackable shipping containers around the world.

well lit modern one storey home made from shipping container
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Image Credit: 3D Warehouse

The main concept is that used cargo containers are supplied before they are designed, built and reconstructed on-site. Once it arrives on-site, the contractor can do some house finishes, such as installing electrical wires, and connect your new home to plumbing. 

You can also opt for prefabricated modular containers which would only require assembly on site, as they are pre-built and pre-finished in a factory.

You can find two standard sizes available: 20 ft and 40 ft shipping containers. They are both 8’6” in width and 8’ in height. However, you can find lots of manufacturers offering low cost, customizable sizes, especially in China.

Are Shipping Containers Safe to Live In?

black stylish container house in the wilderness with wooden furnitures and campfire
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Image Credit: The Guardian

Now, some of you might ask if living in a container home in the Philippines is safe or secure. Of course, if you are a foreigner wanting to have a vacation house here, your primary concern would be if you can securely leave your home for a couple of months when you go back to your country.

The short answer is, yes! You can definitely feel secure and safe with your container house, provided that you choose skilled home builders to manage your project.

Here’s what we know about the safety of shipping container homes.

Are Container House Designs Storm-Proof?

There are already lots of Container Food Vans in the Philippines, so there’s not much of a worry when it comes to the structural integrity.

A Shipping storage is made of a Weathering Steel called Corten Steel. Corten Steels are economic steels, with longer lifespans and are recyclable. This material is designed to endure the harshest hurricane and storm at sea during a voyage and transport of goods. Even without painting, Corten is very durable and can withstand extreme temperatures.

extreme floods cannot destroy container homes
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Image source: ContainerHomes.net

Because of this, cargo containers have long lifespans reaching 11 to 15 years. Beyond its lifetime, they are further recycled and used in building offices and structures. That’s because even with age, the containers are still sturdy, watertight and structurally sound.

Furthermore, Corten steel can also stand against strong hurricanes, exhibiting resistance to high winds and atmospheric corrosion. Aside from their special application for shipping containers, they are also often used for a wide range of building constructions.

So yes, shipping containers are safe from tropical storms experienced in the Philippines.

Are Container Homes Secure?

To answer this question, let’s take it from Discover Containers, a Container House solutions company in America owned by a US Military personnel.

“Consider what a shipping container was originally built to do. They are made to be an airtight, impenetrable storage solution used to transport goods around the world. When shipping containers were first used in the 1950’s, the amount of lost or stolen cargo dropped significantly,” the company says.

sturdy and durable hozugawa bridge made from corten steel the same steel used for container homes
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Hozugawa Bridge made of Corten steel - the same steel used for shipping containers.

That’s because storage containers are basically used to keep import and export products safe from the weather, and from laborers who might try to steal the cargo. So when it comes to security, container houses are quite reliable.

Are Recycled Container Housing Toxic-Free?

While you might think recycling container cargos seem unhygienic and unsafe, there are a lot of ways to repurpose these materials.

In fact, in the US, most shipping container homes are built from recycled and refurbished cargo boxes from local shipping ports. Not only are they more sustainable than new home constructions, but they also cost cheaper.

However, you’ll never know if these second-hand containers used to carry harmful or dangerous substances. When you do, obviously you wouldn’t want to risk using these units for your own home construction.

To make it a livable space, recycled shipping containers are coated with spray-foam insulation or panel insulation and finished with non-toxic paint. There are also multiple layers of insulation which can be used for the walls.

If you want to have newly-manufactured shipping containers, there are many manufacturers offering low-cost and highly durable units for sale.

You can buy these directly from manufacturers and let it be shipped on-site. Once on-site, leave the house finishing and necessary installations to an experienced builder contractor.

spray foam insulation for container homes
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Image credit: Addicted2Decorating

Can Steel Container Houses be Hit by Lightning?

Thunderstorms are quite often in the Philippines, so you might be wondering if an all-steel structure can hide away from a lightning strike.

While metals are generally a good conductor of electricity, having a good concrete or wood foundation keeps the structure insulated. A lightning rod can also be an alternative to keep lightning strikes away from your property.

How Much Does a Shipping Container Cost to Make a Home?

A second-hand 20ft container usually costs around PHP 80,000 from shipping container dealers. A new 20-ft container van may cost around PHP 180,000 to PHP 200,000. This is just the cost of the shipping container.

Check out the approximate prices below.

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Container TypeSizeFloor AreaCost Estimate
NewUsed
20 ft Assembled Shipping ContainerHeight: 8’6” (2.59m)
Width: 8 ft
150 sq. ft180,000 PHP to 250,000 ($3,600 to $5000) 85,000 PHP ($1,700)
40-foot Standard Shipping Container (40’STD)Height: 8’6” (2.59m)
Width: 8 ft
Interior/Door height: 7.5 ft
Space: 2,694 cu ft
305 sq. ft330,000 to 470,000 PHP ($6,600 to $9,400)90,000 PHP to 110,000 PHP ($1,800 to $2,200)
40-foot High Cube Shipping Container (40’HC)Height: 9’6” (2.89m)
Width: 8 ft
Interior Door Height: 8.5 ft
Space: 3,038 cu ft
305 sq. ft360,000 to 500,000 PHP ($7,200 to $10,000)93,000 PHP to 120,000 PHP ($1,860 to $2,400)

Now, when it comes to obtaining a used or new shipping container, you can either import it from China or buy from Philippine shipping container dealers.

Most shipping containers are made in China anyway, so it’s the cheapest and most practical option. However, importing products from China is not easy and, without experience, there’s a huge learning curve you need to go through.

You can also contact distributors of shipping container homes in the Philippines who offer cost-efficient prices.

How Much Does Prefabricated Container House Cost?

If you opt to buy a prefab container house, which is  and ready to be shipped to your lot, it usually costs PHP 350,000 to PHP 900,000 ($7,000 to $18,000).

buy prefab container house with royal blue finiish
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This ballpark figure depends on the complexity of the house design and the features available. To give you an idea, you can buy a Prefab luxury homes costing around PHP 900,000 (around $18,000).

simple one bedroom prefab container house exterior and interior design for 18K dollars
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Prefab Luxury Container House Image credit: WZH Modular House

If you are planning on modifying, stacking, or cutting parts of its corrugation or an entire area, we would recommend consulting with a structural engineer.

Factors that will add to your house construction cost will also include the following:

Cost Estimate for Setting Up Your Container House in the Philippines (updated for 2021)

Cost Estimate for Setting Up Your Container House in the Philippines
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Beach House Modern Home in Australia

To give you an idea for the cost, here’s an approximate breakdown in PHP for a  Three – 40 ft HC Container House for Philippines (915 sq. ft/85 sqm floor area)

 

*Note that an Assembled Container House for Sale is already supplied with windows, doors, customizable flooring, wall insulation and roof insulation. This means you don’t have to account these in your design and construction estimate, unless you have special requirements which you should discuss with your contractor.

Cost ConsiderationsCost (PHP)

Lot/Property (90 sqm)

  • *PHP 12,000 to PHP 30,000/SQM for lands in the cities 
  • *PHP 6,000 to 12,000/SQM for lands in provinces
1,080,000 (assuming 12K/sqm)

Base price for three-40ft containers

  • *Approx. PHP 360,000 per new container
1,080,000

Site preparation (excavation, laying foundation, etc.)

  • PHP 65,000/40 ft container or 28.45 cu. yd
180,000
Assembly15,000
Plumbing70,000
Electrical70,000
Cabinets/Shelves130,000 
TOTAL COST for 3-40ft container house (85 sqm floor area) with lot included

PHP 2,65,000

(USD 54,100)

Cost for an Equivalent Conventional Concrete House with 85 sqm floor area (lot is included)

PHP 3,270,000

(USD 65,400)

SavingsPHP 645,000
Percent Savingsapprox 20%
Three 40 ft HC Container Home
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interior finish of a Three 40 ft HC Container Home
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Example of a 3-40ft STD Container Home by Container Hacker

Of course this is just a rough estimation for a house with a standard finish such as above. Also, it uses 3 40ft shipping containers. If you only use one 40 ft shipping container, which is enough for a bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen and dining, the prefab container would cost 360,000 to 600,0000 PHP. Add to that, the cost of land.

There are many factors that can influence the cost of your container house, which includes its design, and the additional features that you want.

How Much Does Building a Container Home Compare with a Traditional House Construction?

When compared with the construction of a traditional house, this would range from PHP 2,845,000 to PHP 3,700,000, the cost of the land and the house finish inclusive. The cost of house construction in the Philippines today roughly ranges from PHP 17,000 to 60,000 or more per square meter.

As of 2021, here’s a quick house construction estimate for traditional residences (lot not included):

Is it Cheaper to Build a Shipping Container Home?

Overall, shipping container houses costs cheaper than traditional houses, and is completed way faster. Your container house can be finished in 2 to 4 weeks and installed in 2 to 5 days.

Both container and traditional house construction cost depends on the house finish, size and other custom features that you want.

When you do opt for a container house, you can save up to 15% to 50% on having a newly-built house.

We recommend you doing the safer option of contacting a structural builder contractor who can offer turnkey solutions for residential container houses. This may render an addition to the final cost, but contractors have the skills on working with buildings and steel containers.

How Long Do Container Homes Last?

A container house built with new, factory-made shipping containers would last around 15 to 50 years. If you choose second-hand, shipping containers for sale, it could have a shorter lifespan, say about 10 to 20 years.

Traditional newly-constructed homes built with concrete have an average lifespan of 75 to 100 years. For a traditional concrete apartment building, it is around 50 to 60 years.

Container house may be lagging in terms of lifespan, but if you need a house that strikes a balance between sustainability, quality and cost, a container house is the perfect solution.

What Are the Design Considerations for Your Container Home?

Now, are you ready to design your very own dream container home? Did we convince you how practical and cost-savvy this house solution is?


Here are the steps on planning and designing your container house.

1. Plan the Structure

The first and foremost step is to consider the dimension of your property and what it should contain. Simply sketch it out!

What Are the Design Considerations for Your Container Home-plan the structure
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Photo credit: Lunchbox Architect

For example, if you have a 200 sq. meter leased or purchased land, you need to decide on how to optimize the area. Perhaps you’d like to leave a space for gardening or a pool. Or do you want to save up some space for future constructions? Think about the general layout that you would want. 


This is important so you’d know if the standard sizes of shipping containers can fit in your property layout.


Then visualize how you would want to layout the interior/exterior of your house. How many bedrooms do you need? Do you want a single-family unit or a small 1-bedroom house?


Here are some inspirations.

A. An Off-Grid, Solar Container House

Off-Grid, Solar Container House
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Image Credit: The Hearty Soul

Did you know that the Philippines is one of the best locations in the world for solar panel installations? With the right container house design, you can harness the sun’s energy and power up your home. Not only can you save on building a house in the Philippines, you can also save on electricity!

B. Conjoined 2-Unit, 2-Storey Modern Container House

Conjoined 2-Unit, 2-Storey Modern Container House
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Perfect Container Houses for Extended Families Image credit: Republic of Green

You can’t deny the fact that Filipinos or most Asian culture have extended family homes. We simply can’t stay too far away from our loved ones. Hence, this 2-unit container building is perfect for extended families, with a common area in the middle, joined by a corridor.

C. Low Cost and Spacious 2-Storey Stacked-Up Container House

Low Cost and Spacious 2-Storey Stacked-Up Container House
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Image Credit: CNN

As you can see in its design, it only consists of two 40 ft standard containers. There are not special configurations, alterations and excessive cutting needed. The house is also structurally rigid with its added bearing support.

D. Architecturally-Stunning Tiny 1-Storey Container House

Architecturally-Stunning Tiny 1-Storey Container House
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Small, Homey Container House Image Credit: HomeYou

If you prefer to get stunned each moment when you get home and spend lovely and cozy evenings on a porch, this type of container house is for you.

2. Choose the Right Shipping Container

Once you have planned the general layout structure of your property and house, you would have to consider the right shipping container dimensions to choose.


Here are the standard dimensions of the common types of containers used for building structures.

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20 ft. Dry Container Length: 5.9m Width: 2.35m Height: 2.39mDoor Width: 2.34m Door Height: 2.27m Max Payload: 28.19m
40ft Dry Container Length: 12.03m Width: 2.35m Height: 2.39mDoor Width: 2.34m Door Height: 2.27m Max Payload: 26.19m
40ft High Cube Dry Container
Length: 12.03m Width: 2.35m Height: 2.69mDoor Width: 2.34m Door Height: 2.58m Max Payload: 26.49m

a. 20 ft Standard Container

20 ft Standard Container
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20 ft Standard Container

20 ft containers are often used as additions to 40 ft containers. It’s small size and lighter weight would be a benefit if you need it for smaller structures. This can be made into a tiny cabin or a small guest room.

Since it’s smaller than the 40 ft container, you’d expect to pay less, however, its price per unit ft is actually higher. That’s why it is recommended to use 40ft containers rather than two separate 20 ft containers.

b. 20 ft High Cube Container

There are also 20ft High Cube containers. It has the same length and width as the 20 ft Dry or General Purpose Container. The only difference is the 1ft addition in its height, making more room for insulation and lighting fixtures. These are often used if you want more ceiling headroom to accommodate better ventilation.

c. 40 ft Dry Container

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A 40ft Standard Container has a narrow, but long structure, enough to be converted into a one-bedroom house. This is considered a more economical choice than a 20ft standard container. 

 

Like the 20 ft standard container, it has a height restriction, which makes the High Cube more suitable for tropical areas. This is so you can add an insulation, and can result in a higher ceiling height.

d. 40 ft High Cube Container

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The 40 ft High Cube Container is ideally used for a wider design flexibility as its ceiling height is higher. Its price is also more economical than 20 ft containers. 

 

An additional 1-foot headroom makes it a viable solution for a more comfortable air circulation in its rooms. At the same time, its long, horizontal space helps you fit more furniture in its interior.

 

Basically, you just need to know which container type to use so you’d also know how much you are going to pay.

If you have questions, you can consult it with us.

3. Layout the Rooms, Furniture and Major Partitions

layout of living room, furniture and room partitions in container home
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Image credit: Dhoumm

The next exciting thing to do is to plan the interior layout of the furniture and rooms. You would also like to place wall partitions to define the corridor and major areas of the house. Locate the bedrooms, bathrooms, living room, balcony, kitchen in the house plan drawing.

4. Consult an Architect or an Engineer About Your Design

Next, you would need to consult with an Architect or Civil Engineer about your design so it can be standardized. The Architect or Engineer can optimize your house design, make it more sustainable and cost-friendly and comply with the Building Code.


You can have us check your home design and layout! Simply drag and drop it here:

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

5. Find a Shipping Container Supplier and a House Contractor

stacking black modular container house
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Lastly, you would want to find a reliable shipping container supplier and a house general contractor. A shipping container supplier will only use a flatbed truck and trailer to transport the containers on-site before construction begins.


Reliable suppliers of Cor-ten steel containers in the Philippines include Oceanic and Titan. After which, the construction can begin and finish in just 2 to 4 weeks, given that there’s a ready-made organized house plan and design.

Final Thoughts

In 2020, even with the onslaught of the Covid-19 crippling most businesses, Shipping Container Homes are amazingly still eyed by home lookers. Steel Container Homes are easy to build, which can take only 2 to 4 weeks. 


They are also more economical and eco-friendly than conventional homes. A Shipping Container Home is a viable solution if you are looking to build a more affordable house at the moment.


You can contact ARCGO General Engineering for your affordable container house construction and project management. If you haven’t found a budget-friendly shipping container supplier, you can also entrust with us the entire process of finding containers, shipping to your site, and beginning construction.


More importantly, we hope this article helped you understand more about the proper planning and designing of container houses, especially in the Philippines.

About the Author:

Engr. Noelle Nicole Go is a Licensed Mechanical Engineer in the Philippines. She has participated in several projects in ARCGO. Currently, she manages the marketing sector of the company, as well as writing informational articles about home construction, home improvement and renovation.

4 thoughts on “How to Plan & Design Your Container House in the Philippines”

  1. Thank you Raymond! Looking forward to discussing your container house plans here in the Philippines. The Philippines is a wonderful place to retire to (cost benefits, beaches, and friendly community). Love your idea on building your container house here! You can send an email through [email protected] for further discussion.

  2. I found your article very interesting and very detailed. I’m considering a container house now. But i have a question, would I need to hire a lawyer to make sure everything goes smoothly? Thanks.

  3. My name is Raymond I am planning to move to the Philippines when I retire. The really love the container house. Thank Noelle for the info about container house. I will really love talking to you about my floor plan for my container house. I live in Miami Florida.

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