Planning to build a house using containers? Whether you’re thinking about shipping containers or factory-built container homes, this article discusses the pros and cons of all types of container homes.
In the market, we currently have 2 options for container houses:
1. Shipping container house, built using cargo containers that are either new or used.
2. Factory-made, prefabricated container house that’s popularly originating from China factories.
Both shipping containers and prefabricated containers are made of steel.
In this discourse, we will primarily compare the structural attributes of container homes in comparison to traditional concrete houses. However, we’ll also be contrasting the advantages and disadvantages between a shipping container home and a manufactured container home.
Overall, container homes, whether recycled shipping containers or prefab containers, can be more cost-effective than traditional homes. They can also be significantly cheaper to maintain. Expect 15% to 50% cost savings from a traditional concrete house to a container house.
In the US, you can purchase a container house for as low as $10,000 or $119 per square foot. A luxury, small container home costs $35,000. Bigger container homes can cost you $185,000.
Container homes also require less labor and building materials to fabricate and install, with welding materials being the most needed in the building process.
A luxurious yet small container home may cost as much as $35,000. Larger options may cost up to $185,000 and up. For example, Stackhouse Container Homes can build you a 2-story container house with roof deck for a minimum of $200,000.
If you opt to purchase your own containers and engage contractors to handle the entire project, you can anticipate a cost range of $15,000 to $25,000 per container. For a detailed breakdown of completed container home projects and their associated construction expenses, you can refer to this resource on 24hPlans.com.
When you compare these figures to building a traditional house that costs $222 to $425.55 per square foot, you can definitely save a lot.
2. Quick Construction
Container homes can be built relatively quickly compared to traditional homes. The basic structure is already in place, which can save time.
Container homes present a notable advantage in terms of construction speed when compared to traditional housing. This efficiency is rooted in the presence of the basic structural framework, resulting in significant time savings.
In general, the construction of a new conventional home typically extends over a period of approximately seven months to a year depending on requirements.
Smaller container homes can be fully fabricated in as little as three weeks to a month through offsite manufacturing. Larger container homes manufactured offsite and installed onsite with additional modifications may require a few months for completion.
Additionally, many intricate details and modifications can be addressed at the production site before the containers ever reach their final destination.
3. Environmentally Friendly
Reusing shipping containers reduces waste and promotes sustainability.
Additionally, container homes can incorporate eco-friendly features such as solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems.
You can save a lot of construction materials such as masonry and wood with a container house.
In addition, using used cargo containers can save the environment an average of 8,000 pounds of steel per 40ft container.
Shipping containers are engineered to endure extreme weather conditions and the rigors of transportation, rendering them highly durable and resistant to natural disasters.
Furthermore, the structural surface of the container house has undergone anti-corrosion and rust treatment. Additionally, the color steel composite board exhibits excellent moisture resistance and anti-corrosion properties, significantly enhancing the container house’s lifespan.
Container homes frequently exceed the minimum strength and durability requirements set for new homes. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution when cutting into the steel structure if you intend to create openings for doors, windows, or room access.
To preserve the structural integrity, it’s essential to reinforce the container. This involves the installation of supplementary steel beams capable of bearing the added load resulting from the cutaways.
Containers can be easily stacked or combined to create larger living spaces or modified to fit specific needs, making them highly adaptable.
The adaptability of these homes becomes apparent when you consider modifications. You can construct a home using a mix of 20- and 40-foot containers, and you have the flexibility to combine multiple containers to expand your living space.
This opens up possibilities for creating larger residences with features like a living room, dining area, additional bedrooms, a second floor, or even a separate container guesthouse.
7. Design Flexibility
Containers can be customized to suit various architectural styles, from modern to industrial, offering a unique and distinctive look.
8. Weather Resistance
These containers are built to withstand weather on the high seas. Standing alone, shipping containers can handle 100 mph winds. Prefab container homes can withstand even larger wind speeds greater than 120 mph.
Ground-anchored container homes can withstand winds up to 180 mph, making them ideal storm shelters against hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.
Cons of Container Homes
1. Not so eco-friendly if you use single-trip shipping containers for homes
“New” shipping containers are cargo containers that have only been used in one importation trip. They’re quite expensive because they’ve only been used once.
If you take new/single-trip containers out of the supply chain circulation and repurpose them into homes, that’s not really good for the environment. The reason is that they can still be used in transit.
If you take them to build your home, you’re practically using 10x more steel than what you use for a traditional home. Now you know.
On the flip side, choosing prefab container houses or factory-made homes represents a more environmentally responsible option. These structures are manufactured in controlled factory environments, adhering to rigorous regulations such as Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
This approach substantially curbs the wastage of construction materials compared to the more traditional method of individual home construction.
You might also like to read: Container Homes vs. Traditional Homes: Ultimate Guide
2. Insulation and Climate Control
Shipping containers are constructed from steel, a material known for its thermal conductivity, which means it easily transfers heat and cold. Ensuring adequate insulation and climate control within container homes is imperative, but it’s important to note that these enhancements can contribute to increased construction expenses.
However, prefab container houses are already made with EPS insulation or Rockwool insulation in the factory. You won’t need to insulate the container. Both materials have excellent features of insulating the house from extreme heat and cold.
3. Lot Optimization Constraints
Containers come with predetermined dimensions, which can pose challenges if you have an irregularly shaped lot. Optimizing your lot area may be limited due to these fixed dimensions.
Customizing containers to fit your lot’s specific shape can be impractical, often necessitating additional expenditures for labor and materials.
4. Permit and Zoning Challenges
Some areas have strict regulations and zoning codes that may not allow container homes. Obtaining the necessary permits can be challenging in certain locations.
There are, however, some states in the US that have established regulations for container homes such as:
There are also container home manufacturers abroad (China, New Zealand, and Costa Rica) that can manufacture container homes with your state’s/country’s regulations in place. However, importing your container home from other countries is not a smooth process and you need to be aware of and comply with import/export customs regulations.
It’s advisable to reach out to local authorities and inquire about regulations before planning your container home.
5. Higher Insurance Cost
Insurance costs for shipping container homes can often surpass those of traditional homes.
This discrepancy arises because shipping container homes are constructed from steel, a material considered more volatile in terms of insurance risk compared to wood or brick.
6. Shorter Lifespan (depending on how you maintain)
The typical lifespan of a shipping container home hovers around 30 years. A prefab home ranges from 20 to 25 years. However, if you regularly maintain your house, just like how you treat a conventional house, you can potentially extend its longevity. Make sure to reinforce specific areas mentioned above and promptly address repairs!
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that a conventional home is generally better equipped to withstand the test of time.
Standard residential homes are designed with durability in mind and often endure for generations, with some homes surpassing the century mark in age.
Pros and Cons of Shipping Container Home Vs. Prefab Container Homes
1. Costs: Prefab Container Homes Usually End Up Cheaper
Shipping Container Home Costs
Before building a shipping container home, you need to buy new/used shipping containers. The availability of shipping containers let alone finding a supplier can be quite challenging depending on your location.
- new 20ft container, expect to pay around US $2,600 to US $3,500.
- new 40ft container, the average price ranges from $4,200 to $6,200
- new 40ft High Cube container will cost between $5,200 to $8,000
- used shipping container which may range from $1500 to $5000
After this, you will need to find a shipping container contractor that specializes in building this type of house. Expect the modification costs around $222 to $425.55 per square foot
Prefab Container Home Costs
Prefabricated container homes cost way cheaper, however, the design is usually minimalistic. You could expect to spend $119 to $265+ per sqft.
If you opt for a more luxurious prefab villa, expect to pay more – between $100,000 to $250,000
Shipping Container home insulation
Making the right choice regarding insulation is a critical aspect of container home construction. Without proper insulation, your container home may become uncomfortably chilly in the winter and excessively hot in the summer.
However, the most pressing concern revolves around the possibility of condensation and moisture-related issues.
Prefab Container Home Insulation
In a standard container, if you insulate the ceiling, the remaining interior ceiling height is only about 7 feet. It’s better to use a high cube container so you can install insulation and still have an 8-foot ceiling height.
Prefab container homes are already cut and manufactured in the factory to give ample headroom for housing purposes
4. Additional Reinforcements May Be Needed
For Shipping Container Home:
Although shipping containers are inherently constructed from robust steel, specific alterations, such as cutting openings for doors or sizable windows, can potentially compromise their structural stability.
If you live in an area that experiences winter and excessive snow, the accumulated weight of heavy snow may exert excessive pressure. This can potentially cause roof deformation if the corner castings lack adequate strength.
To mitigate these concerns, it becomes essential to enlist the expertise of a contractor who can reinforce load-bearing walls or implement a sloped rooftop design.
For Factory-Made Prefabricated Container House:
Shipping Container Home
Between $10,000 and $30,000
Between $75,000 and $150,000
Around one month
A few days
Often Minimalistic/simple box-type
Having a clear budget when constructing a house is an important step that cannot be overlooked. Having a detailed budget helps to ensure that you are properly prepared and organized for the entire project from start to finish.
It is also important to have a budget when building a house because it can help keep track of your expenses, provide guidance on materials and supplies to purchase, and help you stay within your financial means.
As you read down below, we will be discussing the amounts of each type of house to get you an idea of how much you are supposed to save.
Tips Before Considering a Container House
1. Don’t Overspend
2. Insulation Is Crucial
3. Plan Ahead for Electrical and Plumbing
Even though it might not initially seem like a significant consideration, meticulous planning for plumbing and electrical installations can have a profound impact on your container home project. It’s crucial to determine precisely where the electrical lines and plumbing will enter and exit the container.
Neglecting this crucial step could result in the need to cut through the finished interior later to accommodate a forgotten pipe or wire, and this will end up being very costly.
4. Find the Right Contractor
Container homes are a new concept and not all contractors are well-versed in this specialized field. Consequently, it’s imperative to prioritize finding the right contractor, especially one with a track record of experience in container home construction.
Want to collaborate with an experienced container home supplier and contractor? ARCGO General Engineering has embarked on a lot of container home projects. Our aim is to assist you in constructing an affordable, sustainable home that aligns with your budget. Feel free to reach out to us for a complimentary quotation, and let’s turn your container home vision into reality!
ARCGO is a family-owned general construction business & ecommerce store for home improvement, renovation and construction-related products. We are your one-stop solution from house construction to product procurement for your interior design.
About the Author:
When was the last time you dreamed big and worked really hard for it?
Building a house is one of the most expensive investments especially for hardworking Filipinos.
Engr. Noelle Nicole Go passionately works to help Filipinos build their dream home. She handles Container House design, supply and delivery and personally designs modular houses for her clients.
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