How Much Do Shipping Container Homes Cost?
Workplace Inspiration

How Much Do Shipping Container Homes Cost?

|Apr 27, 2024
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More and more people are looking for creative, alternative living styles - either for their primary home or as an extra. Tiny homes, accessory dwelling units, backyard studios, and granny flats are some ways people are giving themselves more living space and generating extra income through rental.

Today, let’s talk about shipping container houses. Container homes are increasingly popular as the alternative living trend grows in the US. People are looking for cheaper and more sustainable ways to live - or they are looking for creative ways to invest in the rental industry.

Either way, storage container homes are an exciting prospect. One of the first questions people have when exploring this option is how much it would cost. There isn’t a singular answer to this question, but there are things to consider that can give you a better idea of how much a project may cost overall.

How much does it cost to build a container home, and what factors do you need to consider when working out your budget? This guide covers average prices, key cost considerations, and budget comparisons for various solutions. It aims to give people looking into the idea of shipping container homes a better idea of the money involved - and the alternatives.

What Is the Average Cost to Build a Storage Container Home?

People always ask for an average figure, but it is not really that simple. The average cost of building a storage container home varies based on size and style. Bigger containers cost more, as you may expect, and it costs more to create a fully livable space (with a toilet, cooking facilities, etc.) than it does to build a studio shed container or home office.

Let’s look at the average costs for different types of container homes.

  • Container home offices cost, on average, between $10,000 and $20,000.
  • Container studios cost, on average, between $15,000 and $25,000.
  • One-bed, one-bath container homes cost between $25,000 and $80,000.

Overall, a single-unit container home could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $80,000- but you can also build multiple-unit container homes to incorporate more bedrooms, bathrooms, and living areas. These can cost from $80,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the total square footage and level of design.

The average cost of construction on a storage container home ranges from $150 to $350 per square foot.

Average Cost to Build a Storage Container Home

Understanding the Cost of Container Homes: Cost Calculator and Breakdown

This price bracket is pretty vague, so we wanted to share a few more details on how to calculate what your shipping container project may cost. To do that, we need to look at the breakdown of costs and what impacts each section.

Permits can sometimes be a bit costly, but they generally fall between $500 and $2,000. It is important to find out this cost first before moving forward. Planning the project and the design with a professional will also cost something unless you do it all by yourself or with help from knowledgeable friends.

How much are shipping containers on their own? This is the first thing to consider when thinking of turning one into a living space. Before you can start designing your container home, you need to buy the unit itself. The cost of a storage container ranges from around $1,200 to $10,000. Generally speaking, the larger the container, the higher the cost. You can save money by buying a used unit (just make sure it is of good quality and in good condition).

Remember, shipping container homes usually require more than one unit - unless you are working with a tiny house concept, studio design, or workspace plan.

Understanding the Cost of Container Homes 1

Other major price influencers include:

  • Land (which costs, on average, between $5,000 and $18,000 per acre - but you don’t need to worry about this if you have enough space on your property already)
  • Foundations (which start at around $3,000 for a high-quality job you can rely on for decades to come)
  • Utilities and appliance hookups (which usually cost at least $4,000 but can cost over $20,000 if you have a multiple-unit setup and install an HVAC system)
  • Sanitation (which is necessary if you are building a working toilet and can cost between $1,500 and $5,000 on average)
  • Solar panels (which are increasingly popular for sustainability but are also an expensive up-front investment - with a price tag of anywhere from $3,500 to over $25,000).

Next, you need to think about the construction costs. This covers any work done on or in the container to make it look and feel more like a livable space. Here are some of the main considerations.

  • Roofing ($1,000-$12,000)
  • Door and window installations ($1,000-$6,000)
  • Insulation ($1,000-$8,000)
  • Electrical wiring ($1,000-$8,000)
  • Framing ($1,000-$14,000)
  • Drywall installation ($500-$15,000)
  • Flooring ($300-$5,000)
  • Painting ($500-$7,000)

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Then you have the cost of your fixtures, fittings, and finishes to think about. You also need to consider the costs of any additional appliances. These are the most common examples.

  • Water heater ($300-$3,000)
  • Bathroom installation ($500-$10,000)
  • Lights/Electrics/Sinks/Etc. ($600-$6,000)
  • General appliances ($500-$5,000)
  • Other interior finishes and furnishings ($1,000-$10,000)

Again, there are significant differences in the top and bottom cost estimations in each category- most of which depend on the size of your container and the design, layout, and finish level. You can save a lot of money by keeping things basic, but it will cost more to really make the shipping container feel like a comfortable, cozy, and inviting living space.

Custom vs. Prefab Container Homes Cost

Another decision that will impact the cost of your storage container home is whether you buy a prefab unit or go for a custom design.

Prefabricated container homes are already fully finished inside and out. All you need to do is assemble it on-site once it has been delivered. This is the cheaper option overall, but it also comes with limitations. For example, there are very few two-story prefab container houses- and you are very limited in your choice of layouts and design features. That said, you can find some high-end prefab container homes with excellent finishes that lend themselves well to a range of purposes.

Custom container units and limited only by your imagination and budget. They come as empty shells. It is up to you what you want to do with them. Anything is possible with enough money to spend and a great building team to bring it to life - but most custom designs cost more on average than most prefab units.

Per square foot, a prefabricated shipping container home costs between $150 and $300. In comparison, the average range for a custom design starts at $250 and can exceed $400 or even $500.

Custom vs. Prefab Container Homes Cost

The Cost of Shipping Container Homes Compared to Tiny Homes and ADUs

Shipping container homes may be a popular choice, but they are not the only option. Other common solutions for alternative living include prefab ADU studios and tiny houses. People looking for the most affordable prefab homes should explore options in all three categories and compare the cost and compatibility with their needs and wants.

Let’s start with tiny houses. Tiny homes are exactly as they sound - miniature houses designed to offer everything people need to live comfortably but in very compact packages. They are usually prefabricated, although you can easily build one from scratch if you have the budget. The average tiny house price with everything included is around $50,000. Considering these are fully-fledged houses, this is a very low price compared to the average cost of a home.

ADU is a very general term, and the cost depends on a whole bunch of factors. An accessory dwelling unit is a standalone living space that sits within a person’s property alongside - but separate from- the primary home. Unlike a tiny house or a shipping container home, ADUs are usually used as additional living spaces for growing families who need more space. A small prefab ADU without sanitation or cooking facilities (used as a home office, additional bedroom, entertainment space, etc.) can cost as little as $12-13,000. The average price range for a fully kitted-out ADU for self-contained living is from $50,000 to around $250,000.

Overall, storage container homes have the potential to cost the least - if you keep things small and simple. However, if you just want a bit more space and don’t need a fully independent living space, a prefab ADU may be a better option.

Remember, the cost depends a lot on the size and interior design of your unit - regardless of whether you choose a container, ADU, or prefab tiny house. Bigger costs more because there is more area to cover, and the more utilities, facilities, and appliances you need, the higher the price will climb.

The Cost of Shipping Container Homes Compared to Tiny Homes and ADUs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a container home?

Put simply, a container home is a self-contained living space built in and on a storage container unit. They have everything required to be considered a viable living space - including sanitation, cooking facilities, and sleeping quarters. Alternatively, they can be used as a backyard studio shed for work, entertainment, or creativity without having all the additional facilities.

Container homes come in various sizes - just as steel shipping containers do. The most common sizes are 10, 20, and 40 ft.

What is a container home?

Are shipping container homes worth it?

There are pros and cons to container homes, just like other modular home options. Whether or not they are worth it depends on what you want to achieve and the budget you have to work with.

Shipping container homes are worth it if you want a durable, versatile, and reliable alternative housing unit that can be put together quickly and easily. They make excellent guest houses for short-term rentals - and are an excellent entry point into tiny house living for those looking to make a big change.

There are, however, potentially more cost-effective solutions if you want a studio office, home pottery studio, or work shed that are easier to arrange and get planning permission for. Prefab ADUs are possibly more worth it in these cases.

Which states legally allow shipping container homes?

Several states legally allow shipping container homes. California, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, Alaska, Oregon, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Montana, Mississippi, and Michigan are on the list.

Each state has different zoning regulations and other requirements, so it is important to check local laws before proceeding with any official plans.

Which states legally allow shipping container homes?

How long does it take to build a container home?

It really depends on your budget and the design of your shipping container home - as well as the time it takes to get the necessary approval from your local governing entity.

The building approval alone can take several months. It can take a few weeks to plan the interior with a project manager or designer. Once the container is fixed and dried in place, the completion of the project can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the work you are doing.

How long do shipping container homes last?

Shipping containers are built to last - and to withstand harsh weather. Because of this, you can expect a shipping container home to last around 10 to 12 years without too much damage or corrosion.

That said, they can last much longer than that with proper care and maintenance. With the right treatment, they could last several decades.

Are container homes safe?

As long as all the correct regulations are followed and all required safety precautions are taken, shipping container homes are safe. Some of the important considerations include checking for toxic chemicals and ensuring proper structural integrity.

Everything should be reinforced, well-ventilated, weatherproofed, and treated - and the structure should pass all regulatory checks before any further construction begins.

Are container homes safe?

Final Thoughts

There is no fixed container house price - it can vary significantly depending on the size of the container and the plans you have for it. Alternative living is a growing trend - as are ADUs for growing families and those looking to generate extra income through rental properties. Shipping container homes are a possible solution, and they don’t have to cost a fortune!

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