Tiny Home In A Shipping Container

Tiny homes have been described as many things.

  • A house where the footage is under 400 square feet
  • Year round livable RV or motor home
  • Float house
  • 5th Wheel or Trailer such as an Airstream
  • Treehouse
  • And… a shipping container house

Shipping containers are used around the world to move and store goods from one location to another.

To help you navigate the site here is a table of contents that allow you to click on the topic that you most want to read.

New or Used Containers

New Containers
Brand new containers are normally shipped from China and can take up to three months to arrive. These containers are usually higher priced than a used container but have certain benefits.

  • Brand new
  • Never been sprayed to protect it from sea water
  • Has not held toxic goods
  • Peace of mind

In order to find a new container, you usually would need to go to a shipping container company and deal directly with them. The delivery time will depend on when they place their next order.

new shipping container

Used Containers
Used containers can be found anywhere and everywhere. You can see them driving down the street in people’s backyards and being used for overflow inventory for stores.

They also have added benefits.

  • Easily obtained
  • Less expensive
  • Considered an eco-friendly option as you are reusing an already existing product

Things to keep in mind when purchasing a used container.

  • Personally, check out the container for flaws and problems
  • Or… get someone to take a video of the container (inside and outside)
  • Try to find out what had been stored in it if possible
  • Make sure the doors close easily and fit snugly

used shipping container

Size of Containers

Containers come in standardized sizes and heights. The most common being the 20 and the 40 foot containers.

20 Foot Containers

  • Length: 19′ 10″
  • Width: 8′ 0″
  • Height: 8′ 6″
  • Square Footage: 144 sq ft
  • Weight: 4,840 lbs

40 Foot Containers

  • Length: 40′ 0″
  • Width: 8′ 0″
  • Height: 8′ 6″
  • Square Footage: 300 sq ft
  • Weight: 8,360 lbs

There is also the option of a high cube in both 20 and 40 foot container. This gives you an extra foot on top and it’s perfect if you want to run your electrical or plumbing out of sight in the ceiling.

There are also different door placements, especially in the 40 foot containers. You can get ones that open at both ends or in the middle.

Where to buy a container

Once you decide on the size of container you need, the next option is to actually purchase one. To order a new one, as mentioned above, you would need to go to a reputable dealer to buy.

If you are looking for a second hand one, they can often be found in your local paper, on Craigslist or another online source. Many times if you see a storage facility with containers they can either tell you where to purchase or even sell you one.

How much does a shipping container cost?

Depending on who you are dealing with and the present cost of steel will make the difference of what price you have to pay for your storage container.

In order for it not to be just a guessing game, here is a link to a company that sells worldwide with the current container prices and stock in your area. This will give you an up-to-date pricing on new and used containers and offers the option of a rent to own container as well. Make sure you calculate your shipping cost into the equation.

What’s Next?

Now that you have an idea of what a shipping container is, what one costs and what to look out for when purchasing one, it’s time to make a decision on which one to buy that will fit your needs. In order to do that, you need to come up with an overall plan and usage of the house. This will help you decide if you want a smaller home (20′) or something larger (40′).

Just to give you and idea… a smaller home is perfect as a weekend cottage, guest house, vacation home and times when you aren’t going to be living in it full time.

The 40 foot container is ideal if you are wanting a permanent live in house with adequate space of a tiny home.

Shipping container floor plans

Shipping container house floor plans and shipping container cabin plans are personal to each person and their needs.

If you want to get an idea of what you can fit into a container sized home, you can use this free online tool to design your own.

Wanting to see what others have done? Pinterest is one of the best sources for container floor plans and ideas. It’s exciting to see what others have done.

Keep in mind, that you can always join shipping containers together to make a large house and have each container perform a specific function.

Sometimes a shipping container company will help design and build a container house or at least put in the doors and windows. It is worth a couple of phone calls if this is the route you wish to follow.

Here are some common questions about container homes

What kind of foundation do I need?

As with most houses, you will need a foundation. If you are wanting to be mobile, say with a 20 ft container, then the best option is to place it on a trailer.

Most of the shipping container homes are placed in one spot and after insulating the floor, are placed upon the foundation.

Based on the ground type (soft or hard soil) will depend on the type of foundation. Think of when you are building a house, similar foundations are used for containers.

Concrete Pier

For most soil, the easiest and most cost-efficient foundation is called a concrete pier. These are usually in a concrete square or tube form and are reinforced with rebar or steel wire. This allows the house to be set up off the ground allowing for access to wiring and plumbing. This also allows space below the container to keep it aerated and condensation free.

Slab or Raft Foundation

This is exactly what it sounds like. A slab of cement is poured for the container to sit on. This is particularly useful if the ground is fairly soft. The disadvantage to this type of foundation is that once the container is in place you no longer have access to the underside of it.

Pile Foundation

A pile foundation is used when you have unstable or very soft ground. The foundation is literally pile driven into the ground until it hits a solid footing. The piles are a solid steel tube that once in place is topped with a concrete block on which the container is placed. Most expensive option of all the foundations.

How do you insulate a shipping container?

The best and most common barrier is spray foam insulation for containers. Although it can be a little messy to apply, it has the highest R rating and fills all the cracks and crannies.

It also supplies you with an insulated container that has a seamless vapor barrier. When spray foamed in this fashion, no moisture gets inside and issues with mold and corrosion are non-existent.

If you can afford it, hire a professional to do the work for you. If this is not an option, you can purchase or rent hand operated spray foam units and do the job yourself.

Make sure that you use a closed cell polyurethane foam when spraying for maximum benefits.

Areas to spray:

  • inside
  • outside
  • underneath

spray foam insulation

When you are looking for other options for insulating a container, you can use almost any form used in normal home construction. Keep in mind that these usually require some studs to form a wall and therefore cuts down on your living space.

Does is get too hot in a container house and if so, what can I do about it?

Most containers if insulated will have very little problem with overheating. But… if living in a very hot area there are a couple of options to help out.

  1. Consider placing your home in the shade of a tree to keep direct sunlight off of it.
  2. Install a portable air conditioning unit in one of the windows
  3. Mount a wind turbine roof vent to release hot air
  4. An additional roof over the container will keep it in the shade.

wind turbine ventWind Turbine Roof Vent

Do you need any special windows or doors?

Regular windows and doors can be used, but they should be framed in a steel section first to support both the opening of the window or door.

steel framed window

Can you live off the grid with a container house?

Definitely, you can live off the grid. Alternative energy can be used if you wish to power your tiny home. Solar power is the most common, and wind power is also an option, or if you live by a stream your container can be powered by water.

Can I build a container home?

If you can buy a container you can make a home out of it, but there are many pitfalls along the way as well as many ingenious ways to make it all work.

After doing all my research I found a guide that might be as useful to you as it was for me. Free information can be found on the internet, but for the price, it is a great resource, put together by a professional builder.

The guide has the added advantage of starting at the beginning of the journey of the actual purchase of the container to a finished product. You can check it out here.

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