4 Shipping Container Home Myths Busted

Shipping container homes have been gaining in popularity.  Younger generations seeking out new and interesting living arraignments, older generations of retiring thrill seekers, and middle generations ready for change, it seems that there is no specific market for the alternative housing market.

If you’ve seen some of these shipping container homes profiled online, you may have thought about embarking on your own adventure and doing the same.  They look great and are a real conversation starter.  But worries and doubts may have kept you from taking that chance and getting started.

Here we’ll explore a few examples of misconceptions that may have hindered your desire to get started with a shipping container home of your own.  We’ll explain why building one of these ultimate do-it-yourself projects is easier than you thought by busting four common myths about shipping container homes.

Common Myth: “Shipping container houses are only for the eco-friendly crowd.”

Shipping container homes are for everyone, and building your own can be a rewarding feat for anyone with imagination and determination.  The concept of the oddball eco-warrior living off the grid and shunning modern society is a romantic holdover from the movies.  Today, all types of people from global CEOs to local conservationists can enjoy the unconventional yet comfortable living in shipping container homes.  It’s not just for the green-activist factions.  In fact, not all shipping container houses are eco-friendly to begin with.

A used shipping container that has been retired from service and discarded for scrap and then is reclaimed from the graveyard and put to use as a home is certainly a benefit to the environment.  Instead of burning the energy to recycle the container’s materials, the box is re-purposed as a home providing housing and eliminating a rather large waste.  That is a win-win.

However with the growing popularity of this type of build, many modern shipping container homes are being built with new containers.  Rather than rescue a discarded container, some builders are ordering high quality shipping containers to begin their builds.  Containers with fewer dings and dents, less rust spots, and built from higher quality materials.  These containers are being pulled from their intended purpose and are therefore simply being replaced, eliminating any environmental cost savings presumed in building a container house.

There are specialty containers available such as insulated or even refrigerated, but most standard containers are much the same from one another.  A sturdy steel box, secure and weatherproof.  What sets the lower quality, cheaper containers apart from the expensive ones is often how much wear and tear is on the unit.  Can you re-purpose an older container that has been banged around for a few years, seen a fair share of dings and dents, and finally reached retirement because it was no longer suitable for shipping?  Or does your build require a newer container that is clean and workable from the start with no rehab work to do?

You can think of it like purchasing an older model car.  Assuming the same make/model/year of car with no difference in the luxury options, if the car was properly maintained, garage-kept, and has low mileage, you’re most likely going to pay more money than the same car that was driven to the edge of destruction and left out in the rain to rust in peace.

The same logic can be applied to shipping containers.  If you need a pristine until with no wear and tear, you’re going to pay more for it than the one with holes that need patching, rust that needs painting, dents than need bending and doors that need realigning.  You’re also no longer rescuing a container from the scrap yard and saving the environment.  You’re taking a tool out of the revenue stream and requiring a new one be created for the original duty load.

This is not an indictment against building with higher quality containers, but it shows that the eco-friendly nature of the do-it-yourself shipping container home may be overstated and is not necessarily always true.

Common Myth: “Shipping container houses are too small and too hot and too…

Configurations of shipping container homes are limited only by your ingenuity and resources.  Though there is a popular trend toward “tiny-housing” and making the most of a confined space, you are not limited to a one room home simply because you are building with shipping containers.  Some are single room joys and others are multi-tiered mansions with rooms by the dozens.  It all comes down to building your home to your tastes.

The myth of the shipping container home being “too” anything is merely the byproduct of fallow imagination or of limited research.  Identify a problem with your new home design and chances are the container-build community has encountered it and found more than one way to remedy the problem.  All you need to is explore, adapt, and remember to always remain open to unconventional solutions to your problems as you are undertaking a rather unconventional build.  Sometimes the best solutions evade us simply because we’re thinking in traditional terms.

Too small?  Set multiple containers side by side or end to end and join them together.  Don’t have the land space for an elaborate build on the ground?  Built upwards with stacked containers, spiral staircases use up minimal floor space in your limited footprint.  Constrained to using just one single container?  Incorporate outdoor patio-style options for expanded space.  Installing floor to ceiling windows lets in more light and allows you to breathe in more “space” but could block some much needed wall usage as well.

Too hot?  Too cold?  Think carefully on insulation and placement.  Containers that are properly insulated and adequately protected from the weather will resist outdoor temperatures enough that the use of small air conditioning units or heaters should keep the interior comfortable enough for habitation.  Additional considerations such as sunlight exposure, shade, wind exposure are all planning stage concerns that will ensure your shipping container home meets your expectations.  Something as simple as planting a tree could lower that inside summer temperature from “too warm” to ”just right”.

Too difficult to do on your own?  False, you’re not on your own.  The internet is full of people sharing their experiences with shipping container buildings.  They post stories, videos, pictures of their creations everywhere and maintain a lively community of discussion in numerous places online.  All you need to do it look around and ask a few questions and suddenly, you are no longer taking up a daunting task alone, you are well-researched, community supported, and ready to build.

These are just some of the examples of problems and concerns people have about building and living in shipping containers, and these solutions only represent a tiny fraction of the possibilities to fix these concerns.  The truth is that an adobe hut, a wood house, a concrete bunker, all have their limitations and problems unique to their material.  Mitigating the short-comings is what we as innovative humans do best.  Don’t let the limitations of common misconceptions keep you from building your dream home out of shipping containers.

Common Myth: “Shipping container houses are ugly.”

You see the hundreds upon hundreds of shipping containers stacked up six or seven high on titanic ocean freight liners and you see a rainbow of colors representing various companies.  Bright oranges, regal blues, boring whites, and drab beige.  Small pockets of brown rust speckle the entire shipment and none of this looks very appealing.  You may have viewed the trucking company docks from the highway, the yard littered with hulking shipping containers, marred by years of usage and small impacts.  Or maybe your local shade-tree mechanic has one of these ugly behemoths parked on the back side of his property.

You look at all these containers and you can’t imagine anyone wanting to showcase these gigantic steel boxes as their home.  That’s because the shipping industry has no need or interest in aesthetics.  They use these shipping containers with purpose and not with style.  Any paint they have is applied just to keep the container and its contents safe from the elements.  You on the other hand, want something a little less industrial and more pleasant and cozy.  You want something a little more… homey.

You can disguise the container by building externally.  Using the shipping container as a base to build out from is an excellent idea for multiple reasons.  You begin with a structurally sound and waterproof box.  You eliminate the need to create a support structure as the shipping container IS the support structure.  Interior insulations such as spray foams and elastic liners can take up valuable and limited space.  Building conventional exterior walls allows you to put in any kind of water barrier and environmental insulation between your container and that wall getting a better R-value insulation while disguising your container home’s industrial looking skeleton.

Another temptation to hide the shipping container’s structure could be to go underground.  This is rarely a good idea.  Shipping containers are not built to withstand the immense pressures that soil and sand can create against the walls and roof of these steel boxes.  Un-reinforced containers buried as-is will suffer bowing, breakage and possibly catastrophic collapse.  All the strength in these shipping containers are built into the corners, distributing the weight down to the stacked container below it.  The steel walls and roof are not load-bearing and can not compete against the crushing weight of being buried underground.

Rather than attempting to hide your shipping container, why not accentuate it?  You went through all the trouble of designing and building a shipping container home, hiding it in plain sight may be the most logical solution to your question of appearances.  Well planned landscaping, a fresh coat of paint, and incorporating other industrial elements such as speed-rails, barrel drums, and exposed bulb lighting can really turn your drab storage container into an artistic showcase.

One person’s eyesore is another person’s labor of love.  Decorating, landscaping, camouflaging and presentation may make all the difference in changing the appearance of an old drab shipping container into a home that even the most conservative critic would approve of.

Common Myth: “Shipping container houses are too expensive to build or too cheap to be decent housing.”

The blade of this myth is sharpened on both edges.  Notions that building your own home is too expensive for the average do-it-yourselfer, and the notion that shipping container homes are cheaply built to be considered proper housing.  Both these myths are bundled together because they are busted with the same answer.  When you build your shipping container home, you get out of it what you put into it.

Cost is relative.  Are you looking to build a “tiny home” and live frugally?  You can purchase and outfit your single container on a modest budget.  If you are looking to live in a multi-floor, multi-room shipping container mansion, it is obviously going to cost more than the single container design.  On the flip side, you can build an extravagantly furnished single container home that costs more than a plain and drab multi container structure.

Assuming the furnishings and landscaping needs are even, the multi-container cobble will incur additional costs as you get more elaborate.  A single shipping container merely needs to be placed on level ground for adequate housing.  A multi container build will need weatherproof means to tie the containers together, a second level will likely require additional structural support and a proper engineering design to safely craft your home.

The up-cycling of old used shipping containers started as an escape from the ballooning housing market.  As housing costs increased and homes were priced well beyond their reasonable value, some adventurous types took these old containers and created their own homes in them.  With some ingenuity and artistic application, a single shipping container became a home and was infinitely less expensive than the going housing market.  When the success of this idea was displayed online, more and more people took to the idea of creating their own shipping container homes.

Some of these people had more money than others and build designer container homes that were more of a chic and trendy hobby rather than a direct need for affordable housing.  So the myth that shipping container houses are either too expensive to build or too shabby to live in are both true and false, depending on what you put into the build and what your needs from the finished product are.  If you are looking for Instagram clicks, you’re going to build an elaborate, highly decorated mansion that will be expensive to create.  If you are looking to escape the housing cycle and build your own home, odds are that your build will be more utilitarian and functional, less expensive and deemed “cheap” by the hobbyists.

Neither platform is wrong and the enduring myth is a testament to the versatility of the shipping container builds.  You can build to your budget, create to your tastes, and the only limits are your imagination and creativity.  Building a shipping container home is surrounded by a plethora of myths and shrouded in mystery.  Check out some of the articles available online and discover what many others are finding out for themselves; building a shipping container home is easier than you think.