How Much Does It Cost To Build A Shipping Container Home?

Are you interested in building a shipping container home? You are not alone. Today, people are increasingly turning to container architecture for their construction needs. As their name suggests, shipping container homes are built from steel shipping containers used to transport goods on trucks, trains, and ships.

The appeal of using shipping containers as building materials lies in their availability, simplicity, eco-friendliness, and affordability. Since they are built following set factory standards, shipping containers are standardized, structurally sound, durable, and easy to transport. You can order the units you need to build your home and deliver them to your site for the construction work to begin immediately.

How much does it cost to build a shipping container home? This is the most important consideration for potential homeowners. Below is a breakdown of the factors that determine the cost of building a shipping container home.

Initial Costs

The importance of thorough planning and preparation before you begin building your shipping container home cannot be overstated. It can save you from making very costly mistakes. You must first have an excellent idea of the structure you want to build and where you want to build it.

Start by hiring an architect to design your house. If you cannot afford one, you can acquire architect-designed stock plans for a fraction of an architect’s fees. When your scaled foundation plans and architectural drawings are ready, contact your local zoning office or public works building division to acquire the relevant permits. The planning application takes several weeks and costs several thousand dollars.       

Cost of Shipping Container

The shipping container cost depends on the container type, size, condition, and place of purchase. The common container sizes are 20ft, 40ft, and 45ft, while the most common types are regular and high cubes. Used containers are generally cheaper than new ones. Here is a list of the most commonly used containers and their prices:

  • 20-foot Standard Shipping Container     New: $3,000
  • 20-foot Standard Shipping Container     Used: $2,100
  • 20-foot High Cube Shipping Container  New: $3,200
  • 20-foot High Cube Shipping Container  Used: $2,200
  • 40-foot Standard Shipping Container     New: $5,600
  • 40-foot Standard Shipping Container     Used: $2,850
  • 40-foot High Cube Shipping Container  New: $5,800
  • 40-foot High Cube Shipping Container  Used: $2,950

The type, size, and condition of a container affect its aesthetics and performance as much as its price. You should, therefore, acquire the most suitable container for your construction needs. High cube containers cost more than standard ones, but they provide an extra foot of ceiling height. Buying used containers may save you money, but you run the risk of buying a damaged container that will cost you money to repair.  

You can get the best value for money from used 40ft high cube containers. Unfortunately, these are not as readily available as the smaller standard containers. Locating them may take time and effort, but it will be worth it.

The cost of delivery varies by distance from the source to the site and the number of units delivered. Sourcing your containers from a nearby location reduces the cost of delivery and allows you to inspect them.   

Cost of Repurposing the Container

Before a shipping container home is move-in ready, there is a good amount of construction and final touch-ups that have to be done. This work includes setting a foundation, cutting out spaces for doors and windows, installing utilities, insulating, flooring, and adding a roof. The more you customize a shipping container, the more it will cost you.

While repurposing a shipping container to make it your home, you should avoid making many structural changes to the container as this may compromise its integrity. Changes like cutting out spaces for windows and doors will require reinforcements which will increase the cost of building your shipping container home.      

How much does it cost to build a shipping container home when you include all the necessary features? Below is a breakdown of the features you need to add to your container home and their prices.

Foundation Costs

The three main choices for your shipping container home foundation are pier, slab, and strip.

Pier Foundation

The Pier foundation is made up of concrete blocks or piers placed under the corners of the shipping container. Each block generally measures 50cm by 50 cm by 50cm. This is by far the fastest and cheapest foundation type. It requires no special expertise or equipment, making it very DIY friendly. The cost estimate for a 40ft container is around $550.

Strip Foundation

This is also called a trench foundation. It is generally used where the ground is too soft for a pier foundation. Making the strip foundation involves evacuating around the perimeter of the container and laying a strip of concrete. The strip should be at least 2 feet wide and 4 feet deep, although depth is dependent on local freeze depths. The strip foundation is more expensive than the pier foundation and costs around $5,400 for a 40ft container.

Slab Foundation

A slab foundation is generally used where the ground is too soft to support piers or strips. It involves excavating all the ground underneath the container and laying a concrete slab. For a 40ft container, the slab is usually 31.1 cubic yards and 10-24 inches deep. Slab foundations are more expensive than both the pier and strip foundations. The cost estimate for a 40ft container is $5,900.   

Insulation Costs

The walls of your shipping container home are made of steel, which is a great thermal conductor. Insulating your shipping container home, therefore, protects you from the extreme temperatures outdoors. The insulation material traps air hence preventing heat from moving through the walls, ceiling, and floor of your shipping container home. 

You can avoid the cost of insulating your shipping container home if you live in a hospitable climate. You can also use a fan to get by in warm temperature and a heater to survive the cold. Weigh the one-time-cost of insulating versus the cost of electricity/fuel to power your heater or run your air conditioner. Over time, insulating your shipping container home is more cost-effective.   

The three main options for your shipping container home insulation are spray foam, panel, and blanket.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is a highly recommended type of insulation. It is around 2 inches thick, making it the thinnest option for insulation. This type of insulation provides a seamless vapor barrier that discourages dampness and mold. It costs around $1.75 to $3 per sq. Ft.

Panel Insulation

Panel insulation is an inch thicker than spray foam insulation. It is the easiest form of insulation to install, but it requires a wooden frame base. Attaching a wooden frame to the container reduces the interior space of the shipping container. Panel insulation cost estimates stand at $0.75 to $1.45 per square foot.

Blanket Insulation

Blanket insulation is not self-supporting, and it needs to be fastened to a frame or some form of wooden studs for structural rigidity. Installation is straightforward and only requires a stapler to secure to studs. Varieties of blanket insulation include sheep’s wool, cotton, and fiberglass. Fiberglass is the most popular and costs around $0.30 per square foot.   

External Cladding Cost

The heavy, corrugated steel exterior of shipping containers makes external cladding unnecessary. Zoning restrictions in some areas however, mandate external cladding of shipping container homes to blend them with the existing buildings. To avoid encroaching on the interior space of the shipping container, you may consider using external cladding instead of insulation.

There are several external cladding options for the exterior of a shipping container. These include:


Timber is an excellent choice if you want to give your home a more natural finish. You can use several types of wood that make great cladding material, for example, Western Red Cedar. Recycled timber is the most cost-effective option.

Timber cladding needs a frame to attach to the container. Bolt vertical strips of wood to the outside of the container and nail the cladding to them. The cost of timber cladding depends on the type of wood, but the cost estimate is around $2- $3 per square foot.     


Stucco is a common material used to coat the external surfaces of many traditional homes. You can apply it as a fine or a coarsely mixed plaster directly onto your shipping container. Stucco offers excellent weather protection. It provides a physical barrier that protects your steel container from the direct impact of rain and frost. The cost estimate for stucco cladding is $6 – $10 per square foot.

Our Final Thoughts On How Much Does It Cost To Build A Shipping Container Home

How much does it cost to build a shipping container home? Like traditional houses, the cost depends on an individual’s preferences. The choices you make about shipping containers to use, foundation, insulation, and cladding ultimately determine your home’s total cost. The most considerable expense you incur will be shipping containers, site preparation, and assembly of the containers.  

Building your home from shipping containers is relatively easier, takes a shorter time to complete, and can be significantly cheaper than building a regular house. It is, however, important to plan and prepare thoroughly to avoid making mistakes that can ruin your project and make it more expensive than it is supposed to be.