Shipping Container Tiny Homes – A Great Choice for Downsizing



The modern and humble shipping container has been serving its primary purpose of transporting cargo all around the world since the 1950s. Its secondary role of being a secure place to store stuff has been going on almost as long as well.

Estimates state that there are around 20 million shipping containers actively travelling the planet, shipping cargo from one port to another. It’s also guesstimated that there are around 11 million disused cargo containers sitting idle on docks or in industrial yards.

Thankfully more and more people have been realising in recent decades that shipping containers, due to their modular and solid build, can be repurposed for all sorts of other projects and uses. This has given rise to things like:

  • Pop up shops
  • Roadside kitchens
  • Jail cells
  • Temporary school classrooms
  • Ablution blocks
  • On-site offices
  • Home offices
  • Cafes
  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Homes
  • And more…

All manufactured from either new or used shipping containers. They really are a cost effective and versatile “building material”.

People have been using shipping containers as homes for quite a few years now, joining them, stacking them and having them remodelled into all manner of magnificent houses.

Lately the trend has also been veering off in the direction of just utilising one or two shipping containers and creating tiny houses out of them.


Shipping Container Tiny Home - Tiny House Talk
Shipping Container Tiny Home – Tiny House Talk

Source: Tiny House Talk


Why Build With Shipping Containers?

One of the key advantages to building downsized and tiny homes from shipping containers is that much of the construction has already been done. These are solid steel, rectangular containers with walls, a roof and a floor already in place. They just need to be repurposed and modified.

Cargo containers are also super sturdy and extremely tough, which means you already have a formidable ”shell” to work with that’s going to withstand the elements and stand the test of time.

They can be a little like playing with Lego. Shipping containers are designed to be stackable, so you can readily construct yourself a two storey tiny house without taking up any more land area. Likewise, it’s very easy to join them end to end, side by side or in an L shape to design any kind of home you desire.

Because you already have a base structure to work with, and buying shipping containers is rather cheap, it costs way less to build a small home from shipping containers compared to conventional building methods.

Another time and cost saver is that these repurposed containers are a bit like prefab homes. Much of the construction and modification can be carried out off-site, and then the new home delivered to your property for final set up and installation; including piecing it all together, connecting plumbing and electricity, and some landscaping to blend your new home in with the surrounds.

If your tiny home ends up being a little too small for you, then it’s quite easy to add on another room by purchasing and remodelling another shipping container. Containers come in a number of useful sizes too, which adds even further to their versatility as a building material.


Different Types of Shipping Container

To give you an idea of what’s available out there to work with in the cargo container world, I’ll briefly run you through some of the different sizes and types of shipping container you can buy for building your tiny home.

Firstly, the most common sizes for standard shipping containers:

  1. 10 foot container
  2. 20 foot container
  3. 40 foot container

By far and away the most popular size for repurposing is the 20 foot container, although you could construct a nice long, narrow tiny home from one 40 foot container.

The 10 foot container is likely too small to be useful as part of a house, unless you want to add a further 10 feet to a 20 foot container or build a garden shed or backyard workshop out of one.

Let’s now just briefly go over some of the different types of container. Obviously there are both new and used version of these containers, but there is a variety to choose from no matter which way you go.

General Purpose Container – This is your stock standard shipping container, and the one you are most likely to be using for your tiny home construction. It’s also this container that is most commonly repurposed for other uses as well.

Side Opening Container – The majority of shipping containers have two heavy steel doors at one end, but the side opening container has doors along one side for easier loading and unloading. This can be advantageous for home building if you plan to have glass sliding doors or many windows along one wall.

Open Top Container – Probably not that useful for home construction, as there is no steel roof on these containers. Could be good if you want to create an extra high ceiling though.

Flat Rack Container – This shipping container is kind of like a piece of Ikea furniture. It can be totally disassembled and packed flat for easy transportation and storage. There could be a use for this type of container in home building.

High Cube Shipping Container – Basically this container has about an extra foot of headroom, which could definitely prove beneficial for a tiny house. You’d be surprised how much extra room that one foot gives you, so a high cube container is definitely worth considering.

There are also dangerous goods containers, but for the purpose of building a home from shipping containers, you don’t want to use those because they may have housed dangerous chemicals, explosives and so on.

Another very common shipping container is the refrigerated model. While you will want some form of climate control in your container home, a refrigerated container is likely going to be overkill.

Before we move on from this section, there is another important point to look at.

Used shipping containers come in different grades to specify their current condition. These grades are simply:

  • A
  • B
  • C

A is the best quality and is often assigned to shipping containers that were used only once or twice. B grade is still probably good enough to build a container home from. I would steer clear of buying the cheaper C grade container though, as it’ll likely have a lot of rust, scratches and dents to deal with.


Shipping Container Tiny Home - Tiny House Blog
Shipping Container Tiny Home – Tiny House Blog

Source: Tiny House Blog


Recycling Shipping Containers Helps the Environment

When people decide to downsize to a tiny house, many have the environment in mind on some level or another. But even if you don’t, recycling shipping containers is one very good way you can help save our planet.

With so many shipping containers being abandoned all the time, repurposing these giant hulks of steel and saving them from ending up in landfill is always a good thing.

It simply costs too much to melt down these huge beasts to recycle the metal, so what better way to make use of them than turning them into tiny homes?

Besides, the humble cargo container is way too robust and far too useful to just be dumped somewhere and totally forgotten about.


Tips When Buying a Used Shipping Container

Likely most people will purchase used shipping containers for their tiny homes and save some money. That being the case, there are some things to keep in mind before making the purchase.

Firstly, you should physically inspect the container or containers yourself before agreeing to buy them. If they are located far away and you can’t do this, then there are inspectors your can hire to cover this important role for you.

You can’t always trust what you read on a website or determine the true condition of a container by viewing some select photos of it. You don’t want to waste money on a container that the owner misrepresented, so it’s imperative to have it physically inspected.

Remember the different grading used to determine the quality of a used shipping container, and stick with grades A or B. Don’t go for C just to save some bucks, as it’ll likely end up costing you more money in repairs and modifications.

If you can, see if you can dig up some history on the container you’re thinking of buying. Ask questions like:

  • How many times was it used?
  • What kind of cargo was transported and stored in the container?
  • How many different owners has it had?

That sort of thing. You may not be able to uncover much information, but it’s worth a try. That way you can avoid a container that may have housed pesticides, chemicals or some other undesirable substance.

If you’re really concerned about what was once inside a  container, then the way to avoid this problem is to purchase brand new containers for your home build.

Also, make sure you buy from a reputable shipping container supplier, and preferably one that has the capacity to remodel shipping containers and has a reputation for quality work.


The Wrap

Hopefully you can see the many advantages of recycling and repurposing shipping containers and transforming them into cool and very sturdy tiny homes.

If you’re wondering what kind of results are possible – for tiny homes or even bigger homes – built from shipping containers, just get onto Google images and search for something like “shipping container homes”.

1000s of images will come up, offering up a smorgasbord of endless ideas.

Building tiny houses and alternative housing from shipping containers is definitely a great option, as shipping container homes really are the way of the future.