Shipping containers are no longer just metal cargo bins getting transported by sea. Thanks to the tiny home movement and increasing interests in low-impact, eco-friendly homes, shipping containers are now a cost-effective and trending alternative to traditional houses and cabins.
People are building and refurbishing shipping container cabins in areas where they can fully appreciate nature. Some people use them as vacation homes, while others frequent them more often or live in one full time.
Whether you’re a potential homeowner looking for a unique place to settle in the woods or a nature lover who would love to have a charming cabin as a respite, this guide will introduce you to shipping container cabins and what they have to offer.
Pros and Cons of Shipping Container Cabins vs. Traditional Cabins
As with anything, shipping container cabins come with benefits and drawbacks. Here are some of the most common pros and cons of shipping container cabins vs. regular cabins.
Pros of Shipping Container Cabins
Low Cost: Shipping container cabins are generally more cost-effective than traditional cabins and homes. The containers are already structurally sound and weatherproof, which means you don’t have to shell out extra money since those costs are already covered.
Eco-friendly: We’re willing to bet you love spending time in the great outdoors. Whether you’re a hiker, hunter, or just want a quiet place in the woods to relax, shipping container cabins are an ideal option for both you and mother nature.
Traditional cabins are typically constructed of logs, which means someone has to cut down trees to build the cabin. When you use shipping containers as cabin material, you don’t have to sacrifice any lumber. Plus, if you purchase a used container, you’re repurposing instead of building new.
Safe and Sturdy: Shipping containers are built with durability in mind since they’re shipped across the oceans. They need to withstand inclement weather, be able to take a few (or a lot) of bumps and knocks, and have tightly sealed walls so that critters can’t get in and spoil the goods.
Unlike traditional cabins, container cabins are harder to break into due to the metal walls. Whether it’s a cold breeze, a field mouse, or someone lurking in the shadows, nothing and no one is going to have an easy time getting inside.
Their durable construction means you’ll have a safe place to call home sweet home for a lifetime.
Versatile: Creatives and DIY types love the versatility shipping containers offer. Container cabins allow you to play with design and style. They may look like mere rectangular metal boxes, but you can stack them, paint them, build off them, and alter them in many ways. You could think of them as the plastic building blocks you played with as a child.
The other adaptable quality container cabins have is that you can uproot them without damaging the structural integrity.
Quick to Build: Unlike regular cabins, shipping container cabins already have the basic parts (roof, walls, floor) built-in. Therefore, you’re not starting construction from the ground up. You’ll probably need to add features like windows and doors, but alterations are much quicker to handle than building a whole log cabin.
Cons of Shipping Container Cabins
Permits: You’ll need to inquire about building permits, codes, zoning restrictions, and the requirements for setting up a shipping container cabin in your area.
Places like Texas, California, Oregon, and Colorado have regulations already in place, making obtaining the necessary permits a bit easier. If you plan on constructing your container cabin in a different state or country, check with your city planning office for more information.
Electrical Alterations: If you’re not planning on living off-grid, you’ll need to hire an electrician to install electrical systems for your shipping container cabin. If your chosen location doesn’t have electricity access, consider hiring a contractor to install solar panels. And don’t forget about the plumbing!
Reinforcement: Although built tough, you can still cause damage to a shipping container’s structural integrity when you make modifications, like adding doors and windows. Container cabins are also not impervious to all weather conditions, like hefty amounts of snow weighing down the roof.
With these things in mind, you may need to hire a contractor to build reinforcements, like load-bearing walls and sloped roofs.
If you find yourself searching “How big is a shipping container?” you’ll learn that most of them come in two sizes: 20×8 and 40×8. These dimensions equal out to about 160 square feet and 320 square feet of living space.
As for height, shipping containers typically offer 8.5 feet of headroom, but you can find containers with increased height.
The great thing about shipping container cabins is that you can easily expand your living space by stacking or staggering containers, connecting additional units, and building outdoor areas (decks, patios, etc.).
There is no one-size-fits-all number associated with shipping container cabin costs, but there are a few basic numbers you can use for budgeting purposes.
You can find shipping containers from $1400 and up. A small shipping container home can range from $10,000-$40,000, while a large one can clock in anywhere from $50,000-$100,000.
Many factors can affect how much a shipping container cabin will cost. Some of these include:
- Purchasing a repurposed container cabin versus building a brand new one
- The number of container cabins you want to connect
- Welding, fabrication, insulation, reinforcements
- Plumbing and electrical systems
- Exterior and interior finishing
- Installing doors and windows
- DIY versus hiring a contractor
Also, keep in mind additional costs associated with building a shipping container cabin, like land and permits.
Features and Floor Plans
Shipping container cabin plans are as varied as the people who create them. You can find all kinds of container types and styles, from general-purpose and double door containers to conex cabins and open side containers.
Most features you’ll find in a storage container cabin is what you would find in any traditional home: a living area, kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms.
Floor plans come in a range of options. You can find prefabricated floor plans or design your own. Some examples include:
- A front porch that leads up to a glass door that opens into a living area. A wooden staircase leads up to a loft bedroom. The back of the cabin houses a kitchen with a double sink and a bathroom.
- An offset layout where the entrance is recessed. A small hallway leads to two bedrooms and a bathroom. The kitchen opens up to the dining and living area.
- Four shipping containers combine to create a 32×24 layout featuring two bedrooms and an open-plan living, kitchen, and dining area.
Here are some shipping container cabin styles to inspire you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about shipping container cabins to expand your knowledge even further.
Which States Allow Shipping Container Homes?
According to the International Code Council, Texas, Tennessee, California, Oregon, Alaska, Louisiana, and Missouri are open to shipping container homes. That being said, it’s legal to build a shipping container cabin nearly anywhere. You will just need to go through the proper channels to obtain building permits.
How Long Do Shipping Container Homes Last?
At the very least, you can expect a shipping container cabin to last around 25 years. However, if you maintain the container, keep it rust-free, and put additional layers on the exterior walls, your container cabin can last much longer.
Are Shipping Container Floors Toxic?
It depends. If you’re purchasing a brand new container and ordering directly, you probably don’t need to worry about the floors being doused in chemicals. Just let the manufacturer know your concerns and ensure they don’t spray the floors or treat the walls with toxic paint.
On the other hand, if you’re purchasing a used shipping container, you’ll want to inquire about whether the company treated the floors and walls with any harmful chemicals. You can do this by locating the container’s identification number and using the number to track down the manufacturer.
How Do You Insulate a Container Home?
There are several ways you can insulate your shipping container cabin. Depending on your container’s particular needs and what you expect from insulation, your options include blanket insulation (cotton, fiberglass, wool), loose-fill (cellulose, perlite, loose-fill fiberglass), spray insulation, expanded foam, and non-traditional insulation (hempcrete, straw bale, and other unconventional materials).
Are Shipping Containers Waterproof?
Shipping containers are not waterproof, but they do resist water, meaning they will do a great job of keeping rain, snow, and other precipitation out of your cabin.
Shipping container cabins are the ideal getaway spots for anyone who loves spending a decent amount of time in nature. Whether you plan on living in a container cabin year-round or want to build or refurbish a shipping container to stay cozy in during the winter months, we hope you’ve found our guide a helpful place to start your shipping container cabin research.