Are you thinking of building shipping container homes in Michigan? There has never been a better time than now to seriously get the project off the ground.
Globally, the shipping container homes industry is believed to reach over $67 billion in value by 2026, according to the Container Houses Global Market Report 2022. Similarly, in the United States, a 2020 survey by Investment Property Exchange Services found that 86% of Americans are okay with buying a tiny home made out of a shipping container as their first home.
In Michigan, the heart of the US automobile industry, the very first home made out of shipping containers was built as early as 2014. Then the very next year, a development that features shipping home containers was completed.
Fast forward to 2023, and shipping container homes for sale in Michigan are starting to slowly but steadily rise in number and prominence. As such, future shipping container homeowners have a lot more options to explore when it comes to finally building or buying their container home.
What’s fueling the hype? Quite a lot of advantages. These include sustainability, cost efficiency, easy availability and transportability, and material comfort, to name a few.
If these benefits sound ideal to you, we’ll walk you through the things that you need to know about the process of building a container home in Michigan. Read on to learn about the costs of building container homes vs buying pre-made ones already on the market.
We’ll also discuss the best builders of Michigan shipping container homes, the legalities and technicalities of their construction, and financing options to consider if you’re building one.
Best shipping container homes for sale in Michigan
Ready to start looking into shipping container homes in Michigan and calling one of them your own? Here are three of the best builders of container homes in the area.
- Best for unique and modern living concepts built out of shipping containers
- Founding date: 2013
- Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
- What they’re known for: Reimagining shipping containers and repurposing them for a wide variety of residential and commercial uses
Operating out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Blox was formed to reinvigorate used shipping containers with new life through interesting architectural styles. True enough, this builder has been making a name for itself by creating custom container living spaces for both residential and commercial use.
Blox’s portfolio spans a whole range of applications for shipping containers. These include floating tiny homes, container smart homes, container concessions and offices, and even shipping container swimming pools. They also build energy storage containers for industrial businesses.
Interested clients can see their custom plans rendered in real life at their new showroom — which is ideal as it would help people visualize how the finished pieces look and, more importantly, how it feels to be inside the containers.
Pricing for their work tends to be a little complex, as they charge various fees for various steps of the process, but they deliver impressive results, as seen in some of these examples:
2-bedroom container floor plan: Blox Beach Grass Container Home
- Number of containers used: 3
- Container sizes: 20’
- Size of the container home in square feet: 510 square feet (customizable)
- Number of bedrooms: 2
- Number of bathrooms: 1.5
- Standout Feature: Open, airy style that allows for optional expansion
Perfect as a starter home for a young family, the Blox 2-bedroom container floor plan for its Beach Grass Container Home melds an open, relaxed layout with the usual creature comforts you’ll need in a home. This floor plan is also fairly straightforward, so it’s easy to imagine how it will turn out.
Choose between metal panels or a drywall finish for your interiors, and customize the fit-out according to your specifications.
Sample photos of this floor plan are as follows:
Three Squared Inc.
- Luxury builder of single container homes and more
- Founding date: 2009
- Location: Detroit, Michigan
- What they’re known for: Custom multi-family and mixed-use cargo architecture
Arguably the first builder of shipping container properties in Michigan, Three Squared prides itself on creating custom designs for residential, multi-family, and mixed-use applications at a reasonable price.
The firm draws on the strengths of an in-house architectural design team to bring you a complete suite of services that can address different needs.
This company also provides assistance in managing and meeting technical requirements — from the pre-design phase through to container construction. In fact, they boast a 100% success rate for securing municipal approvals, even in areas that have never issued a permit for shipping container homes.
The only caveat is the process can be quite lengthy, so you’d need to stock up on a lot of time to go back and forth with Three Squared until the entire project is completed.
Their portfolio includes the following:
Need more space? This 5-floor plan might be just the thing for your family.
5-bedroom floor plan: Box Hop Hygge
- Number of containers used: 7
- Container sizes: 20′ (4) and 40′ (3)
- Size of the container home in square feet: 1760
- Number of bedrooms: 5
- Number of bathrooms: 2
- Standout Feature: 1200-square foot of outdoor patio space + well-fitted interiors that can house up to 12 adults
An off-grid vacation rental situated in Ohio, the Box Hop Hygge is a testament to the flexibility that comes with using shipping containers to build properties. Utilizing 7 containers, it’s an expansive nature retreat with four private balconies, a six-person sauna and hot tub, and two floating fireplaces.
Check out photos of this property below:
Container Homes USA
- Economy builder of prefab container homes
- Founding date: 2016
- Location: Cleveland, Ohio
- What they’re known for: Budget-friendly container design and construction for both DIY and custom fit-outs
Container Homes USA was started by co-founder Derrick C.W. Childs when his wife Monica got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had trouble using the stairs. Using his construction expertise, he turned towards an alternative living structure that would make life easier for her — and established one of the most versatile builders of shipping container homes in Michigan and across the US.
Since then, the company has grown to offer six pre-designed models — from tiny homes to commercial container structures, including one used during the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland and a 72-container museum. Some of their best work includes:
The best part? They can help you realize your dream Michigan shipping container home whether you’re commissioning them for a full fit-out or opting to do some or all of the work yourself.
The only drawback is they’re based in Cleveland, so if you live elsewhere and need their services, you’ll have to contend with extra costs in sourcing and shipping the raw materials.
Even so, if you’re working with a limited budget, this builder’s 2-bedroom, 2-container home floor plan is the perfect place to start.
2-bedroom container home floor plan
- Number of containers used: 2
- Container sizes: 40′
- Number of bedrooms: 2
- Number of bathrooms: 1
- Standout Feature: Two-level two-bedroom shipping container home
Using only two 40′ containers, this pre-designed plan from Container Homes USA will give you a two-level house that you can customize to your heart’s content. Check out how it looks below:
Are container homes legal in Michigan?
Sold yet? The good news is: you are allowed to work on your vision now and build a Michigan shipping container home.
Michigan building codes decree that shipping container homes are legal. However, regulations may vary from area to area, as these codes are administered and enforced on the local level. In the process of building or commissioning your container home, make sure to consider:
Zoning regulations. Zoning restrictions keep certain structures away from certain neighborhoods. In Michigan, these may differ from municipality to municipality, particularly in the way they classify cargo containers used for homes and, subsequently, how they may be used in residential or business areas. In Kingsford, for example, cargo containers can only be placed in a B-2 General Business District.
Permits. Construction of Michigan shipping container homes must also comply with existing local standards to secure a permit. Generally, a home in this state must have a minimum area of 120 square feet, but again, this may change depending on the specific locality. To be sure, check with your local agencies.
How much do container homes in Michigan cost?
First things first: how much does it cost to build a shipping container home, and are you better off taking on a DIY project or buying a pre-made one?
There are many factors that influence the cost of building shipping container homes, and these include:
Shipping containers used as homes are typically 20-foot and 40-foot wide and 8.5 feet to 9.5 feet tall. If you’re opting for a tiny home, you can consider using only one shipping container, but if you’d like a multi-level residence, you will have to stack multiple containers together.
Industry averages vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but generally, 20-foot containers cost around $3,000 while the larger sizes can go over $5,000.
Deciding between a brand-new or used shipping container also plays a major part in the amount of money you’ll shell out for a container home. New containers can fetch as much as $9,000 per piece, but you’re assured of optimal structural integrity and quality.
On the other hand, if you’re considering buying a used container, you can enjoy considerable savings on the base price of the unit. It’s also more environmentally friendly, since the energy required to repurpose a used container into a home can be as low as 400 kWh. To be safe, you just need to evaluate:
- How it’s been used in the past
- Whether it has existing damage, such as rust and deformities; and
- What kind of climate conditions it has weathered
Prefab or customized
Basic fit-outs also cost considerably less than commissioning full-on customization. A pre-fabricated shipping container home typically starts around $30,000 on the very low end, but it can cost much, much more depending on the features of the unit.
On the other hand, a customized shipping container home will generally cost more than prefab — especially if you want multiple entrances, very precise window locations, etc. Customization will also cover:
- Electricity and plumbing
- Heating and cooling; and
- Overall structural integrity
Other costs. Whether you’re getting a pre-fabricated or custom shipping container home, you also need to factor in the costs involved in choosing your home’s:
- Foundation. There are various types of foundations used for shipping container homes in Michigan and in other areas, the most popular of which are:
- Pier. The fastest and most cost-effective option, a pier foundation features a cement block underneath each corner of the container. Cost: around $550 for a 40-foot container.
- Strip. Ideal for ground conditions that are not stable enough to hold a pier foundation, a strip foundation uses strips of concrete to support load-bearing walls. Cost: around $5,400 for a 40-foot container.
- Slab. Slab foundations are the most expensive type of foundations for shipping container homes, and they are necessary for ground conditions that cannot support the first two foundations. For a slab foundation, the entire lot underneath a container is excavated and filled with concrete. Cost: around $6,000 for a 40-foot container.
- Insulation. Like your foundation, insulation for container homes is available in several forms, which include:
- Blanket. Blanket insulation comes in batts or rolls, as well as pre-cut panels. It’s the most affordable type of insulation for homes. Cost: around $0.30/square foot.
- Panel. Only slightly more expensive than blanket insulation, panel insulation provides the thickest insulation. It’s also the easiest to install. Cost: around $0.75-$1.45/square foot.
- Spray foam. Spray foam insulation features a vapor barrier for more protection. Cost: around $2-$3/square foot.
To DIY or to buy?
All of the above can be done as a DIY project, or you can opt to buy a pre-made container home. DIYs can fetch less, at around $130 – $175 per sq ft, while getting an already constructed home rounds up to about $250 – $300 per sq ft.
However, a DIY project requires a lot of technical expertise, particularly in setting your foundation, building your HVAC systems, and weatherproofing your home against the elements. You should only consider constructing a container home by yourself if you’re skilled and experienced.
Financing your container home in Michigan
Container homes are typically not as easy to finance as traditional homes, mostly because they fall under various categories that veer from the usual.
Fortunately, it is not impossible to find a company that can help you fund your project and see it through to its completion. Here are three options you can consider.
This Michigan-based container home builder offers financing for projects up to U$100,000. Additionally, they’re currently designing a consumer program for those who would like to own a container home.
Hoping to eliminate “the pain points out of home improvement financing”, Acorn Finance offers quick and easy financing for shipping container homes. Get a pre-qualified loan in a matter of seconds, and without hurting your credit score.
While many lenders opt to stick with what’s familiar, Cardinal is especially dedicated to the alternative housing movement. They offer financing for container homes, tiny homes, and manufactured living structures. They also accept FICO scores of at least 620. Get a free rate quote here.
Michigan shipping container homes provide an excellent opportunity to explore a different, more environmentally-friendly way to live. Arm yourself with the proper information that you need to make sound decisions, and you’ll be well on your way to changing your life.