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The Pros & Cons of Shipping Container Homes

People worldwide seem to be increasingly fascinated by the idea of tiny homes and alternative lifestyles, including dwellings constructed in ways you would not expect. One of these unique living phenomena is shipping container homes.

But what are the pros and cons of such a lifestyle choice? Let’s dive a little deeper into the whole idea.

What Are Shipping Container Homes?

As the world has been taken by storm in recent years by the innovative designs of tiny homes and alternative living situations, shipping container homes are also becoming more popular for those looking to live a different lifestyle.

But what is a shipping container home, you might ask? 

Well, they are basically what the name suggests: a dwelling constructed within large, metal shipping containers—the same style of shipping containers commonly used in transporting goods overseas on freighter ships or across countries on semi-trucks or train cars.

These containers are primarily available in two distinct sizes for transforming into a home— 20 ft. by 8 ft, or 40 ft. by 8 ft. The key difference is the square footage inside, as the former provides 160 square feet, while the latter gives 320 square feet.

Depending on what you do with these shipping containers, they can be turned into entirely self-contained small homes, an independent workspace, a personal studio, or even combined with other containers to create entire multi-level houses.

But what are the advantages and disadvantages of living in such a space? Let’s discuss some specifics associated with alternative living in homes made from shipping containers.

The Pros of Living in a Shipping Container Home

If you are interested in the lifestyle of downsizing from a traditional house to something smaller and more versatile, such as a shipping container home, it might be the right choice for you. But let’s go over the pros of this decision first.

1. Can Be More Cost-Effective Than Typical Residences

While this is no guarantee, shipping container homes tend to cost less than traditional housing in the long run. 

Not only are shipping containers usually cheaper to purchase by themselves, but they are also less expensive to turn into a decent dwelling customized to your exact specifications.

2. Ease of Mobility & Transportation

If you keep the overall structure of the shipping container intact when turning it into a home, they can be easily transported across countries and even oceans—making it easy to embrace mobility and move wherever you want.

This is done by shipping companies that can offer transport services even for modified shipping containers, delivering them worldwide by boat, truck, or train.

3. Easily Customizable

The options for customizing and modifying your shipping container home are nearly endless. You can select multiple containers to create a multi-story structure or combine different container sizes for an individualized layout. 

Additionally, shipping containers are reasonably easy to modify internally, as well. You just need the right tools to cut holes for windows, doors, and stairwells into the container itself to create the perfect dwelling for you.

4. Eco-Conscious Option

Though they are not made of particularly eco-friendly materials, it’s still an environmentally conscious decision to turn a shipping container into your home. 

Instead of letting it lie around a shipping yard and go to waste or becoming refuse in a landfill, you are giving this object a second life as a home.

5. Energy Efficiency

It’s much easier to heat and illuminate these small spaces than to warm an entire house. You will impose fewer supply needs on the infrastructure and environment around you and have lower utility bills as a result.

Plus, it takes less energy consumption to transform a shipping container into a home than it does to build an entirely new residence from scratch!

6. Incredibly Secure

Considering the steel that these prefabricated shipping containers are made of, you don’t have to worry about burglars gaining access to your alternative dwelling. It is quite hard to successfully break into a metal box, after all!

And, when you are away from your little home for an extended period, you can simply lock up the outer doors—if you kept the original storage container door—and rely on the security system that allows these containers to ship expensive goods around the world.

7. Made of Durable Material

As mentioned, these units are generally made of reinforced or galvanized steel, allowing them to be shipped across massive distances and often under the influence of terrible weather conditions.

As a result, shipping container homes benefit from being incredibly hardy and durable, with low instances of your typical residential wear and tear.

8. More Options & Space for Your Investment

If you want to renovate a traditional residence or add more rooms to an existing building, it will typically cost quite a lot of money. 

But with shipping container homes, you can easily add to the structure and customize it in a way that can evolve with an ever-changing lifestyle or family size. The base price is the same for each container; it just depends on what you do with it.

9. Quick Construction & Build Time

When building a typical multi-story residence that one might find in the suburbs, there is always a long waiting period for the house to actually become a livable space and not just a construction zone. 

But the time is significantly shorter in terms of shipping containers being turned into dwellings. They already have walls, floors, and a roof, so you can skip several steps of the process and get your home created sooner.

10. Units Are Highly Available

There is really no shortage of shipping containers in the world. Because the manufacturing and agricultural sectors rely on these units to transport and receive goods all over the planet, they are common and easy to find.

And just because a shipping container has been retired by a transport company or manufacturer doesn’t mean that it is unusable— it can still be transformed into a dwelling after its time as a cargo bearer ends.

The Cons of Living in a Shipping Container Home

And while there certainly are benefits to living in an alternative housing structure, like a shipping container home, there are also disadvantages to this lifestyle. It’s time to examine some cons of this alternative living style.

1. Appliances Don’t Always Fit

Shipping containers are not built with modern appliances in mind, so altering them to include your typical home setup of dishwashers, stoves, ovens, washers, or dryers can be difficult. 

You will need to put in a custom electrical system, as well as special plumbing to make toilets flush and water run, which needs to be done by a specialist in this field and will cost more than a DIY job.

2. Building Permits Can Be Difficult to Get

You generally need very specific permits and zoning permissions for turning a shipping container into a home, as they are technically classed as a non-permanent structure. 

And some municipalities won’t even let you set up a shipping container as your home, depending on local housing regulations. So, it can be difficult to figure out the fine print on finding a place to put your alternative-style dwelling.

3. Contractors Are Hard to Come By

Not everyone can work with shipping containers, and specialist contractors or builders who have experience with turning these units into a successful living spaces can be difficult to find and expensive to hire. 

4. Issues With Insulation

Shipping containers are made with fairly thin metal walls, so you need to insulate them well before they become livable. 

However, unless you want to build out the walls a bit, you will likely need to use a thin insulation layer that will fit within the narrow confines of the container’s dimensions, like a spray foam that doesn’t provide as much insulation as other options.

5. Need to Consider the Climate

Because of the metal construction of shipping containers, it can be hard to achieve temperature regulation inside the structure, particularly in very hot or cold climates. 

It takes a lot of insulation and airflow to help maintain control of the temperatures, so setting up your dwelling in the far North or a tropical location might not be the best idea.

6. Safety Concerns for Used Containers

Depending on the types of cargo your shipping container was previously used for, it can bring health hazards to the fore. 

Some of these shipments could have contained toxic substances, dangerous cargo, or even spillages, not to mention treatment with insecticides or other chemicals that such containers will undergo during their years of service.

Your safest plan of action would be to have the entire container sandblasted by a professional company. This will remove any hazardous materials or residue in the unit and significantly add to your budget.

7. Shape & Size Limitations

With shipping containers, even though there are two main sizes available, what you see is basically what you get. And while you can stack them and attach other units, the space will always be rectangular and the dimensions rigid.

And depending on how many storage containers your home is made of, the space may be noticeably smaller than what you are used to. So before you make the transition, consider all aspects of tiny home living to decide if it is right for you.

8. Reinforcing Sometimes Needed

While these containers are definitely sturdy and made with durable metal materials, they still might need some reinforcement and structural augmentation, leading to extra building costs and layout constraints. 

This is particularly necessary if you have altered the base model with many openings, modifications, or cuts to the metal, as this weakens the entire structure and creates a need for outside support.

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