What are Container Homes?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Container homes are homes built using shipping containers as structural shells. The size and shape of such containers is well suited for architectural uses and there are a number of innovative ways to use shipping containers in home design. Companies specializing in conversion of shipping containers for residential uses can provide prefab homes shipped on demand and it is also possible to design a custom home for a specific site.

Shipping containers can be found in many ports around the world.
Shipping containers can be found in many ports around the world.

Shipping containers are built to take considerable abuse while weathering a broad variety of conditions. When used as a structural shell, they can be laid end to end or side by side, stacked, and upended. Container homes can integrate multiple containers connected together to achieve a desired size and shape. The containers are also substantially modified to make room for windows and doors, partition the space inside, and lay plumbing and wiring.

Some container homes are designed to be fixed on site. They can be mounted on a foundation with bolts and will remain fixed in place as permanent structures. Other container homes are portable. Several designers have developed structures for use as temporary housing in settings ranging from refugee camps to music festivals. Flexible, mobile housing can be useful for situations where people need to be able to rapidly establish and configure housing while also leaving a minimal footprint. Each container home can be self-contained with the use of water tanks, solar panels, and similar measures, allowing structures to be easily moved to accommodate needs.

Shipping containers can be repainted, covered in new siding, insulated, and modified in other ways. In some container homes, the structural core is almost invisible after a conversion, while in others, the shipping container may be left more visible. There are aesthetic considerations involved and some designers may want to stress the use of recycled materials by making those construction materials readily evident and visible.

Containers suitable for home conversion can be found in many ports around the world. While shipping containers are usually shipped back and forth on a regular basis with loads of varying items, when trade deficits develop, it is not uncommon for unused containers to pile up. These containers can be purchased at low cost and trucked to a final destination. Costs for conversion vary, depending on the requirements and nature of the project. An architect or contractor with experience can provide estimates to help people price out a container home conversion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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