How to convert shipping containers into a house

Updated April 17, 2017

Building a home with shipping containers, is an affordable, eco-friendly and novel approach to home building. Shipping containers are widely used to ship almost every product imaginable around the world. New and used shipping containers can be purchased for between £487 and £1,300 from brokers and builders online and shipped right to your lot. Transforming your shipping container into living space is easier than ever before with entire architectural design firms and builders dedicated to the process.

Choose a site for your new home. This generally requires slightly more planning than a traditional home. Most areas in the United States restrict the size and type of home that can be built on a lot. Make sure and check with local codes to ensure that you will be able to build a shipping container home in the location of your dreams. A flat lot with a space that is large enough to place your new home with little preparation is the least expensive choice.

Determine what types of utilities you will be using for your new home. Many shipping container home builders are interested in green building designs and try to implement catchment systems for collecting rain water and alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power generating systems. If you need water and electricity on site, make sure that you have access to city water and sewer or can get a permit from your county to drill a well and install a septic tank.

Plan your shipping container design. There are design firms and builders solely dedicated to providing blueprints and floor plans for shipping container homes. These can easily be found and purchased on the Internet. You can also buy a prefabricated kit--which includes windows, doors and a roof for your shipping container--and assemble it on your lot. The most common approach is to hire a licensed builder or contractor to cut the windows and doors out of the shipping container and get the home exterior finished and then finish the interior of the shipping container home yourself. Shipping container homes complete with bathrooms, kitchens and walls to divide rooms can be ordered and delivered to your lot.

Buy your shipping container. The wide use and availability of shipping containers has created an entire industry dedicated to the sale of new and used shipping containers. Ordering a shipping container is easily done online. It is recommended to buy a new stainless steel shipping container. Shipping containers must be cleaned and inspected before resale, but buying a new shipping container will keep you from purchasing a shipping container that was once used to ship hazardous or toxic products. Additionally, a stainless steel shipping container will not rust, which is important when using the container for a home.

Build your shipping container home. If you will be building the home yourself, you will need to acquire a building permit. This will require you to submit blueprints for the shipping container home. Every aspect of the plan must be in compliance with your local code. Purchasing a plan from an architectural firm can save a lot of time and frustration in restructuring the blueprints to comply with local codes.


Keep the green building theme going and find more used and recycled materials to finish the building of your home. Many returned and surplus or slightly used items can be purchased for pennies on the dollar at wholesale building supply warehouses across the US.

Things You'll Need

  • Shipping container
  • Container building permit
  • Blueprints
  • Building lot
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About the Author

Joshua Kinser began writing professionally in 1999. He has worked as a staff writer for the "Pensacola News Journal" and is the author of Moon Handbook's "Guide to the Florida Gulf Coast." Kinser earned an Associate of Arts in journalism with an emphasis in biology from Pensacola State College.