No matter which way you look at it, outlaying the cost of building a new home is, for most people, the largest amount of money they will ever spend in a lifetime. Shipping container homes are fast gaining ground as a viable alternative to traditional bricks and mortar.
Adopting prefab or “kit homes” is one, affordable way to create the home of your dreams. All the materials and supplies you need are included in a package designed to build an entire home from the ground up - plans, interior design and all of the fixtures to lock-up stage. A more affordable solution however is to use a shipping container to build your home.
Why choose a shipping container home?
Using recycled shipping containers for your home is a far more sustainable option than sourcing raw materials, as well as being an incredibly economical option for the home builder to consider. By defining the bones of your home's structure with one or more shipping containers, you are essentially working within the scope of a single or set of modular units that streamline the process. Container homes are just like building with Lego, only on a giant scale.
It’s faster too. Working within the scope of these building blocks keeps things simple in terms of design decisions, whereas building a house from scratch can take several months and thousands of dollars in architectural fees. A new home build can have construction teams onsite for up to 18 months. A container home can go up in a matter of weeks.
More and more prevalent are specialist companies that build container homes offsite to specifications and ship the modules to your property in a near completed state. Not only does this keep things efficient and create minimum waste, it avoids construction overheads such as scaffolding, builder's amenities, materials delivery and additional trades to complete the build.
How big are shipping container houses?
The ultimate in efficient use of space, shipping containers have to meet international standards and are therefore all a uniform size and come in two lengths:
- 59m (8.5ft) high x 2.43m (8ft) wide x 6.06m (20ft) = 14.7m2 (160ft2) of floor space, or
- 59m (8.5ft) high x 2.43m (8ft) wide x 12.2m (40ft), = 29.6m2 (320ft2) of floor space
It’s also possible to get extra tall shipping contained called ‘high-cube containers’, which are 2.89m high.
This is the perfect building block on which to ground your dream design and as long as you follow council and engineering regulations and check that your shipping container hasn’t been used to carry dangerous chemicals, let your imagination run wild.
What do shipping container homes look like?
Shipping container home design comes in all shapes and sizes and there are stunning examples popping up all over Australia and around the world. Architects and designers literally think outside the box to design small and large constructions, in both residential and commercial applications.
How the structure looks at the end of the building process is entirely up to the homeowner. Some homes show no evidence whatsoever of the original shipping container, with cladding and lining covering the metal box, whilst others harness the look of this industrial shell to create contemporary designs to complement the steel structure.
A home that's better for the environment
Shipping containers are used to erect buildings quickly, efficiently and cost effectively, partly with the help of infrastructure that has been in place for decades. “Seventy percent of your whole building is recycled before we start” says Jamie Van Tongeren, CEO of Container Build Group. As containers can be transported on trucks to any location accessible by road, this cuts the carbon footprint in terms of getting building materials to site, particularly in remote areas. The pre-fabricated nature of this type of building has less impact on the environment generally as the container structure comes with its own build quality of triple the normal building standard. "They're solid steel with an 'I' beam every 200mm and are designed to carry 40 tonne, so you don't need a concrete slab as you would a normal house," says Jamie. They're also highly fire retardant and resistant to white ants and earthquakes. "We've had trees fall on our container houses that have just bounced off!" says Jamie.
With building codes in Australia requiring only a six year warranty on new constructions, the build quality of homes is not what it once was either. "Our container homes sometimes travel 1000kms on the road before it arrives on site, so they're built to last."
What does it cost?
Purchased brand new, a shipping container itself costs around $6,000 but prices vary and are significantly less expensive for a used container, though you must be sure of what it’s been used to transport over its life, avoiding the presence of potentially toxic chemicals.
It’s estimated that a kit home of a similar size to a single container would cost around $30,000 but with a shipping container house design it is possible to remain well below this. Costs will escalate in relation to the size of your home and access to your property, for example your shipping container(s) will almost certainly require a crane to situate them in place, which can cost up to $8,000 and there are additional costs to be added to the build tally for lining, electrical fitout and plumbing to your home. On a larger scale, according to Jamie a 350m2 shipping container home from demolition to move-in can cost as little as $450,000.
By choosing a specialist shipping container company to build your home offsite, it’s in the controlled environment of a factory warehouse and craned in complete. This way you’re less likely to be at the mercy of the weather, which can cause blowouts in time, therefore costs.
How long does it take?
There are companies like Container Build Group who can deliver a custom designed shipping container home within as little as 2 weeks of order – ideal for studio, granny flat or small holiday home.
A three bedroom home takes longer but much of the decision making is done ahead of time because in this case the structure leads the design. “Depending on the location, we can have your home delivered and complete to you within 30 days of ordering,” says Jamie. “Whilst the house is being built [in the warehouse] we’ll have our construction team on site to do all the ground works, including footings, plumbing and drainage. We usually can have it installed within a single day.” Add to this your choice of trims, gutters and flashing and the entire build is complete within a fraction of the time of a conventional build.
“We’ve done a big two-storey house in Sydney, start to finish in 6 weeks for around $750,000 including knock down, rebuild and installed with a swimming pool. The homeowners were quoted $1.2million [for a conventional build].”