Upscale version in northern New Mexico

A leftover from our economy’s commitment to a permanent trade deficit — is the ubiquitous shipping container. With fewer products of value available to export, they stack up, disused and often abandoned because the cost of returning them to their point of origin is higher than the cost of replacement.

This past weekend, I happened to watch the second in a series of TV shows — by Bob Vila — on the reuse of these containers as the core for affordable housing. Working with local organizations specializing in low-cost housing built up to hurricane spec, they produced a livable, traditional Florida bungalow for lower costs than you’d normally face. They used four steel containers as the corner cores for an 1800 sq.ft. dwelling — four bedrooms, two baths — for low income families.

This jogged my memory, this morning — after receiving a favorable comment about the containership photo I used in yesterday’s Post about our nation’s economic performance. I went looking and here is the first site I came upon — dedicated to the concept.

Everything from luxury to minimal is possible with these cans as the core — and cost savings in every instance. You’re only limited by talent and construction smarts.

Never would have thought of standing them on end!

Retail in NJ for $150-175K

I especially like the idea of tying together the lower level of containers with a glass garage door. Folks don’t often realize these can be acquired with powder-coat finishes in a couple hundred colors. You can match whatever you decide to do with the exterior finish of the home. You can apply insulation and finish to the outside to lose the industrial look — though, in this example, I like the look.

  1. ethanol says:

    This is utterly brilliant!

  2. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    There is something delightfully Mad Max about the idea.

  3. forrest says:

    Very cool…

    Imagine a town build out of these…

  4. Stuart says:

    Be great when you kick the girlfriend out as she can take all her crap with her when she goes 🙂

  5. ZeOverMind says:

    Hrm, maybe there will be a new business plan for ready made, bury-it-in-your-backyard fallout shelters as the Iranians and North Koreans build Nukes. 😀

  6. Improbus says:

    Hey, with a little effort these can be turned into Faraday cages for the tin foil hat crowd. A crowd I find myself drawn to more and more.

  7. Gig says:

    Are you sure that the Upscale Version” is really a container. I followed the link and I don’t think it is.

  8. Jimmy the Groundhog says:

    Make mine a double(wide)!

  9. xrayspex says:

    I wonder what Cletis, the local building inspector, thinks of these?

  10. Ryan says:

    i wonder what the insulation is like? my high school football team’s weight room was in a shipping container and it got hotter than the blazes of hell in the summer.

  11. Ballenger says:

    This scales up well also, using the containers for walls in large structures.

  12. Eideard says:

    Gig — my first link to the h-haus group came from other folks covering the shipping container core concept. Since I’ve posted this, I’ve discovered I know the architect and have worked on other projects with him — but, haven’t any luck catching him by email, this morning.

    I didn’t work on the home pictured; but, it certainly looks like it would fit the bill. Here’s a link to a demonstration house built for an expo in Cleveland — in 19 days! There’s no reason not to save money on a structure like this by using containers. I picked the particular photo to show what these shapes would look like with a stucco exterior.

    The Bob Vila project is finished with a stucco exterior also containing insulation.  No really usable photographs of the finished product at his site.

  13. buford t. justice says:

    I tried the same concept overseas on a remote island. We had shipping containers for free, but the idea doesn’t work well. The containers are only eight feet wide, so if you use, say, two by fours with insulation in the spaces between them, you wind up squeezed down to almost seven feet.

    We did not want to try “reefer” containers, since the insulation throws off fumes that we didn’t want to breathe.

    In fact, the floors do just that in all containers, since they are treated with poisons to fend off bugs.

    Only way around that is to make a “double wide,” but it would take a NASA engineer to really seal these things where they adjoin each other. If ANY water intrudes (and it will), things get ugly really quick.

    Insulating the roof gets even tougher.

    Keeping the windows and any other cuts in the metal from leaking is a constant struggle. It’s not like having a normal house, not by any means.

    We were in the tropics, and despite our best efforts, these things were ovens. The concept was really seductive at first glance, but once you actually start putting things together you realize that every $1000 you’re putting into it could have put into a proper house or cabin.

    Commercially, I’ve since seen the idea fall in and out of minor favor, but it’s far less practical than most other alternative ideas, I regret to say.

  14. JimR says:


    ** 1700 sq ft, 5 box Split-level design **
    ** Huge 8′ x 40′ Master Bedroom **
    ** Hardwood 8′ x 40′ bowling alley **
    ** 8′ x 40′ inground pool **
    ** Lage 8′ x 40′ deck **
    ** 2 car garage (16′ x 40′) **
    ** BONUS illegal aliens in some homes **

    These gorgeous homes are prefabricated and ready for
    export to your lot.

  15. god says:

    Buford — I had’t seen the programs; but, I’ve looked at the videos at the Bob Vila link, this morning. Looks to me like they cut out one side of the containers — and separate them — to have one big space in the middle. Pretty much like any bungalow I ever lived in in Barbados.

    The welding and insulating ain’t any more difficult than anything someone with shipyard experience could handle. It’s MIG welding. The insulation was sprayed on the exterior — pretty common here in New Mexico. No big deal.

    Perhaps, you were just in a situation without enough bucks or accessibility to appropriate materials to do it properly.

  16. buford says:

    We weren’t even aware of insulation that could be applied to the outside. What kind is that? Wish I knew of that earlier. Dang!

  17. Mark says:

    I lived on St. John in the Virgin Islands for 13 years. I had a couple friends that made homes out of these containers (while building their house) and it worked extremely well. Held up in hurricanes and didnt look that bad. You can raft these up together if your clever enough, we even had a Lumberyard that was completely made out of about 5 of these side by side. Inside the building, you couldnt even tell you were in a shipping container. Pretty Cool.

  18. Floyd says:

    I’m not real fond of flat roofs on houses, but I think this idea has a lot of merit. If i were to have one of these houses built, I’d have them spray foam insulation on the outside (like god says), then add stucco to round those sharp corners, New Mexico style. When you live in this state awhile, you learn to like those rounded corners…

  19. Eideard says:

    Floyd — take a look at the videos at the Bob Vila site. They added pitched-roof trusses to the top, fairly shallow, and used that space for AC or Swamper ducting, etc.. Plus it’s an additional area for insulation that won’t take away from living space.

  20. Travis Mclain says:

    I’ve had the idea since 1984 for a motel of 100 units and call it El Cheepo. This is when traveling across the country and need only a place to sleep and clean up. this would work with a machine like an ATM. You would check in without a front desk. the room would rent for around 30 a night. It would fill up every night. That would gross 21000 aweek and at a 50 week year would be gross 1,050,000. Any body interested in investing I have more plans with this idea. It would only take 2 Employees to run and maintain the operaation.


  21. marlowe fawcett says:

    very interesting. i’ve got a friend here who’s very into these and into making them a commercially viable project. and i’m trying to develop a concept of a non-profit that creates free housing out of shipping containers for shanty town dwellers around the world – building these would be even easier and cheaper with the proper research into heating/cooling.

  22. Odis irrigatiion equipment says:

    We are interested to buy used ISO shipping insulated containers.
    Could you be of help.

    We use more than 100 units yearly.

    thanks and regards,
    Nava Birman

  23. Joe says:

    This is the first site about Shipping Container Architecture.
    It preceded fabprefab, in fact they stole his links.

  24. andy says:

    I want to build one of these but the whole eight by forty thing is doing my head in does any one know a good site with ideas for plans particulaly how do you fit a queen size bed in, there must be a time space quantum physics kind of trick to it.

  25. Jody says:

    You folks might like to check out my container house. Its super simple. I like being outdoors most of the time anyway. Its amazing how little space you really need. With the insulated walls its super cosy and easy to heat. I have a friend who put a false roof over his to collect water. Next I will build a bath house with shower and sauna. Toilet is a sawdust composting toilet, as in the book Humanure. Cheers!

  26. Doug says:

    I think jail cells would be a great use.

  27. Jacques says:

    I am very interested in building a container house – not a SITE OFFICE in Sout Africa – ANy other South Africans interested??

    • nom says:

      also want to build container home. did u find any info u can share for south africa

  28. Suthnautr says:

    The outside insulation that’s sprayed on the shipping containers is a ceramic powder additive mixed in the paint and one or two coats provides R-28 Value thermal efficiency.

    I love the “jail cells” idea suggested previously by Doug. Build the entire JAIL out of these things and they would be impossible to break out of – even the guard towers could be containers stood on end with a staircase or elevator leading up to the watch-posts.

    Regarding some of the questions I’m seeing about fitting a Queen Size bed into these things, I don’t think most everyone quite gets it – The sides can be welded out and two or more joined together. Think in terms of 8′, 16′, 24′ etc. Then within that space you can subdivide by walling off a length of 8′ etc. to create more spaces for bathrooms, closets, showers etc.

    As far as the roof leaking if it’s cut, I’ve heard concerns about that too. However, with so many plans out there on the web showing actual separated roofs (See as an example of what I mean by separated roof) Even a standard looking slightly angled roof would work to make sure no water ever even touched the top of the container – I’m just an amateur carpenter but 2×4’s, some acceptable grade of plywood and standard shingles would do the trick AND keep a layer of air between the sun and the roof keeping the hot sun from beating on it.

  29. SP BARNARD says:

    Houses needed in South Africa price is a problem
    market for R150 000 – R250 000
    is it possible what sizes
    need more info


  30. Daniel says:

    Cool article from 2006! The shipping container movement has come a long way in the last few years. Seems to be gaining a cult like fan club. :). People have come up with a lot of creative solutions for things like insulation and making them NOT look like a shipping container. I like the “Mad Max” look of the house in this article (to quote an earlier commenter.) There are a ton of great designs coming out these days. As well as some really novel mini-house ideas. Shipping containers have to be one of the most versatile construction mediums of all time! Yay!


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