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Resident containers on hill surrounded by mountain on sunny day. The area decorated by small bushes and tree on green grass.

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Jason Rioux’s family weekend cabin isn’t your standard vacation home. The 1,300-square-foot structure is made of shipping containers. Nestled right outside of Bobcaygeon, Ontario in Canada, the cozy cabin, known as the Octopod, is surrounded by stands of trees. It’s made of seven shipping containers and includes a washroom and covered sauna.

Built with sustainability in mind, electricity for the cottage is provided by a battery-powered generator. The water system is a solar water pump. There’s a water tower inside the house that pumps the water up to a giant tank that gravity feeds to all the fixtures throughout the cottage.

A trend that’s growing in popularity in recent years, shipping container homes have obvious appeal. Besides having the option of living off the grid, you’re using reclaimed materials to build out all the traditional features of a home. “It’s nice not to be dependent on the outside world,” said Rioux of Sea Container Cabin in Toronto. “If we were to live here, the only thing we would really need to survive is food.”

As there’s not much of a market for a shipping container home, chances are you’ll have to build your own. If you’re interested in constructing a shipping container home, here are some financial and logistical considerations.

Work With Its Advantages

When building your home, you want to work with a shipping container for its strengths and advantages: the fact that its modular and is super strong. “People who want to live in them are attracted to their style, look, feel and character,” Rioux said.

As long as you’re designing with advantages of a shipping container in mind, you can do it in a cost-efficient manner, Rioux explained.

“Sometimes people might want to build a home that looks interesting on paper, but it’s costly to build,” Rioux said. “If you’re smart in your design and usage, you could build a lower-cost home than one that’s traditionally constructed.”

For instance, you’ll want to reap the benefits of the shipping container’s steel structure. If you design your home so you keep the giant steel doors and shutters, you’ll enjoy the added security and protection. “If someone wants to break into your cottage, they’ll probably go to the cottage down the road because it’s too much work,” Rioux said.

Know the Costs Involved

While the cost of the shipping containers themselves are inexpensive – you can get a 20-foot by 8-foot shipping container for about $2,800 in the U.S. – your home needs to be insulated properly to avoid any potential issues with condensation and mold. You can install either external wall insulation or internal wall insulation. In turn, you’ll probably spend more on high-quality insulation.

The costs largely depend on a number of factors. For the Riouxs’ cabin, which is a two-bedroom, one-bath home that has a covered space for a sauna and to store their ATVs, it cost them $100 per square foot.

Understand Your Financing Options

Your options for getting a loan on a shipping container home include a mortgage or a personal loan. “If the home is built in compliance with the building codes for single family homes, it can be financed just like any other single family home,” explained Nathaniel Crawford, a broker associate based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Note that shipping container homes might not be considered real estate. That’s because to be considered a piece of real estate, there has to be property taxes on the asset, explained Shawn Breyer of Breyer Home Buyers in Atlanta.

“Without a recorded title and [property] plat, there are no property taxes and isn’t considered real estate,” Breyer said. “A shipping container must be connected to a permanent foundation with utility hookups.” If the shipping container doesn’t have a permanent foundation, you won’t be able to get a mortgage.

When building a shipping container home, you might be able to get a construction loan. But it can be tricky because shipping container homes aren’t standard, lenders might be nervous to offer you a loan. That’s because banks aren’t sure what the value might be and aren’t always confident about a shipping container home being used as collateral, Rioux explained. To boost your odds, work with an established contractor and have your construction plans ready to show the lender.

Understand the Process in the Buildout

When working with contractors, because shipping container homes are unique projects and contractors aren’t familiar with the process, be prepared to work with 10% of the price of the project up front, then the remaining 90% once the shipping container home has been constructed. Once the home has been built and it gets appraised, you could get a loan from the bank, Rioux said.

What’s more, contractors might not want to take on the job for a fixed price. They might be willing to work on a time and materials agreement, Rioux said. What that means is you pay for the materials and pay the contractors an hourly rate. So it’s on you to get estimates, obtain the materials and pay extra if the project suffers hiccups or takes longer than expected.

While building shipping containers come with a special set of challenges, you’re bound to enjoy a unique experience. “Living off-grid affects how you feel living inside a shipping container more than the structures themselves,” Rioux said. “It’s just fun to be inside a durable, impervious structure in the countryside.”

Have you thought about living in a shipping container home? Let us know in the comments!

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. We completed our shipping container home on 9/15/2021 in Lyon Co. Nevada. Need to refi the construction loan (hard money) to a mortgage. Not having any luck as Fannie and Freddy won’t buy the loan. I just wish lenders would look at the project rather than make an instant decision based on the description “shipping container home.” Our home was engineered, plans submitted and approved for permits, certificate of occupancy issued, constructed on site, sits on a foundation, furred and framed interior with upgraded kitchen and baths, 1800 sq ft, 2 br, 2 bath, appraised for taxes just like any other home, and because the tax appraiser calls it a ‘single family residence”, the loan appraiser was able to give us a fair appraisal using ‘standard built” or “stick built” homes as comps. We sit on 5 acres in a rural area and have excellent credit! Been turned down by a dozen lenders who say they cannot find financing for a “unique building style” without even a look at the house!

    1. Hi Laura! Your new home sounds lovely and we’re so sorry to hear you’re having such trouble finding the financing you need. Please let us know if you have any questions we can provide assistance with!

  2. I’m very interested in building a container home in the Philadelphia area. I’ve found the land, but am having the hardest time finding container home builders/developers in my area to work with. Any help/recommendations are appreciated.

  3. I am also very interested in shipping container homes and have come across some articles that may be of interest in where you are more likely to get help or information. There is a town in Spur Texas that is trying to attract people to their area and has a tiny home community where you can live off the grid. This particular article mentions 4 places in the United States. You might check it out.
    4 Tiny House-Friendly Cities in the United States
    I know I have researched this before and they actually do address Shipping Container Homes

  4. We were quoted 750,000 to 1,000,000 for my design with one very high end container company!!! Very high end. I’m in Ontario, Canada. Any suggestions for companies? I contacted 2 more for quotes and they didn’t even respond.

  5. We are constructing container homes in Baltimore City , whereas they are permanently attached to the lots on which we own, adhere to government mandates and guidelines in construction, hooked to city services, such as water and sewer and fill all requirements of construction. We are building a series of 13 of these homes and now are experiencing issues with mortgages for these homes which we will sell. Can you tell us of any bank that will provide a traditional home mortgage for these homes?

    1. Hi:

      The problem you run into with container homes is that it’s not a common housing type, so it can be very hard to find comparables in any area that have sold to give it a value. That said, every situation is different depending on the environment in your area. If your home buyers have questions on financing, I would encourage them to give us a call at (888) 980-6716. We can see if there’s anything we can do. However, the house has to be able to be appraised.

  6. Any information on buying prefabricated containers via China ? I have a good contact for building in California – BuilderZoom in San Francisco CA. They said they will work with my contact in China to bring my container home up to code. Haven’t done the numbers yet to see if its cheaper to go with BuildZoomers directly or both. My 3 container home is simple; so the cost will mostly come from the solar panels, rainwater system etc. l just don’t want to pay taxes; so l guess I’m stuck with using cash or a personal loan and pay it off immediately! Thanks for the article.

    1. Hey Sunkiss,

      I live in San Jose and I was looking into lands in the Bay Area. Any recommendation of counties that work well with tiny homes/shipping containers homes? I know Santa Cruz country requires permits before chopping any trees down to create space. Also, I am trying to understand the property taxes that will be applied to the homes. Thanks for any help you can provide!

  7. What are my options on where to place the container? Is living on a piece of land expensive? Also, are they mobile where you can take them wherever you’d like? What would be an average cost to live on a piece of land and also to move it? Are there many options on places that would accept them? Thank you

    1. Hi Amy:

      You place it on a piece of land. You may have to check into zoning regulations in your area because that’s going to have the biggest effect on where it can be placed Shipping container living is still relatively new, so the regulations might be nonexistent or harder to find as well. I can also tell you that a piece of land that hasn’t been developed yet is going to be cheaper than land with a house on it no matter what area you’re in. However, market rates are going to depend on where you live. As far as mobility, it’s a shipping container, so you should be able to have it moved if you want.

  8. I am very excited to read this article. I am looking at all of the information and more based on where we live in the USA, The laws and the restriction in Kentucky for my new home. Thank you for sharing

      1. Has anyone been able to finance a custom container single family home? We have one that is amazing and have yet to find a lender. Please let me know as we are re-listing in Phoenix, AZ very soon!

  9. I’d like to live in 4 combined containers. 2 on top of each other. They look clean, can be modern, and cute. I can design it how I want it, and they’re Lee’s expensive than traditional homes.

  10. I dream of living in a 3 layer container home. Im not the smartest human. I want to live on the grid conected to sewer system but i dont understand how thats possible if i buy a plot of land how on earth do they conect it to sewer and how much does it cost?

    1. Hi Max:

      That’s going to depend on how complicated the sewer hookup is. I can’t really tell you much because you would have to work with your local authorities.

  11. Hi my name is Ron asking why will Banks not give you a loan for a shipping container home when the foundation is cement foundation for the home are there any other options other than family members and Friends are there any untraditional ways to finance shipping container homesI am working on a subdivision with shipping container project in Romulus Michigan looking forward to your feedback

    1. Hi Ron:

      Mortgages are collateral based on the value of the home, so since shipping containers aren’t common homes, it’s hard to evaluate the value of the investment long-term for starters. That said, you might be able to get a personal loan or other type of financing help with this. Our friends at Rocket Loans may be able to help you with a personal loan. Good luck!

        1. Hi Greg,

          You are correct. Higher rates and shorter terms are definitely a downside to using a personal loan. There are some cases where individuals looking to finance a shipping container home do qualify for a mortgage, but the home must have been built in compliance with building codes, have a permanent foundation, and possess a recorded title and plat. Thanks for reading!

          1. Hi! My shipping container home was built in compliance with building codes, has a permanent foundation, with all utility hooked up and has a recorded title and plat, can you provide financing? or know who can? I currently have a very expensive loan I’d like to refinance.

          2. Hi Sharon:

            We don’t do shipping container loans at this time. I’m sorry. It’s very specialized and my guess is that you’re going to have a hard time finding a loan.

  12. Hi,
    This is some great information, and I appreciate your point about shipping container homes. Thanks for sharing.

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