How can I build my own house on a tight budget?

The container cabin

Thinking of building your own home but budget implications are getting in the way?  Have you seen the latest alternative … using shipping containers?

It sounds crazy but you’ll be surprised how many buildings are made from shipping containers (also known as ISBU), from studio apartments in London to mansions in places like the Hamptons and California!

Did you say shipping containers?

This is not merely a cost saving budget issue, it is also an environmental issue since the entire house, by virtue of it previously being a shipping container, is recycled. That is taking an item that had one purpose and turning it into an item that has another purpose. Of course the main advantage when it comes to the container home is the fact that it can be moved pretty much anywhere in the world that you require within a matter of hours.

Whatever you choose to build with your containers, you are sure to be building a home that will last for decades. It will be the talking point of any conversation and more importantly will provide you with low cost quality housing.

What is a shipping container?

Shipping container or the inter-modal container has been with us since the 1950s. The standard steel container originally started out within the confines of the United States military service. It was seen as a highly effective way of transporting goods and food to the troops abroad.

The basic concept of the shipping container is to build a high-quality steel box that can be shipped or moved around the world on shipping, aircraft or trains and should be sturdy enough to survive the journey. But it wasn’t until 1972 that the International Convention Of Container Legislation was brought into place to make sure that every container in the world is both standard in shape and fitting.

For some more information on these building blocks, head over to Wikipedia.

Are shipping containers easy to get hold of?

Very easy. It is estimated that there are some 17 million inter-modal containers in the world of varying types to suit different cargoes. The standard container measures 20 feet long by 8 feet wide by 8 feet tall. And some containers can be up to 40 feet.

Containers are reasonably cheap and are obtained from transport companies for as little as $1000.  Since they take up too much room, once they have outlived their natural life as a container they are pretty much useless and cannot be used for anything else.

How did they start to be converted?

Some people in the building and construction industry started using them as site offices as they could be stacked one on top of the other. And with a simple stairwell system attached to the side they could be assembled within a matter of minutes. This was much easier than the site offices of old that had to be built from scratch and then pulled down at the end of the build.

Why shipping containers as houses?

In recent years these containers have been used as living accommodation. Since conversion is relatively simple and they offer safe sturdy bases on which to build a home.

In the private sector people have started using shipping containers or inter-modal containers as a way of housing. The reason they make such a great basis on which to build a house is because of their amazing construction. They are made of strong steel and so are fairly impermeable to weather.

They are also constantly being built because of the demand for transporting heavy goods around the world so they are plentiful too. For instance the container may not be rigid enough and stable enough to transport auto mobiles from country to country but still may be strong enough and suitable enough to be used as a base for a home.


How does it go from a shipping container to a home?

Although the modification of these containers requires welding and cutting equipment it is still cheaper than constructing a house from scratch. The modular construction of the container itself lends itself to modification without compromising the structural integrity of the base unit.

The main drawback of course is the single skin steel walls which can encourage condensation. The easy way to get around this is to clad the inside of the container in timber. This acts as a dual benefit, firstly to prevent condensation building up by giving the interior of the container a more organic lived in feel, and second it allows further insulation of the container to prevent heat loss in cold climates.

To make it feel more like a home, partition timber walls can be built with doorways to create a warm cosy living area with a separate bathroom and bedroom. The living room is usually shared with the kitchen area.

Larger builds are possible where you can have totally separate rooms by combining multiple containers.

What other advantages to shipping container homes?

The advantage of modular construction of course is that they can be stacked fairly easily. So if you’re looking to build a 2 story plus building you could do so within a short space of time simply by stacking the containers and then modifying them.

The single 20′ x 8′ storage container could essentially be turned into a studio apartment, ground floor one bedroom apartment or even a cosy extra space for a family member, office or gym.  The possibilities are endless!

Wouldn’t my home look like a metal box?

Far from it.  Although the main structure of the finished house will be made up of a single container or an arrangement of a number of shipping containers, the outside can be clad in timber to give a natural look to the building.  For damper climates, a sloping roof can be added with ease.  Many homes have been built using this method and look stunning when complemented by good design and added detail.

The following video shows a selection of photos demonstrating the huge spectrum of design ideas using shipping containers as the base.

Where do I start?

Many people are buying pockets of land for very low prices in areas where land value was decreased slightly since the recession. You can conceivably build a home for less than $5000 including the price of the container and fittings.

How do I build a container home?

If you want to take this further there are quite a few steps to follow to ensure your finished house is everything you want.  If you want a comprehensive guide that you can download follow the link below.  A full review is available here.

Order yours now!

One thought on “How can I build my own house on a tight budget?”

  1. Hello / To Whom it may concern,

    I have been thinking about constructing a container home for over 20 years. My biggest concern would be Zoning and how most municipalities in the the United States would view such construction of Container housing ?

    Do you know any States / Areas in the northeast or Midwest where this form of housing is allowed and becoming an acceptable means to build a home ?

    Thank you,

    Tom Kay

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