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dal-designs 09-29-2013 06:18 PM

Steel Shipping Container House?
I would like to build a small mother-in-law cottage for my mom on her property in a rural area of Texas (so no pesky HOAs or even city ordinances to mess with) while her 100-year-old Czech farmhouse is being renovated. I'm considering shell houses, pre-engineered metal buildings, pre-fab, even panelized houses for the job. Budget is an issue, so traditional construction is out of the question- and I hate manufactured homes so I'd rather avoid putting a trailer on the property. But, given that I have a background in ecological development, the idea of taking some steel shipping containers and making a small cottage out of them intrigues me.

The problem is, I know nothing about the particulars of doing so: how is electrical conduit and insulation installed (I would assume a frame wall is needed inside somehow)? How are doors and windows installed? Is there any way to get insurance or bank financing on such an odd construction method? What about lightning protection?

Those are just some of the questions I have about the subject. So I ask y'all: can anyone recommend a good place to find that sort of thing out about steel shipping container houses?

vsheetz 09-29-2013 06:24 PM


dal-designs 09-29-2013 06:28 PM


Originally Posted by vsheetz (Post 1247769)

Google? Ain't nobody got time for that!

Seriously, though- I've tried Google already, and there's just not a lot of good, solid technical 'this is how it's done' type information out there. Even Kelly Hart, who is the guru for all things alternative building, didn't have a lot of information on the subject...:(

forcedreno2012 09-29-2013 06:45 PM

They do this in Australia in some parts.....Try

I can tell you this..Texas is hot. The outback is hot. I know this is a big issue back home when trying this.

Here are a few links that might help..

Hope this helps.


Mort 09-29-2013 10:02 PM

There's a Starbucks in Tukwila, WA that is made of four shipping containers stacked on each other. Maybe google that and it might take you somewhere.

joecaption 09-30-2013 06:49 AM

I just do not see the logic in trying to do it that way.
I can just not imagine any bank lending money for it, low if any resale value.
All that time and money spent for just a temporary home?
A mobile home or nice RV could be set up in a day and resold in most cases for what you paid for it so there's no cost or far lower cost at the end.

joecaption 09-30-2013 06:52 AM

I used Bing instead of Google and searched "shipping container homes" and got over 6,500,000 hits.

PoleCat 09-30-2013 07:26 AM

They do make good shells for buildings. I have a friend in Arkansas that used them for an out building on some land he owns. Turning them into living space however is not a reasonable alternative for inexpensive temporary digs. You will spend far more on turning a steel box into a livable space than you would on a dozen used trailers.

md2lgyk 09-30-2013 08:50 AM

Do you already have the container? Prices vary, but around here a standard 8x20 would cost you around $5,000, more if it has side doors as well as end doors. I used to work for a defense contractor that turned them into portable field equipment for the military (kitchens, showers, laundries, latrines, bunkhouses, water treatment, etc.). The special equipment required to do this is stuff your aren't likely to have. Trust me, for your purpose you'd be far, far ahead to start with a premanufactured wooden shed - I have a 12x30 that only cost $6,000. I turned it into my wife's art studio. Except for water and sewer, I made it year-round livable for less than $3,000.

wkearney99 09-30-2013 10:32 AM

Yeah, I'd be more inclined to go the RV or trailer route, for the two reasons of resale once you're done with it and the for the sake of completeness. No work other than just getting it on-site and connected. Or even look into renting a portable office sort of trailer.

Now, if you want another out-building long-term and you're prepared to do quite a lot of work AND you've got a cheap source of containers then maybe it'd be interesting.

But I highly doubt you'd find a bank willing to finance this as a DIY effort. Maybe you'd have some luck if you found a contractor that's already done structures like it.

I suppose it depends on taste, but none of the container ideas I've seen end up looking anything close to attractive. You'd probably want to consider what negative impact an ugly-ass container house would have on your property's overall value...

Blondesense 09-30-2013 10:54 AM

I lived in Texas. From the Rio Grande Valley up to Central Texas (just south of Austin).

No way would I live in a metal box in Texas.

Edited to add: If you have a burning desire to make a silk purse out of a sows ear, go for it. But I suspect nothing is going to be by the book, and every step of the way you will have unexpected issues or problems.
Not recommended for someone with limited building experience or limited money.

I have seen pictures and videos of container homes. IMHO they tended to fall into two categories. A) Look like crap, or B) big $$$.

TrailerParadise 10-07-2013 01:17 PM

Another option that is still in the same category would be a semi-trailer house. I live in texas as well and the local mobile home dealerships actually take these in trade for new houses. Ive seen several of them lately. They are made of wood studs with sprayfoam insulation and sheet metal siding, just like trailer houses so it would be simple to install windows. Floors are rock solid and the axles can be taken off to let it sit on blocks. If you wanted to go this route, id choose the semi trailer, because they can (for the most part) be renovated in much the same method as a mobile home, they just dont come with plumbing. For a limited budget, this wouldnt work though. For a limited budget i would suggest either 1. RV or travel trailer or 2. Portable building cabin, which they sell for like $600 a month and it has a normal foundation. You can get a cabin in varying stages of finish, from bare studs to complete cabin.

de-nagorg 04-26-2014 03:00 PM

I saw a news clip on the news last night, where one of those towns in Oklahoma that was hit with a tornado last year is making a shelter across the road from the school out of these shipping containers, look for it on the web, and contact them for information.

If a school district can outfit these for kids, surely you can temporarily fit one for yourself.

Of course those OKIES do things different than the rest of us.


gma2rjc 04-26-2014 03:27 PM

I saw a thread on another website about a couple in Tennessee who put 2 shipping containers side-by-side, with about 15 feet of space between them. They put a roof over all of it and parked their tractor in the empty space between them. The containers were used for sheds.

de-nagorg 04-26-2014 09:13 PM

I googled shipping container home plans earlier and found several places that have design ideas for this.

I also just saw that this is an old thread that has been resurrected recently. By me, and I do apologize to anyone that it upset.

Not my intention.


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