How Much Does a Shipping Container Home Cost?

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The cost of your shipping container home can be as less as $10,000 and as high as $150,000. The average cost to build a shipping container home is around $10,000 to $35,000 in the USA. In Canada, the price of a shipping container home could range anywhere from CAD 48,000 to CAD 250,000+. 

Like any other home, the cost depends on the size of your home, and the materials you choose. Although the range is vast, this article shall give you an average idea of the minimum amount you will have to spend on your shipping container home, from scratch.

The costs generally differ based on the location. In this article, we will cater for the costs in the North American region. 

With the prevailing culture, many prefabrication companies also offer prefabricated shipping container living solutions. They start at around $30,000

Cost Breakdown

Below is a detailed breakdown of all the spendings you will come across in the process of building your shipping container home

The cost of shipping container

Let’s begin with the most important one. You could either use a used container or if you prefer, a new container ordered directly from the manufacturer.

Note: Consider the transportation cost before finalizing where you want to procure your container.

Factors that affect the price of the container

  • Location
  • Size
  • Condition of the container
  • Used/Unused
  • Used Container: a standard 20 ft container costs-2500$ to 3500$ . The prices may vary based on your location. E.g. In Chicago, Illinois, a used shipping container is for 2550$, while in Memphis, Tennesse, a used 20’ container costs 3100$. A  40’ used container could cost up to 5000$, 
  • New Container: If you order a new container, a 20’ container costs around 6000$, whereas a 40’ container could go up to 8000$ approx. 

There is a possibility to request customization to the container (e.g insulated walls). With custom requirements, the cost could hike up another $1000-$1200

Note: A used container is recommended. A container can be unfit for shipping and still be completely fit for conversion into a beautiful home or office.

Transportation and placement to the site

Transportation of the huge 20 or 40 ft container to your site can be a challenging task. You would either need to hire moving services or rent a forklift or crane to lift and place it on the site. The cost of transportation highly depends on the location, size of your city, proximity to the pickup place, and size of your container. Although it is a wide range, on average it costs about $1 to $4  per mile for a 20’ container and doubles for a 40’ container.

According to container addict, the average cost of one move should cost around  2500$ 

Some companies that offer affordable transporting and moving services are- 

  • PODS 
  • Unpack
  • Zippy Shell

Note: Truck/ road is the most expensive kind of transport. So, based on your location if you can get your shipping container to a nearby location by train or water, it could reduce your costs. 

Exterior siding

The cost of siding widely varies depending on the material of the siding. The most common sidings used for shipping container homes are Engineered Wood, Wood, and Vinyl. 

  • Vinyl siding: $3- $12 per sqft
  • Engineered Wood: $4-$9 per sqft
  • Wood: $2-$5 per sqft

On average, siding installation should cost $1 to $12 per sq foot. If you need to hire labour to install it, that costs around $1 to $4 per square foot

According to these costs- for a 20’ shipping container, i.e a surface area of 476 sqft, the cost of siding comes around $5000. This could be reduced if you are a DIYer or decide to use cheaper material. But remember, cheap material needs frequent replacement and damage, so it is advisable to take quality into consideration.

Note: Improper installation or low quality of siding can cause water to trap in contact with the steel wall of the container and thus lead to rust or mould. These can create harmful living conditions in the long run.

Foundation cost

Case 1: Most Permanent shipping container homes have RCC Foundations. Therefore, the total foundation cost comprises of the following

  • Concrete
  • Formwork
  • Excavation costs (labour, equipment etc.)
  • Reinforced steel
  • Steel Caps and plate to attach the container to the foundation.

Although there are various types of foundation, ( https://prefabie.com/shipping-container-homes-foundation/), Pier foundation is the most common kind. The only reason you would opt for other kinds is when the soil on your site is not stable.

The average cost of pier foundation for a 20’ container is $5000

Case 2: It is possible that your container home falls under the mobile home or manufactured home category and is placed on a chassis. In that case, you would not use a foundation, but the cost of the chassis needs to be considered accordingly.

Also, in such a case, the process of obtaining permits would be very different from a conventional permanent home.

Cost of Insulation

Insulation is the most important aspect of a container home. As the container home has a metal envelope, insulation plays a major role in making it livable. See this link to know your best options for insulation- (https://prefabie.com/insulate-shipping-container-home/) The R-value of insulation you need will be determined by the building laws in your area and your climate. 

The most common type of insulation for container homes is closed cell foam, as it takes up minimum space and provides maximum R-value and water retardance. It could either be sprayed or could be installed in the board forms. 

Spray Foam

According to remodelling expense.com, Installation of a 1” thick spray foam insulation costs (approx.) $5/sqft. (Including the installation cost)

According to red river spray on- per sqft cost of R22 spray foam is 5-7$

Foam Board Insulation

Foamboards are a little more expensive, but they save the cost of studs and framing, so it might be a good alternative. Your decision depends on your circumstances and requirements.

According to containing luxury,  a 20’ container can be insulated with 1” Foam boards where no studs or framing is needed within- 1000 $ with installation. 

Note: The thickness of your insulation board or spray will be determined according to the required R-value.

Fibre batt/ roll Insulation

In areas with a moderate climate, glass fibre or stone wool insulation would also be a good choice, as it is cheaper. The cost of batting is $0.30 – $1.50 per sq. ft.

Doors and Windows

The cost of doors and windows include

  • Cost of doors and windows- highly subjective
  • Cutting equipment/labour cost of the shipping container wall
  • Adhesive and joineries (fasteners, silicone sealants etc. ) to install the window.

There is a wide variety of options available for windows and doors. Depending on your budget and climate and layout, you can choose different sizes, qualities, materials. 

Ventilation has a very important role in a shipping container home, therefore, much like insulation, give special thought to this aspect. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, make sure to install hurricane rated doors and windows. In that case, the price could go a little higher

Fun tip! Reclaimed wooden doors and windows are making a revolutionary comeback in contemporary aesthetics, and they also reduce the price significantly. 

According to ‘containing luxury’, the cost of hurricane rated windows for 1 unit container home would come around $3200, excluding the installation and cutting charges.

Vinyl and aluminium are the most common windows used in the USA in present times. A 48” x 47” sliding vinyl window costs $184 at Home Depot.

The average costs of various types of windows. A standard casement window installation could cost $270 to $750 per window, while for a storm window, the cost of a single-window installation would come around $200 – $460

Note: the doors and windows are a very subjective area, so an average price might not apply to you.

Plumbing 

The following costs fall under the plumbing criteria

  • Pipes (joineries, crimps, equipment etc.)
  • Ceramic sanitary ware- highly subjective
  • Fixtures (Taps, valves etc.)- highly subjective
  • Water heater, Vanity, Stainless steel sink etc.
  • Installation/Professional Cost-$1000-$1750. A plumber costs around $328/hr. on average.

According to containing luxury, for a 40’ container, the plumbing cost with pex piping system would come around $1800, excluding the professional or installation charges.

Even though plumbing cost is also subjective to the materials used and ceramic ware preferred, the national average plumbing cost of conventional plumbing with pex pipes and standard fixtures comes around $4.50 per square foot. 

Electrical 

The electrical includes the cost of 

  • Light and fan fixtures- highly subjective
  • Switchboards, mounting boards, sockets etc.-. $5 to $15 each 
  • Wires- $6 to $8 per linear foot
  • Installation/ professional costs- This cost varies according to experience. $40-$100 / hr, charged at 1hr/ 100 sq ft. Moreover, each fixture installation cost about $100

According to the home guide, the national average cost for electrical wiring is about $1,56-$3.75 per sq ft. For a rough-in, it costs $3-$8 per sq ft.

According to ‘containing luxury’, electrical costs in a  40’ container home amounts to 1500$+ professional/installation costs

HVAC

  • Cost of the AC unit
  • Cost of void and sealants to be cut in the wall

A shipping container home is either built-in a 40’ or 20’ container. The total area amounts to 320sq ft and 160 sqft respectively. For such small areas, a typical one-ton PTAC unit is enough. Of course, it depends on your layout, if 1 unit will be heated/cool your entire space.

According to containing luxury, the cost came to about-900$+ professional’s cost for a 40’ container home, where only 1 AC unit was installed.

This cost totally depends on your choice of air conditioning unit. If you opt for a 5-star rating product, or a lower etc. Choosing this carefully is important, otherwise, it would reflect as increased expense in your electricity bill. Make a wise decision and plan ahead for long term low electricity bills.

Drywall

Depending on your choice of insulation, the framing and drywall requirements could be increased or decreased. 

The framing could be done with either steel or wood, the average cost comes around to  $1.50 to $3 per square foot for materials and labour. This would give you the ability to compute your area of drywall and find out the cost of installing drywall. 

According to ‘containing luxury’, with steel framing, it cost around $720 for drywall installation in a 40’ container. 

Paints and Finishes – highly subjective

Including all the finishes and cabinetry listed below, a minimum cost of $3500-$4000 falls under this category. But the good news is, this part is completely non-crucial and can be leveraged according to your budget and personal taste.

  1. Cabinetry 
  2. Countertops 
  3. Millwork  
  4. Paints/ Wallpapers/ Décor 

Flooring

Flooring in a shipping container home contains two things

Floor replacement/ impermeable floor covering-

Non-breathable floor underlayment is the cheapest way to eliminate the potential toxic effect of the used container floor. This underlayment is very affordable and could cost somewhere between $35- $80. Although there are many types, here the Polypropylene Foam is referred to.

However, floor replacement could cost extra, labour cost + a new hardwood floor cost.

Floor finish – highly subjective

The floor finish is completely based on your personal preference. The cheapest and quickest method is vinyl flooring, which would cost about $2-3 per sq ft and an additional $2- $4 per sq ft labour cost if you employ one.

Miscellaneous costs

  • Make sure to keep at least $1000 for miscellaneous costs. It might be used in the following areas
  • Permits And Inspections– $250 to $500 per inspection(depending on your location)
  • Cost of any extra structural members if needed (based on the size of the windows)
  • Any reworking 
  • Secondary roof

Trim your Costs Carefully

Now that you know everything you will need to spend on, now is the time to decide where can the costs be cut to drag the price in your budget. 

But be careful, see the table below to know, where to cut the costs. Some aspects, like insulation and foundation, are far too important to consider compromise. Make sure to make a mindful and informed decision. This is our one bit for your convenience.

Cannot cut cost inCan cut cost in
FoundationThe container-(used is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than new)
Insulation- according to codeFinishes
Floor replacement/ impermeable covering (if used container)(potentially toxic)Doors 
Cleaning/sandblasting (if used container)Paint/ wallpaper
WindowsFurniture
PlumbingPartition walls
ElectricalDrywall (reclaimed wood / or eliminate with suitable insulation)
HVAC (in extreme climate)Exterior siding
 Transportation

Final Words

Taking over a Home DIY project or calculating the costs for your container home can be overwhelming. But this is also the most crucial stage. This is the time when you make the most important product, services and material related decisions based on your budget. So, handle it one step at a time and make sure to spend enough time on research and estimation, before you hit the ground! 

Good Luck!

References

  1. https://haletrailer.com/blog/shipping-container-costs/
  2. https://www.containeraddict.com/moving-container-cost/
  3. https://targetbox.ca/blog/the-cost-of-building-a-shipping-container-home/
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtfzvStTXTI&t=189s
  5. https://www.remodelingexpense.com
  6. https://modernize.com/windows/types
  7. https://apolloservices.com/blog/how-to-estimate-plumbing-costs-for-new-construction/
  8. https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/plumbing/hire-a-plumber/#how-much-do-plumbers-charge
  9. https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/electrical/install-a-switch/
  10. https://homeguide.com/costs/electrician-cost-per-hour
  11. https://homeguide.com/costs/cost-to-rewire-a-house
  12. https://whitemechanical.com/what-size-central-air-conditioner-you-need/
  13. https://www.falconstructures.com/blog/shipping-container-heating-cooling