Shipping Container Homes: A 2019 Guide to Buying & Building Container Houses

Shipping Container Homes vs. Traditional Houses

If you’re looking into shipping container homes for your next build, you probably have a few questions and concerns. As a Texas container home builder, Stackhouse wants to provide a library of accurate information for those interested in container houses. In our research, we’ve found some of the current information available to be misleading, incorrect, and incomplete. With that in mind, we hope to use this guide to paint a comprehensive picture of shipping container homes from our experience.

Having worked in the construction industry for 20 years, we are no stranger to the overwhelming nature of transitioning to a shipping container house. Whether you are thinking about building a DIY shipping container home, or are ready to buy from a custom container home builder, this shipping container homes guide was written with you in mind.

Advantages of Shipping Container Homes

If you are just starting to consider shipping container homes, you may be wondering why someone would choose to live in a shipping container. You may be surprised to learn that living in a shipping container home offers a number of advantages over many traditional housing alternatives.

One big advantage of shipping container homes that few people are aware of is their safety. Because shipping containers often need to be stacked seven high during transport, they are designed to be incredibly rigid and structurally strong.

Shipping containers are typically constructed from 14 gauge steel panels, with top and bottom side rails made from 7 gauge tubular steel.
Not only does their steel construction make shipping container homes much stronger than their wooden framed counterparts, the corrosion-resistant low-alloy steel used in their manufacture also makes them more weather resistant.

When properly anchored to a concrete foundation, some shipping container homes are capable of withstanding wind speeds of 150 mph!

Shipping Container Water Tightness

Beyond the incredible structural strength and wind resistance of container homes, they also tend to be more flood resistant than their traditional counterparts. Because shipping containers are originally built for transporting cargo across the ocean, they are designed with water resistance in mind. In an effort to keep water out, shipping containers are manufactured with integrated heavy duty door seals.

Most reputable resellers test these seals before listing a shipping container for sale. While it’s important to note that many of the modifications made to shipping container homes can compromise their water resistance, there are a number of strategies you can use to maintain a container’s water resistance. From keeping the original doors of the container intact to only installing windows above a likely flood line, you can drastically lower the chances of having your container home falling victim to a flood. For those wanting to build on a floodplain, the natural structural rigidity of a container makes building on pylons much easier than doing so with a traditional home.

If you live in a flood prone area and are consider on buying shipping containers from a seller that doesn’t guarantee it’s weathertight seals, you may be wise to go with another supplier. If supplier options are limited in your area and shipping container delivery doesn’t make sense for your project, you should attempt to negotiate a discount.

Regardless of where you are planning to build, you should never start a container home build with containers showing signs of extensive corrosion.

It’s important to note that cutting a container renders it very difficult to waterproof. While limiting design to high or inoperable windows and keeping the original container doors intact can help keep a container water tight, the only way to maintain factory waterproofing is by opting out of windows completely and maintaining the original door as the only point of entry.

Land for your Container Home Build

One key consideration in buying or building a shipping container home is the importance of finding good land to build on. There are a number of factors you should consider in choosing where to build, including, but not limited to:

-Local Regulations on Container Home Construction
-Permitting Requirements of the Governing Municipality
-Property Taxes
-Building Restrictions
-Topographical Suitability for a Container House Build
-Local HOA Restrictions Related to Container Homes

In choosing land for your container house, it’s critical to research the local regulations governing new home builds. While many municipalities treat container home builds like any other construction, local regulations in some areas can render building a container home a nightmare.

As a general rule of thumb, the best place to build a container home is a place with the least amount of restrictions on land use and construction. States including Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Alabama are popular with container home builders because of their hands-off approach to land rights and construction.

While California is home to some container house friendly areas, Los Angeles and many other larger metropolitan areas enforce restrictive land use and building codes that can make building a container home more difficult than it’s worth.

For example, while Los Angeles County allows the use of marine cargo containers for incidental storage with certain agency approvals and container size requirements, the use of containers in a single-family home build is much more complicated. Building a container house in LA County requires approval for the containers used for your build, their connections, and overall design in accordance with the Los Angeles County Building Code.

A recent 2017 building code update defining the approved use of cargo containers in building construction is available here.

Whether you are looking at the DIY route or interested in hiring a builder, it’s critical to contact your local public works building division before buying land or starting to build.

Ideally, you should prioritize land that is unincorporated with limited or unrestricted zoning in your search.

However, this type of land is more likely to lack utility access and infrastructure needed for an on-grid build. Even if you’re considering building an off-grid container home, you need to consider freshwater availability and ease of access.

Equally important to researching local regulations, resource availability and permitting; insuring the land you’re planning to buy or use is suitable for building a container home represents another critical consideration.

With this in mind, it often makes sense to have a plot of land surveyed before making a final purchase decision.

Even if you want to build on a piece of land that’s less than ideal, there’s no need to fret. At Stackhouse, we take pride in adapting our designs to the unique topography of our client’s ideal land.

Whether you want to build on a hill or into one, our container home experts are here to make your dreams a reality.

Choosing a Shipping Container for Your Home Build

Now that you’re familiar with the advantages of building your container home with a new or one trip container, it’s time to consider the square footage that makes sense for your needs.

Before we dive into the different shipping container options available for a home build, it’s important to lay out the difference between a “standard” and “high-cube” container. While standard containers have an external height of 8’6’’, their internal height is actually only 8’ and finished internal height can be closer to 7’6’’.

This is an important consideration in choosing containers for your build if interior space and a feeling of openness is a primary concern. At Stackhouse, we almost exclusively recommend using high cube containers for our client builds. That said, there are ways to stack standard containers and avoid a feeling of claustrophobia.

If you’re set on using standard containers in your build, our container home experts are happy to answer your questions and explain your options. Contact our experts today.

While some dealers offer a 15 ft shipping container for sale, we do not recommend building with these containers. At the end of the day, they are only offered by a small handful of specialty suppliers and typically are more expensive to buy than their more widely-available 20 foot and 50 foot counterparts.

Designed to fit perfectly within the space of a standard parking spot with only 140 square feet of interior space, you should only consider a 15 foot shipping container for your build if space constraints leave you with no other option.

Along the same lines, a search of all of the shipping containers available in your area will likely return a few 30 foot and 53 foot containers for sale.

While a 53 foot container might seem like a great way to squeeze some extra living space out of a single container home build, one 53 footer often costs more than two 40’ containers in similar condition. Factoring in the added difficulty and costs of transporting and moving a 53 footer, it’s typically more cost effective to stick to building with 20 and 40 foot containers.

For similar reasons, we also typically recommend avoiding 30 foot containers for your container home build. Despite being no more difficult to transport as their 20 and 40 foot counterparts, 30 footers are not a standard-sized container and tend to be more expensive to buy.
Adding to the argument against using 30 foot containers is the fact that they’re actually just a “cut and shut” 40 foot container. To make a 30ft shipping container, a fabricator cuts 10 feet off the end of a standard 40ft container and welds the end panel holding its doors back on to its new end.

After the fabrication is done, 30 foot containers are typically re-sprayed with a protective coating to minimize the risk of corrosion. Unfortunately, even a small mistake in fabrication or recoating can lead to big headaches down the line. Because 30’ containers are much more likely to have issues with sealing and corrosion, it’s important to make sure the supplier you’re buying from has a good reputation for quality work and backing their products.

Similar to their 40’ counterparts, 45 footers are also relatively easy to find and carry the added advantage of more living space than some of the smaller alternatives. In fact, one of the more popular models Stackhouse sells uses two 45s to create enough space for an extra bedroom.

One problem with 45’ containers is that there are not many one trippers available.Similarly hard to find are the 24’ and 10’ varieties. That said, we typically do not recommend building with these containers as the interior space they provide is far less than the average person needs to live comfortably.

As always, if you have information that runs counter to the advice we’ve outlined above, we welcome it. No matter how much experience we own, being the best container home builder in Texas requires a commitment to learning and innovating.

Please feel free to reach out directly with any suggestions or advice you might have by sending us an email.

Standard vs. High Cube Container

Depending on its interior finish, a standard 20 foot container offers around 160 sq. feet of living space and a standard 40 foot container offers around 320 sq. ft.

Named for their high ceilings, high cube containers sit one foot higher than their standard height counterparts. While high cube containers have the same footprint as their standard counterparts, their extra foot of height increases the overall interior volume.

While you may wonder how much of a difference 12 inches can really make, we always advise our clients to use high cube containers in their container home builds.

Accounting for the space consumed by insulation and interior finishes, high cube containers are often the only way of building a shipping container house that ‘feels’ like a traditional house. To avoid a building container home that feels claustrophobic, it’s important to plan construction in a way that maximizes ceiling height.

Considering the average ceiling height of a traditional home ranges between 8-9 feet, the extra foot of clearance offered by a high cube container can spell the difference between a happy transition to container home living and regret.

The following shipping container dimension table is designed to help a shipping container home builder or buyer weigh their desired square footage against their build budget.


External Dimensions


Container Type




Standard 20′

19’10.5” (6.06m)

8′ (2.44m)

8’6” (2.59m)

Standard 40′

40′ (12.19m)

8′ (2.44m)

8’6” (2.59m)

High Cube 20′

19’10.5” (6.06m)

8′ (2.44m)

9’6” (2.9m)

High Cube 40′

40′ (12.19m)

8′ (2.44m)

9’6” (2.9m)



Internal Dimensions


Container Type




Standard 20′

19’4” (5.89m)

7’8” (2.34m)

7’10” (2.39m)

Standard 40′

39’5” (12.01m)

7’8” (2.34m)

7’10” (2.39m)

High Cube 20′

19’4” (5.89m)

7’8” (2.34m)

8’10” (2.69m)

High Cube 40′

39’5” (12.01m)

7’8” (2.34m)

8’10” (2.69m)


While many people looking into shipping container homes looking for the best and most cost-effective tiny house alternative, this is not always the case.

The container dimensions listed on the table above are a good starting point, but the boundaries of possibility can be stretched far beyond the size and dimensions of standard shipping containers.

While many people associate container homes with downsizing and tiny house living, a large number Stackhouse clients are interested in building a container home for other reasons.

Among custom home builders, container houses are fast becoming synonymous with modern design and luxury. Factoring in the fact that shipping containers are designed to be stacked as much as 9 high means the sky is quite literally the limit.

 Over the years, Stackhouse has developed countless proprietary fabrication and engineering techniques that enable us to build ‘outside the box’.

Whether you’re looking to build an ultra-modern luxury container loft or an custom aesthetic design that pushes the limits of imagination, our skilled team of container home builders are here to make your container house dreams a reality.

New vs One Trip vs. Used Containers

In the interest of avoiding containers that are likely to have issues with hazardous material contamination, rust and corrosion, we advise only considering a new or one trip container for building your home.

True to their names, one trip shipping containers, or “one trippers” have only made one trip across the ocean before being offered for sale.

More often than not, the difference in quality between a new shipping container and a one trip container are negligible. Considering that one trip containers are only used to ship a single cargo load before being sold, they are usually offered for sale in like new condition.

Factoring in the considerable price difference between a one trip container and a new container, it typically makes sense to go with a one tripper to keep costs down. Outside of a new container that has never seen shipping duty, one trip containers tend to be in the best condition, and usually end up being much cheaper than used containers the long run when used to build a container house.

The last thing you want is to finish your container home build before realizing your roof is rusting. With this in mind, difference in condition between a one trip container and a used container can be night and day.

In comparing prices between one trip containers and used counterparts, you might be wondering how much of a difference an extra trip or two would make on the condition of a container. To understand the importance of building a container home with a one trip container, we first must understand the definition of ‘used’ in the shipping container business.

Contrary to common assumptions, a used container is often many years older and much more heavily worn than a one trip container. While most one trip containers are less than a year old, with many in near-perfect condition, the vast majority of used containers spend 8-12 years in being used to ship goods before being sold.

Outside of the likelihood of corrosion and cosmetic toll you would expect from spending 10 years on a ship, used containers are also much more likely to be treated with dangerous pesticides, chemicals and lead paint. Factoring in the relatively small difference in price between one trip containers and used containers, even a used shipping container being advertised as ‘refurbished’ is much more likely to cost a container home owner more in maintenance and repairs in the long run.

Outside of limiting your suppliers of consideration to those offering one trip containers, there are a number of other ways you can protect your shipping container home from rust if you’re interested in learning more about rustproofing your container home or are wondering what can be done after you discover corrosion, contact us today.

Shipping Container Cost

Now that you’ve decided on the containers you’ll be using for your home build, you’re probably wondering how much they are going to cost.

Shipping container prices vary drastically depending on local availability, condition, and type.
This table of shipping container price averages helps illustrate why Stackhouse advises our clients to only consider new or one trip containers for their build.

Depending on where you live, the price for a new 40’ container typically ranges between $1400 and $7000. Even if you are planning on a DIY container home build, Stackhouse is happy to help connect you with the best container supplier in your area. Schedule your consultation.

If you are considering a used container for your build, it’s important to confirm it was never treated with hazardous pesticides or used to transport hazardous materials. While it is possible to have a used container stripped of hazardous substances, the cost to do often exceeds the cost of a safe container in the first place.

As you can probably tell from looking at the infographic, the price difference between one trip containers and used containers is less than most people would guess. Comparing this small cost difference against the potentially devastating costs and inconveniences incurred by container home corrosion, you should think of the cost of a one trip container as the best insurance policy money can buy.

Granted, many container homes use multiple shipping containers in their design. However, regardless of the number of containers you are planning on using in your container house, the peace of mind that comes from building with one trip container is well worth the added cost.
While we strongly recommend against buying a used shipping container for your home build, we realize that sometimes staying within your budget requires sacrifices.

Where to Buy a Shipping Container

Over our years as a container house builder, Stackhouse has developed some great partnerships with shipping container dealers in Texas and throughout the United States. When we are working with a client on a new build, we typically handle the container sourcing and delivery logistics.

Because of our longstanding relationships as a volume buyer, we are often able to secure a better shipping container price than an individual would be able to find on their own. We take pride in sourcing only the highest quality containers to give our clients the peace of mind of knowing their investment will be trouble free for years to come.

Stackhouse clients need not worry about finding their own containers as we are in the business of taking the stress out of building container homes. That said, we realize a number of people reading this guide are weighing the advantages and disadvantages of building a DIY container house.

For those looking to build a container home on their own, finding a reputable shipping container dealer is one of the most important keys to success. When doing research on how to buy a shipping container for a custom home build, many people are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of available options.

Outside of container prices, it’s important to consider the reputation of the dealer, logistics of transportation and the possibility of a closer or better alternative. Throughout our time as a container home builder, Stackhouse has developed great relationships with some of the best container dealers in Texas and throughout the country. Even if building your container home with us is not in the cards, we are happy to help connect you with a container dealer that is suited for your needs.

For current pricing and availability, Talk to a Container Home Expert Today.

Shipping Container Delivery

Now that you’ve decided on where to buy shipping containers for your build, it’s time to consider how you are going to transport them to your build site.

Depending on where you live, the nearest container dealer could end up being hundreds of miles away. While most port and coastal cities tend to have a handful of suppliers, shipping containers may be difficult to find nearby in rural areas and cities far from the coast.
While many shipping container dealers offer delivery services, they are not always the best and most cost effective route to take. To make sure you are getting the best deal on getting your shipping containers to the site of your container home build, it’s important to explore your options.

In drawing up your budget, you should account for the fact that shipping container delivery cost does not always include the price of unloading or placing containers on your land. Commonly known as ‘siting’, the process of moving your containers from the delivery site to the area you want to build can add considerable cost in some circumstances.

Factors ranging from the ease of access on your land to the design you want to build all play a role in determining the cost of siting your containers. If there is easy access and you are building a single-story container home, a delivery service with a tilt flatbed trailer might be able to place your containers directly on your foundation. If you are trying build on a plot of land that is overgrown or difficult for a large truck to navigate, you will likely end up paying more for siting.

Furthermore, if you’re planning a two story build, you will either need to find a delivery service with a swing-thru truck, crane, or forklift, or make arrangements to rent/hire one yourself.

Before you hire a container delivery service, make sure to check out our free container transportation and moving guide here, to make sure you’re getting a competitive price and the best option for your needs.

Joining Two Shipping Containers

If the use of a crane or forklift to stack containers for your build doesn’t fit into your budget, you’ll likely want to look at building a single-story container home. When considering the advantages and disadvantages of a single-story build, a common concern surrounds the fear that the living space will end up feeling cramped.

Fortunately, there are techniques available to make a single-story container home feel every bit as spacious as it’s two-story counterparts. In fact, opting to join multiple shipping containers for a single-story home build can actually open the opportunity to create more usable space than what would be possible in a stacked design!

Open Frame Containers

More often than not, the most cost-effective way to build a joined container home is by using open frame shipping containers. Open frame containers are essentially the skeleton of a regular container, with all of the structural elements intact, but no exterior siding, roof or floor. Not only do these containers often cost less than their complete counterparts, they tend to be easier to join as they do not require cutting and running the risk of compromising structural integrity.

It’s important to note that using open frame containers for your joined container build will require more welding than you would have to do if you were using normal containers. These extra welds do expose you to slightly more risk of your container ending up not being water tight. To safeguard against this issue, we typically recommend applying roof flashing to the interior side of the seal prior to welding and roofing cement to the outside afterwards.

As long as you make sure the welds holding your exterior walls, floors and ceilings to the frames are solid and employ redundant seals, your open frame joined container home will be every bit as good as a traditional build.

For those uncomfortable with welding, it is possible to screw or bolt siding, floors and roofing materials onto an open frame container. While you will still need to hire someone to weld the joined edges of the open frame containers together, this can be accomplished for a very reasonable cost in most cases.

As long as you ensure your seals are solid and building materials well-suited to the climate, building with an open frame container can not only make it easier to merge two shipping containers, it can also make it easier and cheaper to meet certain local building codes.

If you’re planning on joining two containers for your home build, it’s critical that you pour a level foundation and achieve perfect alignment before starting the merging process. Even a slight miscalculation in either of these considerations can spell big problems down the line.

If you’re worried about getting it right, Stackhouse is here to help. Give one of our container home experts a call today and we’ll connect you with the best contractors for your project.

Container Home Foundations

Deciding on a foundation is one of the most important and often-overlooked parts of planning a container home build. While many people incorrectly assume the rigidity of a shipping container or presence of shallow bedrock on their land negates the need for a foundation, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even single-story container homes require a solid foundation to insure against costly issues down the line. You may be thinking the impressive structural integrity of a shipping container is enough to protect against many of the pitfalls associated with a home settling. In part, this is correct. Despite the unlikelihood that you will ever need to worry about cracks appearing in the walls of your container home, shipping containers are still prone to issues related to settling.

Even with a foundation in place, there is still a chance that settling can cause your containers to twist. Much like a traditional house, this twisting can lead to issues including difficulty opening or closing doors and windows, separation of welded seams, and dangerous sliding or shifting.

In a worst case scenario, without proper preparation, settling can cause the top story of your container home to slide off the container on the bottom. That said, a proper foundation and anchoring system can effectively eliminate any real cause for concern.

Shipping Container Foundation Anchors

As you’re pouring the foundation for your home, it’s important to consider the added benefits of anchoring your containers. Alongside the obvious benefit of minimalizing the possibility of damage from settling, anchoring a container house to its foundation can help it withstand winds up to 150 miles per hour.

Some of the more popular methods of anchoring a shipping container house include:

Concrete Piers with Welded Steel Plates: This is our favorite way to anchor container homes at Stackhouse. This anchoring method involves pouring concrete piers with steel plates embedded at the top. After the piers cure, the container house is welded to the plates creating an incredibly resilient foundation.

Corner Casting Rebar: This style of shipping container anchor uses the corner castings found on each corner of a container to anchor it to a concrete slab with iron rebar. Container home builders using the corner casting rebar technique will bend a long piece of rebar through the holes of each anchor and cast that rebar into a concrete foundation.

Steel Chain Anchors: Similar to the corner casting method, this container anchoring system involves looping a heavy steel chain through the same corner castings and embedding the ends of that chain in a concrete foundation. While it is slightly less strong than a rebar anchor, this technique is easier to use, because it does not require the builder to bend metal.

Twistlock (Penetrator) Anchors: This container home anchor is a piece of steel resembling a giant screw that is ‘twisted’ into the ground or foundation underneath a container house. This style of anchor can be combined with the concrete pier/welded steel plate meathod we prefer to employ, offering the end user all of the advantages of a twistlock with the added advantage of being easier to move. Also used to secure containers being stacked for transport, the twistlock method is the most common anchoring system available.


Arrowhead and Bullet Anchors: These shipping container anchors consist of a steel cable threaded through the corning casting of a container that is attached to a buried anchor. This anchor can be set in dirt underneath or in the concrete foundation of a container home, but is generally considered the least strong anchoring alternative. 

Container Home Interior Finishing

Equally important to the design and approach you use to your physical structure, the interior finish of a container home can make or break a build. From choosing your flooring material to insulating, plumbing, wiring, and furnishing your home, there are many important considerations involved with finishing your container house interior.

The Best Flooring Material for Your Container Home

While there may not be an end all answer to the best material to use for the floor of a container home, there are certainly a number of options that are better to use than others.
Should you chose to purchase new shipping containers for your build, you may be able to choose the material used for their floors. While a standard shipping container floor typically consists of 1 – 1/8’’ marine plywood laid over steel cross-members, some manufacturers use tropical hardwoods such as Apitong or bamboo.
Typically the wood used in a container floor is dependent on the local price and availability of different types of wood in the area of manufacture.
When deciding whether to keep the factory floor for your shipping container home build, you need to consider it’s condition and the possibility that it was treated or exposed to harmful chemicals or pesticides.
The floor of a shipping container home is one of the most important things to get right in a build. Failure to plan and execute this step well can not only cost you thousands in unplanned future repairs, it can also cause some pretty scary health issues.
If you’re trying to decide how you should go about planning the floor for your build, you should check out our free container home floor guide.
Assuming you’ve done all the necessary planning and installed your floor successfully, you are ready to move to the next step and start insulating your container. However, before you rush to the next step, it’s make sure you have the necessary cutouts in place for any planned plumbing or electrical work.

Container Home Insulation

As an established container home builders in Texas, Stackhouse is no stranger to the intense summers of the south. Even if you live in an area with more temperate summers, failing to properly insulate your container home can make it feel like an oven in the warmer summer months, costing you $100s of dollars in unnecessary energy costs.
Even if you live in a part of the world with the most mild summers around, a poorly insulated container home will run into similar issues in the winter. Regardless of where you live, properly insulating your container home will almost always save you money in the long run.
At Stackhouse, we typically like to apply spray foam insulation on the interior of our container homes before laying any drywall or other interior finishes. Despite a higher than average up-front cost, closed-cell insulation often ends up being the most cost effective insulation for a container home in an area with extreme heat or cold. Not only is closed-cell cheaper in the long run (factoring in heating and cooling costs), it’s durable, easy to apply and very good at minimizing heat soak or heatsink.
At the end of the day, there are many insulation options available for use in container homes. If you’re looking to explore your options, check out our free shipping container insulation guide or reach out to a Stackhouse container home expert today.

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of our guide (for now)! Make sure to check back soon for more container home updates and detailed guides we have planned for the future!