Sea containers are a relatively cheap way to get to a tiny house quickly. There are now several suppliers of ready-made shipping container houses and instructions for people who want to build a house out of shipping containers themselves.
Depending on your situation and your lifestyle, an expanded sea container could be an alternative to buying or building a mini house. If the development plan allows low-rise buildings, then you can use a sea container to achieve a rainproof shell in a relatively short time. If necessary, you can expand it yourself into a shipping container house. There are detailed instructions for this that you can buy online. If you don’t want to lend a hand yourself, you will find what you are looking for with providers specializing in sea container houses.
Energy efficiency and ecological compatibility determine modern architecture – so why not recycle large-format transport containers for living spaces? This takes place in construction projects that build mini-houses and entire residential complexes on the basis of old freight containers. Container upcycling is particularly suitable for people with a small budget, but it also appears to be of interest to the community for creating affordable living space. In the following, we will examine what constitutes container houses and what must be taken into account when building them:
What is a container house?
First and foremost, the term container house describes the conversion from a former sea freight container to a fully equipped living space. The trend of container recycling has recently reached the same time as the tiny house movement. Influenced by the modular construction, professional construction companies also offer prefabricated modules in container construction. These examples are slightly cheaper than conventionally built single-family homes, at $ 90,000 to $ 300,000. In contrast, only buildings made from used sea containers have the unmistakable charm of the recycling house. They can also be combined as required and modularly expanded. Anyone who lends a hand in the renovation and is satisfied with a minimalist interior can build their mini house for 10,000 dollars.
However, only buildings made from used sea containers have the charm (and sustainability) of a recycling house. These consist largely of corrosion-resistant steel, which is provided with a protective varnish and a color finish based on epoxy resin.
We explain to you everything you need to know about sea containers as living space (also called cargotecture).
How many square meters of living space does a sea container offer?
A standardized 20-foot sea container is 5.90 meters long and 2.35 meters wide inside. The height is 2.39 meters. This results in a living space of 13.87 square meters.
A 40-foot container has an inside dimension of 12.03 meters by 2.35 meters. It is also 2.39 meters high. This results in a usable square meter area of 28.27 square meters.
Both container types are also available as high cube versions. Then they are 2.70 meters high inside.
However, you should take into account that these dimensions still leave a lot of space for the absolutely necessary insulation. This could of course also be attached outside, but then the container loses its unique look. In addition, it is then no longer so easy to transport.
If you need more space, you can combine several containers with each other – either next to each other or on top of each other, in which case the two containers would be connected to each other via an external staircase.
Advantages and disadvantages of sea containers as a tiny house
Using sea containers for residential purposes has several advantages:
- Sea containers are relatively cheap.
- A sea container house is ready quickly.
- The shipping containers are waterproof and very stable.
- Due to their standardized dimensions, tiny houses made from sea containers are easy to transport – by truck, ship and crane.
- Ship container houses only need a simple strip foundation or a point foundation.
- They are ecological because they use little new material.
However, a house made of shipping containers also has some disadvantages:
- It is not so easy to get a building permit for sea container houses that are used permanently for residential purposes. According to German building law, living space must have a room height of at least 2.30 or 2.40 meters, depending on the federal state. However, there are some exceptions for small buildings.
- Sea containers are lightweight and not insulated. Depending on the amount of sunlight and the ambient temperature, they quickly turn into refrigerators or ovens. Good insulation, the installation of ventilation and multiple-glazed windows are therefore a must, but they involve a corresponding effort.
- The floor plan of a shipping container house is very tubular, which makes the set up a bit tricky.
- Used sea containers are often contaminated with chemicals that can also be harmful to people.
Costs and prices for a shipping container house
Container upcycling for residential purposes is particularly suitable for people with a small budget. Anyone who lends a hand in converting their sea container into a tiny house and is satisfied with a minimalist interior can build their own shipping container house for 10,000 dollars. You can get fully equipped sea container houses from $ 15,000.
For a used shipping container you have to pay around 2,000 to 4,000 dollars. The prices fluctuate strongly, depending on the state of world trade.
If you don’t live near the port and don’t own a truck, then you have to factor in the transport of the container to the desired location in your budget. The cost of delivering the container is around $ 1.50 per kilometer, and you need a mobile crane for unloading on site, which costs $ 80 to $ 120 an hour.
Build a shipping container house yourself
If you want to convert a sea container into a tiny house yourself, you first need a sea container. There are hardly any brand-new containers to buy in Germany, as 90 percent of them are made in China and usually do not come here empty.
Buying sea containers: Tips for used sea containers as living space
When buying, make sure that the container has a CSC sticker. It’s like the quality sticker on a car. There are four classifications for the classification of used sea containers: Containers with A are still of excellent quality, those with D are of inferior quality. For residential purposes, you should choose a new freight container or a used container with the classification A or B if possible.
If at all possible, also take a look at the substructure of the container. This is where rust tends to build up, which is not noticeable at first glance and could cause trouble later.
Also tries to find out what was being transported in the shipping container. Containers with fresh goods such as fruit, vegetables or flowers are often treated with pesticides and other toxins so that the goods arrive at their destination port without pests and animals. Many containers are therefore contaminated with chemicals that can also be harmful to people.
Do I need a building permit for a shipping container house?
As with Tiny Houses in general, the following also applies to shipping container houses: Like all buildings, they are subject to building law. So you need a building permit and you have to observe the development plan or – if available – the local design statutes applicable in your place.
Therefore: Before you start building or buy a sea container house, clarify with the responsible building authority whether this is even eligible for approval.
Which container types exist?
In order to rationalize the worldwide movement of goods, the dimensions of containers are subject to certain standards. The most common models are the 20 and 40-foot ISO containers, which are around 6 and 12 meters long, 2.43 m wide and 2.59 m high. On the American market, 43, 48 and 53 foot containers are also used. The majority of the container variants are also available in the so-called high cube version, which has an extended height of just under 2.90 m.
New or used?
Since container houses do not have to withstand the adverse conditions on the high seas, used shipping containers are suitable for their construction. These are divided into the following classes: A – excellent quality, B – good quality, C – storage quality, D – inferior quality. The higher quality levels have no structural damage, only optical flaws. Some containers are sold with the addition “like new”. Behind this is the fact that even new containers that were produced in Asia are at least one sea voyage old when they arrive in Europe.
Which container is best suited for building a house?
In relation to the space available, a used 40-foot high cube container is the cheapest for the buyer. The “shell” for a house based on this example has around 29m² of living space and a ceiling height of 2.90m.