Is Building Shipping Container Homes a Cheaper Alternative?


I’ve seen quite a few cool articles lately about using old shipping containers as homes and buildings. With a huge trade imbalance the United States often has left over shipping containers sitting at our ports without a purpose. Therefore many people have taken these excess containers and turned them into buildings, and which is a great solution to the excess shipping container problem. But is building these shipping container homes cheaper than basic stick framing?

Shipping containers are sturdy, built like legos, and can be found at decent rates. Last time I checked these containers went for about $2,500 – $3,000 for a container that’s 9 feet wide by 40 feet deep by 10 feet high, or approximately 360 square feet. Although that’s not too shabby, I’m wondering if it’s cheaper than other forms of construction.

The alternative (at least in the midwest) would be a standard stick framed structure. If you’re building a stick framed building the same dimensions as a shipping container, would it be cheaper (including labor) or would it be more expensive? Just for fun I thought I’d roughly estimate the cost for a shipping container versus a stick framed structure.

For the two scenarios we’ll assume both are only good as framed structures which still both would need insulation, finishing work, and all other interior finishing.

Option 1 – Shipping Container

shipping containers port
The shipping container is basically the equivalent to a framed up building. More than likely you’ll have to paint, or change the exterior, and do some plasma cutting to create doors and windows.

The total cost would be $2,500 based on current pricing online as seen on sites like ebay. Delivery could add to the total cost, but we’ll assume in this example that it’s included in the negotiated price.

Option 2 – Stick framed building

house framing
A stick framed building would require standard 2 x 4 construction, OSB, along with 2 x 8’s for headers of openings. At the very simplest you would need approximately 100 2 x 4’s, 44 pieces of OSB sheathing for the sides, and roof

2 x 4’s (side framing) – 60 @ $2.40 = $240
OSB Sheathing (side and roof 1,400 sq ft.) – 44 @ $6 = $264
Floor boards (400 sq ft) – 13 @ $11 = $143
2 x 6’s (floor and ceiling framing) – 40 @ $3.50 = $140
Framing Nails – $50 for one box

Total cost of materials – $837

Labor doubles the cost, which means the wood framing would cost $1,674

Wood framing would be considerably cheaper, however it would not provide as much strength as the steel structure. If given the choice to build with cargo containers or wood framing for a basic structure or small home, I would probably go with stick framing.

Do you think building with shipping containers is cheaper, have you saved money building with them?

Images from wfeiden and digitalcolony